Henry V

While Shakespeare aficionados relish the Prologue to this famous history, rarely are the ideas expressed in it carried through the rest of the production. That director Carolyn Howarth does so makes this Colorado Shakespeare Festival (CSF) production exemplary; but that it is carried off in such fine fashion and accompanied by so many excellent performances, makes it a must see.

Beyond its consideration as Shakespeare's greatest historical dramatization, Henry V is an argument for theatrical conceit—that is, it makes a case for the use of shifts in time and space as needed to tell the story. While today we take such discontinuity within the dramatic genre for granted, such was not always the case.

Benjamin Bonenfant as Henry V
Benjamin Bonenfant
as Henry V
Photo: Jennifer Koskinen
Why does the Chorus apologize more than 30 times for the play's regular shifting of time, mood, and setting? Whenever the play requires the audience to imagine hopping over the English Channel or the grand scope of the battle or leaps in time, "the Chorus injects a satirical note of explication for fussbudgets like (Sir Philip) Sidney"1 (an old de Vere antagonist), who objected to the compression of time and space in the theatrical medium. In Defense of Poesy, Sidney writes:

Now you shall have three ladies walk to gather flowers, and then we must believe the stage to be a garden. By and by, we hear news of shipwreck in the same place, then we are to blame if we accept it not for a rock. ... While in the meantime two armies fly in represented with four swords and bucklers, and then what hard heart will not receive it for a pitched field.

To which, the Chorus responds:

And so our scene must to the battle fly;
Where—O, for pity!—we shall much disgrace
With four or five most vile and ragged foils
(Right ill dispos'd in brawl ridiculous)
The name of Agincourt
—Henry V, IV, Prologue, 48-53

Sam Gregory as the Chorus
Sam Gregory as the Chorus
Photo: Jennifer Koskinen
So, as de Vere2 would have it, Sydney be damned and, as the Chorus to this account of Great Britain's most iconic military moment implores us, we are to make "imaginary puissance." All this is made easy by Howarth's approach, having the players set the stage by referencing each of the Chorus' (Sam Gregory) importunings. Gregory imbues the Chorus with a light, dry wit, which sends titters through the audience, as he begs their indulgence.

Sean Scrutchins as Henry, Lord Scroop of Masham and Benjamin Bonenfant as Henry V
Sean Scrutchins as Henry, Lord Scroop of Masham
and Benjamin Bonenfant as Henry V
Photo: Jennifer Koskinen
The payoff is to magnify the achievements of Henry and his charges, as they defy seemingly insurmountable odds to defeat the French at Agincourt. As he has throughout the Henriad plays that began with last year's CSF productions of Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, Benjamin Bonenfant's finely-tuned characterization sparks our interest and eventually our sympathy, as he transforms from an insouciant youth to a great leader. Bonenfant deftly walks the fine line between commoner and nobility in Henry's disguised walk around among his troops, the evening before the battle. The next day, Bonenfant's passion as a warrior is visceral, and leaves no doubt, in the St. Crispin's Day Speech, as to Henry's ability to inspire and lead his troops.

Indeed, inspiration drawn by the British from this play echoes through the centuries—famously in Sir Lawrence Olivier's depiction of Henry V during the dark days of World War II—just as it was designed to do at the time it was written, as an argument for the legitimacy of Tudor reign and to serve as an inspiration against all sorts of powerful enemies, including the Spanish Armada and the Roman Catholic Church.3 For this, Queen Elizabeth paid handsomely:

In 1592, in a pamphlet entitled Pierce Penniless (the speare4 without funds, i.e., de Vere) Thomas Nashe cites two plays—Henry V and Henry VI, Part 1—that serve as successful examples of what he called the Policy of Plays, i.e., the use of the stage for state propaganda. This initiative began in 1586, when Elizabeth began paying de Vere £1,000 a year ("I buy a thousand pound a year! I buy a rope!" —Dromio of Ephesus, The Comedy of Errors, IV, i, 21) to create what we know as the history plays.

John Ward, a mid-seventeenth century vicar from Stratford-on-Avon recorded some legends he had heard regarding the Stratford man, by then widely accepted as the author of the works of Shake-speare:

I have heard that Mr. Shakespeare ... supplied the state with 2 plays every year and for that he had an allowance so large that he spent at the rate of £1,000 a year, as I have heard.

Yet the vicar overlooks how "Shakespeare" could have paid out £1,000 a year, since the Stratford man's estate never exceeded £350. Only King James of Scotland, who succeeded Elizabeth on the throne, received a greater annuity (£4,000 a year) than de Vere. There is no reference to the Stratford man on the Queen's list.

Many fine performances from the ensemble aid our imaginations, as the Chorus promises.

(L to R) Martha Harmon Pardee as Alice,
and Jenna Bainbridge as Princess Katherine
Photo: Jennifer Koskinen
The comedic carryover from Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 begins with Nell, formerly Mistress Quickly (Martha Harmon Pardee), Falstaff's friend and sometimes companion, who tearfully reports on Sir John's death with one breath and, with a wink, a wiggle, and the rustle of her skirts, brings forth memories of bawdy days to the present. Pardee rides this emotional rollercoaster with glee, in delightful contrast to her wry portrait of Alice, who attends Princess Katherine (Jenna Bainbridge). Bainbridge and Pardee engage in a funny scene written entirely in courtly and bawdy French, which must have pleased Elizabeth's erudite court, when it was first performed. After Agincourt, Bainbridge is delightfully coy, when Katherine is courted by Henry. Peter Simon Hilton, as Charles VI, the French king, brings royal stature and dignity to the monarch, despite having to cede his lands and daughter to Henry.

(Left to right) Sam Sandoe as Bardolph, Martha Harmon Pardee as Nell, and Rodney Lizcano as Pistol
(L to R) Sam Sandoe as Bardolph,
Martha Harmon Pardee as Nell,
and Rodney Lizcano as Pistol
Photo: Jennifer Koskinen
Speaking of comedy, Rodney Lizcano does double-duty as the arrogant and foppish French herald, Montjoy, and as Pistol, Nell's husband, a misfit, who, along with his buddies, Nym (Michael Withereil) and Bardolph (Sam Sandoe), Falstaff's old rascal gang, make a mess out of military service, as rude mechanicals are wont to do.

(Left to right) Howard Swain as Duke of Exeter, Geoffrey Kent as Charles Delabreth, Constable of France, and Sean Scrutchins as Louis the Dauphin
(L to R) Howard Swain as Duke of Exeter,
Geoffrey Kent as Charles Delabreth,
Constable of France,
and Sean Scrutchins as Louis the Dauphin
Photo: Jennifer Koskinen
The French, of course, take a good ribbing throughout, beginning with Louis, the Dauphin (Sean Scrutchins). Scrutchins' gusto in dispensing Louis' brand of royal trash-talking delights us in a snide way, just as it would have for the original audiences, by gathering disdain for those frogs to the south.

(Left to right) Casey Andree as Duke of Orleans and Peter Simon Hilton as Charles VI
(L to R) Casey Andree as Duke of Orleans
and Peter Simon Hilton as Charles VI
Photo: Jennifer Koskinen

Even the French military staff—Charles Delabreth, the Constable of France (Geoffrey Kent), and Duke of Orleans (Casey Andree), gallant depictions both—turn up their nose at the disputatious Dauphin. This disdain, symbolic of the infighting amongst the French military command, along with a muddy, narrow field, and the superior technology of the British (the longbow), spelled France's doom, despite outnumbering the English (estimates vary widely on the gap).

Vanessa Morosco as Earl of Westmoreland and Benaiah Anderson as Sir Thomas Grey
Vanessa Morosco as Earl of Westmoreland
and Benaiah Anderson as Sir Thomas Grey
Photo: Jennifer Koskinen
Henry's decision to go to war is backed up by the stately Duke of Exeter (Howard Swain), the eager Earl of Westmoreland (Vanessa Morosco), the pedantic Archbishop of Canterbury (Bjorn Arvidsson), as well as his two brothers the Duke of Gloucester (Tait Petersen) and the Duke of Bedford (Sam Hardy). Once in the field, Henry's officers include the seasoned Captain Fluellen (Lawrence Hecht) and Captain Gower (Benaiah Anderson).

The Colorado Shakespeare Festival's presentation of Henry V runs in repertory with Much Ado About Nothing, Othello, and the Bard-oriented comedy Wittenberg through August 9th. For tickets: 303-492-8008 or

Bob Bows

1 Mark Anderson, 'Shakespeare' By Another Name, Gotham Books, New York, 2005, pp. 150-151.
The Sonnets, first edition
The Sonnets, first edition:
In all the clerks' rolls in England,
the name Shakespeare is never hyphenated.
It is a literary pen name,
one of three used by Edward de Vere,
the 17th Earl of Oxford.

3 In addition to historical fact and fiction designed to enhance the crown (and the playwright's less than illustrious ancestors), Henry V (along with Henry VI, Part 1, Titus Andronicus, The Taming of the Shrew, and The Winter's Tale) all cite characters, lessons, and plotlines that derive from Arthur Golding's first English translation of Justin's Abridgement of the Histories of Trogus Pompeius, one of 28 books (including the first English translation of Ovid's The Metamorphosis, all 15 books [chapters] of which are referenced in the canon, and to which de Vere likely contributed) dedicated to de Vere by Golding, his uncle and tutor.
4 As the Lord Great Chamberlain, de Vere's ceremonial duties included oversight of the oversized sword of state, jokingly referred to as his dagger. This shaken speare also importunes Pallas Athena, Greek goddess of the arts, born from the head of Jupiter. Athena's Roman equivalent is Minerva. De Vere is referred to as Britain's Minerva in Henry Peacham's 1612 emblem book, Minerva Brittana.

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