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Read "King Henry V"

O! for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention!
... Can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt? -- Chorus, opening lines

Henry V is the last in a series of four of Shakespeare's plays tracing the lives and reigns of the monarchs Henry IV (who usurped the throne of Richard II) and his son, whom we saw grow, in Henry IV parts 1 & 2, from the roistering bad boy Prince Hal to the sober young king Henry V. It's the story of a new ruler at war abroad, pressing his claim to the throne in France. Full of lofty speeches, it is sometimes seen as a patriotic celebration of a beloved and heroic warrior king, inspiring his men to glory against great odds:

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.

From this day to the ending of the world,
... we in it shall be rememberèd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother.

But darker readings are possible. On his deathbed, Henry IV had advised his son to keep the peace at home by distracting his subjects with wars abroad, and the opening of this play suggests that a desire for the riches of France is the other main motive for the war. Although the Chorus praises King Henry as admirable in every way, he can be ruthless in war, threatening a besieged city if they do not surrender to him:

The gates of mercy shall be all shut up,
And the flesh'd soldier, rough and hard of heart,
In liberty of bloody hand shall range
With conscience wide as hell, mowing like grass
Your fresh-fair virgins and your flowering infants.
What is it then to me...?

The Chorus tells us that the king heartens his soldiers by going among them in the evening,

A little touch of Harry in the night.

But when we see Henry speaking incognito with the common men, he gets into a fight with one who voices these doubts about the war:

But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left.

Once alone, Henry reflects bitterly that he is to be loaded with responsibility for his subjects' lives and souls, and in return gets nothing but ceremony. Kingship is perhaps incompatible with friendship. Earlier in the play, we hear of the death of Falstaff, the roguish old companion of Henry's youth, whom he abruptly banished from his presence when he took the crown.

The king has killed his heart,

mourns the kindly Hostess Quickly.

There is a glimpse of possible personal happiness for Henry at the end of the play, when he woos Kate, daughter of the French king, despite the language barrier between them.

Controversy remains strong about what to make of this play, its protagonist, and Shakespeare's views on kingship. Come read the play with us and see what you think.

LOCATION & LOGISTICS: We're back to a Saturday afternoon. We'll meet at the Queen Anne Branch of Seattle Public Library at 400 W. Garfield St., in the meeting room. (This event is not sponsored by the Seattle Public Library.) See here for directions : There's street parking available. Metro bus routes 2 and 13 go there.

We can bring food into the meeting room as long as we clean up afterwards. This is one of the longer plays, so allowing for distributing parts, taking an intermission and optional discussion at the end it will take much of the afternoon.

Bring a copy of the text if you have one, but if you don't, don't worry - we can share. It's not necessary to read the play before hand, but it's helpful to be familiar with the plot

I didn't want to delay posting any longer just because I didn't have a synopsis written - you could easily Google one if you like!

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  • Linda G.

    Want to go see a LIVE NY Metropolitan Opera production of THE TEMPEST? Have you gone to see the LIVE Met at the movies yet? It cost $20. Kinda pricy but not really compared to the Real Thing. It is FABULOUS!!! This showing will be at KENT STATION. Arrive at 9:45 AM. The operas are usually longer than a movie, and I wish I knew exactly how long this one is but can't. There might be showings at a different theater closer to you. I'm not SURE I'm going to go yet. But if you decide to go, let me know. Maybe we could go out to a cheap lunch after and compare the play and the opera? my email address is: [masked]
    Please type in THE TEMPEST in the subject. Thanks! Adieu!

    November 1, 2012

    • Linda G.

      I'm coming tomorrow to read Henry V, with a guest, Vic. Yes, Nov. 10. Sorry.

      November 2, 2012

    • Laurie

      Linda, I hope that you enjoyed seeing the Met’s production of Ades’ Tempest at the theatre! After you posted this, I read some articles about it online. The costumes and scenery looked wonderful. It was too expensive for two, so I hope that they release this as a dvd.

      November 14, 2012

  • Toni

    Shoot. I seem to have a cold which wouldn't be a problem. Me all over in a corner not exposing folks, wearing a face mask BUT my voice is terrible. I'll have to miss this one. Laurie- did you download the Norton? And to one and all- Is there any movement afoot to use the first folio for our readings?

    November 3, 2012

    • Laurie

      Using the First Folio for our readings may be more difficult given the limited print resources. Here is an interesting link, which includes a bit of an explanation about the differences between the facsimile folios in print at one time or another. (I actually have a copy of the 1998 edition by Moston, published by Routledge.)­. Just days ago I found an exciting resource at an unrestricted area of the University of Chicago Library.­. Apparently it is a searchable First Folio “transcription” published by The Oxford Text Archive. I compared many lines from a few plays with what is in the Moston facsimile, and it matches for capital letters, spacing, and punctuation.

      November 14, 2012

    • Laurie

      Since we meet in libraries with wifi, those who bring a computer could use this source with ease anytime we would chose to read the First Folio. I think that King Lear would be an excellent choice for that since there is a First Quarto, First Folio, and a conflated text, which, I believe, is the one published in most modern texts. According to The Norton Shakespeare (Greenblatt et al., 2nd Ed. 1997), “Q1 contains approximately three hundred lines that do not appear in the F; F prints approximately one hundred lines that are not in the Q1.” Norton 2nd has published all three; the Q1 and F directly opposite each other on the page for comparison, and the conflated text follows. I remember Cottier saying that the modern Norton Shakespeare “was not bad.” Another option would be to get the Norton 2nd from the library, when we read Lear, for example.

      November 14, 2012

  • Barbara

    SO SORRY i missed this one!! Hope everyone had fun.

    The "Ramayana" was quite thrilling and very well-executed. If you get a chance, GO.

    November 4, 2012

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