I’ve been watching the PBS series: The Hollow Crown, which follows Shakespeare’s Richard II, Henry IV, Part 1, Henry IV, Part 2 and Henry V.
I performed some of these shows when I was an actor, and was curious to see how they would hold up for me as an audience member years later. I have to say the performances are stunning, the character development, the concept of the times and the machinations of the royals – beautifully done.
But I found myself waiting for the women to appear. In a cast of several dozen, there are usually three, maybe four women in a Shakespeare show. And I’d forgotten that so much of these “history” plays are about war, posturing about war, arguing about war, playing the chess game about war. And so much of the issues about “history” seemed to me, in the viewing, to be about men claiming their place in the world. So much yelling.
I’d also thought that the Henry V was a herioc tale of England legacy; and in this time and place, I saw it more as a story of an invading country trying to justify grabbing French real estate. I kept thinking how different would this history be if women, who give birth to the soldiers and the rulers of this story, actually were decision makers during this time. Would women look at a body count of 10,000 dead in the battle of Agincourt as a gift from God?
Mabye it’s the mood I’m in, with the debacle in Congress on governing our country, and the feeling of being lost in the “history” of things. But I think the reason I’m feeling all these things from watching this series, is that the performances were so transcendent. The characters were in conflict and torment and finally, in resolve, of their life’s purpose. And that, to me, is great acting from great writing.
And I keep thinking of the King Richard as played by Ben Whishaw. His ability to speak “immortal verse” and make it as accessible as any contemporay conversation was amazing. I found myself holding my breath during some of his speeches: I have never heard an actor make such beautiful connections with this language before. I loved how he kept surprising us with the sharp turns and twists in the landscape of his mind: what a generous and brilliant actor.
It really was quite a gift to witness this production. I hope you get to see it.