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James LaBell Professor Pivetti Plays of Shakespeare EN 333 12/5/2013 Henry V and the Modern Motion Picture Kenneth

Branagh’s motion picture adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play Henry V debuted in nineteen eighty-nine. The bloody conquest by King Henry V through France is one of Shakespeare’s most popular and celebrated history plays, however its intentions have been disputed since its performance in the conclusion of the sixteenth century. Critiques have argued Henrys actions are that of a selfish and brutal monarch determined to make his own unique and self imprint on English history. Although the text is analyzed and interpreted differently, Branagh’s version of Henry V gives a clear message that Henry is the savior of England and the ideal monarch of his day granting pride to his countrymen. Henry V is part of a teratology which includes the plays Richard II and Henry IV parts one and two. These history plays are much different from Shakespeare’s well known comedies like A Midsummer’s Nights Dream and tragedies Hamlet. History plays are different because Shakespeare invented them while he was writing (McDonald 90). Although most of the characters are real figures from history, the battles and situations for the most part were made up by Shakespeare. This sounds very unusual but you see this practice by modern movie writers all the time. The Patriot, starring Mel Gibson, was produced in 2000. It portrays a real figure from the American Revolution, Francis Marion, nicknamed the swamp fox who outwitted British troops. The writer took this story to another level creating numerous fictional characters and situations. It gave a sense of pride and patriotism that was based off a fictional history lesson.

Movies and books follow the same idea of a false history play very often. The question is why to do this, entertainment purposes is a place to start, but perhaps to bring a sense of pride and patriotism to a country or group of people is a better explanation. Branagh’s version of Henry V is Shakespeare’s play on steroids. Branagh creates a dramatic sense of honor and pride to the English people through dramatic cinematography. Two specific scenes capture Branagh's work at best King Henry’s first speech “Once more unto the Breach” (3.1) and his second the eve of St Crispin’s day. Both speeches have been recited by millions of actors, readers, and students; Branagh’s interpretation surpasses them all. Henry’s first speech “Once more unto the breach occurs” in 3.1. The English war ships have landed on the coast of France and his campaign to take claim of the French crown begins. Henry’s army sieges cities, during which he appears to rally his troops. Branagh commences the scene with Henry upon a white horse charging forward yelling “Once more upon the breach, dear friends, once more, or close the wall up with our English dead.”(3.1.1-3) The instant the scene begins Branagh creates much excitement by having Henry yelling these lines and his men running forward ransacking the city. The white horse brings extra attention to Henry making him even more important. The setting is a dark night which only flames of the burning city produce light. This technique creates a dramatic feeling for the viewer. Branagh also has intense brass playing the background and there are several explosions in the background while Henry is speaking. The camera bounces back and forth between Henry and his men. Henry also speaks very quickly and intensely comparing his fellow Englishmen to fierce animals. He concludes the speech with a fierce cry to continue for the pride of England.

Niccolo Machiavelli a critique of monarchs in the fifteenth century claims “there are two ways of fighting: by means of law and by means of force. The first belongs properly to man, the second to animals; but since the first is often insufficient; it is necessary to resort to the second.”(McDonald 335). There are two ways to interpret Henry’s speech that of a brutal monarch or a passionate and proud figure of Englishness. Branagh’s version is clearly that of a passionate and proud king. Although Henry is rallying his men to fight like animals, Branagh gives characteristics of a paragon of Englishness by him riding the horse, speaking to his men intensely, and the background settings. Machiavelli is correct about ways of fighting, but Henry is a good leader and leaders must rally and show courage which Branagh does in his version of Henry V. The second speech eve of St Crispin’s day occurs in 4.3. Morale in the English ranks is low, especially after they gain knowledge that the French outnumber them five to one. Branagh starts the scene off with Westmoreland and his fellow men standing amongst the ranks unsure of what is to come. The music is very abrupt and confusing adding to the uncertainty. Westmoreland exclaims “Oh, that we now had here, But one ten thousand of those men in England, That do no work today.”(4.3.17-19) Suddenly Henry appears from behind the trees and begins his speech walking amongst the men. The music is now much less confusing the brass is very clear and continuous. Branagh creates the climax of Henry’s speech by having him climb on top of a wagon speaking down to the men. The camera switches back and forth between Henry and the men. His voice tone changes often as well, keeping the audience’s attention and showing the passion behind his speech. This is a great technique used by Branagh to show his interpretation of Henry as a passionate leader.

Henry’s language in his speech also supports him as a paragon of Englishness The prognosis’s of this speech is to motivate his soldiers who have low morale. There are a few key points in this speech; the first is the reference to St Crispin's day. Henry tells his men he would not rather have another soul with them and any who wish to leave do so. He goes on to note the fewer the better for more honor to those who stay. St Crispin’s day at the time was not a major holiday, however Henrys says they will make it a major holiday because of their brave fighting. This technique seems odd but has happen in American history as well. Holidays like Thanksgiving, bring national pride and bring a country together. Shakespeare does the same with the St. Crispin’s day speech; He is bringing the English together by making a holiday. As Branagh believes Henry is making this speech because he believes in Englishness and a true band of brothers. As Norman Rabkin writes in his Rabbits, Ducks, and Henry V essay, “Harry is inspired by a vision of England, but once characteristically his own, made as romantic by the fantasy of neighborhood legionnaires and domestic history lessons as by magical names of England’s leaders.”(286) The use of St Crispin's day also helps remembrance. Henry desires to make his mark in history, he tells his men this is there opportunity to do so by stripping their sleeves and saying “These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.”(4.3.50) An additional way Shakespeare makes Henry a great monarch is by having him say brother often. Henry is the King of England and he refers to his countrymen as brothers, this shows his compassion for his men and his tactics, brutal at times, are in good heart and not selfish gain. Branagh believes in the great Englishness and pride of monarch Henry V. Rabkin also believes through Henry’s speeches, “he is the man we have been waiting for, the embodiment of all the virtues the cycle has made us prize without the vices that had accompanied them (Richard II, and Henry IV) before. He is as full of valor as kindness,” (286) This makes Henry the “ideal

monarch postulated by Elizabethan royalism.”( 286) Although his tactics may seem Machiavellian, they are for the not only himself, but his English brothers and sisters. As Machiavelli says, a good prince “ought to be a fox in recognizing against snares and a lion in driving off wolves.”(McDonald 335) Henry does these both by recognizing his right to the crown and rallying his men. The remaining question is why Shakespeare makes Henry a clear hero, as to be recreated by film directors like Branagh. It is for English pride, a sense of propaganda for his country. At the time of the play Queen Elizabeth’s reign was coming to an end, she was a member of Henry’s blood line. Rabkin lastly mentions that the plays “language constantly addressed to the pleasures, worries and aspirations of an audience of citizens.”(Rabkin 286). Like the Patriot, this play is meant to move us as an audience. Shakespeare uses his characters, their language and as Branagh did their actions to unite and make an audience feel as one. Henry V brings a true sense of English pride and honor to all who read, perform, or watch it.

Works Cited

Conser, Caleb. "The Patriot." IMDb., n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2013. Esser, Liza. "Henry V." IMDb., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2013. Henry V. Screenplay by Keneth Branagh. By William Shakespeare. Brittish Broadcasting Corp, 1989. DVD. McDonald, Russ. The Bedford Companion to Shakespeare: An Introduction with Documents. Boston: Bedford of St. Martin's, 1996. Print. Rabkin, Norman. "Rabbits, Ducks, and Henry V." Articles (n.d.): 279-86. JSTOR. Print. 29 Nov. 2013.