Making past present: Henry V in contemporary performance

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University of Alabama Libraries

Traditionally, Shakespeare's Henry V is viewed as either pro- or anti-war, but the play actually revels in its own political ambiguity. Thus, in order to make some sort of socio-political statement, directors have to, in effect, make war with the text, compressing and cutting the play in order to fit a certain agenda, no matter what that agenda may be, anti- or pro-war. This thesis is primarily a case study of Henry V in production, focusing on the 2009 University of Alabama performance, the choices that were made and the effects of those choices. Similarly, it explores the ramifications of producing the history plays in contemporary performance. The genre itself can be troubling for contemporary audiences, and the lack of context makes it difficult for twenty-first century spectators to fully grasp it as a history. Instead, contemporary productions rely either on making connections to current events (with mixed success as the play tends to resist such overt parallels) or focusing on the characters themselves as the means of making this play relevant. By using the force of character, productions can in fact appeal to their audiences, creating something that is meaningful, and sometimes something that is in fact political, but in a much more sophisticated (and therefore less obvious way): doing so allows the audience to draw their own conclusions about the kind of issues that we see in Henry V, to make their own comparisons between the past and the present, and to perhaps look more critically at the nature of war and politics. In contemporary performances of Henry V, the focus tends to shift away from the history of the history play and moves toward how the events presented in the play relate to the here and now.

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British & Irish literature, Theater Studies