Shakespeare’s Henry 6

Shakespeare’s Henry 6

The last coastal fishing trip reminded me to listen to the Henry 6 trilogy, again. Also, Mercury.

Portable Mercury Retrograde

Portable Mercury Retrograde

That’s the answer to, “Why?”

The “How” is simple, too, as there are a number of free renderings of various voice actors reading the roles in the play. While not an entirely dramatic version, not quite a stage version of play, it is — in my mind — superior to just reading it as text.

Besides, academically, what I recall, the plays are widely regarded as inferior early works. More recent scholarship suggests that Marlow had a hand, and the plays were likely a collaboration, and the first was Part 2, then 1, and finally 3.

For historical accuracy, I try and listen in numbered, chronological format, namely, 1, 2, 3.

Part court intrigues, part “fast and loose” with history, part poetical word play? Battles and brutal deaths? As early material, and with recent textual excavations gnawing away at the truth that these plays were likely collaborations rather than a single-authorship, as previously assumed? Listening to the plays, the dialogue clearly presages Shakespeare’s latter works. I remember that notation from the first time I heard the plays, then the second time, on that long commute to Austin.

Shakespeare’s Henry 6

One (current) tenet in my life is to live with as few regrets as possible. Twice in the last two decades, I’ve missed opportunities to see the Henry 6 trilogy performed on stage. At least one was the summer class by The University of Texas at Winedale — that would’ve been inspiring, and I’ll guess it will be another 20 years before they do it again. That would be a single regret, not seeing this performed on stage. Better yet that Winedale Shakespeare, just great stuff.

Still, slogging through the plays, other than from a meandering, curious, “I must say I’ve read them all” kind of attitude? Those three early “History” plays don’t get much attention, academic — or other.

Curious to listen to them, and I have trouble keeping all the moving parts separate in my head while listening — and threading traffic on the freeway. Still, I would hear certain, well-read, properly enunciated bits. Just amazing to hear it, again, in its poetical form, sometimes rather well-performed.

Ah, Warwick, why hast thou withdrawn thyself?
Thy brother’s blood the thirsty earth hath drunk,
Broach’d with the steely point of Clifford’s lance;
And in the very pangs of death he cried,
Like to a dismal clangor heard from far,
“Warwick, revenge! Brother, revenge my death!”
So underneath the belly of their steeds,
That stain’d their fetlocks in his smoking blood,
The noble gentleman gave up the ghost.

    Richard in Shakespeare’s
    Henry VI, part 3 2.3.15-22

“Gave up the ghost.”

Shakespeare’s Henry 6

In years to come? I have a long list of applicable Shakespeare quotes, at the ready, and this exercise is one of the reasons I have a better working understanding of the Henry 6 plays.

My process is simple, when I’m pointed at a certain destination, maybe hours away, I’ll have an audio version of the play at the ready, and I’ll start listening. Threading traffic in Austin, there will be a distinctly weird combination of the Elizabethan language against the din of slow-moving vehicles and ubiquitous road construction.

Fumbling with the phone’s MP3 player, I can, occasionally, get lost or mistaken, and I’ll have to repeat an act. No loss, no problems. There was a section, I was almost done with an act, and I figured, just a few minutes left, I left the earbuds in to hear it out. Character said something important that I wanted to look up. Pause, then scratch back over the passage, trying to locate the same words in my edition of the play.

Shakespeare’s Henry 6

Another thought, came to mind, in at least two of the audio versions, the effeminate, ineffective King Henry 6, the namesake for the plays? His part was read by a female voice actress. Well-read, too, from what I heard, some effort was put into the role, and then, it was evidenced by her delivery. However, thinking about the casting choice, a female voice, a clearly female voice, as the King. Kind of a weak king, according to some.

To some, maybe a cheap shot, but it does shade the play’s interpretation. In this example, made it stronger and better, but part of that is the actor herself, a talented performer obviously observant of the nuances of the language itself, and then, as a directorial choice, I suppose, but it is an all-volunteer endeavor. Don’t know how much direction was executed.

Still, pondering that in traffic, I realized that it was good example, in and of itself, choosing a female to read that part. There’s a bias, acknowledged, or not, that comes with a choice like that. Instead of a stentorian voice, declaiming, it’s the higher, obviously female voice. Not good, not bad, just a shading to the interpretation. It does tend to add a dimension, good, or otherwise, to the production. In my own work, I’ve long-maintained that the theory of “objective observation” doesn’t really exist. That female voice actress proved the point, not good, not bad, just an added dimension.

Shakespeare’s Henry 6

The Henry 6 trilogy leads to Shakespeare’s epic evil monarch, the fictional version of King Richard the Third. When I was reviewing this material I tried to recollect how many time I’ve seen that one, once in London at the RSC with Ian McKellen as Richard, seen his film version few times, based on that stage show, and then, once in at Shakespeare’s Globe, with a female actress as Richard, and then in Austin, based upon the old Kevin Spacey version. At least three times, maybe more. Each one stood out for various reasons, choices.

The female lead, as Richard, as I recall, she was handicapped in some form, so the casting was superb. Besides that, she was good — and evil — the way that play should be.

At the end, the final play in the Henry 6 series? It’s clear to see the roots being set out for Shakespeare’s Richard III. I can hear it. Dismissing the plays as early efforts don’t do justice to the canon.

Perfect as a way to spin through some Mercury material, given where the planets are, even now.

If I could complain, at least two of my “usual sources” — podcasts — don’t touch the series other than cursory notation. At least, not that I could find.

Shakespeare’s Henry 6

Plays in order, then re-ordered.

Why Shakespeare?

Shakespeare Pro –


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