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23 March 2006

Henry VI, Part Three (2003)

A Fully Dramatized Reading of William Shakespeare's The Third Part of King Henry VI (1590)

Vol. III of The Complete Arkangel Shakespeare by Audio Partners; David Ten- nant (Henry), Kelly Hunter (Margaret), David Troughton (Richard Plantagenet), John Bowe (Warwick)

The Wikipedia plot summary can be found here.

Review

In these reviews, I have primarily discussed Shakespeare and his accomplishments, which makes sense seeing as how they are his works. However, with this play, I especially noticed the production value of the audio recording. In Act II, Scene V, King Henry VI observes the bloody clash between soldiers loyal to him and those siding with the House of York. Distanced from the field of battle, both physically and ideologically - because, as a devout man, he craves no bloodshed from his reign - Henry watches two archetypical encounters play before his eyes.

As Henry waxes mental, so completely out of touch with his regal responsibilities, a man stoops to search for gold and armaments on the body of a man he has just killed. That man, it turns out, is his father. "And I, who at his hands receiv'd my life, / Have by my hands of life bereaved him," cries the son. Some distance away, another man checks his victim for valuables – and his victim turns out to be his only son. "I'll bear thee hence; and let them fight that will, / For I have murder'd where I should not kill," cries the father. Henry sees their grief and desires no further part in the slaughter his reign has engendered. As symbols of other men’s’ losses and lamentations, these characters are particularly moving. Rarely are archetypes of this generalized sort so effective in portraying a larger picture of suffering.

However, the success was not entirely to Shakespeare’s credit. I must mention the Audio Partners production that helped give this scene its emotional power and impact. During scene after scene, as the York and Lancaster houses fight - literally - on various fields of battle, sounds of conflict and clashing arms dominate the sound effects behind the actors. Then, just before the start of Henry's soliloquy, the battle sounds recede and are replaced by a steady, low, dark chord. This single chord is so constant that it becomes like white noise, adding both tension and an unearthly quality to what is, essentially, an unrealistic scene. As if in a dream, Henry can pause time and make his grim observations. As soon as the scene ends, the battle noises resume and sound particularly harsh after the dream-like moments inside Henry's head. In setting this scene apart through such a simple audio trick, the director emphasized its importance and heightened its impact.

As for the rest of the experience, Kelly Hunter's role as Queen Margaret was particularly powerful in this play, as her role matured to de facto monarch and protector. Her sparring scenes with Troughton's Richard Plantagenet were searing and vicious as each character reveled in the other's loss of a loved one. The rendition of King Edward was annoying and sickening, but that was most likely the intent, and Richard's internal monologues about his ambitions for the crown made for blunt but effective foreshadowing for his own play.

The pro-Elizabeth propaganda continued here in full force, with Shakespeare pulling out all the stops to praise Elizabeth's grandfather, a young teenager named Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, who would become King Henry VII after Richard III's downfall. Overall, and excepting the distortions of history that are apparent in any successful historical drama, this was the most fully realized and effective of the three Henry VI plays, revealing a steady, finely-honed sense of drama, emotion, irony, and little hints of the humor that would become the hallmark of Shakespeare’s romantic comedies. No wonder this trilogy cemented him as a notable playwrite of his day and allowed for his development into one of the most influential writers in the English language.

I should, chronologically speaking, continue to The Life and Death of King Richard III, but the CDs have two holds before me at the library. Bummer. I was ready to move on and see Richard fulfill his despotic, hump-backed destiny (so much melodrama!). Alas, I will skip Richard and come back to him when it becomes available. Now on to The Comedy of Errors, which will probably seem to fly by after all this heavy history.

Quotes

Lord Clifford to Richard, Duke of York: "And this thy son's blood cleaving to my blade / Shall rust upon my weapon, till thy blood, / Congeal'd with this, do make me wipe off both."

Richard Plantagenet to Queen Margaret: "'Tis beauty that doth oft make women proud; / But, God he knows, thy share thereof is small."

King Henry VI: "Obeying with my wind when I do blow, / And yielding to another when it blows, / Commanded always by the greater gust; / Such is the lightness of you common men." (At least he's honest about his opinion of commoners!)

King Edward IV & Elizabeth Woodville: "To tell thee plain, I aim to lie with thee." "To tell thee plain, I had rather lie in prison."

George, Duke of Clarence, about his brother, King Edward IV: "He is the bluntest wooer in Christendom."

Richard Plantagenet: "Fearless minds climb soonest unto crowns."

Warwick: "I had rather chop this hand off at a blow, / And with the other fling it at thy face."

Vocab & References

(To toot my own horn, you must notice how few vocab bits are listed below. Either Shakespeare was really slacking off here, or I'm getting better at understanding his references and remembering vocabulary from previous plays.)

falchion, Hyrcanian, neat, younker, darraign, quondam, stale (referring to urination), bruit, Jephtha, Roscius, malapert

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