Julius Caesar – Freewill Shakespeare Festival

Julius Caesar Title Logo

Fair reader, you’re in for a treat today. I had the privilege of attending the opening night of the Freewill Shakespeare Festival’s production of Julius Caesar (otherwise known as Shakespeare in the Park) so now you get to reap the benefit of a review. However, I first need to give my thanks to @EJ_Extra on Twitter as I won my tickets from them.

I’ve been going to Shakespeare in the Park every year since high school and I’ve rarely had a bad experience and this year’s production of Julius Caesar was another great experience. The stage design for this year is really beautiful. While the initial impression of blue might seem an odd choice, it actually serves as a great contrast to the generally darker costumes the cast wear (I also have a feeling it works well for the Festival’s other play this year, The Tempest). There are also some great features built into the stage that work well, particularly in the second half, but I won’t go into detail as it’s much more fun to be surprised by them. A shout-out also to the lighting and sound. That fake lightning made me jump a time or two.

The costumes are an intriguing mix of mob chic with lots of dark suits, shiny metallic leggings for the ladies under some pretty awesome, Caesar in long shirts and matching pants, and, my personal favourite, Marc Antony making his entrance in a red tracksuit (he does change into a proper suit later on). Of course, for the second half of the play there’s military jackets, pith helmets, berets, and combat boots galore. Possibly the most interesting choice though is the actors’ make-up, which is extremely pronounced with most faces being painted white, heavy black eyeliner, and black or metallic shades underlining cheekbones (also, Marc Antony has a bit of the game-maker from Hunger Games beard going on for the first half). It’s a very striking look and tends to accentuate facial expressions and the look grew on me once I got past my initial impression that everyone had the face make-up of a French mime.

The cast does an excellent job with the play and although tragedies tend to be far more sombre there are some moments of levity, particularly at the beginning. The two stand out performances for me though were by from Belinda Cornish as Portia and Chris Bullough as Brutus. Cornish brings so much passion to Portia that her performance is riveting, particularly during the scene in which she demands Brutus share his secrets with her. Although the character’s presence in the play is relatively small, she leaves such a tremendous impact that you thoroughly understand Brutus’ later grief over her death. And speaking of Brutus, the play may have Caesar’s name on it, but it’s really all about Brutus. Bullough makes him an amazingly sympathetic character in all of his striving to preserve the freedom of his fellow Romans and you cannot help but feel regret at his inevitable downfall.

A thoroughly enjoyable production even for those who aren’t a fan of the play itself like my theatre buddy, Argenplath. As mentioned above, the Festival is also doing The Tempest which I will also be seeing some time in July, so look forward to that review in the next few weeks. The Freewill Shakespeare Festival is in Hawrelak Park and runs until 22 July 2012.

Film Review – Henry VIII (1979)

Let’s face it, fair reader, when it comes to The Complete Dramatic Works of Shakespeare series, I have given up on watching the complete films. It’s just not happening anymore. So I’ve switched to a new approach any time I have to sit through another one of these. I’m now just picking one of the acts that I most want to see and watching that one. So for Henry VIII, I watched Act IV because it had a lot of Katharine in it. It also happens to be the shortest act in the play. Although I swear that wasn’t a motivating factor.

The act opens with Anne looking at herself in a mirror (probably a transition from the prior act). We then get to spend some time hanging out with the two random dudes on a streetcorner. Although for the film, they’ve put them on a small set of stairs rather than a street corner. One of the random dudes is a foodie apparently because he eats for the entire scene. The other random dude is Barty Crouch Senior from Harry Potter (David Tennant’s dad in Goblet of Fire, if the character reference is too obscure for you). The random dudes are intercut with actual on location footage of the procession leaving Anne’s coronation. Anne looks cold but pretty. The costumes for this one are actually really great. We get some overlong and silent shots of Anne being crowned and Henry sitting on his throne. Not once do either Anne or Henry speak in this entire act. Yay me for picking an act where the titular character is barely in it and doesn’t speak.

Katharine, Henry VIII

Katharine early in the play. She looks sicklier later on.

The rest of act is Katharine being sick prior to her eventual death. But I am so impressed because there are real sets! Not just wooden stilt thingies on a soundstage but actual sets that look like real rooms and actual furniture that looks… not that comfortable really. Anyway, the actress playing Katharine is pretty decent. At least she looks convincingly sick. During the part of the scene where Katharine has her vision (I may have skipped this in my play recap, it’s just girls dancing near Katharine with a garland that’s symbolic of death) there’s a weird bleed through effect that I’m sure was cutting edge in 1979. Now it’s just… underwhelming. Katharine progressively sicker over the course of the scene and we then are treated to an overlong shot of Katharine’s corpse laid out in state on her bed. And that’s the end of the act. See how painless that was? My one act approach is totally the best plan ever.

With that, we’re done with the English histories! Huzzah! Sunday (possibly Monday, it is a long weekend) I will be diving into the ancient histories with Troilus and Cressida. Until then, fair reader.

Henry VIII

Role Call:

  • Henry VIII
  • Cardinal Wolsey
  • Cardinal Campeius
  • Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury
  • Duke of Norfolk
  • Duke of Buckingham
  • Duke of Suffolk
  • Earl of Surrey
  • Lord Chamberlain
  • Lord Chancellor
  • Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester
  • Cromwell, servant to Wolsey
  • Queen Katharine, Henry’s first wife
  • Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife

The Play’s the Thing: The play opens with a prologue which basically says this isn’t a comedy but a serious play. You’ve been warned. Buckingham and Norfolk are discussing the current treaty negotiations with France and how annoying Wolsey is. Particularly because of his habit of outmaneuvering anyone who might even possibly develop a closer relationship with Henry than the one he has. Wolsey then shows up, he and Buckingham make faces at each other, and then Wolsey disappears. Shortly afterwards, Buckingham is arrested and shipped off to the tower along with some other people. Henry is holding court when Katharine shows up. She’s there mostly to get Henry to reconsider Buckingham’s imprisonment as Buckingham is well-liked by the people. But Henry trusts Wolsey so he’s not changing his mind. There are then some trumped up witnesses who say Buckingham is plotting to take the crown for himself. Henry sends Buckingham to a formal trial and says he’ll abide by whatever decision that body makes. There’s a scene that doesn’t really contribute much and then we get another where Wolsey is throwing a party. Some guys in disguise (including Henry) crash it. Wolsey recognizes Henry, invites him to sit down, and Henry meets Anne and thinks she is a fine looking lady.

Out on street corner, two dudes meet up and discuss Buckingham’s trial. He was found guilty. And the guys are totally blaming Wolsey. Buckingham then shows up and gives a big speech to the people on the street where he makes amends with some guys and tells people to tell Henry that Buckingham was really a good guy. Norfolk, Suffolk, and the Lord Chamberlain chat about Henry and talk about how Wolsey is manipulating him into reconsidering his marriage to Katharine (who was his brother’s wife first). They creep up on Henry who tells them off and prefers to hang with Wolsey and Campeius. In the only scene where Anne actually appears and says more than one line, we get an interlude where she’s talking with her pal, Old Lady (no lie, that’s what she gets named as in the character list) about how she has no desire at all to be queen (if if makes you feel better, Anne, it won’t stick long). Then a messenger shows up to give her a title care of Henry. We then come to a scene where Katharine eloquently tells Henry she’s not going to stick around while he weighs the pros and cons of continuing their marriage after 20 years. She leaves, he talks about how great she is but that he’s got worries about the legitimacy of his heirs.

Katharine is hanging out in her garden listening to one of her wenches (her words, not mine) sing a sad song when Wolsey and Campeius show up. They’ve brought the news that Henry’s breaking up their marriage and she’s not queen anymore. Norfolk, Suffolk, and company are bitching again about Wolsey and crowing because Henry found a letter from him to the Pope asking the Pope to delay on his decision in order to prevent a marriage to Anne (which it’s too late for anyway). Wolsey has Cromwell hand over a package to Henry. Unfortunately for Wolsey, it details all of the money he’s been stockpiling for his eventual bid for power in the church in Rome. Henry calls him out on it and Wolsey falls from grace. For several pages.

Our two random dudes are back on their street corner, this time chatting about Anne’s coronation which is happening that morning. They’re joined by a third random guy who witnessed it and tells them every detail. Meanwhile, Katharine is in the country somewhere and dying. There’s some stuff that happens but it’s not very interesting.

The next act opens with the news that Anne is in labour. Henry then meets with Cranmer to let him know he’s trouble and will be appearing before the council the next day. We then get news that Anne has had a baby girl. There’s then some political maneuvering around Cranmer being let in. Suffolk and Norfolk are asses, Henry puts them down for flaunting their power over Cranmer. He then pardons Cranmer and tells him he’s going to be a godfather to the new princess. There’s then a scene of porters having to deal with plebs going wild with partying for the christening for the princess. It’s pretty dull except for the joke about this one christening leading to thousands more as a result of that night. We then get the actual christening of Elizabeth and an entire scene of compliments to her reign. Then there’s an epilogue apologizing for the play’s shortcomings.

Heroes and Villains: My favourite character for this play is Katharine. She’s one of the few characters with anything approaching a personality, she has some decent speeches, and she stands up to Henry. Not bad for a woman who only has a few major scenes.

Pick Up Line with Style:

“O beauty/ Till now I never knew thee” (I.iv)

Speech to Know: There’s no amazing speeches in this play but Katharine has a decent one when Wolsey tells her that Henry is dissolving their marriage.

“Would I had never trod this English earth,
Or felt the flatteries that grow upon it!
Ye have angels’ faces, but heaven knows your hearts.
What will become of me now, wretched lady?
I am the most unhappy woman living –
Alas, poor wenches, where are now your fortunes?
Shipwreck’d upon a kingdom, where no pit,
No friends, no hope; no kindred weep for me;
Almost no grave allow’d me: – like the lily,
That once was mistress of the field flourish’d,
I’ll hang my head and perish.” (III.i)

View from the Pit: Despite the awesomeness of the source material, Henry VIII is boring. Shakespeare is so careful to make no one too much of a villain that there never really is one and the play skirts almost all conflict, making it rather uninteresting. Having taken an entire history class on the Tudors, I can tell you that there is a lot of juicy stuff to play with from this period of Henry’s reign and yet Shakespeare barely touches it. He barely even hints at the break with the Catholic church that happened during this period. Anne Boleyn is basically a cardboard figure to lavish praises on (probably safe to say as little about your monarch’s mother as possible I suppose). And the final scene of the play is basically just an extended compliment to Elizabeth I. But really, the play isn’t that great and I almost wish Shakespeare had saved the ink. If you’re only going to take the safe approach to recent history (which is a fair position to take when the monarch could have your head chopped off if she really doesn’t like it) why bother doing it at all.

Film Review – Richard III (1955)

Fair reader, you are going to be so impressed with me. For the first time in weeks, I’ve made it all the way through a Shakespeare film. And you are going to be so glad I did. But I’m getting ahead of myself. So the reason I made it all the way through the film this week is that I didn’t have to watch a Complete Dramatic Works of Shakespeare film. Instead I was treated to the classical acting style of Laurence Olivier. Take a look at the trailer and then on to the review!

So the cast in this is pretty decent although the only name that’s really stuck around with any sort of reputation is Olivier himself who plays Richard III (of course). In terms of playing Richard, while he has a bad wig (as does every male character in this film almost), Olivier is really too good looking to be playing Richar,d who is deformed. Olivier gives him a limp (which varies in severity over the course of the film) and he holds his left hand in a weird fist but there’s no effort made for the hunchback that you’ll see in other representations of Richard.

The film is in Technicolor and it looks pretty good. The sets are believable as actual castles, although the proximity that’s given between the palace and the Tower seems a little too close to me (as in, I step out this door, cross a tiny courtyard, and look, I’m at the Tower!). However, the real beauty is in the costumes. While the men’s are just fine with the requisite funny hats, it is the women’s gowns, particularly Anne’s, that are really gorgeous. Also I’m a sucker for hats with veils, even when the hats are ridiculously tall like the ones in this film.

Olivier, Richard III

Laurence Olivier as Richard III

Now on to the actual content. The film opens with Edward IV’s coronation and there’s some small speechifying before Richard gets to deliver his “Now is the winter of our discontent speech” which provides the historical context necessary but it lacks the drama of that cold opening. Olivier has also edited Richard’s speech adding in content from a later soliloquy in Act I so that it all happens at once. However, the interesting visual motif that recurs throughout the film (besides that of the crown) is shots of Richard’s shadow on the ground. Beware the evils of the shadow. Olivier also delivers all of his soliloquies and asides directly to the camera and he has this sort of smile that makes the viewer an almost co-conspirator in his evils.

The other major change is Richard’s interchange with Anne which has been split into two separate scenes, which makes it a bit more realistic. They’ve changed the corpse in the coffin from that of Anne’s father-in-law to her husband, and it takes two exchanges before Anne agrees to marry Richard. But she comes across as a bit detached verging on catatonic towards the end of the film.

Richard and Anne, Richard III

Anne’s most proactive moment

Given the age of the film, there are some acting moments that made me laugh out loud as there are some weird facial expressions from Olivier (with dramatic music to accompany them). I also chortled when everyone in the room at the news of George’s death all gasped at exactly the same time and exactly the same way. But the biggest laugh came at the end of the film (I swear, I’ll get to it soon).

Unlike the play, all of the murders happen on camera (except Anne’s). Sadly the ghosts suffer from the lack of creepiness that comes with 1950s special effects. Of course, the weird stage whispers the actors use aren’t particularly terrifying either. However, while final battle scenes are filmed in the real outdoors, California makes a very poor England.

Now the ending deserves a paragraph all its own. The battle lacks a certain epicness one could hope for. And the armour Olivier is wearing is highly ridiculous. But it is Richard’s death scene that truly takes the cake. It really makes the 2 1/2 hours all worth while because this may just be THE most over the top death scene ever committed to film. Take a look for yourself (if you’re really interested you can go back about a minute to hear Olivier deliver my favourite line from the play, “A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!). Amazing, no?

Laurence Olivier, Richard III

Hello ridiculous death scene

So final verdict on this one is that once again, Richard doesn’t come across as evil as I would have hoped. Really, I was hoping he’d be more Moriarty-esque (and if you have not watched BBC’s Sherlock, go do that right now). Instead, despite the hideous things he does, he comes across as just mildly evil.

Next week will be our final English history play (huzzah!) with Henry VIII. Looking forward to some head chopping.

Richard III

Role Call:

  • King Edward IV
  • Edward, Prince of Wales and later King Edward V (Edward IV’s son)
  • Richard, Duke of York (son of Edward IV)
  • George, Duke of Clarence (brother of Edward IV)
  • Richard, Duke of Gloster and later King Richard III (brother of Edward IV)
  • Henry, Earl of Richmond and later King Henry VII
  • Duke of Buckingham
  • Earl Rivers, brother to Edward IV’s Queen
  • Marquis of Dorset and Lord Grey, sons of Edward IV’s Queen
  • Lord Hastings
  • Lord Stanley
  • Queen Elizabeth (Edward IV’s wife)
  • Queen Margaret (Henry VI’s widow)
  • Duchess of York (Mother of Edward IV, Clarence, and Richard III)
  • Lady Anne, it’s complicated but she eventually marries Richard III

The Play’s the Thing: The play opens with Richard bemoaning the fact that everything is too peaceful for his tastes although he’s doing his best to stir up trouble. Edward IV is ill and paranoid and Richard has planted rumours that there’s a prophecy that someone who’s name starts with G will kill his sons, with the hopes Edward IV will imprison and/or kill George, leaving open the road for Richard to more easily nab the throne. He then sees George being carted off to the tower and has one of many two-faced moments where he swears that he’ll do his best to get Edward IV to release George. Richard worries that Edward IV will bite the dust before Richard can have George whacked. Meanwhile, in another part of London, Anne is following the corpse of Henry VI which is on its way to be buried. To get things straight now, Anne is Henry VI’s daughter-in-law who was married to his son, Edward, who is also dead, both of whom we’re killed by Richard. She curses Richard (literally, she places a curse on his future wife) but then through some very impressive verbal exercises, Richard charms her into agreeing to marry him. Bad idea, Anne. Back at the palace, Queen Elizabeth is discussing her concerns about Edward IV’s health with her sons and then there’s some insults tossed around as some of the lords are not fans of the fact that Elizabeth has raised much of her family into the nobility even though they were nobodies prior to her marriage to Edward IV. Queen Margaret then shows up and curses everyone in sight, and this being Shakespeare these are all curses to take note of as they all come true later in the play. Everyone then gets called on to see Edward IV but Richard lingers behind to chat with two murderers he’s sending to whack George in the Tower. They head over to see George who tries desperately to talk his way out of the situation but only succeeds with one of the murderers and George is killed with the other.

Back in the palace, Edward is getting everybody to kiss and make up for the sake of his heirs. He then gets news George has been killed and gets depressed about it because while he briefly wanted him dead, he rescinded the order. Richard spreads rumours among the lords that Queen Elizabeth’s family made sure George was killed. The Duchess of York is hanging out with George’s kids when they bump into Queen Elizabeth who has gone a bit ’round the bend as Edward IV has died. The Duchess and Elizabeth have a grief off and it comes across as a bit Greek chorus-y (there will be more of this later). Meanwhile, Richard and the lords make plans to have Prince Edward, now Edward V brought to London for his coronation. Richard and Buckingham conspire to have Rivers and Grey (Queen Elizabeth’s family members) whacked. Elizabeth gets word of this and she and the Duchess worry about what Richard could possibly be up to.

Gloster meets Edward V and brings young Edward’s brother, York (referring to him by his title is just easier than having two Richards floating around right now). He sends the two brothers of to the Tower, even though Edward V isn’t too fond of the idea, to prep for the coronation. Meanwhile, Richard is conspiring with Buckingham to have himself crowned king. Queen Elizabeth’s family members are taken off to a place of execution (the first set of off-stage deaths). Richard breaks up plans for Edward’s coronation and manages to have some more lords executed for supposedly using witchcraft to cause Richard’s physical deformities. Despite some initial reluctance from the people, Richard eventually manages to wrangle mass support for his claim to the throne.

The Duchess, Anne, and Queen Elizabeth all meet up in front of the Tower where they’re headed to congratulate Edward V on his upcoming gig as King when they get word that Richard has made himself King. No one is pleased and there’s another grief off where Anne foretells her own death (which happens off-stage, of course).. Richard confides in Buckingham that he wants him to whack the two princes in the tower but Buckingham balks. Richard then gets someone else who’s so desperate for money he’ll do anything to organize the murders (more off-stage deaths). Richard is pleased as punch with the news his nephews are dead but then receives word that Richmond is sailing to England, likely in a bid for the throne himself (Henry VI foretold in the last play that Richmond would one day be king. Surprise! Any prophecies or curses in Shakespeare always come true! Too bad, Richard). Meanwhile the ladies have yet another grief off over all the horrible things Richard has done to them. Richard then shows up and attempts to convince Queen Elizabeth to woo her daughter on his behalf (a ploy to cement his position as King) but Elizabeth has none of it and although she says she relents, she really doesn’t. Richard then gets word of rebels and Richmond and heads off to battle.

Buckingham is executed (off stage!) for joining the rebels against Richard. Richmond and Richard set up their camps and prepare to face off the next day. While Richard’s forces are larger, what he doesn’t know is that most of his troops don’t like him and are willing to switch sides at the smallest provocation. While Richard and Richmond sleep the ghosts of Edward IV, Henry VI, George, Queen Elizabeth’s family members, another lord, the two young princes, and Buckingham all show up to curse Richard and bless Richmond. Richard wakes up and has a bad feeling about his odds but heads off to battle anyway. We get news that Richard is fighting like mad on foot even after losing his horse. There’s a brief sword fight between him and Richmond which ends with Richard’s (surprise!) off-stage death. Richmond then gives a speech about ending the civil war by joining the houses of the red and white roses through his marriage with Queen Elizabeth’s daughter.

Heroes and Villains: Richard III is considered one of Shakespeare’s best villains, right up there with Iago. And for good reason as he manipulative, charming, and scheming throughout. You never like him nor is he ever sympathetic, but he is fascinating to watch in his inexorable rise to and later fall from power.

Wordsmith:

  • Take that, and that (I.iv)
  • dance attendance (III.vii)
  • a very prey to time (IV.iv)
  • A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse! (V.iv)

Speech to Know: Richard’s speech which opens the play begins with one of Shakespeare’s better known lines and gives the first glimpse of Richard’s hideous plots for the future.

“Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lower’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums chang’d to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visaged war hath smooth’d his wrinkled front;
And now, – instead of mounting bared steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries, –
He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, – that am not shap’d for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty
to strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deform’d, unfinish’d, sent before my time,
Into this breathing world scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them; –
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun,
And descant on mine own deformity:
And therefore, – since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days, –
I am determined to prove a villain,
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.” (I.i)

View from the Pit: I had high expectations for Richard III, which were only half-met. Richard comes with a reputation as being a villain on par with Iago, who is not only my favourite Shakespearean villain but probably my favourite villain in all fiction, so I was looking forward to my first encounter with him. And while as a character he is fascinating and his actions heinous, his climb to power and later fall from the throne are diluted by a lot of subplots and scenes that may be important for the historical context but slow down the action. The play is not as tightly plotted as some of the tragedies I’ll be spending time with later this year. That being said, it is far more interesting than much of the Henry VI trilogy. My only major complaint is that we have strong women who stand up to Richard for pages of fast-paced dialogue only to cave to him over and over. Now admittedly, this makes him even more interesting as a character to see how he can manipulate these women into changing their minds, but I would have liked to have seen Elizabeth beat him out in their verbal match instead of hearing later that she had ultimately turned against him.

Film Review – Henry VI Part 3 (1983)

Fair reader, I just want to have a moment of silence for the fact that this film wasn’t directed by Kenneth Branagh. Are you sick of me mentioning him? Too bad. It keeps my brain from atrophying while I try to watch these Complete Dramatic Works of Shakespeare films. So you’ll probably have to live with it for a while longer.

Like last week, I did not make it through this entire film (212 minutes!). I made it through about 45. And there’s not hugely interesting or new things to say about this film. The sets are basically the same from Part 2, except the wood structures have all been painted black. The costumes are still bad and most of the “leather armour” just looks like bad 80s punk fashion. But at least the actors are now age appropriate for their parts so that’s a positive. I was also excited to see the actor playing Richard, mostly because I adored him as Chivery in Little Dorrit (go watch it, it’s awesome). However, the actor playing Clifford has a really badly faked Scottish accent. In my 45 minutes, nothing super exciting happened. I got one battle sequence which was basically groups of men shoving each other back and forth while they both held pikes (not a euphemism, although that would have made things far more interesting). So enjoy the one screen cap of the film I could find (even the general internet hasn’t watched this film much).

File:Fathers and Sons BBC.jpg

I’ll be back on Sunday with Richard III, my penultimate English history play, and our chance to encounter one of Shakespeare’s great villains.

Henry VI Part 3

Role Call:

  • King Henry VI
  • Edward, Prince of Wales. Henry’s son
  • Louis XI, King of France
  • Dukes of Somerset and Exeter + Earls of Oxford, Northumberland, and Westmoreland + Lord Clifford (Henry’s allies)
  • Duke of York
  • Edward (later King Edward IV), York’s son
  • George (later Duke of Clarence), York’s son
  • Earl of Rutland, York’s son
  • Richard (later Duke of Gloster), York’s son
  • Duke of Norfolk + Marquis of Montague + Earls of Warwick and Pembroke + Lords Hastings and Stafford (York’s allies)
  • Sir John and Sir Hugh Mortimer (York’s uncles)
  • Queen Margaret
  • Lady Grey (later Queen to King Edward IV)
  • Bona, sister to French Queen

The Play’s the Thing: York and some of his cronies open the play hanging out in Parliament pondering how King Henry managed to get away from their forces and exchanging news of who they slaughtered (with Richard tossing Somerset’s head on the floor). Henry finally arrives and has a power showdown with York. He ultimately caves and agrees to name York as his heir as long as York allows Henry to continue the rest of his reign in peace. Henry’s allies are disgusted at these peace terms, Margaret is furious that Henry has betrayed his son in this way and decides to lead an army against York herself. York is happy with his deal for about thirty seconds until the cronies convince him to depose Henry and then word arrives of Margaret and her army and everyone heads out to fight. Clifford kills Rutland, refusing to pity the fact he’s a child. Later, when Margaret, Clifford and company capture York, they rub in the fact they’ve killed Rutland. York gives a moving speech and then is stabbed by Clifford and Margaret and then dies.

Edward and Richard are wondering where their father is when they get news that he’s been killed. Edward vows to take Henry’s crown. He then receives word that Margaret wants to have a meeting. Meanwhile, Margaret is asking King Henry if he’s happy York is dead, and being Henry, he isn’t. Margaret and Clifford then tell Henry to get lost because they do better in battle without him and they’ve just received news that Warwick and Edward are on their way. However, Henry decides he’ll stay this time. Edward and Henry then have a power showdown over who is rightfully the king and then they head off to battle. There’s a few battle scenes between various parties, then King Henry gives a soliloquy about how he’d much rather be a shepherd with a peaceful life. We then see a son who’s killed his father and a father who’s killed his son (take note: civil war is bad). Henry is then urged to run by Margaret and their son because they’re being soundly beaten. Edward, Richard, and George happen upon Clifford as he dies. Edward then makes himself King and names Richard Duke of Gloster and George Duke of Clarence. Warwick heads to France to solicit Bona to be Edward’s wife so they can cement relations with France.

Two deer hunters capture Henry who’s just returned to England after hiding out in Scotland for a while and decide to turn him over to Edward. During this scene, we learn that Margaret and their son are in France begging for aid from the King of France to help Henry defeat Edward. In London, Edward has been utterly charmed by Lady Grey, a widow who is begging for her husband’s land to be left with her. Edward propositions her and she refuses so he decides to marry her instead. We also get our first hints that Richard has higher aspirations than his current dukedom and wants the crown all to himself. In France, Margaret is asking King Louis for aid. Warwick then shows up to ask for Bona’s hand on behalf of Edward. Louis decides to give Bona to Warwick for Edward because Edward has more public support than Henry and he wants to back a winning horse. Then a messenger shows up with letters for everyone. Everyone’s received news of Edward’s marriage to Lady Grey. Louis decides to back Henry after all, Warwick switches to Henry’s side because of the perceived betrayal, and everybody sends verbal hate mail back to Edward via the messenger.

Edward is chatting with George and Richard about his wife. George thinks he made a poor choice and Richard falsely sucks up and says he likes her. The messenger shows up and tells Edward all the nasty things the peeps from France said about him. Edward fakes that its no big, although he freaks a bit in an aside when George switches sides as well. We then get more battle stuff. Warwick, George, and Oxford capture Edward in his tent. In London, Edward’s wife tries not to freak out too much about Edward’s capture because she’s pregnant. Out in the boonies, Richard and some cronies rescue Edward from captivity. In London, Warwick and George are releasing Henry from the Tower. They get news Edward’s escaped and head off to battle some more. Edward has a showdown with the mayor of York who initially refuses to let him in but then eventually relents. Henry sees off a bunch of his cronies who are headed out to fight Edward’s army but when Henry is alone, he’s capture by Edward and shipped back to the Tower again.

Warwick and Edward exchange words and George switches sides back to his brother. There’s some battle scenes and Warwick is killed. Edward is crowing about his victory and receives word that Margaret has arrived with an army of her own and he heads off to meet her. There’s some battle speeches from Margaret and company and then some fighting. Edward captures Margaret and her son. He, Richard, and George all stab him and he dies. Margaret pleads for them to kill her too but they refuse. Richard heads off at light speed to London to kill Henry, which he does in the tower. Richard then gives a soliloquy about his plans to nab the crown. However, first he and George make up with Edward and his wife, and kiss their new baby. Edward ends the play stating his hope for a peaceful future.

Heroes and Villains: There’s some truly fascinating characters wandering around this play but none of them are particularly likable. Margaret gets a lot of points for being such an amazing military leader and negotiator. However, Richard also deserves some notice as Shakespeare plants the seeds in this play for the heights of villainy he’ll get up to when we see him next.

Speech to Know: Richard has a few speeches where he plots his overthrow of his brothers and his final major speech in the penultimate scene of the play is probably the best of them.

“I that have neither pity, love, nore fear. –
Indeed, ’tis true that Henry told me of;
For I have often heard my mother say
I came into the world with my legs forward:
Had I not reason, think ye, to make haste,
And seek their ruin that usurp’d our right:
The midwife wonder’d; and the women cried,
O, Jesus bless us, he is born with teeth!
And so I was, which plainly signified
That I should snarl, and bite, and play the dog.
Then, since the heavens have shap’d my body so,
Let hell make crook’d my mind to answer it.
I have no brother, I am like no brother;
And this word love, which greybeards call divine,
Be resident in men like one another,
And not in me: I am myself alone. –
Clarence, beware; thou keep’st me from the light:
But I will sort a pitchy day for thee;
For I will buzz abroad such prophecies
That Edward shall be earful of his life:
And then, to purge his fear, I’ll be thy death.
King Henry and the prince his son are gone:
Clarence, thy turn is next, and then the rest;
Counting myself but bad till I be best. –
I’ll throw thy body in another room,
And triumph, Henry, in thy day of doom.” (V.vi)

View from the PitHenry VI Part 3 is a bit of a letdown after the awesomeness of the previous part. There are a lot of plotlines going on and a lot of time being covered in very short order and things come across as a bit crammed. While there is some distinct awesomeness from Margaret and the body count is pretty high with at least one major-ish character dying in every act, this play mostly serves as a preview of the villainy we can expect from Richard. Sadly, Henry VI himself never really moves beyond the cardboard cutout he started out as in the first part. He remains a one-note character that doesn’t really grow over the arc of the play and I mostly felt sorry for this man who was so ill-suited to power and forever living in the shadow of his thoroughly awesome father.

Film Review – Henry VI Part 2 (1983)

Ok, fair reader, I’m going to be honest. I only watched 55 minutes of this week’s film adaptation. And the prospect of watching another 2 1/2 hours of it made me want to cry. So this week you’re getting a review of the first 55 minutes of the film. Because once again, we hang out with our film fallback, The Complete Dramatic Works of Shakespeare series (I swear Kenneth Branagh, as I watch more and more of these I become more and more serious about chaining you to a director’s chair so that there will be better Shakespearean film adaptations out there).

Anyway, so what did I learn in the first 55 minutes? They did a weird job in casting for this one. Henry VI is beak-nosed, soft-voiced, and pathetic (really only the last quality was necessary). The actress playing Margaret was too old (actually this is true of basically half the cast, particularly Henry. How am I supposed to buy the fact that an actor in his late 30s to early 40s is a young king barely above the age of majority?) and she got stuck with some weird hair. Suffolk isn’t nearly as hot or as manly as he should be. If you’re going to cheat on the king, the duke better be worth it, IMO. And York, my beloved York, wasn’t nearly as awesome as I could have hoped for. However, it may be of interest that the actor playing York is the same man that played Captain Smith in the Kate and Leo version of Titanic.

Margaret and Suffolk, Henry VI Part 2

Margaret’s first appearance on the arm of Suffolk (notice lack of hotness). The confetti hides how old she is.

The sets are laughably bad. We’re literally dealing with poor wooden sets slapped up in the background to make it seem like… someplace. It definitely doesn’t pass as a palace. Or an area outside a palace either. Maybe a really bad three-ring circus. The costumes are ok. But I quickly realized that the highlight of this film were going to be the funny hats.

Duke of York, Henry VI Part 2

I like you Captain Smith, but as York, you’re lacking the necessary awesomeness.

And speaking of laughably bad, let’s talk about the play content I got in the first hour. Most of it was taken up by Act I (that’s right, only a whopping five or so minutes were Act II. See why I’m not rushing out to watch the rest?). The film opens with a couple heralds rolling down a banner that says Henry VI Part 2, which is fine, except that the banner is then just hanging in the background for the first twenty minutes of the film, which is a little distracting. Other disappointments include the witch/conjurer scene. I was hoping for something Macbeth like in quality, but this scene was bad. Not scary, creepy, or even vaguely mysterious. It was difficult to determine whether the director was trying to imply that the witch and conjurer were con artists or just felt like not hiding all the “special effects” to create the thunder and altered voice for summoning the spirit. Oh, and my final complaint is that while Somerset and York are wearing red and white flowers respectively (as they should), the flowers look nothing like roses. Instead they’re just really fake looking fake flowers. Le sigh.

Thus ends the film review. I’ll be back on Sunday when I’ll conclude the trilogy with Henry VI Part 3.

Henry VI Part 2

Role Call:

  • King Henry VI
  • Queen Margaret
  • Duke of Gloster, Henry’s Uncle
  • Cardinal Beaufort
  • Eleanor, Gloster’s Wife
  • Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York
  • Earl of Salisbury, York’s ally
  • Earl of Warwick, York’s ally
  • Duke of Somerset, King’s ally
  • Duke of Suffolk, King’s ally
  • Duke of Buckingham, King’s ally
  • Clifford and his son, Young Clifford, King’s allies
  • Jack Cade, Rebel

The Play’s the Thing: Suffolk arrives in London with Margaret for Henry’s wife. Henry thinks she’s super attractive and is very pleased with his new bride. Suffolk also brings the terms of peace with France which require Henry to give up his claims to Anjou and Maine. While Henry is convinced Margaret is worth it, the other lords think its a very shabby trade, especially as Margaret brings no dowry and Henry actually had to pay for her trip over to England. Gloster and the Cardinal get into a tiff, and after Gloster leaves, the Cardinal airs his worries that Gloster is too well liked by the public, especially as he’s the heir-apparent. He makes plans with several of the dukes to join with Suffolk in ousting Gloster. Alone, York plots his eventual overthrow of Henry. Eleanor, Gloster’s wife, desperately wants her husband to take the throne. She sets up a meeting with a witch and a conjurer to find out her husband’s fate through a guy who is being paid off by the Cardinal and Suffolk to help bring about the downfall of Gloster. Margaret complains to Suffolk that her husband is a disappointment and way too pious and bookish and not awesomely manly like Suffolk, that the Duchess of Gloster is too uppity, and Margaret doesn’t have enough power. Suffolk reassures her that he’ll fix it all. Henry then shows up who is having to decide whether Somerset or York should be made regent of what’s left of his lands in France. Due to some political maneuvering that involves a peasant saying that he thinks York is the rightful King of England, Somerset is made regent. Eleanor meets with the witch and conjurer, who summon up a spirit who gives prophecies about the fate of Henry, Gloster, Suffolk, and Somerset. York and Buckingham then show up and arrest her for treason.

Henry, Margaret, and a bunch of lords are falcon hunting. Gloster and the Cardinal continue to engage in their power struggle. There’s then a bit with a con man pretending to be a blind man who’s miraculously gained his sight. Buckingham then arrives with news of the arrest of Eleanor. Meanwhile, in London, York meets with Salisbury and Warwick who both agree that York’s claim to the throne is better than Henry’s (there’s some complicated family history going on here). In the hall of justice, Henry sentences Eleanor’s cohortss to death and banishes Eleanor for her crimes and has Gloster give up his role as protector, deeming himself old enough to rule independently. Gloster willingly gives it up. Gloster and Eleanor have a final meeting before she leaves, in which he maintains his loyalty to Henry.

Henry is headed to meet with Parliament and mulling the fact that Gloster hasn’t shown up yet. Suffolk, Margaret, the Cardinal, and York attempt to convince Henry that Gloster is conspiring to take the crown, but Henry refuses to believe it. Somerset then arrives to let Henry know he has lost of all of his holdings in France. Gloster arrives shortly afterwards and is accused by the various dukes of taking bribes from France and conspiring to allow England to lose. Although Henry doesn’t believe Gloster was traitorous, he allows him to be arrested.  Margaret then plots with Suffolk, the Cardinal, and York to have Gloster killed. Suffolk confers with some murderers (literally described as Murderer 1 and 2) and makes sure they know what to do. Henry arrives to talk with Gloster about these treason accusations. Suffolk heads off to fetch him and then reports that Gloster is dead. Henry faints and when he awakens Margaret rants about why he won’t look at her or talk to her even though she went through a lot of crap to get to England and marry him. Warwick and Salisbury arrive with the news that because news of Gloster’s supposed murder at the hands of the Cardinal and Suffolk the commoners are in an uproar. Henry doesn’t know if it’s actually a murder. Warwick does some Elizabethan CSI work and decides Gloster was strangled. He then has it out with the Suffolk and they head out to sword fight only to return shortly afterwards with Salisbury who brings news from the commons that they want Suffolk executed or they’ll break into the palace and kill Suffolk themselves. Henry banishes Suffolk, despite Margaret’s pleas that he let him stay. Margaret and Suffolk have a sad goodbye with kissage until a messenger arrives with the news that the Cardinal is on his deathbed. Suffolk and Margaret then exchange some more “my life is nothing without you”s and then he leaves. Henry then goes to the Cardinal’s deathbed who is hallucinating and seeing what he takes to be the ghost of Gloster. The Cardinal reveals he was involved in the plot to kill Gloster with poison and then dies.

Out in the ocean, a some sailors have captured Suffolk and behead him at sea. They send the head back to Henry (this is important mostly because there’s a scene later where Margaret cuddles with his head). Meanwhile, in Blackheath, Jack Cade is stirring up the commoners, claiming he is a rightful heir to the throne, and promising them everything they want so they’ll go with him against the king. This involves a lot of bashing of anyone with even a little education (they kill a guy who can actually sign his name rather than just make a mark). Unknown to the commoners, Cade is raising this rebellion as requested by the Duke of York, who is currently fighting rebels in Ireland. Cade’s rebels are wreaking havoc everywhere. Henry doesn’t want to kill all the simple folk who are following because they don’t know better (hello, condescending royalty). Henry receives news that Cade has arrived at London bridge. Cade tells his followers to burn London bridge and attack the Tower if they can. Cade and the commoners are really going nuts destroying everything and killing anyone they don’t like when Buckingham and Clifford show up. There’s some rhetoric between the two sides, with Buckingham and Clifford offering pardon from the king to all the commoners, and every time either side makes a speech, the crowd sides with them. Cade finally flees, Henry puts a bounty on his head, and pardons all the commoners. Then a messenger arrives with news that York is marching towards them with his army, newly arrived from Ireland, supposedly only to remove Somerset from his position of influence with the King. Meanwhile, Cade is killed by a lowly esquire named Iden who heads off to bring the head to Henry.

York arrives in England with his army with visions of nabbing the crown dancing in his head. He meets with Buckingham and although he gets super angry, he covers it and says he’s only using the army to ensure Somerset is removed from power. Buckingham tells York that Somerset is imprisoned and York sends a messenger to “disband” his army. Iden then shows up Cade’s head and is knighted by Henry and given the reward. Margaret shows up afterward all chummy with Somerset which pisses off York who is then arrested for treason. There’s some maneuvering around ransoms and then York heads back to his army to fight the King’s side. There’s some sword fighting and York kills Clifford. Henry and Margaret flee to London to rally their supporters. York gloats over his victory and then prepares to head to London where hopefully the winning streak will continue. CLIFFHANGER.

Heroes and Villains: While no one is particularly likable in this play, it’s time to pull out the fascinating villain card which in this case goes to York. He plays multiple alliances to get where he wants and is always maneuvering to align things best for his planned attempt at the crown including organizing the rebellion led by Cade.

Wordsmith:

  • “rules the roast” (I.i)
  • “play’d me false” (III.i)
  • “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” (IV.ii)

Insults with Style: “pernicious blood-sucker of sleeping men!” (III.ii)

Speech to Know: There are several awesome speeches in this play, but York has some of the best as he has several soliloquies in which he plots his overthrow of Henry.

“Now, York, or never, steel thy fearful thoughts,
And change misdoubt to resolution:
Be that thou hopest to be, or what thou art
Resign to death; it is not worth the enjoying:
Let pale-faced fear keep with the mean-born man,
And find no harbor in a royal heart.
Faster than spring-time showers comes thought on thought,
And not a thought but thinks on dignity.
My brain more busy than the laboring spider
Weaves tedious snares to trap mine enemies.
Well, nobles, well, ’tis politicly done,
To send me packing with an host of men:
I fear me you but warm the starved snake,
Who, cherish’d in your breasts, will sting your hearts.
‘Twas men I lack’d, and you will give them me:
I take it kindly; yet be well assured
You put sharp weapons in a madman’s hands.
Whiles I in Ireland nourish a mighty band,
I will stir up in England some black storm
Shall blow ten thousand souls to heaven or hell;
And this fell tempest shall not cease to rage
Until the golden circuit on my head,
Like to the glorious sun’s transparent beams,
Do calm the fury of this mad-bred flaw.” (III.i)

View from the PitHenry VI Part 2 is way, way, way more interesting than Part 1. While it’s still about the political maneuvering (with some dashes of sword fighting to add some action), there are so many different plots going on that it’s just more fun to read. With the multiple political intrigues going on from York’s plot to overthrow Henry, to Margaret and Suffolk’s affair and attempts to control Henry, to Jack Cade’s rebellion with the commoners, there’s a lot of politics going on and it’s all fascinating. Henry is still nowhere near as cool as Henry V, but he’s more the centre around which the plot rotates rather than an integral character. He’s a decent guy and you feel bad for this devout guy who genuinely wants to do good for his people and is thwarted by the people around him but he’s not the main event like Henry V was. Instead, that mantle is taken up by York who is the far more interesting character to watch as he slowly brings his plans to claim the throne into place.