What happens when a character’s language cannot be spoken
but can be communicated visually?
Henry Seago as Poins in 1 Henry IV (OSF, 2010).
This is one of the first questions Michael W. Shurgot asks in his analysis of the translation of a particularly “tricky” language to use in a Shakespearean play: American Sign Language (ASL). Whereas American-English speaking actors can “translate” Shakespearean language through enunciation and the use of American accents, it becomes extremely difficult when there is no Shakespearean era equivalent to the language a character is trying to use. This was the predicament actor Howie Seago found himself in when he was cast as Poins in the production of 1 Henry IV at the 2010 Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF). Continue reading →
I’ve been thinking lately about how long a minute actually is, questioning why time is unfairly taken from some and not others. And that’s when I realized the shitty truth about time; we think of it as a human-based concept but it’s not. We can’t control time. Continue reading →
Absorbing national history into crafted play with characteristic ingenuity, Shakespeare exposes the idiosyncratic quality of historical construction. To substantiate the narrative bulk of 1 King Henry IV, Shakespeare used the Holinshed Chronicles, an ambitious record of English history published in the late sixteenth century. Departing from the Chronicle’s narrowed occupation with succession, war and insurrection — cue Marx:“the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas” — the play includes a distinctive breadth that initiates an interrogation of the historical subject.
When I had first watched the film My Own Private Idaho (1991), I was unaware of the specific references to Shakespeare’s Henry IV Parts I and II and Henry V. Categorized and hyped as a queer-road-western film by the press, the Shakespearean element was largely overlooked in favor of the then-shocking reality that beloved teen heartthrob and James-Dean-lookalike River Phoenix was portraying a gay street hustler type.
Achieving cult status after the untimely and premature death of River Phoenix in October 1993, the film has been ranked and met with critical acclaim by many critics as one of the best films of the 1990s and the best performances actors Keanu Reeves and Phoenix will find in years. The Shakespearean element, rather than taking away from the realistic portrayal of the independent film, actually adds to the picture in how it helps to justify the eccentric art cinema effects and underline the central themes of the film.
Peasants feasting in a tavern attributed to David Teniers
The tavern scenes in Henry IV Part I are set in stark contrast to those that take place in the room’s of royalty and the battlefield. Hal’s lower class friends are not so concerned with the overthrowing of monarchs or war strategy. Pranks and hearty eating are much higher on the list of priorities at the tavern in Eastcheap. Why would Shakespeare include such debauchery in one of his histories praising the rise of the current royal bloodline? Harry’s time in the taverns is important in creating a more dynamic, more relatable depiction of England. It also creates a space removed from the drama of the royals and war where Harry and can temporarily escape to. Just as importantly, when Harry leaves the tavern, the heavy reality and role into which he was born can be fully appreciated. Continue reading →
Who is King Henry IV of England? As a lover of European history, I assumed I would know something about him. But I didn’t. I knew absolutely nothing. In fact, I only am familiar with his name because of his presence as the stabilizing protagonist and namesake of two of Shakespeare’s plays, Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2.
They say that “hindsight’s always 20/20”. Knowing what we know in the present, if it were possible to go back then we could “fix” the past—avoid the mistakes we made the first time around. In a similar vein, it is said that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. The past exists as a place defined by the present: we can see where we went wrong, and what we should have done differently. But, the past defines the present as much as it is defined by it.
Hotspur aspires to “pluck up drowned honor by the locks; / So he that doth redeem her thence might wear / without corrival, all her dignities” (Act 1 Scene 3). The play sets him up, however, a direct corrival in Hal. These two Harrys form the most obvious example, but by propagating the concept of corrivality through other pairings, we find other broken symmetries within the Henry IV, Part 1 and can illuminate the conflict of idealized chivalry and the realities of politics. Continue reading →
Shakespeare is remembered as a great playwright. But he was more than just that. We must remember that Shakespeare didn’t just write about English history, he helped create the history of England for the people of the Elizabethan era and beyond. We often believe history to be fact, but in fact history is really just what information was written down or stored at a certain time and passed down to today. Because of their popularity and endurance, Shakespeare’s plays therefore play a huge role in shaping our perception of English history. Shakespeare crafted his plays about Henry IV to make political points about 16th century Elizabethan England, and these plays became a primary source of history to his audiences. We must therefore keep his biases in mind when reading the plays as “history.” Continue reading →