Sunday, February 23, 2020

Shakespeare2020: King Henry VI, part iii

If you want wars, this is the play for you. It's a constant circle of Henry in charge, Henry in charge (via York), then York, then Henry (via Queen Margaret), then York (via Warwick), then Henry (via Warwick), then York (via Richard, Duke of Gloucester). To me, this is the warm-up to the splendidness that is Richard III.  (Also, the love for Richmond--eventual Henry VII--is pretty obsequious. Shakespeare is good at that. I love that man.)

To prove that I'm right about the warm-up, Shakespeare included the longest soliloquy that he ever wrote (III.ii.124–195); he gave it to Richard, Duke of Gloucester (who will be Richard III soon!). It's a gorgeous piece of writing and it begins the themes that Shakespeare will later use with R3, namely that in between the bloodthirsty ambition of Richard, there's a likeability and an honesty that resonates with audiences.

Of course, the play is called Henry VI and we do get to see that weak excuse of a monarch quite a bit. (I'm not positive, but I think he gets more lines in this play than in part ii--and of course it's more than he gets in part i.) In Act I, Henry is more than happy to throw his progeny to the wolves if he can keep power for a little longer. By Act II, when Henry sees the son who has killed his father and the father who has killed his son, Shakespeare uses Henry as less of a monarch and more to develop a connection to the audience.

Now, when it comes to women, there are a lot of interesting elements in this play.
a. Queen Margaret is rightfully pissed off, and it's invigorating. She's the whole reason that we have a play because, if it wasn't for her, Henry would roll over. She fights (and, boy, does Richard initially underestimate a woman's army! underestimating women is a move that Richard will repeat again), she plots, she plans, she inveigles, she whines, she protests, she wins, she loses, she kills, she lives, she protects.
b. Lady Grey, who becomes Edward's Queen, doesn't have much personal power in this play. But Edward wooing her is a master lesson in awkwardness and, of course, Edward thinking with his nether regions causes so many unnecessary problems. When will men learn??  :)
c. Connected to Queen Margaret: "O tiger's heart wrapt in a woman's hide!" (I.iv.137). It's one of my favorite lines and I kind of like to try to emulate that line whenever I'm trying something new or someone seems to say that I'm just not good enough or that women aren't strong.

That's a wrap on Henry VI and I'm breaking from the Shakespeare2020 line-up so that I can go straight on to Richard III! We're ready to trade in kingdoms for a horse!  :)

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Shakespeare2020: King Henry Vi, part ii

If part i of King Henry VI was all about armies of men moving and being defeated, then part ii is when the nobles start to die. And die they do. It reminded me of a low-budget Tarantino-esque production at times, simply because, to announce every death, they keep showing off the heads of slain nobles. We won't get to see blood gushing from the stage in these productions, but we still get grisly sights--Queen Margaret almost making out with a dismembered head is pretty wild.

The quick summary--Queen Margaret marries Henry and plots against him with her lover, Suffolk. York begins to assert his power in different ways: inciting Jack Cade to lead a rebellion, then leading a rebellion himself. But, don't worry, Henry knows that he's a terrible ruler. In Act VI, scene ix he says, "Come, wife, let's in, and learn to govern better; For yet may England curse my wretched reign." You have to appreciate that at least he knows he's a terrible ruler. It ends in the aftermath of the Battle of St. Albans with Henry and Margaret running away, and York planning to follow Henry to London so he can fully gain the crown.

The things that stuck out to me:
1. In Act I we have a conjuring scene, but it's almost wholly a Ouija board type of event. They aren't asking for any spirit-interference, just predictions, but punishments rain down on their heads. In Macbeth, Shakespeare will go much more deeply into whether the Weird Sisters have power and what role predictions have, but this simplistic execution of conjuring acts as solely a decent plot device.

2. Oh, the Yorks! I love me some Yorks! Yes, York peppermint patties, of course, but also I'm totally Team White Rose. (That's another post for another day.) Now, in King Henry VI, part ii, we get to see Richard (later King Richard III) onstage at the end [being belittled by a"heap of wrath, foul indigested lump, as crooked in thy manners as thy shape" (V.i, 157-158)]. But the main focus is on the Duke of York (Richard's father). The Duke of York shows us where Richard gets his wonderful ability to connect to the audience through asides and descriptive monologues. One of my favorite lines ever is this gem from York: "My brain, more busy than a labouring spider, Weaves tedious snares to trap mine enemies" (III.i.340-341). Gorgeous, gorgeous! His history lesson in Act II is marvelous and necessary, especially if you're watching the tetralogy all at once and you need a refresher in the middle.

3. "Game of Thrones" unabashedly stole Cersei's walk of shame from the Duchess of Gloucester's Act II walk. Shakespeare would be proud.

4. Suffolk gets off too easy; Queen Margaret is such a skank. Jack Cade's rebellion reflects the loss of poetry/intellect/beauty if regular citizens ever would gain control. Henry can't read people, can't understand politics, and shouldn't rule.

5. One last thing--Walter and Water. It's so deliciously Britishly brilliant. Suffolk heard that he was to die by "water" but, when he's about to be killed by a dude named "Walter," he totally realizes his mistake. If you're a midwestern American like me, you start to realize that Shakespeare wrote Act VI, scene i just for YOU. Because, when reading it, you have to sound it out, elongate the vowels, subsume the "ell," and genuinely grovel in the artistry of British wordplay for a bit. Of course, it also predicts how misunderstanding prophecies can go quite wrong (*cough* *cough* *Macbeth**cough*).

It's quite a cliffhanger at the end, so I'm happily moving right on to part iii.