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Friday, September 16, 2011

Sounds Like Sexist Xenophobic Bullying To Me. Better Ban It

I recently saw (again) the 1944 version of The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France. It's a charming piece of work. Laurence Olivier is famous enough, I guess, but not as notable for his real talent as he might be. Shakespeare drops like ripe apples from his mouth. The movie makes a mockery of so many who have tried fantastical juxtapositions of real and cartoonish in movies since then. It's filmed like watching a Bayeux Tapestry or a child's storybook get up and dance around, and throws in a view from backstage, too, to show just how far down the rabbit hole they can take us.


It's fun to imagine a British audience, worn out with years of blitzes and the terrors of telegrams, sitting rapt in the theater and seeing their island race triumph in a tight spot. There's a great scene where Olivier is backstage, and looks a little round-shouldered and wan, and coughs a bit in an offhand way, and then strides out onto the stage in front of the Globe Theatre crowd, and is immediately transformed by the words and the moment into the majesty of Henry Vth. Olivier knew that the play's the thing that makes a man great, not the other way around.

Old Bill knew how to put words in women's mouths, too; another art long since lost to the playwright. Catherine is made more charming than any sovereign could hope to resist in the blink of a French eye in her garden. Do you need to know French to get it? I don't think so. Flummoxing up "bilbo," a flexible sword, for "elbow" is a nice touch. I can't remember if it's written into the text or a happy accident.


The women are feminine but decide all in their sphere and the men kill one another over insults and geopolitics alike, and your countrymen are your brothers that you'd defend to the death against all comers. In hours, roughly, how long until Shakespeare is banned in public school?

Henry V (The Criterion Collection)

11 comments:

Leslie said...

“From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”

A favorite. We love Shakespeare at our school. (Though, I once took my older children to see Romeo and Juliette during a "school matinee", and there were several big homeschool families there with little kids. I over heard one mother complain about the intimate scene...and thought she needed to study her Shakespeare more if she thought it was all G rated.)

Anonymous said...

Olivier is known to older people. The problem is that his work isn't shown to the young. It would show up too many of today's "stars" and Hollywood in general for the crappy movies of today. Watch most of the British movies of the period and see far better plots and acting.

Sixty Grit said...

What a great speech. Shakespeare could sure put some words together, eh?

teresa said...

That was lovely. Wonderful acting and those sets were beautiful! I could eat them. Something about the lighting, or maybe an effect of the old film, whatever it is, I'm in love with it.

lorraine said...

me too.

Casey Klahn said...

Answer: three, two, one...

Thud said...

Lord olivier and Bill, how could it fail?

T.K. Tortch said...

Few years ago I made good on my long standing self-promise to read everything Shakespeare ever wrote. I still had my copy of the Riverside Shakespeare from college, so it was sitting right there. So I read everything and then went back and did it all again. First time scrupulously read all the footnotes to pick up work meanings and variations; by the second go around I didn't really need them, and at that point the plays really opened up for me. Even the bad ones, the bloody crowd-pleasing revengers are packed with brilliant passages. It's kind of stupefying, how good he was, and that he sustained such a high level of writing for as long as he did.

Leslie said...

It is also a treat to watch the plays (made into movies) with the closed captioning turned on. That way, you can read it, and listen to it, since it was meant to be seen and heard.

SippicanCottage said...

Hi Leslie- I wait each time to hear Olivier say, perfectly, remem*ber*red.

Shakespeare's rollicking.

Hi Anon- I think Olivier is known in America to younger people for different reasons. He had a few roles in movies like Marathon Man that became the handle on which they grasped him. It was nothing compared to his stage work. He played Dowding, and the Dutch doctor in Bridge Too Far too, to good effect in second-rate, if enjoyable movies in the seventies, too. The Mahdi, too!

I like the British films from ten to twenty years before that, too.

Hi Sixty Grit- Thanks for reading and commenting.

Hi teresa- The YouTube dubs were a little drab compared to the film I saw. It was really vibrant and lovely looking.

Hi Lorraine- Thanks for reading and commenting.

Hi Casey- They bowlderize Twain. They are dead to me.

Hi Thud- There are certain people who know how to spend money if you give it to them. This production must have been hard to finance in 1944, but it wasn't a waste of money.

Hi TK- Thanks for reading and commenting. I'm growing partial to Richard II these days. High schoolers like Macbeth, and R&J if they're girls. I'm not old enough for Lear, I guess.

Leslie- If you're not laboring to hear the words, you can enjoy the whole thing more.

Thud said...

Sipp, propaganda can be cruel and blunt. in 1944 britain needed a lift and this did the trick from what I've read and heard from family members still battered from the Blitz.