I’ve been reading a lot lately, and thus have finally gotten around to a long held goal to read (or in some cases) reread Shakespeare. I got me The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, 2nd Edition. It has a wonderful introduction but does not annotate the plays themselves which is both a good thing and a bad thing. I’m about halfway through this brick of a book. They arrange the plays by chronology, or at least the chronological order the editors believe Shakespeare wrote them. Which fascinatingly, is not an easy thing to determine.
What I like about this construct is I can read one play in about two to three hours and it’s a nice bite sized chunk of happy without overwhelming my brain. The last one read was Henry V. This guy’s story should be (but no longer is) well familiar to all of Western culture. It’s one of Shakespeare’s most well known, and maybe most quoted plays. It’s not 100% to the truth of history, but that’s never what Shakespeare was aiming for.
Having never read the whole play at once, I can say it’s probably the closest thing to an action movie that Shakespeare ever wrote. This play puts the pedal down from the start and never lets up. It’s an intesnse experience. The play itself (of course) has garnered a lot of negative thoughts from modern, arrogant types who don’t like that it’s a piece of jingoism. Probably because it is in fact a play written for a patriotic English auidence that very much wanted to hear a story about how Henry puts his boot on the French throat and drives the sword through the eyepiece.
That’s what Shakespeare intended. He clearly writes Henry V as his, the, model of an excellent, decisive ruler. But make no mistake, Shakespeare doesn’t hold his punches from anybody. Like a lot of history’s great people, Henry is both a hero and a maniac all rolled into one. He is unphased by battle, takes extreme risks, and ultimately see his victory through immense battlefield skill and leadership.
This same man also pontificates about how he might rape, pillage, and murder an entire city. Actually has his men begin to execute unarmed prisoners during a time of crisis. And in as many words (while disguised as a common man walking amongst his troops in the dark) that the king has the right to spend his men’s lives like currency whenever the fuck he wants to. In other words, Henry is indeed a man of his time, a good king, but still a ruler from the 15th Century.
The epilogue also reminds the audience (not that anybody at the time needed a reminder) that Henry died young (at 35) and after him all his gains in France were lost by subsequently poor English leadership which ultimately led to the War of the Roses, a polite term for a very violent, vicious, and multi-decade English Civil War. One could take the cynical view that everything Henry accomplished was for nothing, but that’s going too far for my tastes. Nobody knows what history brings next. You can only influence and act when you’re on the stage. After that, it’s outta your hands.
And then I remembered this scene from TNG where Picard has Data in fact act out a scene from this play. Specifically the one where Henry is in disguise at night:
This scene is the opening shot for Season 3, Episode 10, The Defector. In this scene a keen eye will see the Patrick Stewart plays Williams, Simon Templeman plays Bates, while Data gets the disgused king. It’s a neat little vingette, a great opening to one of my favorite episodes of TNG in general. The Defector was done when TNG was at the height of its powers. It’s a masterpiece episode that is both moving and brutal.
So let’s take the opportunity to once again remember just how utterly bad new Trek is. At least here, we shall always believe the creators of Discovery, Picard, (and the seven other new Trek shows they’re making whose names we can’t remember) should all be imprisoned. It has also recently come to my attention that Stewart (a near two decade veteran of the Royal Shakespeare Company) was very heavily involved in making Picard. So I guess he belongs in jail too. What a disappointment. I guess after thirty years you lose the magic. In TNG, Stewart is a master of his craft, in Picard he’s a garbage man working for a board room of Paramount suits. And Stewart’s seated at the same table.
Back to Henry V. There’s also the 2019 Netflix movie The King which is Netflix’s take not only on Shakespeare’s Henry V but also Henry IV Part 1 and Henry IV Part 2. My contempt for this movie knows no bounds. So like new Trek,we must place it into the garbage category. Not only does the movie completely alter the history, it completely alters the Shakespeare. Plus Emo Queen Timothée Chalamet is just about the last person on the planet who should being playing Henry V.
So in other words, the people who wrote / made this movie, they thought they were smarter than Shakespeare. I mean, Hollywood alters history more times than Trek changes the space time continuum. But did these arrogant garbage men really, really understand how crass it is to rip up a story written by William Shakespeare? Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t have the gall, I’d be like: “Uh, yeah, we’d better not do that, guys. No really, let’s not do that.”
Perhaps the most eggregious sin of The King is how they screw up Agincourt. Which is probably on the top ten of most important singular battles in human history. How do you screw up Agincourt? Easy. You get Netflix to hire a bunch of hacks to make a bad movie.
I thus conclude I probably in good faith owe two future posts. One should be a review of The Defector. And the second should be a post about Agincourt. I don’t always keep my future post promises, I get distracted like a meth addled squirrel, but maybe I’ll stick to this promise.