The 39th season of Shakespeare in Delaware Park has begun, and this year’s first play is a history, “Henry V.” The play is very well staged and performed, with Patrick Moltane as Henry. The set design is based on original productions with minimal props and a three-level stage painted in abstract branching patterns of brown, black, and gold. The costumes evoke dress of the period, with Henry and his lords in Plantagenet tunics, and Katherine’s maid wearing an impressive wimple. The exception is The Chorus, played by veteran Tim Newell. He’s dressed in a cyberpunky outfit capped with sunglasses and a black trench coat.

While not his most problematic play, “Henry V” is perhaps one of Shakespeare’s bro-iest. It is the culmination of the English histories begun in Richard II and leading up to Henry’s ultimate triumph at the Battle of Agincourt. It was probably one of the first plays performed at The Globe in 1599, and it is sort of an Elizabethan blockbuster.

It is a direct sequel to Henry IV parts I and II. No longer the carousing and conflicted Prince Hal, Henry V has turned his back on his misspent youth, and his old friend Sir John Falstaff. But with trouble at home and a rebellious Scotland to the north, Henry decides a nice, distracting foreign war is just the thing, and so he picks a fight with France.

While Henry has some great speeches, and Moltane’s performance of the St. Crispin’s Day speech is especially effective, there isn’t a great deal of complexity or weight to Henry V. It feels almost like Shakespeare’s riff on a 40’s comic book. Henry and his forces are the fiercely patriotic English, off to fight the decadent, cowardly, and generally just all-around bad French. The French aren’t up to anything in particular, they’re just holding some lands Henry feels belong to him, and are generally jerks about it.

In spite of being greatly outnumbered, Henry cuts a swath through France. At Agincourt, where the English forces are outnumbered “five to one,” He wins a decisive victory, and the play claims that he loses less than thirty men. He attributes the victory not to himself or his men, but to God. The end is a bit disappointing in that they stage the battle with the English forces lined up facing the audience, and there is no direct fight between Hal and the Dauphin, whom he’s traded insults with via messenger the whole play. I suppose this is a more realistic depiction of Fourteenth Century warfare, but it left me wanting just a bit.

Even though this is not one of Shakespeare’s more famous comedies or tragedies, I recommend taking in “Henry V” this month. Performances run Tuesdays through Sundays until July 13th, 7:30PM at Shakespeare Hill in Delaware Park. I’m also looking forward to this season’s second show, a Steampunk production of The Comedy of Errors that begins July 24th. The show is free, but donations are appreciated. Find out more at shakespeareindelawarepark.org.

 

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