I was thinking recently about the supposedly "pro-war" nature of Shakespeare's Henry V - a reading of the work I have never agreed with or appreciated. That led to my re-reading the play, and the formation of a very different opinion on Shakespeare's intention....
Henry V Analysis: Prologue
The most common interpretation of the Henry V chorus is that it features primarily as merely a method to introduce the setting – but if it were to be assumed that Shakespeare was an astute writer with at least some knowledge of sub-textual layering, than it can also be assumed that he did not waste the introduction to the final play in his second tetralogy. An introduction can be nothing more – but in Shakespeare’s hands it goes considerably further.
The play is extremely vast in scope, dealing with armies in the tens-of-thousands, horses, cannons; vast castles and cities – none of which could be replicated on the stage, especially not during a time when the stage was traditionally undressed. Viewed from this common interpretation, the prologue acts in place of set dressings, providing the audience with an understanding of the scope of the play, as well as an appeal that they should use their imaginations freely to fill in the scope of the action. However, the prologue, in its very style, bares the suggestion of something considerably more.
The Greek chorus was not a common theatrical technique during Shakespeare’s time, and indeed, the Bard only used it twice in all his collected works (Romeo and Juliet, and Henry V.) Its position here links it directly to the classical productions of antiquity (specifically the classical tragedies,) and in this way it continues to set the tone, by presenting this play as an “epic” in the Greek tradition – while also foreshadowing the tragic nature of the entire story – an effective argument against those who would seek to name this a “pro war” or “monarchy positive” play. This aspect is brought to the literal fore of the prologue in the line “O for a Muse of fire.” By invoking the Greek Muse – the goddess of inspiration, wisdom, and art – Shakespeare clearly positions this play within the realm of serious intellectual consideration. It becomes more than mere set dressing – it becomes a proclamation of the importance Shakespeare is placing on this production, and the tone with which it should be viewed by the audience.
Once again: if the assumption is to be made that Shakespeare was capable of working on several different layers of meaning throughout his work (of which there is ample support,) than it would not be beyond the bounds of rationality to assume that the opening lines of the final play in his second tetralogy are not wasted.
Without spending too much time on the political and social situation of Shakespeare’s time, it is sufficient to say that he was confined to certain limitations in direct speech regarding political positions – especially the politics of government and war. Shakespeare was forced to find a way to present his position, without actually attracting overt attention to his message. Which he accomplishes by hiding his intention for the entire play within the prologue – the best spot in the play to place a clear appeal directly from the playwright to the audience. And this intention is clearly formed within the prologue itself. With the Greek chorus linking this work to the solemnity and purpose of the ancient tragedies, Shakespeare is free to assume that his following words will be treated with a certain level of attention and regard.
Bringing the subject to something resembling conclusion, we can assign the chorus once again to the more widely-held readings – as direct praise for the historical King Henry, or as a rebuff against the critics of Shakespeare’s time who argued that he played too wildly with the concept of continuity of time and space within his work. Leaving the argument there however fails to stretch the mind, and limits the reviewer to parroting of predefined positions. It can be surmised that the Bard was not lazy of mind or meek of character, and it is admitted on the scholarly stage that his ability to layer meaning is impressive and intentional – given all this, it seems only logical to assume that Henry V is not a shallow production, and that the playwright may have gone farther than merely “set dressing” in the prologue.
One-step closer, it seems, is what I am to publishing my first-ever book of poetry! While I'll admit the nearly certain fact that this achievement will rest in relative obscurity so far as the public eye is concerned, for myself this is a great accomplishment.
Being an artist is like walking up a hill which never ends - Sisyphus incarnate.. And yet, unlike the unhappy Grecian of myth, this task is not an unwanted one - yet still some form of punishment it often seems. A punishment of anonymous limbo -wherein all hopes and dreams must rest.Therefore is it that the publication of my work brings me such personal comfort though - for in this thing I have the proof of my worth in some small way.
In other news:
New photograph in the About section, courtesy of Danielle Finch! I'm pleased to have a stock of professional shots available for use now, and I think it spruces this site up quite nicely.
When I originally set out to create this website, I did it with the intention of creating a simple landing page which would redirect the interested party to my various skills, in the hope of acquiring recognition and perhaps further work in either the video or writing fields. And then I actually bought the domain name, and the hosting for the site, and in the first two weeks I put the code of my site theme through schizophrenic iterations unnumbered before finally setting on the current design - and I still find myself unsatisfied.
This is, I am sure, a symptom of a larger disease of which I am singularly (if not uniquely) afflicted - perfection. This website has become more than a landing page, it has become a new facet of my personality - a whole dimension of the being known as Odin. How could I be satisfied with it, under such conditions, when I have yet to be satisfied with who I am?
The other day however I realized that this step to actualizing my creativity in a more professional and engaging manner, really does speak to a massive change in my psyche, and one immensely toward the positive at that. And I think that is the sort of thing people often forget to complement themselves on, or even take notice of - the little things we do in life, the small victories of personal scope or little note, and yet these are the events that often seem to have the most bearing on my life (at least). I propose that there needs to be a slight shift in concentration in life, so that we recognize our achievements for what they are, and don't dismiss them out of hand because they are not as perfect as we imagined them to be, or not immediately held in high regard by those around us. Sometimes it's enough that we recognize the value in our accomplishments, and leave it at that.
As the birth of my personal website approaches final fruition, I feel the need for a formal introduction from myself to you, the reader - a sort of representation of my spirit, opinion, and style to better acquaint you with the whole of my personality in as simple a manner as possible.
I shall begin by telling you a story.
When I was little - less than six but more than four, I remember the first time I took notice of my father's old typewriter. It sat, moldy white corroded plastic presenting no keen recollection in itself - merely a fuzzy blur around which the rest of the memory holds greater shape. The real focus, I remember, were the keys. Each one was static and raised; piled high upon one another in neat rows that somehow betrayed a deep sense of categorical disorder in coincidence, or contrast, with their orderly design.
I reached out, the chubby tips of my fingers pressing into one key at a time, imitating the motions I had seen my father make at some earlier point in my existence. The keys splayed out under the pressure of my touch, and as they depressed one by one, the letters took shape upon the page - a jumbled orchestra, played out by an equally-jumbled child's mind.
"AadHfedfusjadbhfadfaefarfksudhbcfkzjd," I typed.
And it was good.
And I was happy.
Later, I remember doing much the same with an old Macintosh computer my father had neglected. Though no power occupied its circuitry, I remember the great delight that thrilled me on as I pounded at the small keyboard - imagination filling in the lifeless parchment of the screen with words.
And it was good, but not perfect.
And I was happy, still.
It was roughly then that I chose to become a writer - though I did not learn of that choice until much, much later on.
That, however, is a story for a different time.
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