Thursday, 3 April 2008

Bucketfuls of blood

The night before last was Richard II and tonight is Henry IV Part One. I’ve booked myself and a friend for all eight of Shakespeare’s histories, currently starting a season at the Roundhouse in Camden (the friend doesn't know how to thank me) and I’ve been busy swotting up on my Henrys, Harrys, Hotspurs and Hals to try to ensure that I know what’s going on.

I’ve discovered that it’s no wonder I was so confused when I first came across Henry Part One at English ‘O’ level because Shakespeare took a fairly flexible approach to how the various historical Hs fitted into his dramatic framework. So Harry ‘Hotspur’ Percy is made to be 20-odd years younger than his actual age for dramatic effect, while Harry ‘Prince Hal’ (son of Bolingbroke, friend of Falstaff, Henry V to be) is given a dissolute adolescence that it seems he never had.

Shakespeare’s histories cover a period in English history when the ruling class did at least as much damage to each other as they did to the people over whom they ruled. Those who are doing the killing on one day are almost invariably being killed themselves on another. There must have been a whole bucketful of stage blood used for Richard II’s murder the other night (in reality he was probably starved to death so as to leave no marks upon his corpse). I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like at the Battle of Shrewsbury tonight. I’ll keep you posted.

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