Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Some commentators don't like these 3 history plays, regarding them as unnecessarily gruesome and almost unperformable. I would disagree. Elizabethan audiences enjoyed some blood and gore--even as modern audiences seem to if we examine the evidence of Hollywood movies. However, violence possessed a more personal dimension for the Elizabethans as executions and amputations were still forms of public show. The second criticism is perhaps more just, but a sensitive director will understand the surreal qualities of a story that encapsulates so many actions and so much time. However one looks at it, these 3 plays are a remarkable achievement for a young dramatist of less than 30 years.

HENRY VI, PART ONE: 8.5--A fine performance of a play that takes place largely in France. Henry begins to lose the French dominions won by his father, and his nobles--in the absence of strong leadership--begin to squabble amongst themselves. Joan of Arc is portrayed without sympathy as a charlatan witch, and the main interest of the play lies in the successes of Lord Talbot (Trevor Peacock). The scenes where the latter faces inevitable death in company with his brave son sometimes reach a level of high poetic power.

HENRY VI, PART TWO: 8--More squabbles between the Houses of York and Lancaster. Trevor Peacock plays the role of Jack Cade, the common man's king, with suitable gusto, and the Duke of York's plotting begins to come to fruition.

HENRY VI, PART THREE: 8.5--Often cited as the best of the three dramas, but I would suggest that part one is just as good. The Duke of York's son, Richard, starts to enter into his bloody own in this play, which acts as a curtain raiser for the later Richard III. During the course of this drama, the Duke of York is killed and his son becomes Edward IV of England. The unfortunate Henry and his son both die tragically.


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