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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

In Context: Henry V

A young king exercises his ambition in the RSC’s take on Shakespeare’s incisive drama Henry V. Context is everything, so get even closer to the show with this curated selection of related articles, interviews, and videos. After you've attended the show, let us know what you thought below and by posting on social media using #KingandCountry.

Program Notes

Henry V—Rebellion Broached (BAM Blog)
Shakespearean scholar James Shapiro describes how Shakespeare’s Henry V paralleled the Earl of Essex’s attempt to curtail rebellion in 1599.
Shakespeare's Henriad (BAM Blog)
Written in part to fuel nationalist sentiment during the Golden Age of Elizabeth I, Shakespeare’s Henriad is a sweeping study of power squandered, seized, and dumped in the proverbial lap.

Folger Gems (BAM Blog)
Shakespearean scholar James Shapiro discusses the promptbooks, rare quartos, and other treasures from the Folger Shakespeare Library on display during King and Country.

Synopsis: Henry V (
Study up now. Disappear into Shakespeare’s language later.

Watch & Listen

Gregory Doran on King and Country: Shakespeare’s Great Cycle of Kings (BAM blog)
In a rich conversation with eminent Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro, Royal Shakespeare Company Artistic Director Gregory Doran sheds light on the four plays.

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s Henry V (
Context and more context for the RSC’s epic production—including cast video interviews and information, production shots, and more.

Alex Hassell on Henry V (YouTube)
“His desire to cut loose might be still in there somewhere,” says Hassell of his youthful character.

Oliver Ford Davies on the Chorus (YouTube)
“He is the unreliable narrator,” remarks Davies of his peculiar role in Henry V.

Now your turn...

What did you think? Did England and France, Henry and Katherine, convincingly unite? Tell us what's on your mind in the comments below and on social media using #KingandCountry.


  1. Showed how growing can blossom, with richness of loss portrayed, all wrapt in the deepest sense of humor! Remarking on the ingenious set design, music, acting, directing, that oh so touching choral segment that brought me to tears. I'm close to wordless, overall...

  2. The play is of course a classic. Performance and staging were excellent!

  3. My wife and I sat in row R, which is close to the rear and below an overhang. The acoustics were terrible, which made hearing the words a challenge. Also, there was a pillar partially blocking my wife's view. Even without these handicaps, I do not think that the production would compare favorably with the classic ones.

    Even without these handicaps, I do not think that the production would compare favorably
    with any of the classic ones.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience! Your feedback regarding the view and acoustics from your seats was shared with our theater managers. Feel free to contact us at with any questions. We hope to see you again soon.

    2. Henry V, in my opinion, was the weakest of the four plays. I had trouble hearing and understanding Mr. Hassell. Still, all aspects of production (lighting, projections, music, and alarums and exeunts) were, yet again, innovative and effective. The theater seats are narrow with little leg room - - like coach on most airlines. Way too few seats in the lobby bar. But with it all, God save the RSC! Bring 'em back.

    3. I thought Henry V was the weakest of the four plays. I had trouble hearing and understanding Mr. Hassell. Still, all aspects of the production (lighting, effects, music, projections, and alarums and exeunts) were, yet again, evocative and effective. The theater remains uncomfortable with steep stairs, narrow seats, and little leg room - -sort of like coach on most domestic airlines. Still, God save the RSC! Bring 'em back.

  4. Alas, I missed the first 15 minutes due to work and subway delays (plus my lousy sense of walking direction). Which would normally have spoiled the evening -- I LOVE that "O for a muse of fire" intro. But the production was so WONDERFUL I quickly got over it. This is my favorite Shakespeare play, and I have seen many productions. This one was terrific. Two things stand out: Jean Lapotaire/Queen Isobel's"best garden of the world" speech at the end was without doubt the most moving version I have ever heard. And the notion of Chorus/Oliver Ford Davies as an Oxbridge lecturer - genius. Although regarding that last one: Please, please, PLEASE someone do a production where Chorus is a rapper. This is not just because of "Hamilton." Iambic pentameter lends itself beautifully to the "broken music" of rap. Which is something I wrote to Joe Papp over 25 years ago.

  5. I should also commend your musicians. As a fan of early music (e.g., Corpus Christi's "Music Before 1800") I was wowed by the soprano's Te Deum, the trumpeters and the other instrumentalists.

  6. It has been a season of endings: both for BAM's King and Country cycle of Shakespeare's King plays, as well as for the folding of the print magazine I designed for years. (Print is dead. Long live print!) Focusing on the job situation is the reason for this extremely late review of Henry V, and for that I apologize, but it is fun to experience the evening once more as I reflect on the four plays in this ambitious project. The last moments of the play, when Alex Hassell portrayed Henry as a nervous young suitor -- as well as when he portrayed rowdy Prince Hal in the previous two plays -- were my favorite moments of his acting. I found him much harder to believe as a serious king leading his troops into battle. (His kingly moments just seemed a bit tentative.) That said, I was lucky enough to sit next to a couple who had seen many productions of all of the king plays over the years and they said these plays were top notch. Since they were my first, I was happy to hear that. Oliver Ford Davies was wonderful in the role of a one man chorus, taking us through the events like a favorite grandfather narrating a long ago story. Jennifer Kirby as the French princess, Katherine, was a delight. As for my favorite play in the series, it was Richard II, mainly because of the poignant story and my fascination with early medieval kings. This was a difficult choice, mind you. All of the plays were so different and terrific and the constancy of the ever present throne and crown created the perfect continuity to the clever staging. I saw the plays in chronological order, and it was thrilling to come back every week or so and literally feel like I was living the passage of time. And speaking of time, I am excited to see what my next career path will be. I am open to many different options. I am equally excited to learn what BAM has in store for audiences this coming fall. Thank you to all involved for a fantastic year of programming!


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