Internet Shakespeare Editions

Author: James D. Mardock
Peer Reviewed

Stage and Screen


In a 1947 critical survey, Paul Jorgenson wrote that the popularity of Laurence Olivier's film showed that it was mainly scholars, not audiences, who wish to see a troublesome, contradictory, ambiguous representation of Henry (Jorgenson 59-60). It is true that performances of Henry Vhave always been conceived, or at least received by their audiences, with an eye to the political contexts surrounding them, and since 1599 the text has been adapted to those contexts, often with the effect of lessening the more starkly ambivalent aspects of the play. The two film versions with which most readers will be familiar -- Laurence Olivier's of 1944 and Kenneth Branagh's of 1989, each directed by its respective star -- may serve as a preliminary illustration of this.

The Olivier film was shot near the end of the Second World War and dedicated to memory of English military sacrifice, specifically to the "Commandos and Airborne Troops of Great Britain the spirit of whose ancestors it has humbly attempted to recapture." A film explicitly and unapologetically of the moment of its production, its audience a war-weary Britain in need of an emotional boost, it understandably portrays Henry and his war as benignly patriotic, eliminating any moral or ethical ambiguity in the king and any sense of fractured will among his troops. Gone are Henry's seemingly sadistic threats to the citizens of Harfleur (3.1). Gone is the traitor scene (2.2) -- replaced by expansive pageantry and a dumb show of Henry's pious devotion before the troops set off to storm the beaches of Normandy. Gone is the sense, in the play's opening scene, of faction among the English governing powers, replaced by clerical slapstick. Gone is the nuance built even into the play's most apparently jingoistic moments. Olivier stripped the danger from the bickering captains and the personality from the French lords, reducing both groups to caricatures. What remains is a bluntly-realized Merrie Olde English past, exemplified by the film's spectacular opening model effect, a shining and splendid Shakespearean London straddling a pristine, glimmering Thames.

Branagh's 1989 film, on the other hand, was made for a film audience whose view of war had been conditioned by the failed adventure of Vietnam, honed by the many films that captured the disillusionment of the following generation, and given point by the British conflict with Argentina over the Falkland Islands in 1982, a controversial and much-politicized military victory. In Branagh's film, Henry's war proceeds from a trumped up pretext concocted in a shadowy antechamber by sinister, whispering bishops. Henry's first appearance, a larger-than-life stalking silhouette framed by fire, evokes nothing so much as Darth Vader, and even when he is revealed to be a boyish figure rather dwarfed by his throne, he maintains a cold intensity: his whispered, steely-eyed "May I with right and conscience make this claim?" comes out as false piety barely-disguising realpolitik tail-covering. Unlike Olivier, Branagh preserved the traitor scene and allowed it to blot with suspicion the "full-fraught men, and best" in his service, a suspicion reflected in the sidelong glances of Exeter, Erpingham, and Westmorland. Branagh's army seemed never to be fully united; the bickering between Fluellen and Macmorris had real menace, and Williams (played by Michael Williams) managed to present a serious ethical conundrum, and a challenge to a duel, to Branagh's Henry (the challenge had been cut in the 1944 film). Where Olivier's Agincourt was a brilliant and bloodless piece of Technicolor chivalric pageantry, Branagh's was a bitter, brutal slog in a huge mud puddle that reddened sickeningly by the end of the battle. Where the Olivier film glossed over the human cost of battle, the Branagh film dwelt upon it, with Henry accosted by French widows after Agincourt, and Burgundy's long speech on the unweeded garden of France (TLN 3010-54) delivered over a montage of flashbacks of the recognizable dead characters -- the Constable, York, the Boy, the Hostess, Nym, Bardolph, Scrope, and Falstaff.

It would, however, be reductive to present these films as two poles of a binary -- with Olivier's film as Rabkin's gestalt rabbit, as it were, and Branagh's as the duck. As James Loehlin has argued, despite his film's clear anti-war bent, Branagh's Henry never fully emerges as a Machiavellian schemer. The threats to Harfleur are followed by a close-up on his face, after the town's surrender, that reveals them to have been a desperate bluff. And Branagh's is among the most believable deliveries of Henry's "band of brothers" rhetoric: he marches alongside his men in the mud; bloodied and wet after Agincourt, he carries the body of the boy on his back in a long shot that registers his men's sacrifice; and he swallows up Ian Holm's Fluellen in a fraternal embrace, overcome with the relieved tears of the veteran and survivor. Loehlin argues that Branagh's film, while ostensibly radically anti-war, is really "the official version of the play disguised as the secret one," failing to be truly subversive in its focus on the performance of Branagh, who "demands to be liked, in the face of all the horrors he lays to Henry's charge" (Loehlin 145). Conversely, Graham Holderness has argued that Olivier's film is not the simplistic exercise in jingoism that most critics have seen. Its inclusion of overtly artificial stage techniques, even after the action leaves the Globe and becomes more "realistic," Holderness argues, "provides the film with an ideological tendency which is quite different from -- potentially contrary to -- its ideology of patriotism, national unity and just war" (Holderness, Recycled185).

5Andrew Gurr has argued that the dual character of the Folio text simply cannot be represented onstage, that the play's stage history, a history of performance scripts altered from "Shakespeare's impossibly ambivalent original" (Gurr, Henry V63), shows the play to be "an almost intolerably difficult challenge to any stage or film director" (53), only truly understood in the act of reading. But Gurr's rather reactionary assertion -- in accord with Stephen Greenblatt, but really Romantic in spirit, hearkening back to the neoplatonic, anti-theatrical arguments made by Charles Lamb in 1811 (qtd. in Bate, Romantics 111-27) -- suggests an ideal play existing only in the author's mind and accessible only in the study or in imperfect glimpses on stage: "what Shakespeare sold his company in 1599 was . . . incapable of being fully realised on stage" (Gurr, Henry V 63). While it is true that each production's choices erase an infinity of others, and that no performance (of any play) captures the full range of possibilities in its text, the interpretative ambiguities that the critical history of Henry Vdemonstrates are likewise apparent in its stage history, and neither the exigencies of particular stagings nor the persistent tendency to exploit the play's topical potential can erase its curious duplicity.

Early performance and adaptation: 1599-1738

It is likely that even in Henry V's earliest performances, its ambiguities were knowingly used to achieve different effects. The title page of the first quarto of the play claims that it "hath bene sundry times playd by the Right honorable the Lord Chamberlaine his seruants," but no early records of its performance survive. The usual evidence used to date the play appears only in the 1623 Folio: the apparent reference by the Chorus to the Earl of Essex's hoped-for return from Ireland, "Bringing rebellion broachèd on his sword" (TLN 2882) suggests a date in the Spring of 1599, before Essex's failure to quell the Irish rebellion and his fall from Queen Elizabeth's good graces. At some point in 1599, then, the version of Henry V reflected by the Folio text seems to have been performed, perhaps "sundry times," perhaps -- as Tiffany Stern's arguments about the temporary nature of prologues and epilogues might suggest -- only once with the Choruses intact. But if, as seems likely, the 1600 quarto represents an acting script, then a quite different version of the play seems also to have been staged less than a year later. A printed text is not a performance, of course, but the differences in tone and emphasis between the F and Q versions of the play suggest that the company emphasized different aspects of the play at different times, adjusting the script for different audiences. If the Folio represents a very 1599 moment, for an audience whose mind was on Ireland, that moment seems to have passed for the audience of the Q version, a text that cuts the reference to Essex, the French reference to kerns and their straight strossers, and Macmorris, Shakespeare's only Irish character. The differences between the texts' representation of Henry and his war have been much debated (see Textual Introduction), but it seems safe to assert that Q, for example, gives a picture of a less divided English effort by removing the bickering captains, and that its more moderate version of Henry's threats to Harfleur and its excision of the dialogue about Henry having killed Falstaff make for a less morally complicated picture of the king. Whatever the impetus behind these changes, it seems clear that the play was seen by its original owners and performers as particularly adaptable to the needs of various audiences, and this malleability has characterized the history of Henry Von the stage.

For whatever reason, the play seems not to have been particularly popular in the years following its first performances. It was performed for the court of King James I in 1605 -- likely, as Andrew Gurr suggests, without the broadly comic Scots Captain Jamy (Playing Companies 288) -- but no other record of a performance in the seventeenth century survives. Perhaps the foreign policy of King James -- whose motto was "Blessed are the peacemakers" and whose insistence on avoiding involvement in continental wars of religion throughout his reign made him increasingly unpopular among certain of his subjects -- made a poor backdrop for a play celebrating English military adventures in a foreign land.

Shakespeare's play would not grace the professional stage again for 123 years. In 1664, according to Samuel Pepys, Thomas Betterton performed "incomparabl[y]" as Henry V at Lincoln's Inn Fields, but it was a Henry V reimagined by the Earl of Orrery's 1662 verse drama (a play that owes virtually nothing to Shakespeare) primarily as a heroic lover rather than a military hero. The theater of the eighteenth century cannibalized Henry Vfor its better speeches, rather than performing it as a whole. Parts of the first two acts of Shakespeare's play were incorporated by Betterton into the last act of his The Sequel of Henry the Fourth in 1700, while his competition at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane played Colley Cibber's adaptation of Richard III, which used lines from several of Shakespeare's histories, including Henry V. Charles Molloy imported Fluellen and Macmorris into the contemporary comedy of manners The Half-Pay Officers in 1720, and in 1723 Aaron Hill combined Orrery's and Shakespeare's verse into the tragi-comic romance King Henry the Fifth: Or, The Conquest of France, By the English. Better suited than Shakespeare's original to an English theater that used actresses, Hill's play, which he called a "new Fabrick, yet . . . built on His foundation" (A4v), incorporated the new female "trouser role" of Harriet, a niece of the traitorous Scrope and former mistress of King Henry who follows him to France in a male disguise reminiscent of Shakespeare's comic heroines. Harriet commits suicide, leaving Henry free to marry a Catherine whose part Hill greatly enlarged, giving her a past wherein she had fallen in love with a disguised King Henry, and making her the real cause of conflict between Henry and the dauphin.

The rise of spectacle: 1738-1872

In the early eighteenth century, a group of aristocratic ladies, the Shakespeare Ladies' Club, began to petition London's theaters to revive more Shakespeare plays in the original versions, with the result that John Rich produced nine performances of Henry V at the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden in 1738, the first return of Shakespeare's version to the stage in twelve decades, and it entered that theater's regular repertoire, though it remained much less popular than Shakespeare's tragedies (Smith 15). During this period, the play was pressed into the service of anti-French propaganda -- it saw yearly performances during the Seven Years' War with France (1756-63) -- and of royalist politics: to celebrate the coronation of George III in 1761, Henry Vwas performed twenty-three successive times, with the coronation scene from 2 Henry IVincluded as a nod both to the current king and to the growing popular taste for spectacular pageantry that was to reach its climax in the nineteenth century.

10Both this tendency toward pageantry and the use of Henry Vto respond to (and stoke) anti-French sentiment -- which had only increased with the onset of the French Revolution -- reached a high point with the impresario John Philip Kemble's performance in the title role in 1789, repeated fifteen times through 1792. "Kemble's version of the play," writes Emma Smith,

was clearly designed to clarify Henry's heroism within this context of contemporary popular anti-French opinion, and his adaptation . . . produce[d] a theatrical script which was to dominate the play in performance for the next half-century. It is striking how, apparently independently, Kemble's acting text closely resembles the first published version of Henry V, the Quarto text of 1600. (18)

The Chorus had long been cut in performance, since apologetic speeches for the inadequacy of theater seemed inappropriate for an increasingly spectacular and realistic theatrical practice. Without the Chorus, as the quarto text shows, a less ambivalent, more patriotic view of Henry and his war emerges, a view that Kemble's acting text underscored.

Kemble's staging was elaborate, the stage packed in nearly every scene with supernumeraries, and though the popularity of the play waned after the Napoleonic wars, the emphasis on historical spectacle persisted into the nineteenth century. When William Macready revived Henry Vin 1839, he set a tone for painstakingly researched historical re-creations of costume, realistic pictorial representations, and an archaeological approach to the staging of Shakespeare. A long review in The Spectatorcomplained that the scenic effects in Macready's production "divert the attention too much from the poetry and the personation . . . the attempt physically to realize what can only be suggested to the mind, sometimes defeats itself" (qtd. in Smith 23). This, however, was a minority opinion; negative reviews tended to insist on more realism, on fuller spectacle than Macready -- even with his cast of seventy and his attempts to practice wearing his full plate armor at home -- had yet achieved. Macready's approach to Henry was adopted by Samuel Phelps for a revival in 1852, and more notably by Charles Kean for a revival at the Princess's Theatre in 1859 that was in many ways the apogee of the Victorian antiquarian approach to staging the play.

Kean's production, staged in the years immediately following the Crimean War, may have stressed the antiquarianism so as to distance the play from the inevitable topical readings of critics and audiences. As Mrs. Kean's portrayal of the Chorus as the Muse of History suggested, historicism, or as Kean wrote, "Accuracy, not show," was the production's object, down to the playbill's printed descriptions of precisely reproduced costumes (Kean vii). Accuracy went hand in hand with lavish spectacle. The act one cast list included, in addition to named parts, twenty-nine supernumeraries. The onstage audience for Kean's "Once more unto the breach" speech (3.1) included, in addition to the king and thirteen lords, 7 Standard Bearers, 12 Glaive Men, 12 Spearmen, 12 Axemen, 12 Double Axemen, 24 Archers, 8 Commoners, 12 Lancemen, 12 Hatchetmen, 6 Harpoons, 12 French Spears, 4 French Knights, 4 King's Trumpets, 6 Body Guard, 10 French Boys, 20 English Boys," a total of 186 actors for a single thirteen-minute scene (compare the sketch below).Sketch of Charles Kean's staging for the "Crispin's Day" speech, from a copy of the sixth printing of Henry V "as performed by Charles Kean," interleaved with staging diagrams by "T. H. Edmonds, Prompter" (image courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Theatre and Performance Archive). Most famously, Kean replaced the Chorus's description of Henry's triumphal entry into London (5.0) with an actual parade through a recreated medieval city street, with real horses and more than a hundred actors, including two dozen dancers, eighteen aldermen, and the king's procession of knights, standard-bearers, archers, and cannoneers. The sequence drew much admiration, and occasional calls from the audience to reset and repeat it. Though it cut about 1,550 lines of the folio text, Kean's production ran more than four hours.

Charles Calvert's production, opening in 1872 in Manchester and eventually touring in America, offers a counterpoint to the idea that Victorian staging necessarily sacrificed the play's inherent moral ambiguities on the altar of spectacle. Calvert was lavish in the Kean tradition -- his set for 5.2 recreated Troyes cathedral with Gothic arches and stained glass -- but relied on static, stylized tableaux for battle scenes that more effectively conveyed the violence than realistic representation could. His elaborate sets required a shortened version of the text, as Kean's had, but he retained many of the often elided moments in the play that trouble the heroic picture of Henry: the killing of the prisoners, the threats to Harfleur, and the hanging of Bardolph (Smith 31). And while the production repeated Kean's dumb show triumphal entry, in Calvert's hands it was "no indulgent, thoughtless escape into jingoism, but a judicious blend of rejoicing and sorrow" (Darbyshire 50). Calvert's version of the scene included an anxious knot of women waiting downstage for their returning husbands, sons, and brothers, one of whom collapsed with grief at the realization of her loss.

Patriotism and its discontents: 1897-1945

Two turn-of-the-century actor-managers, Frank Benson and Lewis Waller, established between them the model of the heroic, patriotic Henry against which twentieth-century productions would be defined. By the 1890s Henry V, its interpretation heavily influenced by the tradition of spectacular Victorian productions, had become such a symbol of British nationalism and imperialism that George Bernard Shaw complained, in an 1896 review of 1 Henry IVat the Haymarket, that Shakespeare could so unforgivably "thrust such a Jingo hero as his Harry V down our throats" (Shaw 2: 428-29). But perhaps the contexts of the Second Boer War (1899-1902) made such interpretations inevitable. Frank Benson first staged the play, with himself in the lead, at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford in 1897, and revived it frequently over the next thirty years, often to commemorate Shakespeare's birthday, which conveniently coincides with Saint George's Day, 23 April.Frank Benson as Henry V, 1900 (image courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Theatre and Performance Archive). Benson's Henry was described variously as thoughtful and mechanical, and emphasized the contrast between English vigor -- as Benson pole-vaulted onto the walls of Harfleur -- and French sloth and degeneracy, represented by dancing girls in the French camp (including, in 1900, a young Isadora Duncan) and a French king so enervated by his insanity that he spent his scenes playing cards with his court jester.

15Critics during the Boer War responded positively, not necessarily to Benson himself, but to the production's suitability to "this hour of national excitement and patriotic fervor" (Illustrated London News, 24 February 1900, qtd. in Smith 36). Lewis Waller's production in 1900 at the Lyceum was praised more than Benson's for its spectacular scenery in the Kean tradition, but in spirit it was so similar to Benson's that Waller could revive his performance in 1908 at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre with Benson directing. In 1900, Waller's Henry, whose commanding presence was repeatedly praised as an epitome of masculine heroism for the new century, became the touchstone for contemporary wartime patriotism; the play inspired the scholar Sidney Lee to suggest changing the word "Ireland" to "Afric" in the fifth act chorus (TLN 3881) in order to "give this sentence an application even more immediate to our contemporary history," in effect making Victoria the "gracious empress" and changing Essex into Alfred, Lord Milner, the colonial High Commissioner.

By the early years of the twentieth century, Henry Vhad come to be seen as an uncomplicated piece of pageantry, with many of the play's complications ironed out or excised. When the Stratford-upon-Avon Heraldreview of the 1908 performance praised Waller for "develop[ing] admirably the many-sidedness of Henry's character," it referred not to moral ambiguity or falseness, only the different tones of kingly heroism. The same years began to see a backlash, however, both to the elaborate pageant staging of the play (and of Victorian Shakespeare generally) and to the unproblematic heroism of the title character. The former came from William Poel, who founded the Elizabethan Stage Society in 1895 in order to return the plays to their original performance conditions, and who took the Chorus's apologies in Henry V as a manifesto: "[Shakespeare] goes out of his way to put in a chorus into the play especially to enable the spectators to do without" the "stage pictures" upon which Waller depended (Gomme, qtd. in Smith 40-41). Poel accordingly produced an outdoor Henry Vin Stratford in 1901, specifically to provide a down-the-street alternative to Benson's and Waller's productions. John Martin-Harvey's 1916 production at His Majesty's Theatre in London continued the work of reconstructing Elizabethan practices, rearranging the theater to emulate the thrust stage of an Elizabethan playhouse.

The second backlash, a challenge to the interpretation of Henry Vas merely a propaganda play, was a result of the First World War's demolition of the romance of warfare, the exposure of patriotic battlefield sacrifice as what Wilfred Owen called "the old lie." Though Frank Benson revived the play again in 1914, the national atmosphere was no longer right for his brand of heroism. The Somme, site of Henry's victory, had become shorthand for carnage unredeemed by chivalric glory, and compared to the ceaseless iterations of the play during the Boer War years, World War One saw comparatively few productions of Henry V. It did make it possible, however, to reconceive the play as a scathing indictment of militarism that was to grow in influence for the rest of the century. Post-war productions began more forcefully to incorporate the interpretations of critics like Gerald Gould (see above), and to reincorporate the complexities in the play's picture of warfare and kingship that had been smoothed out of performances for decades. The response to William Bridges-Adams's production at Stratford -- a stripped-down production following Poel and performed with a cast of nineteen -- reflects the degree to which attitudes to Henry V, and Henry V, had changed after the Great War: although Murray Carrington's Henry was affable enough, wrote the Athaeneum reviewer, post-war audiences "do not admire conquerors" and are likely to be put off by the "Bismarckian brutalities" of the wooing scene (Athaeneum, 22 October 1920, qtd. in Smith 46). By 1920, the great English hero, even in his ostensibly comic mode, had become uncomfortably close to the warmongering realpolitik of Germany's "Iron Chancellor."

The play remained less popular, though not unperformed during the 1920s and 1930s, perhaps, as Emma Smith notes, because "its ostensible militarism sat awkwardly alongside the politics of appeasement" (47). In 1937, Ben Iden Payne directed it on an imitation Elizabethan stage in the five-year-old Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford, and in London Tyrone Guthrie directed a much better-received production at the Old Vic, starring a young Laurence Olivier following up successes as Hamlet and Toby Belch.Laurence Olivier flanked by Alec Guinness's Exeter (left) and Harcourt Williams's sinister Canterbury, 1937 (photo J. W. Debenham; image courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Theatre and Performance Archive). Although Olivier would later claim to have emulated the tone of Lewis Waller's performances despite the prevailing contemporary attitude "against heroics" (On Acting 50), the production was much more ambivalent in its approach to war than Waller's had been, and its star recalled the pensive Prince of Denmark that he had recently played, "not the hearty young Rugby forward with a leaning for poetry that we usually get" (W. A. Darlington, Daily Telegraph, 7 Apr. 1937). Indeed, the production came across, as Gordon Crosse complained, as a "pacifist tract," with Olivier's Henry constantly

trying to make up his mind about the war. All along thoughtfulness kept breaking in, whereas what the play calls for is straightforward, dashing rhetoric and no nonsense about the ethics of war. (Crosse 105)

Compared to Olivier's later filmed version, his 1937 performance, and the production as a whole, were to be more nuanced. Unlike the film, which plays the bishops for comic effect, Harcourt Williams's Canterbury came across as "hard bitten" and cynically conniving (Times,7 Apr. 1937), "an anti-clerical's dream of a divine" (Ivor Brown, Observer,11 Apr. 1937). Guthrie kept the traitor scene and the argument with Williams intact, and critics praised both scenes for their effect of deepening the king's character.The Guthrie/Olivier approach was gradually becoming the new norm.

Lewis Casson's production at Drury Lane was mostly notable for his casting the matinee idol Ivor Novello in the lead. Critics remarked that Novello couldn't quite fill the space, and W. A. Darlington damned him with faint praise as "solidly good" (Daily Telegraph, 18 September 1938). It is a mark of how far attitudes had changed since the turn of the century that even on the verge of World War II, critics seemed not to see Casson's traditionally patriotic take on war as authentic to the play, even as they appreciated the production as presenting "a sentimentalist's dream…of war as it should be fought if it must" (Stephen Williams, Evening Standard,18 September 1938). The Sunday Timesreview stopped short of defending the interpretation, but argued that it was the right approach for a certain type of audience, a certain type of theater: "Shakespeare, in this theatre, is not a man wooing a new mistress, but an old mistress trying to creep back into favour and decking herself out with forced and absurd coquetry." Casson's approach might be absurd and reactionary, but the critics conceded that it had its uses.

20"A hidden play": 1945-2003

Olivier's film marks a turning point in the history of productions of Henry V. Though as I have argued it was not as simplistically patriotic as its dedication would suggest, the film was seen for the next several decades as the apogee of the tradition of the unproblematic representation of Henry and the war exemplified by Benson and Waller. By the time of the Old Vic's post-war reopening in 1950 with Glen Byam Shaw's production, the traditional portrayal seemed to Milton Shulman to be intolerably reactionary, Alec Clunes as Henry in disguise with the English soldiers, 1950 (photo John Vickers; image courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Theatre and Performance Archive).Alec Clunes's Henry coming across as "a blend of St. George, Lancelot, the Lord Chamberlain and the boy scout who has done the most good deeds of the week" (Evening Standard, 2 February 1951). For Shulman, Shaw's production missed Shakespeare's intention, that Henry should be a Machiavel in the mold of Edmund and Iago. The production's choices are notable for nothing so much as being out of fashion. Bardolph's execution and the killing of the prisoners were cut; Henry's army were blithe heroes who enjoyed the war -- Fluellen even chuckled at "the perdition of the athversary hath been very great" -- while the French were not so much decadent as villainous, epitomized by the dauphin's drunken near-rape of a camp follower.

A 1951 Stratford production, directed by Anthony Quayle and starring a twenty-five-year old Richard Burton was more representative than Shaw's of the future direction of Henry V production, not only because of its more ambiguous, reflective treatment of war, but by appearing as part of the first RSC production of the full cycle of Shakespeare's history plays in sequence, a more and more common phenomenonafter the critical work of Tillyard and Campbell made it standard to conceive of Shakespeare's history plays as a single long play. The earlier plays had been adjusted toward an emphasis on the glory of Henry's reign, with Falstaff -- played by Quayle himself -- as unsympathetic and unpleasant so as not to distract audience sympathies from the king. Burton, however, met with mixed reviews as King Henry, provoking complaints about his diminutive stature and a quiet voice that seemed ill-suited to bombast and declamation. Richard Burton's Henry mourns with Robert Hardy as Fluellen over the death of the boy (Timothy Harley), 1951 (photo Angus McBean; image courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Theatre and Performance Archive).But Ruth Ellis defended the casting; Burton's Henry, she argued, was suited to an audience of World War II veterans and an atmosphere in which aggressive war for profit now seemed criminal. Ellis noted approvingly that Burton's Henry was "less a vexatiously pious warmonger, more a prisoner of circumstance" (Stratford-upon-Avon Herald, 3 August 1951), and Ivor Brown agreed, arguing that the interpretation brought out the sincere, thoughtful Henry that Shakespeare intended, almost a rough draft of Hamlet (Observer, 5 August 1951). Burton's interpretation was appropriate to the time, Brown asserted, rather than a ham-handed and unnecessary "Lewis Waller of the 1950s."

Quayle's production was revived by Michael Benthall at the Old Vic in 1955, with Burton's performance receiving better reviews as "an immensely matured study . . . without losing the mystic sense of dedication" (Audrey Williamson, qtd. in Leiter). But when Benthall toured the production in the U.S. in 1958 with Laurence Henry replacing Burton, it had lost its ambiguity, and "American critics saw only a spectacular pageant of a storybook king" (Leiter 214). The late 1950s and early 1960s, however, would see a few more experimental productions on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1956, Ontario's Stratford Festival saw a hugely influential production by Michael Langham that found a very Canadian way to connect the immediate political concerns of a Canadian audience to a 400-year old war between England and France: he cast francophone Canadian actors (including the future Stratford Festival artistic director Jean Gascon) in the French roles, and anglophones (including a young William Shatner as Gloucester) as the English. It was a star-making production for its lead, Christopher Plummer, who was praised both for his "boyish modesty" (Brooks Atkinson, qtd. in Leiter) and his ability to shift between the startlingly different rhetorical poses the king must strike.

In 1960, London saw two rather unconventional productions of the play: one directed at the Old Vic by John Neville, an actor who had played the Chorus to Richard Burton's Henry in the same theater in 1955, and a thoroughly modernized adaptation of the play directed by Julius Gellner at the Mermaid. Neville's production pushed the 1950s tendency toward minimalist staging to its limit, using a bare stage dominated by a huge "No Smoking" sign. While this seemed promisingly imaginative to some critics -- W. A. Darlington praised the design's sparseness and lack of "romantic flim-flam" (Daily Telegraph, 1 June 1960) -- the production itself, what Robert Muller dismissively called "a typical actor's production" (Daily Mail, 1 June 1960), was not well received. The choice to dress John Stride's Chorus in a modern raincoat may have been the first instance of a modern-dress Chorus in the twentieth century, but Muller found it absurd, and complained that the acting quality was sacrificed for experimentation -- the "Once more" speech merely "spluttered" by Donald Houston's Henry. Reviewers in the Guardian and Times faulted the production for attempting an inappropriately realistic style of verse speaking that sacrificed audibility for pace. The entire cast shouted breathlessly, with the exception of a nineteen-year-old Judi Dench, who was universally praised for her smoothness and whom Darlington, one of the few critics to enjoy the production, called "a charming little creature."

The production at the Mermaid was more radical, pressing a comparison between the 1415 campaign and the 1944 invasion of Normandy that an anonymous Observerreviewer found effective -- it "conveys a timeless sense of war as a heroic dimension of mankind, coupled with a realistic appreciation of its horror and futility" -- if unsubtle, sacrificing every consideration to "a single aim, that of breaking from convention as sharply as possible" (25 February 1960). Other reviewers were less kind; Edward Goring compared the "pointless production" to a more than usually stupid panto. Still, the audacity could not be denied, and even purists admitted its capacity to bring Shakespeare to the Shakespeare-hating masses. William Peacock's Henry opened the play wearing cricket flannels, suggesting an upper-class British attitude to war as sport. Battle scenes featured onstage field guns, searchlights, and sandbags, behind which Peacock whispered the "Once more" speech before leading his troops, trench warfare style, over the top. William Peacock goes over the top, 1960 (image image courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Theatre and Performance Archive).Catherine's language lesson took place in a salon, with the language competing with the noise of hair dryers. Gellner made frequent use of film, projecting World War II newsreels and Brechtian captions onto the sandbags. He also adapted the text freely, updating it to match the staging with such lines as "Think, when we talk of horses, that you see tanks, / Printing their steel tracks i' the receiving earth."

25In 1964, Peter Hall directed Henry V as part of the RSC's second major production of the cycle under the title The Wars of the Roses. As this title for the larger sequence indicates, the emphasis was on the continuity between the two tetralogies, and so Henry V, a play that studiously avoids explicit mention of the civil wars that follow its triumphant subject matter, was deftly pressed into service as a prologue to the titular wars, with every aspect of the production, as Bernard Levin put it, "subordinated to the grand design" of the history cycle (Daily Mail, 4 June 1964). Thus Henry's soldiers at Agincourt wore anachronistic surcoats with Lancastrian red roses, and Hall magnified the role of Cambridge, whose treason historically prefigures the York-Lancaster wars. The other two traitors were cut, and Cambridge was established as a spy for the French by his sinister presence in the 1.2 council scene, dressed in black and speaking lines originally written for other characters. Act 1, Scene 2 of the 1964 Peter Hall production, with Cambridge far right (photo Tom Holte; image courtesy of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust).Hall even composed and inserted new lines for Cambridge at his arrest to clarify his historical role and prophecy the coming civil war (see TLN 784-86 n.). The costume design stressed the passage of time more than the play's narrow focus would seem to allow, with Ian Holm's Henry beardless and youthfully-dressed in the opening scenes, bearded and mature at the end. The casting of Holm itself subtly enforced the sense of continuity, as he played the role in repertory with his performance as Richard III in the same cycle, the charismatic hero-king prefiguring the charismatic villain. Even the climactic triumph at Agincourt was presented as a temporary measure, as the Timescritic observed, as Henry's prayers of supplication before and thanksgiving after the battle were given more weight than usual to connect them to the dynastic curse against which the king struggles: "the sense of temporary deliverance from a curse also pervades the moment of victory…. Henry and his followers assess their fortunes in dumbstruck amazement and depart almost on tip-toe as if afraid the heavens may yet turn against them" (Times, 4 December 1964).

Holm's was an understated and sincere Henry, who argued out his speeches rather than declaiming them, and the production as a whole strove toward reflection rather than bombast. Critics were divided about Holm, some complaining that his diminutive stature and affect were "drab and uninspiring" (Leicester Mercury), that his "Once more" speech was "more of a desperate plea than a rallying cry" (Wolverhampton Express and Star), that he was inappropriately introspective, "almost a Hamlet" (Liverpool Post). But others praised his interpretation's quiet sensitivity and intelligence and found its departure from the jingoistic tradition of Lewis Waller and Olivier's film refreshing. Herbert Kretzmer saw the performance's complexity as its strength: Holm's Henry was "a man who continually invites our understanding of the complex dilemma of kingship" (Daily Express). This sense of dilemma was exactly what Hall intended. As his essay in the production's program argues, the play is full of "the ironies of political government." Henry is effective, if not always moral, "both a devious politician and a man of sincerity; a hypocrite and an idealist." Trevor Nunn would later comment that the 1964 production done "in the midst of the 'make love not war' movements and the horror of the Vietnamese situation," marked a real interpretive turning point for productions of Henry V; it recognized what Nunn called the "play-within-a-play, a hidden play which amounted to a passionate cry by the dramatist against war" (qtd. in Berry 62). By 1964, ambiguity had become the play's foremost virtue: "Henry V is a great jingoistic celebration of England as a nation," Hall writes, "and also a criticism of the needs of kingship. It is a celebration of war and a criticism of war. An ambiguous document: Shakespeare always is."

Hall's exploration of the play's ambiguity was a turning point in twentieth-century productions of Henry V, one that proved especially marked in North America, where Vietnam loomed large. When Michael Langham produced the play again at Stratford in 1966, it was, "in contrast to his 1956 staging, decidedly more realistic than romantic" (Leiter 215), and Langham referred to Vietnam in his production's program. Michael Kahn's stridently anti-war staging at New York's American National Theatre in 1969 presented war as a game, with actors fighting on a playground before the play began, and with costumes ranging from Viking to Vietnam to futuristic, suggesting the timelessness of war. Kahn's arguments went too far, according to many critics, but Peter D. Smith identified its "great value . . . that it opened the debate in one's mind" (Smith 450).

The ambiguity in the play found expression again in Terry Hands's 1975 production for the RSC's centenary, which pushed the play's inherent links between politics and theatricality to its extremest possible expression. In the program notes, Hands argued that Hall's production, what Hands called the "Vietnam version" of the play, betrayed a misunderstanding: "I don't think the play is about war at all," he said; it is rather "about Henry V…a man who…learns to know his people." For Hands, what makes a king is his performance of kingship. Accordingly, the audience first encountered the characters as the actors playing them, warming up in rehearsal clothes before the lights went down. Emrys James's Chorus delivered the prologue simply with the house lights up, Alan Howard's Henry started the council scene in street attire, "We are glad the dauphin is so pleasant with us." Alan Howard as a track-suited Henry, 1975 (photo Joe Cocks; image courtesy of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust).and the cast remained onstage for much of the play, cheering and jeering each other's performances. In order to highlight the progression of Henry's theatricality, as the play went on, various actors gradually, sometimes on stage, began to don costumes appropriate to their characters, but the Chorus's repeated apologies for the limitations of theatrical representation were especially effective throughout this production as a reminder that politics is theater, that our thoughts deck our kings. While some found the costuming experiment wearisome, an unsubtle joke about budgetary austerity and a plea for more Arts Council funding, it certainly made its political point; Gordon Parsons saw an indictment of Nixonian hypocrisy in Howard's "God fought for us" (Morning Star, 9 Apr. 1975). More interestingly, few critics seemed surprised by Hands's argument that Shakespeare's depiction of politics in Henry Vis subversive. Some critics continued to discuss a "usual" version of the play -- bombastic, conservative, and blatantly patriotic -- but they did so in order to dismiss such interpretations as wrong-headed. Howard, wrote the Sunday Telegraph reviewer, "was an actor playing a man playing a king: an exercise in introspection far removed from the usual recruiting poster" (Sunday Telegraph, 13 Apr. 1975). By 1975, the experimental, radical, morally ambiguous version of the play had become the new norm, the idea of a "traditional" interpretation more and more a misnomer.

If Hall's 1964 production had been the Vietnam version of Henry V, then perhaps Adrian Noble's 1984 production at the RSC -- starring Kenneth Branagh and several other actors who would reprise their roles in Branagh's 1989 film -- could be described as the Falklands version. Though its portrayal of Henry was not entirely unsympathetic, the production emphasized more than most the difference between the ruling class's experience of war and that of the common man. When the king and nobles exited toward their ships in 2.2, for example, Henry's confidence in the divinity of his cause was reflected in the costume design: he and his men gleamed in white tabards, silvered helmets, and blinding spotlights. This was followed immediately by a somber trio of Eastcheapers wearing grubby Saint George's crosses, mourning Falstaff and somberly loading a wheelbarrow in near darkness. Noble never allowed his audience to forget the staggering human cost of war. Branagh gave sincere weight to any lines about casualties, no matter the context -- even the threats to Harfleur and the boast to the ambassador about the widows and orphans that the Dauphin's mock would produce came with an undertone of grief. The culmination of this arc was Burgundy's frequently-cut complaint about the destruction of the French garden, highlighted by a center-stage delivery by a Burgundy on crutches that built to an angry shout. The execution of Bardolph occurred onstage, during a full eighty seconds of unbearable silence broken only by the sound of rain: Branagh's Henry stared mournfully at the kneeling Bardolph, gave a silent nodded order for Exeter to garrote the thief, and waited another twenty seconds before speaking. Even after Agincourt the tone in the English camp was somber, the revelation of the victory occurring on a stage loaded with corpses of boys, Branagh's voice breaking during the quietly prayerful numbering of the dead. Fluellen's somewhat absurd speech about Henry's link to Alexander was done through tears, and its climax, "There is good men born at Monmouth," was delivered as if to convince himself, in a desperate need for Henry to be one of those good men, to justify the cost.

30Noble's production, as critic John Barber put it, struck "a welcome if anachronistic note of near pacifism" (Daily Telegraph, 29 March 1984), but it did so with subtlety, marking a "gradual progression from rhetoric to reality" (Michael Billington, Guardian, 29 March 1984). Michael Bogdanov's 1986 touring production of the history cycle, again called The Wars of the Roses, for the English Shakespeare Company (which he founded in that year with Michael Pennington, who played Henry) made a similarly subversive argument in a bolder and more strikingly irreverent way. The costume design and staging were an eclectic mix of modern and various historical periods, allowing for constant commentary on the foreign policy and xenophobic attitudes of 1980s England. Paul Brennen's Pistol, for example, was an aging hooligan in a Nazi helmet and motorcycle jacket, who led his cohort off to war carrying a banner reading "Fuck the Frogs" and chanting the football fan's standby song "'ere we go, 'ere we go, 'ere we go," jarringly juxtaposed with the patriotic hymn "Jerusalem." Class conflict was a theme throughout this production: the lords arguing for war in morning coats and cravats seemed dangerously out of touch with the realities of warfare, and during battle, the toffish Gower seemed more concerned with the insult done by the French to the king's pavilion than with their killing of the boys. After sending Pistol, Bardolph and Nym into the breach, Fluellen and his fellow officers appropriated their hiding spot to share a cocktail and a smoke. Even the "Crispinʼs day" speech was delivered calmly in an officer's barracks, conspicuously absent of common soldiers whose condition could potentially be gentled. This Henry's band of brothers was composed only of his literal blood relations and fellow peers of the realm.

Pennington's Henry was one of the most unapologetically unsympathetic performances in the play's history, colored chiefly by quiet menace and the amoral efficiency of a cold-war diplomat. The horror of his threats to the governor of Harfleur was only increased by his calm delivery of them over a negotiating table. Henry's silence as Bardolph screamed for clemency while he was dragged offstage to be shot was rendered all the more chilling as the king shifted immediately into laughter at Montjoy's embassy. Pennington played Henry's wooing of Catherine as a tiresome bit of diplomacy to be worked through as brusquely as possible. This, and the substantial age difference between the two actors, pushed the scene in a sinister direction. Henry circled the seated princess and hovered over her, giving lines such as "I love thee cruelly" and "It shall please him, Kate" a sense of veiled threat. Pennington's "patiently, and yielding" came off as an order, and the kiss, which Catherine clearly did not return, seemed like a form of assault. The few moments of humanity that Pennington allowed to show through in Henry's more private moments ironically emphasized the sacrifice of that humanity to the office of kingship. As he sang a pious Non nobis after Agincourt, he looked longingly offstage toward the raucously celebratory lower-class football chanting in which he could no longer participate.

Branagh's 1989 film version gave a new generation a filmic touchstone for productions of the play, considerably more conservative in style and argument than Bogdanov's production had been, but nevertheless interested in exploring the possibility of heroism in a complicated politician and warrior, while stressing the horrific and inglorious aspects of war. The iconic image from the film may be that of Henry before Harfleur, on the traditional heroic white horse, but caked in soot and bathed in the light of a burning city, striking a heroic pose when seen at a distance, but as the final close-up of the scene revealed, doing so out of desperation and with no small amount of Machiavellian theatricality. Several of the mainstream English Henry Vs in the ensuing decade followed Branagh's approach, challenging their audiences to reexamine their conception of leadership, questioning whether the idea of heroism was compatible with an anti-war outlook.

Matthew Warchus's 1994 RSC production, for example, was an "epic of regal neurosis in the face of warfare rather than…complacent royalist propaganda" (Nicholas de Jongh, Evening Standard, 11 May 1994). Iain Glen's Henry was a dark, unknowable figure, a scheming keeper of secrets who worked not so much by winning charisma as by ruthless efficiency. Dark clouds hung over the whole production; the council scene opened with the sound of thunder as a manic Henry pored through piles of legal documents. Glen played a bookish king, proud that he had found the legal excuse to go to war through his own research, and the scene gave the impression of a back-room conspiracy to manufacture a war. Warchus emphasized the split between this private kingship and the public performance of it. Onstage audiences frequently gave rounds of applause -- at Canterbury's "such a sum," at Henry's "mock" speech -- and served both to bolster Henry's authority and to remind the viewing audience of the subject's role in constructing that authority: Glen's threats to Harfleur were underscored by his troops' rhythmic stomping, the music of his bloodthirsty rhetoric recalling a Nuremburg rally, or perhaps more charitably, a revival meeting; Benedict Nightingale called Glen's Henry "a Billy Graham of the battlefield" (Times, 11 May 1994). The production design, taking its cue from Henry's soliloquy on ceremony, emphasized the material that comprised the appearance of kingship: the idea of kingship was a main character, as the curtain call illustrated, with the actors taking their bows around a dress tree hung with Henry's costume, the finery that decks a king remaining as the last onstage image. Similarly, but more disturbingly, pieces of plate armor hung on ropes over the stage during the Agincourt sequence, reminders of the degree to which heroism comes from costume, but also grim symbols of "all those legs and arms and heads chopped off in a battle" (TLN 1983-84). The Agincourt set from Warchus's 1994 RSC production (image courtesy of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust).

The RSC staged Henry Vagain only three years later, with Ron Daniels directing Michael Sheen in the title role. Though Sheen received some positive responses to his portrayal of the king as a "university student suddenly whisked to royal heights" (de Jongh, Evening Standard, 12 September 1997), the production's choices -- Pistol and company as a biker gang, an eclectic mix of modern and medieval trappings, an excessively self-aware use of electronic technology -- mystified many critics. The anti-war production had become the norm, and even critics who found it too heavy-handed -- Benedict Nightingale, for instance, found Daniels to be "staging a sermon" (Times, 13 September 1997) and Alastair Macauley wrote that it was "less a play than an oratorio" (Financial Times, 15 September 1997) -- did not claim that he was misinterpreting Shakespeare's play. The production elements that most alienated critics subtly emphasized how out of their depth all the participants in the war were. The French in their shining medieval armor seemed lulled by the timeless romance of warfare, blissfully unaware of the horrors about to be visited upon them by the very modern war machine of the English, signaled by the twentieth-century uniforms worn over their chainmail. Sheen's youthful Henry, similarly, started the play lulled by a more modern rhetoric of warfare; the play opened with him watching Churchill-era newsreels, which continued running silently during the council scene, the glories of past English victories literally projected on the king's body. During the course of the play, his exuberance disappeared in the face of the realities of modern warfare; Sheen delivered the ultimatum to Harfleur sitting beside a loudspeaker, technological amplification rendering the speech at once calm and terrifyingly loud, his mechanized voice seemingly alien to his exhausted, small, very human body.Michael Sheen delivers the ultimatum to Harfleur (image courtesy of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust).

35The opening of the channel tunnel, connecting England and France by rail, occasioned a deal of public controversy between "Europhiles," who saw Britain as destined to participate in continental shared government, and isolationist "eurosceptics" who opposed the UK's entrance into the EU and adoption of the euro, and saw the tunnel as an emblem of the loss of national identity. Although Warchus's production, as its program notes remarked, opened at nearly the same time as the chunnel, it was not until 1997 that a production of Henry Vwas seen to enter into this national debate. Perhaps inevitably, given the theater's status as a lodestone for tourists and an icon of archaeological anglophilia, the debut production at Shakespeare's Globe became a focus for contemporary questions of Anglo-French relations: "Henry V," wrote critic Patrick Marmon, "was one of the original Eurosceptics" (Evening Standard, 9 June 1997). Directed by Richard Olivier, son of the most famous Henry V of all time, and starring Globe artistic director Mark Rylance as the king, the all-male Globe production determinedly struck the unfashionably patriotic notes of Shakespeare's play in the name of the same antiquarian authenticity that characterized the whole Globe project, from the reproduction of early modern tailoring practices to the hazelnut shells in the ground under the audience's feet. This production emphasized the communal experience of theater, and of English history. The role of the Chorus was shared among the company, with Rylance himself delivering the prologue before taking on the character of the king, and the program notes rather insistently encouraged audience participation. At first resistant, during the course of the run the "groundlings" entered into the spirit, whistling at the cross-dressing, enthusiastically cheering the more bombastic speeches, and booing the more-than-usually-caricatured French. Perhaps inevitably, the production came off as "lowest common demoniator slapstick," what Marmon called a "goodies and baddies crowd pleaser." The approach did not always work; Susannah Clapp found Pistol and company disappointingly flat and pantomime-like, and complained that the audience participation reduced Falstaff's death scene "to a subject for camp clucking" (Observer, 15 June 1997). Sometimes, indeed, this participation seemed not all that distant from unironically jingoistic bigotry; the audience cheering at the slaughter of the French prisoners made more than one critic uncomfortable. Given the production's overall lack of subtlety, Rylance's performance was surprisingly nuanced, "lyrical, wistful, and only reluctantly bellicose," as Clapp called it. Critics alternately praised his ability to find intimacy in a venue that called out for bombast, and decried his failure to fill the space. Rylance played against the grain, finding introspection and complexity in the midst of a larger-than-life production, as if Henry's was the only troubled mind in the playhouse, but Alastair Macauley posed the question "can introspection work at the Globe?" and found Rylance to come up wanting: "Too low in energy, he has not discovered how to make the higher flights of Shakespearian thought encompass a Globe audience" (Financial Times, 10 June 1997).

Olivier's production opened at the Globe in the same month as another legacy Henry V director, Edward Hall (son of Peter Hall) helmed another all-male, outdoor production at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury, Berkshire. Hall was to direct the play again in a larger venue, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, in 2000. His Henry, William Houston, played the king with an infectious energy. With an expressive face equally capable of an affable grin and a snarl, Houston was, as Nicholas de Jongh wrote approvingly, the most unpleasant Henry in memory (Financial Times, 1 September 2000), a cold bureaucrat with "a pocket calculator where his heart ought to be" (Charles Spenser, Telegraph, 4 September 2000). The production started with the entire stage draped in a huge, crude Saint George's cross flag, and continued throughout to play upon caricatures of French and English stereotypes, producing a cartoon patriotism that many critics found excessively silly: the English were football hooligans willfully mispronouncing "Har-flerr," while the French were effete aristocrats who conducted state business in a Turkish bath. Houston's Henry fairly dared his audience to like him, as if he were playing a parody of the most radical scholarly interpretations of the character. He officiously multi-tasked while delivering the traitors' sentence, and betrayed no emotion as they were executed in front of him. His order to kill the prisoners was carried out onstage over the vigorous objection of Exeter, the score dropping away to highlight the sound of the prisoners' screams as they were machine-gunned onstage. Hall's production seemed determined to undermine any notion of positive patriotism, but nevertheless critic Michael Billington found its key point to be the "English . . . truculent chauvinism that only turns into heroism in moments of crisis" (Guardian, 2 September 2000).

If Hall's Henry V used absurdity to push the subversive elements of Shakespeare's play to their extreme, Nicholas Hytner's 2003 production at the National Theatre used insistent parallels to contemporary war toward a similar end, with grimmer, less ironic results. This was the ultimate post-9/11 production of the play, working to draw parallels, during the Anglo-American preparation for war in Iraq, between Tony Blair and George W. Bush and the play's "charismatic young leader sending his troops to war in a cause of dubious international legitimacy" (Nigel Reynolds, Daily Telegraph, 24 January 2003). An anonymous Telegraph commentator felt railroaded into this interpretation, calling it an absurd analogy that "breaks down at a hundred points" -- was Charles VI meant to be Saddam Hussein (Telegraph, 18 May 2003)? But the fact that the U.S. Defense Department suggested Henry Vas required reading for American soldiers -- a recommendation reported by the New York Timesand noted in the program -- proved that the parallel had legs. As Charles Spenser wrote, the play "might well have been written last week" (Telegraph, 15 May 2003). Hytner crowded his stage with jeeps and machine guns, and also used technology to comment on the role of television and media spin on the public reception of news. To start the second act, Penny Downie's Chorus broadcast her call to arms on the television in Mistress Quickly's pub, where the patrons flipped nervously between the war report and a snooker match. Modern war can be remembered with advantages even as it happens, and Adrian Lester played Henry as an expert in media manipulation, Adrian Lester plays to the news cameras (photo Tristram Kenton).giving his speech before Harfleur to embedded cameramen, whom he instructed to cut the sound before threatening the city with rape and infanticide. English victories were rendered hollow by sentimentalizing video coverage, and the Non nobishymn was replaced by a jingoistic hit rap song. Lester's Henry was "chilly and severe, liable to rush in a moment from eerie restraint to cold fury" (Paul Taylor, Independent, 14 May 2003). The moments of violence on the battlefield were all driven by Henry in person, and rendered more vicious by the sudden absence of video mediation. Henry shot Bardolph and cut Le Fer's throat himself, and when his common soldiers recoiled at the order to kill their prisoners, only Fluellen, the "arch disciplinarian" (Michael Billington, Guardian, 14 May 2003), stepped forward to carry out the order. Regardless of whether they thought that the contemporary allusions worked, many critics felt that the production's agenda ironed out the play's complexities. The conservative Telegraph railed that Hytner was merely parroting the politics of previous productions and of current opinion, that "far from being daring…[he was] swimming with the tide" (Telegraph, 18 May 2003). And Michael Billington in the more liberal Guardian also wished the show had contained more of the play's contradictions. But Charles Spenser's review did identify tensions even in this most politicized of productions. The onstage killings were harrowing, he wrote:

Yet it is just as hard to forget his genuine anguish and courage on the eve of what looks like an impossible battle. Hytner and Lester have made Henry neither patriotic hero nor warmongering villain but a man caught in the moral no-man's-land of war that lies between. (Telegraph, 15 May 2003)

As we enter the play's fifth century, the most successful productions of Henry V will persist in exploring the moral no-man's-land in which Shakespeare situates this troubled hero and his war.