A nest of hollow bosoms. (CHORUS, Henry V: II.0.18-21)
Henry VI II: Act I
It’s a strange thing, patriotism.
I’ll try to make this the final time I mention how I don’t feel especially patriotic towards England as opposed to Britain, but the beginning of the play causes me to examine my attitudes again.It probably says something about my pedantic nature that I can’t simply conflate the two.Or maybe it’s simply the fact that my Welsh girlfriend would probably dump me!Either way, I suddenly became acutely aware of an inchoate fear for the country.Ye-e-es, there was some fear for Henry, about to be eaten alive by his Queen like a hapless spider, but the sympathy I felt for Henry as a child effectively evaporated in the white heat of his ineffectuality.It facilitated of the betrayal of my new Shakespearean heroes, the Talbots, and so isn’t easily forgiven or forgotten.So it wasn’t what Margaret might or might not do to Henry that worried me.It was how she might treat England …
[subtitled: “It’s always the quiet ones you need to watch out for.”]
As I finished the play, it occurred to me that women play a much larger role than I might have guessed back in the heady days of January, when I started seriously thinking about this project.Perhaps I might refine that to say that French women.
What was/is it about the allure of French women to English men?
Writing about this act has been an almost painful task.
It would have been too too easy to continue with the ‘Carry On Up the Dolphin’ theme I’d adopted for Act II, but I didn’t feel up to it, aside from referencing the incorrigible overfamiliarity of Charles:
Ay marry, sweeting, if we could do that,
France were no place for Henry’s warriors. (III.iii.21-2)
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On to the play, and post two of God knows how many in this project.
I wonder if I lowered my expectations too far …
To shrug and say it was fine, good, OK, would be to do the opening act of Henry VI part I a disservice. Sure, there were moments of clunkiness – not least when the French Master Gunner feels the need to declare – to himself, his son, and thereby the audience – his employment: