Tuesday, May 5, 2009

So the Henriad Begins

I have always wanted to watch a series of productiong of Shakespeare's histories, featuring some of the same actors in the same roles. Finally I have discovered "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare," produced by the BBC and Time-Life Video. So I'm watching the plays by regnal order.

"King John" was first. The production quality is not great by contemporary standards. The acting is somewhat spotty; although George Costigan was a good Philip the Bastard.

"Richard II" is much better, with Derek Jacobi as Richard, John Gielgud as John of Gaunt, and Charles Gray as the Duke of York. The fight scene at the end is somewhat dated.

The exchange between King Richard and Thomas Mowbray (Act 1, Scene III) is perhaps revealing to consider: faced with lifelong exile, Mowbray most mourns his chance to speak the English language.

King Richard II:
Norfolk, for thee remains a heavier doom,
Which I with some unwillingness pronounce:
The sly slow hours shall not determinate
The dateless limit of thy dear exile;
The hopeless word of 'never to return'
Breathe I against thee, upon pain of life.

Thomas Mowbray:
A heavy sentence, my most sovereign liege,
And all unlook'd for from your highness' mouth:
A dearer merit, not so deep a maim
As to be cast forth in the common air,
Have I deserved at your highness' hands.
The language I have learn'd these forty years,
My native English, now I must forego:
And now my tongue's use is to me no more
Than an unstringed viol or a harp,
Or like a cunning instrument cased up,
Or, being open, put into his hands
That knows no touch to tune the harmony:
Within my mouth you have engaol'd my tongue,
Doubly portcullis'd with my teeth and lips;
And dull unfeeling barren ignorance
Is made my gaoler to attend on me.
I am too old to fawn upon a nurse,
Too far in years to be a pupil now:
What is thy sentence then but speechless death,
Which robs my tongue from breathing native breath?

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