Henry V by William Shakespeare, is supposed to have been written about 1599. It expresses the story of King Henry V of England, focusing on events surrounding the Battle of Agincourt during the Hundred Years’ War. The play is the final part of a series of plays, following Richard II, Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2. The original audiences would consequently be familiar with the title character, which was depicted in the Henry IV plays as a wild, undisciplined lad known as “Prince Harry”. In Henry V, the young prince has flourished into an adult and embarks on a prosperous overthrow of France. BYU’s Young Company’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry V utilizes the influence of Fun.’s rock ballad “Some Nights”, including audience members in the action, simple cuttings of the original piece, and casting a woman as King Henry in order to create a war infused coming of age children’s theater play.
In the Young Company’s adaptation of the script, the prologue of Act I introduces the audience to what will be displayed before them and to see the “imaginary forces work”. The idea to imagine the large armies and the action works well with the idea of a simple theater with simple costumes and props. Keeping it simple allows for a children’s theater piece that still stays true to the original version of Henry V. Also, in Henry’s first set of lines, she states in a more colloquial language, “I know, right? I don’t look like a Henry” to more clearly define that yes she is Henry and yes she is female. The aspect of a female Henry softens the strength of the piece as only about war and allows a younger audience to see more of the importance of character motivations and internal conflicts.
Within the script, lyrics to “Some Nights” as well as other choice songs are placed in order to emphasize the point of “What do I stand for?” or to the audience, “What do you stand for?” (as well as create entertaining spectacle). This thematic element is meant to remind the audience of the overriding theme of two sides –French and British, corrupt and innocent, good or evil. The concept of good and evil are easily identified by younger audiences. Act I is the first display of Henry’s responsibility to make decisions –go to war and shed blood or spare lives? Most of the play deals with Henry’s conflict of becoming an adult, of having to make hard decisions and struggling to answer just what does she stand for. The idea that Henry is not yet an adult is commented on by Dauphin’s “gift” of tennis balls. The sarcastic spirit of this gift implies that the Dauphin considers the English king to be unworthy of an adult exchange, angering Henry to wage war. This is the beginning of Henry making a choice.
Another decision Henry must face is killing a friend who has become a traitor just after dealing with the death of an old friend. The contrast of the announcement of Falstaff’s impending death and the later announcement of Scroop’s impending death creates an interesting suggestion—that the amount of power a person has plays an important role in determining what it is right or wrong for him to do. Falstaff, one of the king’s former friends, is dying because Henry betrayed him. Scroop, another former friend, is also going to die, but because he betrayed Henry. There is irony to this fact, but, at the same time, one of the reasons that power plays such a large role in determining a person’s behavior is that with increased power comes an enlarged set of responsibilities. To spare Scroop would weaken the stability of the throne. This sense of responsibility and the necessity of acting impartially underlines Henry’s transition into a true adult. The events of Act III, scene VI also contribute to one of the play’s main concerns: the extent to which Henry has developed from a playful youth into a disciplined leader.
Knowing a history of friendship between Henry and Bardolph, we might expect Henry to pardon her old friend. Yet King Henry condemns Bardolph to death. Her decree here that “[w]e would have all such offenders so cut off” –meaning that all looters should be hanged –shows just how much Henry has had to grow up and make difficult decisions. Act II, scene III is the first time in the play that we get the French point of view. As the climactic battle draws nearer, the play’s point of view begins to alternate between the English and the French sides. We see that King Charles is prudent and wise in his estimation of King Henry. But to the Dauphin –Charles’s son –Henry is still the “vain, giddy, shallow, humorous youth” that he has heard spoken of in the past. Ironically, the Dauphin’s attitude reveals only his own inexperience and youthfulness. While King Charles recognizes Henry’s true character, the stubborn Dauphin has to learn about it the hard way –through experience.
From his opening plea of “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more,” in Act III, scene I, Henry unifies his men for his cause. The whole of the stirring passage uses the techniques of poetry to celebrate and glorify war. In particular, Henry invokes images and metaphors from nature to urge his men to shift into a state of animalistic ferocity for battle. After his speech a group of soldiers begin only to joke. A young boy comments on their behavior, “I am boy to them all three; but all they three, do not amount to a man.” His comment demonstrates his own maturity and the others lack thereof. Having this in their production appeals to a younger audience by showing no matter what age you have to choose what you stand for. Before battle Henry visits her soldiers in disguise. One can argue that because most of the soldiers don’t even know what Henry looks like well enough to recognize her, this scene emphasizes the distance between the king and her soldiers as much as it highlights the similarities between them.
In a monologue, Henry describes the terrible responsibilities of power, which both isolate and lay heavily upon the king. Everybody seems to lay all their worries, concerns, and guilt upon the shoulders of the king, who has nothing to ease this terrible responsibility except an empty display of power and glory. “What infinite heartsease. Must kings neglect that private men enjoy?” Henry asks, offering us a rare perspective on the negative aspect of power and demonstrating her understanding of the distance between herself and her men. In her St. Crispin’s Day speech, meant to strengthen the confidence of her soldiers before they head into a battle that they are almost certain to lose, Henry demonstrates her talent with words. She convinces her men that they have all come there to fight for honor, for justice, and for glory. She makes the battle sound like a privilege, one that will allow for more glory than anything else could. Henry also brings up, once more, the motif of the bond between king and commoner.
Henry claims that even a commoner will be made noble by fighting at her side and that the result will be lifelong honor. The battle ensues and at its end, Exeter and a herald return to report the total number of casualties. Ten thousand French soldiers are dead, but somehow the English have lost only twenty-nine men. Recognizing their astonishing good luck, the Englishmen give praise to God. At plays end, we are left with a story of growth, death, and ultimately success. Henry teaches that all must make difficult decisions and grow up. The Young Company’s Henry V leaves the question, “What do I stand for?” Overall the production of the script was successful at adapting Shakespeare’s Henry V into a piece more suited for younger audiences. There were times of muddled confusion due to individuals playing multiple characters or certain transitions that were not successful. Elements of spectacle did create an entertaining adaptation of classical theater with rock infused costuming, props, and acting. Elements of choreography and modern music allowed for a piece that was entertaining for younger audiences and got the story across while teaching certain lessons.