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Playing Shakespeare’s Monarchs and Madmen


Edited By Louis Fantasia

Playing Shakespeare’s Monarchs and Madmen is the third volume in the Peter Lang series, Playing Shakespeare’s Characters. As in the previous volumes, a broad range of contributors (actors, directors, scholars, educators, etc.) analyze the concepts of monarchy, leadership, melancholy and madness with not only references to Elizabethan and Jacobean studies, but also to Trump, Brexit, cross-gender and multi-cultural casting. What does it mean to “play the king” in the 21st century? What is the role of an “all-licensed” Fool in the age of spin? Who gets to represent the power dynamics in Shakespeare’s plays? This volume looks at the Henrys, Richards, Hamlets, Lears and various other dukes and monarchs and explores the ways in which men—and women—approach these portrayals of power and the lessons they hold for us today.

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3. Re-“Claiming from the Female”: Shakespeare’s Henry V (Janna Segal)


Janna Segal

Battle lines between scholars and among practitioners have been drawn over the political agenda of Henry V, Shakespeare’s third and final play depicting the transformation of England’s prodigal Prince Hal into a king “full of grace and fair regard” (1.1.24). Some poststructuralist critics, like Greenblatt and Tennenhouse, have positioned the play as state-solidifying stagecraft in service to the Elizabethan court.1 Others, such as Dollimore and Sinfield and Hedrick and Reynolds, have situated the play as inadvertently or otherwise undermining its seemingly state-consolidating function.2 Between these two factions are critics like Rabkin and Gurr who declare the play indecisive about the English monarchy’s martial impulses and the titular character who embodies them.3 Modern to postmodern stage and screen productions have tended to be divided into comparable camps that either celebrate, denounce, or ambivalently represent the historical monarch’s military conquests. For instance, Sir Laurence Olivier’s World War II-era film idealized the exploits of “the warlike Harry” (1.P.5). Unlike Olivier’s jingoistic depiction, Michael Kahn’s Vietnam War-era production for the American Shakespeare Festival at Stratford, Connecticut, denounced the horrors of warfare.4 Produced two years after Trump’s triumph over the Oval Office, Robert O’Hara’s 2018 production for the New York Public Theatre’s Mobile Unit landed in between these politically-pendulum swinging wartime renditions. According to New York Times reviewer Alexis Soloski, O’Hara’s production was most notable for its indecisiveness: “it doesn’t seem to know which story it’s telling. This version isn’t an unthinking endorsement of rah-rah patriotism, but it’s not...

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