“Not a man from England”: assimilating the exotic ‘other’ through performance, from Henry IV to Henry VI.
In: Maley, W. and Tudeau-Clayton, M., eds.
This England, That Shakespeare: New Angles on Englishness and the Bard.
Ashgate, pp. 234-262.
Publisher's URL: http://www.ashgate.com/isbn/9780754666028
This essay will consider recent shifts in performance representations of England and the exotic ‘other’ in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI plays. By tracing the texts’ varied representations of non-English Britons and those for whom English is not their mother tongue (such as Owen Glyndwr in 1 Henry IV and Princess Catherine in Henry V), recent criticism has identified that Shakespeare’s narrative portrays the challenges of assimilating ‘otherness’ within English culture. This essay aims to build on the existing textual criticism by examining how recent performance trends affect and revise Shakespeare’s presentation of England and challenge the very notion of the exotic ‘other’. It will investigate how casting decisions at the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre since 2000 have influenced audience’s readings of England and Englishness. The essay will chiefly focus on how such production decisions as the casting of actors of the same nationality as the characters they represent (Welsh, French, Scottish or Irish) and the casting of black actors as Henry V and Henry VI in the most recent productions of these plays at the National and the RSC, re-imagine Shakespeare’s England and the idea of the ‘other’ for audiences in today’s multicultural Britain.
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