Focus on "Henry V":

Navigating Digital Text, Performance, & Historical Resources


Page Four Audio File

In moments such as these, the Chorus can act as a mediator of emotions between the stage and the audience. The Chorus is also interpreter, commentator, and obfuscator. Casting options vary to achieve a wide range of effects. Mills conceptualized the play as a self-conscious amateur schoolboys’ production, with Tim Pigott-Smith (the only adult in the production) cast as a headmaster-cum-Chorus, sitting at a replica of the master’s desk in Shakespeare’s classroom, working his way “through great swathes of the boys’ prep.”  Warchus cast the Chorus (Tony Britton) as a modern-day war veteran, with a poppy and a walking-stick: “He provided both a connection to all past wars but also the distance from it defined by a survivor.”  The sense of perspective was also provided by Barry Rutter’s Chorus, “the casual TV historian … simple to the point of being patronising” in the Northern Broadsides production, where he simultaneously framed a period approach to the play.  Bogdanov created an unexpected continuity between his Henry IV plays and Henry V by having John Woodvine double as Falstaff and the Chorus: “His entry as his normal elegant self acting the part of Chorus in Henry V was greeted by cheers and claps from the audience.”  As mentioned earlier, Hall’s 2012 production had a collective chorus of exhausted, bedraggled soldiers.

The Chorus’s bonhomie can be deceptive, as in Michael Boyd’s 2007 production. While undermining a heroic interpretation of Henry, Forbes Masson’s Chorus “ingratiates himself to audiences … His demeanor is simple. Trustworthy. … But he is more threatening than this playfulness suggests, because Masson’s Rumour in 2 Henry IV is this same character.”  

Re-gendering is another option, which Charles Kean inaugurated in 1859 when he cast his wife, Ellen Tree, as a Chorus who was Clio, the Muse of history. Hytner’s Chorus (Pennie Dowie) was a lecturer obviously besotted with Henry but also disappointed to see that he was not living up to her expectations.  In the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s Henry V, J. R. Sullivan cast Corliss Preston as the Chorus: “She nicely mimicked the horses ‘Printing their proud hoofs i’ th’ receiving earth’ (Pro. 27), giving a sense of the energy of the production.”  

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