Focus on "Henry V":

Navigating Digital Text, Performance, & Historical Resources


Page Five Audio File

While casting an actress for the Chorus helps to give a female perspective on this overwhelmingly masculine play, an all-male cast can also convey a wealth of affects and invite a variety of responses. In Hall’s 1998 production, Jonathan McGuinness’s Katherine played a full range from “in drag and for laughs” to “an entirely sympathetic, frail and vulnerable young woman.”  George Hodson’s Katherine in Mills’s all-boys production proved “a skittish princess” teasing her long-suffering, “rather dowdy Alice (Barnaby Bos) … in cardi and pleated skirt and wearing pearls.”  

This is also achieved through the degree of agency that actresses playing Katherine are allowed, or in the connections invited through doubling. In Bogdanov’s production, Jenny Quayle doubled as Doll Tearsheet and Princess Katherine of France. Her “sullen and recalcitrant” attitude in the French lesson scene and unresponsiveness suggested that this was, “unmistakeably, preparation for an international rate of exchange.”  Doll’s flattering busses of 2 Henry IV contrasted with Katherine’s reluctant kisses of Henry V, but “the common denominator was obvious: both women are objects for sale. Wars and whores are very close, as Troilus and Cressida later reasserts.” 

Body language can speak worlds between the lines. McAnuff played on Henry’s statement, “We are the makers of manners, Kate:” “While Henry (Aaron Krohn) delivers these lines with kingly self-assurance, Princess Katherine (Bethany Jillard) receives them with discernible incredulity.”  

Just as casting an actress for the Chorus invites a female perspective, “having a female Governor of Harfleur feminized the city and provided a direct response to the horrendous threat of rape and murder that Henry had offered, his language and her body in direct connection and opposition.”   Freestone took the regendering further in her 2018 production for the Bristol Tobacco Factory, confronting the play’s masculine world by casting

“female actors in the male roles of Exeter (Alice Barclay), Montjoy (Amy Rockson), Gower (Melody Brown), Bardolph/Williams/Macmorris (Rosie Armstrong) as well as Joanne Howarth’s doubling of Burgundy and the Chorus ... But this was neither a gimmick nor an empty gesture nor did the production aim merely to install female actors into patriarchal positions of power; rather it sought to demonstrate that the world of high politics was as natural and frustrating a place for female as for male agency.”

Furthermore, Freestone empowered the princess’s role by combining it with that of the Dauphin. This Katherine was

less a blushing bride who turns swords to wedding bells in the play’s sentimental final scene, than a raging termagant with more than a dash of Joan La Pucelle [Joan of Arc] about her. Dressed in gothic black with huge buckled boots, studded gloves and a shaven head, Heledd Gwynn’s Katherine was a gutsy and rebellious presence.  

When her lover (Le Fer/Orleans), is killed by Pistol, she cradles the body and uses it, like a grotesque dummy, for the English lesson – before physically resisting Henry with anguish and despair in the wooing scene.

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