Focus on "Henry V":

Navigating Digital Text, Performance, & Historical Resources


Page Four Audio File
In the end, as Shakespeare’s prologue suggests, the audience is responsible for filling the breach. Henry V begins with the idea that it is selling a fiction, that the only real tool at its disposal is its rhetoric, which the audience must internalize and transform in order to validate, to prove the legitimacy of the dramatic enterprise. The prologue states:
            For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
            Carry them here and there, jumping o’er times,
            Turning th’ accomplishment of many years
            Into an hour-glass… (29-33, my emphasis)
Henry promises an identity in exchange for his followers’ participation in his campaign; similarly, the prologue enlists the audience as necessary participants in the reification of its mythologized account of English success. As long as the performance lasts, as long as the empty breach of the stands is filled, the assemblage of performer and audience partake of an illusory sense of unity. A successful fiction consolidates its spectators and unifies them in a communal affirmation of the play’s proceedings. Part of this unification involves a suspension or temporary negation of the audience’s context, their status as individuals. The gambit of Shakespeare’s play is thus the gambit of its fledgling king, as he assimilates and transforms spectators into active participants in his singular aim. What begins in Shakespeare’s original as a fraught solution to disunity, the words of a king who must prove his legitimacy, has become its own sort of legitimizing tool, an identity-forming ritual whose only assurance is its continued, mutual need for reaffirmation. 

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