Whichever options directors choose to explore, they are engaging with the script and with its history in performance. They are responding to the different directions their predecessors have taken at historically significant moments, and to the way this play has been used to convey ideological messages. And they are fashioning their own version within a network of conflicting social and cultural attitudes to events in their own time. They are also inviting audiences to address the ethical issues which the play, and their reading of the play, raise. These include the extent to which subjects – and ultimately audiences – accept, or resist, their leaders’ rhetoric and actions. McAnuff’s production
focused on the remarkable consistency with which nearly every character, … eventually acquiesced to Henry’s certitudes, even when doing so meant significant loss … Not only did this focus breathe an air of gravity into each scene; it also established a relevance to the current political climate in some developed nations, most notably the United States, where several purposely manipulative claims uttered since September 11 not only have resulted in needless deaths but also helped shape a populace who, like Catherine, sees right through the manipulative nature of the words and yet goes along with them regardless.
Tracing audience responses to productions of Henry V would deserve an in-depth study. As directors probe the layering of collective representations, fears and uncertainties that have accreted and become enmeshed over the past century, they simultaneously address the uncertainties of the present, and its inability to break free of a complex and troubled heritage, in which war has played a major part. Barbara Gaines chose to sum up the dilemma by recalling George Santayana: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”