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The Big Think Does Things to Henry V I Never Imagined

by Josina Reaves on April 18, 2011

I am always ready to admit to bias, but my bias toward Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V is especially easy to confess. It was the first film version of a Shakespeare play that ever thrilled me, ever made me feel as though


Shakespeare might be for me, and since I discovered it in my adolescence, it was welded into my spirit the way permanent teeth are after the baby ones fall out.

I had watched it with my friend Suzie at her house one afternoon while we were in the city on break from boarding school. We’d made french fries from scratch earlier and wandered around her neighborhood for a while, and this was the next logical step for two sixteen-year-old girls with no trouble to get into. I should mention that Suzie was the extraordinary one of the two of us, having already written a novel and created a language by the eighth grade. She was always listening to recordings of plays in her room in our Connecticut dorm or telling me gory stories from Tamburlaine or Bussy D’Ambois. I was never quite sure what she was talking about, but she had a bean bag chair in her room, so at least the listening was easy.

When Suzie turned on the VCR that afternoon, I hadn’t thought much about it, figuring this would be just another slightly boring moment that sailed right over my head, but from the first stirrings of the credits, I was intrigued. Within an hour, I was entranced. I hadn’t been that surprised by a movie since I’d seen my grandfather tapping his foot to Dirty Dancing. It was wondrous.

So when I read the play myself, perhaps I could be excused for gliding over the bits that didn’t quite gibe with my imagine of the bold young king. Bold, young, and noble, I should hasten to add because my vision of him was wholly grand. I didn’t want the real story; I wanted Branagh, forever and always.

Last week, I went back to the Big Think to check in on their month-long series, “How to Think Like Shakespeare,” and the walls came tumbling down. At the bottom of a fairly innocuous blurb about D.C.’s Shakespeare Theatre Company’s annual mock trial with real Supreme Court justices, I found a troubling video of James Shapiro, Carol Gilligan, and series editor Kenji Yoshino discussing Henry V.

Why troubling? Because the heading of the video was “Was Henry V a War Criminal?”Turns out, as far as they’re concerned, he was. Aw, nuts! And perhaps he was a rapist as well. You’ll have to watch the conversation yourself for the nitty gritty on this topic, but let’s just say, my mind’s been blown. I lost a bit of a hero the day I watched that clip. I hope no one’s planning on meddling with any more of my girlhood crushes.

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