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TOPIC: Pistol and Henry V

Pistol and Henry V 6 years 9 months ago #1275

i respectfully disagree. while freudian psychology clearly had not been invented yet, and while actors and writers in elizabethan england were not concerned with their character's "motivation", shakespeare's characters are still multi-dimmensional creations whose actions stem from a multiplicity of sources that go deeper than mere two-dimmensional explanations such as "love of god, king, and country" or "they all hated the welsh." i can understand having an aversion to our modern need to over-psychologize everything, but frankly shakespeare's work invites that sort of analyzation. hence, his countless soliloquies giving us a view into the inner workings of his characters. hence, freud's analysis of both hamlet and macbeth don't read as forcing circles into square pegs, but rather read as perfectly plausible examinations of the forces that stir up in lady macbeth hallucinations, and the forces that prevent hamlet from acting out immediately against his uncle (as would have been the fashion of hamlet's time).
shakespeare himself seems to roecognize the void in medieval medecine in macbeth:

DOCTOR. This disease is beyond my practice;

Macbeth V.i

more importantly, from the actors point of view, while it is certainly a mistake to approach shakespeare from a pure "method acting style" staring at your navel and pondering only why hamlet wants to sleep with his mommy, and it is clear that in acting shakespeare one must have an awareness of stylization and the conventions of the elizabethan stage, it is equally mistaken to turn shakespeare's characters into two-dimmensional stock characters whose actions can be easly be explained in a sentence or two. if the character's motivations were indeed all as simple and as surface as you both profess, we probably wouldn't have this web site, or bother talking about shakespeare at all.
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Pistol and Henry V 6 years 9 months ago #1276

Well said, max! I agree.

I'm sorry I don't have much else to add to this, though. I think the majority of the soldiers and common people love Hal because he is simply a great leader, and he inspires trust and admiration, making people feel that he can deliver on his promises. He promises everybody greatness and nobility, and he is convincing enough that most of them believe it. Pistol goes along with the majority feelings in this. Hal is a king which is easy to love; he is grand, inspirational, heroic and probably also handsome. He instills in the English the feeling that it is their divine destiny to overcome France - so those who fight at Agincourt really feel that this is the case.
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Pistol and Henry V 6 years 9 months ago #1278

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"Cu respecta," (as they say around here)
maxwonders wrote:
i respectfully disagree. while freudian psychology clearly had not been invented yet, and while actors and writers in elizabethan england were not concerned with their character's "motivation", shakespeare's characters are still multi-dimmensional creations whose actions stem from a multiplicity of sources that go deeper than mere two-dimmensional explanations such as "love of god, king, and country" or "they all hated the welsh."

I don't think you will find in my post any suggestion that the Elizabethans treated their characters as two dimensional (although several of them are exactly that).

My suggestion was that you thought about (not copy) what the 'motivations' for an Elizabethan actor were - and the 'concept' of character that is revealed in speeches like, "All the World's a Stage'.

'Love of God' to an Elizabethan is far more than 'two dimensional' - as is patriotism: In a play such as Henry V, both are very much to the fore.

And in the words of Edward Thomas:

This is no case of petty right or wrong
That politicians or philosophers
Can judge.


http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ltg/projects/j ... _case.html

No amount of 'Freudian' ga ga can account for the transformation that occurs in Hal when he becomes Henry - because, as written, it is a divine act - this is a play, not real life. The words and actions reflect the concepts of psychology of the time.
The Elizabethan audience would accept such transformations (what links the parts in All the World's a Stage?) as 'natural' - we have to seek alternative interpretations.

I would point out I did say a modern western audience could not accept an Elizabethan interpretation - although, in alternative cultures, you might be surprised how acceptable 'God's will' becomes.
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Pistol and Henry V 6 years 9 months ago #1280

i'm confused akfarrar:

you write in response to my questions about pistol that " this is a play, not real life", but then, to support your assertions that i shouldn't search too seeply for a contemporary human motivation within pistol's character that "all the world is a stage" as if to imply that everything that occurs on stage cannot be analyzed in psychological terms. these two ideas (all the world is a stage vs this is a play not real life) seem to contradict each other. either that, or you are implying that in both real life, and on stage our motivations are fairly simplistic and we are just playing a role and purely victims to the social belief systems of our times unable to experience feelings that go much deeper than what has been indoctrinated within us.

in addition, i think the idea that "all the world's a stage" is one of the more grossly misinterprited quotes from shakespeare. indeed -- if god is so important in shakespeare and if all the world is just a stage, than what role does god play on that stage. i guess he would be the director (even though directors as we know them didn't exist in elizabethan theater).

i agree -- that people do go too "ga, ga" with the need to attribute freudian meaning to texts. strangely enough, freud himself points out, that psycho-analyzing or hyper-interpriting, a character is merely one method, among many, of interpriting a work of art. analyzing a work from a socialogical or historic or dramaturgical point of view is another method. why limit yourself.

as an actor, even in a highly stylezed and archaic form of theatre, it makes perfect sense that an actor playing hal or pistol should both:
a) understand the role that god played upon the elizabethan psyche and
b) be ready to explore other impulses and feelings that might motivate their character to act.
this way the actor can portray a well rounded and engaging character on the stage, rather than limit themselves to something that can be understood in purely literary or historical terms.
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Pistol and Henry V 6 years 9 months ago #1281

maxwonders wrote:
...shakespeare's characters are still multi-dimmensional creations whose actions stem from a multiplicity of sources that go deeper than mere two-dimmensional explanations such as "love of god, king, and country" or "they all hated the welsh."
maxwonders wrote:
if god is so important in shakespeare and if all the world is just a stage, than what role does god play on that stage. i guess he would be the director (even though directors as we know them didn't exist in elizabethan theater).

I don't think "love of god, king, and country"is at all a two-dimensional explanation, while "they all hated the welsh" (not really what I said) could be considered such. God was very important in the period, not on the stage itself. While many of Shakespeare's plays can be taken out of their intended time period (I use that word loosely), the Henry plays can't because they are so much a product of the time (unless you do some fancy editing). So the importance of Elizabethan culture (and God, king & country within it) is not to be glazed over.

The director role as we know it was likely filled by the writer himself (or even the theatre owner!).

If you're going to consider all every dimension possible in order to form basic actor choices, it's best to have as many options as you can find to explore. The final choice may not be just one, but a combination of two or more. That being said, Shakespeare's characters are complex, but offer a lot of room for interpretation.
maxwonders wrote:
as an actor, even in a highly stylezed and archaic form of theatre, it makes perfect sense that an actor playing hal or pistol should both:
a) understand the role that god played upon the elizabethan psyche and
b) be ready to explore other impulses and feelings that might motivate their character to act.
this way the actor can portray a well rounded and engaging character on the stage, rather than limit themselves to something that can be understood in purely literary or historical terms.

So true. But Shakespeare gave a certain amount of "clues" to actors and left the rest to them. In larger roles, there are tons. In the smaller roles, there are far less. As an actor, you have objectives and choices to make and sometimes they won't be fully justified by the text. It's up to you to "fill in the gaps", so to speak.

Back to the topic at hand: another possibility to explore is that Pistol feels it's Fluellen's doing, not Henry's, and he distinguishes the two. He has unsuccessfully pleaded with Fluellen for Bardolph's life (in III, 6) and when he leaves in a huff, he already knows he failed. There's also strong speculation that there's already a checkered history between them. In IV, 1 when he speaks to the disguised Henry, he speaks well about Henry and the tone of the conversation is upbeat until Henry mentions the Welsh or Fluellen. Pistol's not quite sharp enough to pick up on the "Harry Le Roy" ("Hal the King") hint.

There's more bark than bite with Pistol, for he has already shown his cowardice in the French battle in III, 2. He thinks he can stand up to Fluellen, he knows he can't stand up to Hal.
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Pistol and Henry V 6 years 9 months ago #1284

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I am a little rushed for time, but will go off and put down what I mean about Elizabethan 'character' concepts - but I do understand the confusion I could have engendered, and apologise. :oops:

Quickly, again though - you can't reproduce the Elizabethan - it can inform a modern performance, but that is all.
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Pistol and Henry V 6 years 9 months ago #1291

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From the notes I am writing to post here on Shakespearean Characterisation:

1. Types

In the ‘All the World’s a Stage’ speech, Jacques, ‘provides us with a series of little character sketches, all self-contained, each stage apparently deriving nothing from the age before.’ (Greer) There are ‘rites of passage’ between roles – but the human being is seen as playing stock roles.

An important thing to understand at this point is that these ‘roles’ are not caricatures – Jacques might pencil-in some small details as illustration – but he does use the words ‘Acts’ to describe each period of time – the theatre is aiming to show a complete, not a partial, view. There will appear ‘several’ versions of a type on stage, and frequently one man in one play will act several parts.

If we look at the ‘act’, Soldier in Jacques speech, some interesting detail comes out – applicable to all the soldier roles in Shakespeare’s plays. He is expected to be bearded ‘like the pard’ – marking his masculinity in contrast to the earlier, almost effeminate lover, and marking his rough wildness in contrast with the ‘formal cut’ magistrate.

We might choose to believe ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’ – but, ‘clothes maketh the man!’ – very much so in Elizabethan England where rules on how you dressed could determine your right to move through the country. ( I am tempted to suggest modern airport security checks are not much different.)

A beard, is a beard, is a beard – but can you grow one, how thick is it and do you cut it ? The talliban understand that quite clearly.

‘Jealous in honour’ – your soldier has to measure himself against others – he is seeking an almost Mafia-like purity of honour: Whether it is Pistol or Hotspur.

Sudden and quick in quarrel – how else can you be ‘macho’? There is a tiresome stream of quarrelling youth in Shakespeare’s History plays – frequently indulged by their elder relatives – it is, after all, an aspect expected in this role. It is an aspect disrespectful of rank and nationality; both the French Court and the English campfire display it.

What is genius in Shakespeare is not the ‘breaking out’ of the constraints of these characteristics, but the variation he manages to display within the boundaries – and the consequent depth he is able to take our capacity to reflect.

It is a concept of character that is also very useful in displaying sudden change – the change that so frustrates the method actor: Hal becomes, through the ‘rite of passage’ of coronation a new character type – King.

Falstaff, at the same time, possibly as a consequence of the realisation of his true role, turns to the final act – second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth, etc.

This concept of character role extends into real life.

(It is taking longer than I thought to get my ideas down, so I thought I better post this now – the rest to follow. The Greer quote is from, ‘SHAKESPEARE: A Very Short Introduction’, Oxford 1986/2002)
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Pistol and Henry V 6 years 9 months ago #1295

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I've posted the full thing in the Acting section - hope it proves useful, AKF
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