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TOPIC: Henry Bolingbroke

Henry Bolingbroke 7 years 8 months ago #2485

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I am preparing to perform this role and would welcome all and any ideas or insights into this role. It strikes me as a role that could be straight-forward and complex at the sametime but I am early in my study of it. Thanks in advance for any feedback, ideas and advice.
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Henry Bolingbroke 7 years 7 months ago #3295

  • Julian Lopez-Morillas
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Hey Rusty--

I've done the show a couple of times (played John of Gaunt once, Richard once), and I'd be glad to share some thoughts with you. Nagle Jackson, my director at Ashland in the 70's, took Henry at his word when he says "I come but for mine own." He felt that Bolingbroke is not really aware of the implications of his actions when he lands his army in Wales. He's very bitter that his worst fears (as suggested in his dialogue with his father at the end of I, iii) have been borne out, and aggrieved at the impoundment of his estates; but the idea of actually deposing Richard and taking his place is still pretty far from his mind. It's Northumberland who's the real Machiavel, who pushes Henry to dare more and more, personally involves himself in Richard's humiliation, and stage-manages Bolingbroke's ascent to the throne. (Hotspur suggests as much in 1 Henry IV, I, iii, when he's recapping the history, in which he seems to regard Henry as basically an onlooker while the Percies do all the heavy lifting; and there's that image, voiced by Richard in V, i and then recalled by Henry himself to Warwick in III, i of Part Two, of Northumberland as the "ladder" that Henry uses to climb to power (see also Worcester's recap in Part One, V, i, 32-71, where he reminds Henry that he had to be "wooed/ To grip the general sway into your hand."

There seems to be a real reluctance on Henry's part to take the key steps. Nagle had him begin IV, i with a plain chair brought on stage, near the throne but unwilling to take symbolic power until prompted by Percy; and even then, it's Northumberland who deals with the obstacle thrown in his way by Carlisle. I think all that nonsense that occupies the first ninety lines of the scene, all the wrangling and name-calling and throwing down of gages, is actually shrewd writing on Shakespeare's part; as well as echoing the dispute with Norfolk that opened the play, it serves to remind Henry of how high the level of competition and envy can quickly rise in such a court. It's a foretaste of what the fourteen years of his reign are going to be like: constantly moderating conflict, from petty squabbles to outright civil war, that proceed from a deep sense-- in many of his subjects and possibly in himself-- that his exercise of power in fundamentally illegitimate. He certainly projects, over the course of Parts One and Two, the image of a man haunted by regrets and even guilt, which he even passes on to his son, who is still bargaining with God over his father's sins the night before Agincourt (Henry V, IV, 1, 290-303).

So in sum, though I think you could sustain an interpretation of Bolingbroke as a plotter who hides a malign agenda under a mask of passivity and letting others do his dirty work for him, I think it's probably truer to Shakespeare's intention to take him as read: straightforward, motivated by honor and family pride (and patriotism, of a sort), and really unaware of the repercussions that will be unleashed by the course he's set himself on.

Hope you find this helpful-- feel free to ask other questions; I'll be monitoring the Forum in the future.

Julian Lopez-Morillas
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Henry Bolingbroke 7 years 7 months ago #3309

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Julian,

thank-you for taking the time to share your well thought-out ideas. I am amazed by how closely aligned our thinking on this role, and essentially the take on Henry's 'plotting'. You have singled out the topic of most discussion between me and my director - essentially we have been debatting the presence of a 'sub-concious' plotter but I lean more to taking Henry on his straight-forward merits. Your comments on the two scenes of flying gages has helped crystalise my approach to those two scenes. Many thanks!

I am focusing on the physical handing over of the crown and the opportunity for real compassion between the two cousins but balancing this against the impression I have that even then Henry knows Richard will soon die. Hoping to strike a balance between Henry's compassion and insight into the future I want to place the heavy weight on this shoulders then which will drive his unhappy future. If you have thoughts on this aspect I would value them.

Again, thanks so much for sharing your experiance and insights. I have found them extremely helpful.

Regards,

Rusty
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Henry Bolingbroke 7 years 7 months ago #3553

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Rusty,

I'm glad you mentioned the deposition scene, which has become my favorite scene in the play, and I like your impulse for "real compassion between the cousins." This could be rooted, among other things, in the gage-throwing spectacle we've talked about-- it even reminds me a little of how (speaking of competence succeeding fecklessness) Obama may have felt when he moved into the White House and confronted the mountain of seemingly insoluble problems left behind by his predecessor-- "My God, is THIS the kind of crap you have to deal with in this job?" I also find your idea intriguing, that Henry somehow intuits that Richard is doomed and doesn't have long to live. It's almost as though he (Henry) senses that he's an instrument of forces beyond his control and can only be borne along by the tide of events, trying to exercise what limited influence he has. Not exactly what a young boy imagines when he fantasizes being King!

The other aspect of the deposition scene that has struck me is this: that to all appearances, Henry (thanks to Northumberland's manipulations) is the man on top, the person in power and in control of the situation; but it's Richard, now stripped of power and influence, who completely runs the scene. And it's possible that Henry, though he's relegated nearly to the role of bystander to Richard's bravura performance, learns something essential about rule as he watches it unfold. Because he-- efficient, straightforward, maybe a little dull-- has the potential to be a far more effective chief executive than his predecessor... if that's all the job was about. But Richard has grasped, in his 15-odd years of rule, that kingship is THEATRE, and seizes the opportunity to turn his defeat into a kind of victory by theatricalizing what should be a moment of shame for him, and making it into a weird star turn for himself. Now clearly, this is all strained through the the sensibility of Will S., to whom, we can suppose, theatricality is of the highest value. But I find it remarkable how, through the lens of Sh's tragic view, Richard gains amazingly in stature the worse his position gets in the real world. Perhaps it's that spectacle, of a king becoming admirable and compelling only in the moment of his defeat, that haunts Henry to the point where he's still obsessing about it to his son a decade later.

One other corollary thought: my reading of history indicates that it was in fact Richard who was principally responsible for the cult (if that's the word) of Divine Right in England. It's clear that he himself has thoroughly bought into the propaganda ("Not all the water in the rough rude sea..."), and that his belief in his own anointed destiny gives him the strength to defy the powers ranged against him (at least in the scene we're talking about). But one suspects that Henry, whom we wouldn't take to be the kind of man to be impressed by that I'm-King-because-God-wants-me-to-be claptrap, somehow still believes it on a deeper, almost superstitious level--and that would account for the guilt that seems to haunt his later life.

Best, Julian
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Henry Bolingbroke 7 years 5 months ago #4414

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Hi Julian,

thanks for your ideas and advice. Sorry to take awhile to respond but as I'm sure you understand, early rehersals can be circular in their approach and we have taken some time to find a balance that works for each character and the wider play. Importantly I am pleased to say we will be exploring the affection element in the disposition scene. Henry holds a affection for Richard (Family and country is all for him - even Aumell as an extreme example) and will not attack his person directly, but happy to clear out those around him. However Richard holds not the same affection and has a touch of envy of the respect Henry can generate by personality alone. Richard is able to play Henry while showing him respect, but Henry is not able to bring himself to stopping Richard have his win against the others while handing over his crown. I love this approach in theory and will let you know how the audience receive it.

I saw a great review for your recent performance of the Prince in R&J - if you have time I have started a new thread there and would welcome your thoughts.

cheers,

Rus
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Henry Bolingbroke 7 years 5 months ago #4415

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one more note on Henry - building on your Obama reference - he will be one of those people who can make the person he speaks with feel the most important person in the world. I will be playing him as a serious man who can have a bit of warmth but under stress will be bringing out some irratable impatience and a cold streak that sees him dismiss people instantly after speaking to them. An early example is his coldness to Bushy & Green, to a degree his command to send Richard to the tower, but all building up to his dismissal of Exton at the end.
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Henry Bolingbroke 7 years 5 months ago #4421

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That all sounds very perceptive & promising-- I wish you all the best. May I ask when and where your production is??
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Henry Bolingbroke 7 years 5 months ago #4422

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Hi Julian,

thanks for the well wishes. The play starts on 8th August. http://www.adelaide.edu.au/theatreguild/ Adelaide, South Australia has a very small professional theatre culture but a strong collection of part-timers. The Adelaide Theatre Guild has a good history but recently mixed seasons. They perform a Shakespeare each year and this is my second show with them since moving from Melbourne where I acted, directed and produced in various grass-roots collaborations of actors (the scene there was driven by actors uniting on a project by project basis rather than established groups).

Thanks again for your interest and advice.

Rus
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Henry Bolingbroke 7 years 5 months ago #4423

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Rus,

Thanks for the message. I had no idea you were so far distant! I think it's unlikely I'll be able to come and see your show as I live in California (as does Ron Severdia, my good friend and the creator of this website). But I wish you a successful run and I would be interested in seeing any reviews that come out. Break a leg!!

Julian
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Henry Bolingbroke 7 years 3 months ago #4640

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Hi Julian,

http://www.australianstage.com.au/20090 ... guild.html

Review link attached. We are halfway through the season and going pretty well. The play does remain a little long with a few 'slow' patches but otherwise quiet decent. Unfortunately I didn't get the chance to bring to the stage many of the kinder aspects of Henry in this production - staying rather upright, quick to temper and proud (have been giving the death stare a real workout in this role!!). In the last couple of scenes am able to start introducing some of the anxieties and dints to confidence that would define him as Henry IV. After first few nights the directors given me the ok to introduce this deteriation and from the last couple of performances it is starting to take shape and make henry more human (rather than the purely unstoppable force in the first half).

thanks again for your help!

rus
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