Henry V: Prologue analysis

How does the Chorus portray the space of the theatre?

The chorus self references the tiny physical space of the theatre and its inadequacy. For example, it is deemed a “cockpit” in which the Battle of Agincourt must be “crammed”. Here, the chorus invokes some metatheatre in drawing attention to the physical notion of the stage and its purpose- to represent a larger event on a much smaller scale. Even using questions, the chorus itself seems to doubt the play can capture this scale “may we cram…the air at Agincourt?”.

In the second half of the prologue, the chorus sets up the dramatic illusion that is drama. Instead of the “wooden O”, now there is metaphorical language, setting two “mighty monarchies” with “abutting fronts”. The space of the theatre has now been expanded with such imagery. The plosives that follow “piece out our imperfections” “thousand parts” “imaginary puissance” “printing their proud hooves” help to bounce sounds around the space of the theatre, slowly ensnaring the audience within this dramatic illusion.

What are the challenges of representing a battlefield on the early modern stage?

As the chorus points out, on this stage it is small and therefore hard to capture the full scale of the battlefield. Furthermore, without the use of electronics and computers, it is impossible to use CGI or sound effects which might have aided the production. Instead, the emphasis is placed on the basics. Language, costume and props are the main methods employed here on this stage to represent the battlefield. Every stress, pronounciation and every choice of word, helps to conjure up an image that the audience must use their “Imaginary forces” to create. This is how the battlefield is represented on the stage: imagination.

Furthermore, a stage is simply a stage. No matter how many scenic drapings or props or stagecraft employed, the physicality of the stage will always be just that. Therefore, the challenge here is to fill the physical stage with imagery and acting powerful enough to transform and transcend the physical into the metaphorical.

What are the spatial and temporal limitations of the stage?

According to Aristotle, there are three unities that must be obeyed for good drama: action, time and space. The spatial and temporal limitations are that a good drama should occur over a period of no more than 24 hours and should occur within one place. Therefore, the spatial limitations of the stage is that it can only take on a few limited settings within the same area.

In terms of time, the chronology should undergo prolepsis or analepsis. Therefore, the limitation of the stage is that it often portrays a fixed, limited amount of time, where all the action must occur within the 3 hours that the audience has to sit through.

How can a play transcend the imperfections of the stage?

They key play a play transcends the imperfection of the stage is through language. The Prologue demonstrates this. The chorus has to power to remind the audience they are simply sat within a “wooden O” or can be deceived into believing they can see the horses “printing their proud hooves”. It is the plosive, ‘P’ sound here that creates a somewhat clip-clopping effect, to symbolise the presence of horses, despite the lack of any on stage.

What kind of relationship does the chorus establish with the audience

At times, the chorus establishes a dictating relationship to the audience. This is done using direct address, the use of “your” in “your imaginary forces” is almost a command for the audience to use their imagination for the following metaphor of the two kings. It also helps dictate and form an expected/universal feeling amongst the audience. For example, “think when we talk of horses that you see them”. This is a direct address, a direct instruction to not just think of the animals, but to actually feel their tangible presence on the stage.

There seems to be an us vs them relationship. This can be surmised from the line “let us, ciphers to this great account, On your imaginary forces work.” There seems to be a clear divide, between the actors on stage: the chorus and the audience itself. This again has a metatheatrical feel: the clear distancing of actor and spectator.

What are the roles and responsibilities of the audience in participating in the play?

The audience are the all important fourth wall in the play. This wall has already been broken in by the prologue, and will be again broken by asides in the ensuing play. The responsibility of the audience is often to distinguish between reality and dramatic illusion: or else be plunged out of it by metatheatrical asides and direct address.

To what extent is the Chorus displaying modesty or false modesty about the theatre and its limitations?

Superficially, the Chorus appeals modestly to the small “wooden O” in which all the action must be crammed into. They make realistic and just assessment of the limitation that they have to overcome. This modesty is genuine to a certain extent as it is a feeling or thought that the audience are likely to share too. They too have to overcome the small “wooden O” in order to enter the dramatic illusion: to recount and experience the period of history and time that the play aims to create.

However, the modesty comes false when it is purposefully exploited by the prologue. Appealing to the physicality of the stage and its limitations is a surefire way to make the audience come out of dramatic illusion. It makes them consider the very practicality of the production they are about to watch. It is this false modesty that adds to the metatheatricality, so that the audience is constantly within and without.

 

 

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