In what ways is a story influenced by its storyteller?
That question guided my approach to Shakespeare’s Henry V, a play I fell in love with in 1989, the day I watched Kenneth Branagh’s film version. The play immediately entered my dual-credit College Lit curriculum and stayed there until I left the classroom.
In preparation for reading the play, students investigated topics in small groups and then shared their findings with the class:
- Who was Henry V, the person from history? (It can be argued that historians also have biases, and that the English “facts” about Henry V might differ from the French “facts,” but we had to start somewhere.)
- What happened at the Battle of Agincourt? To what extent were technology and the weather important factors?
- What relationship existed between Henry V and Elizabeth I? Between Elizabeth I and William Shakespeare?
- How did the people of England, especially those in London, respond to the Blitz of 1940-41?
- What were the causes and outcomes of the Falklands War in 1982?
Once this research was completed and shared, students were ready to read the play, to watch clips of the Olivier version and the full Branagh version, and to respond to these questions:
- In what ways did Shakespeare alter history to create his play? What circumstances might have influenced his writing choices?
- In what ways did Sir Laurence Olivier alter Shakespeare when he produced his 1944 film version? What circumstances might have influenced his choices?
- In what ways did Sir Kenneth Branagh alter Shakespeare when he produced his 1989 film version? What circumstances might have influenced his choices?
My students are and will be consumers and voters. I want them to be alert for bias and distortion. Shakespeare, Olivier, and Branagh showed them how it’s done.
I’m participating in Kelly Hines’ Blogging Challenge. This is Day One.