The 2009 Actors’ Renaissance Season continues with one of Shakespeare’s earliest works: Henry VI, Part 1. This will be our first production ever of Henry VI, Part 1, and in the next two Actors’ Renaissance Seasons (2010, 2011) we will produce the sequels to this play.
- When was the play first performed?
1589 or 1590.
- Where was the play first performed?
We know from theatre owner Phillip Henslowe’s diary that the Lord Strange’s Men performed the play at the Rose theatre.
- How does this play fit into Shakespeare’s career?
This play, among Shakespeare’s first, is part of Shakespeare first “tetralogy,” a set of four plays that begin chronologically with a young King Henry VI and go through the death of King Richard III. His second “tetralogy” deals with an earlier period in English history from the reign of Richard II through to Henry V’s victory at Agincourt.
- How is this play like Shakespeare’s other plays?
Like the other early histories it is packed with action, overtly drawn characters, flamboyantly decorative verse, and strong dramatic irony. On display is Shakespeare’s usual taste for paradox and contradiction.
- How is this play unlike other Shakespeare plays?
More stuffed with action and more jingoistic.
- What do scholars think about this play?
Scholars admire the play for the way Shakespeare funnels sources into the story, and they find the English portrait of Joan of Arc and the subject of witchcraft fascinating.
- Is there any controversy surrounding the work?
The biggest controversy is the dating of the play. Because of the play’s historical content, the traditional thinking is that this is the first of the early history plays, but recent scholarships make a strong case that Shakespeare wrote the play as a prequel to parts two and three.
- What characters should I especially look for?
Shakespeare, in good English fashion, demonizes Joan of Arc – her name in the play is Joan la Pucelle – but what a spitfire he makes her.
- What scene should I especially look for?
Joan’s execution scene is hot.
- What is the language like?
Lots of chewy speeches and playful rhetoric.
Dr. Ralph ALan Cohen, ASC Director of Mission