Shakespeare’s Kings

Age of Kings

was originally live broadcasts on the BBC in the
early 60’s of the sequence of Shakespeare’s history plays from
Richard II (which I’d never seen before) through Henry IV, Henry
V, Henry VI (which I’d also never seen) and Richard III. They’re
now being sold as 5 DVD’s.

They were using the then upcoming young actors, so it’s fun to
see a very young Judi Dench play Katherine flirting with Henry
IV, and a young Sean Connery conspiring against Henry IV.

Another good thing about the series is that characters who
reappear in several plays are played by the same actor in each,
which wouldn’t normally happen on stage, since someone of the
stature to play Richard III in the play of that name, wouldn’t
be asked to do the bit part of Gloucester in Henry VI.

The actor who plays Prince Hal and later Henry V is Robert
. Every time I see him, (most recently as a hanger on of
Mr. Merdle’s in Little Dorrit) I realize that I know him well, but
can’t quite remember where from. He has quite a long list of
credits, many of which you’ve seen. His Henry V is a very youthful,
athletic, endearing performance.

Another standout performance is by Paul Daneman as
Richard III. He also has a long list of credits, but I mostly
haven’t seen them, but I may look some of them out now. I still
haven’t seen a production of Richard III that really reconciles
the opening monologue, which seems to me to clearly say “I’m
going to get the world because I’m so ugly that no woman will
ever love me”, with the seduction of Lady Anne, where Richard always
seems to be played as a matinée idol who assumes that of
course a grieving widow will just fall into bed with the man who
murdered her husband, her father, and her brother. But Daneman
rolling around on the floor laughing (“Was ever woman in such
humor wooed; was ever woman in such humor won?”) after the
seduction scene is really fascinating.

Finishing watching the plays leaves me wanting to read some of
the history — surely there was gunpowder and not just swordplay
at Bosworth Field? And did the battles really resolve themselves
by the major characters killing each other? None of them ever
got killed by a minor character?

In general, the productions are good for what they were. The
music is what seems most old-fashioned to me, but luckily there
isn’t much of it. Richard III, the last of the plays, seems
more truncated than the others, so one wonders if maybe they ran
out of money.

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