King Henry VI Part II at the Shakespeare Tavern

 

Are you an Oxford student looking for a good place to take your date? Need something fun to do with your friends? Well look no further, the Shakespeare Tavern in Atlanta may be just the place for you. They perform exceptional plays from Shakespeare’s collection at reasonable prices. Not to mention they have a bar in the back that has affordable and tasty food. Their brownies are to die for, and they have very good zucchini bread and tomato soup. This fall, the Shakespeare Tavern came out with Henry the Sixth Parts 1, 2, & 3.

Shakespeare’s Henry VI tetralogy (Richard III is also included) is often overlooked, as it is one of Shakespeare’s lesser known works. I, myself, had not heard of these plays before my college Shakespeare class here at Oxford. This does not mean that these histories deserve any less recognition than any of Shakespeare’s more well-known plays, as they have complex storylines that merge into one clear account of King Henry VI’s struggle to hold the throne. On the night of Sunday, October 2, at the Shakespeare Tavern in Atlanta, I had the pleasure of closely observing the development of the character King Henry VI in King Henry VI Part II.

The Shakespeare Tavern had an interesting and memorable take on King Henry, adding meaning to his character in the play. Director Jeffery Watkinson made an intriguingly smart decision while casting an actor for Henry. In fact, he did not even cast an actor. Instead he cast Mary Ruth Ralston, an actress, who played Henry’s part so well that at times her gender completely escaped the minds of audience members (The Second, 2016).

Reading Shakespeare’s 2H6, Henry struck me as a child or at least as an adult who never fully psychologically develops to adulthood. Comparing Henry’s character with Neo-Freudian psychologist’s, Erik Erickson’s, psychosocial steps of development, I have concluded that Henry never develops past the age of eighteen because he ends the play stuck in an identity crisis where he is a king but wishes “to be a subject” (4.9.1-6). Before this even, Henry VI does not develop properly because he does not acquire the virtues one should attain during Erik Erickson’s psychosocial development steps. Henry ends up becoming too trusting (1.3.100-101), becoming full of shame (3.1.198-201), becoming full of guilt (3.1.222-222), feeling inferior (4.4.20-23), and getting his role in life confused (4.9.1-6) (McLeod, 2016).

All of these poor developmental steps lead to Henry being a weak character, powerless to challenge the undermining plots of ambitious characters like York, Buckingham, Somerset, Margaret, and Suffolk, whose eyes are keen on the throne/the role of Lord Protector. This weakness is brought out by Henry’s childish qualities of leaning too much on his guardian, Lord Protector Gloucester (1.3.202-204), who unfortunately is murdered, and Henry’s believing too much in his own divine right (1.1.19-23). As royalty, Henry believes to have the power to interpret God’s will to fellow man, but that does not mean that others will be loyal to Henry’s interpretation of God’s will.

Henry’s childlike character makes Watkinson’s decision to cast a female as Henry so fitting. Ralston’s gender immediately makes her portrayal of the king seem younger, especially when comparing her representation of a male character to those of the male actors. All of the other male characters had beards, while Henry was left with a hairless chin (The Second, 2016). During Shakespeare’s time, people expected for adult males to have beards. It was younger boys and females who did not have facial hair (Class Discussion, 10/4).

Watching the play versus reading it gives more access to the emotions Henry experiences. Shakespeare Tavern’s costume designer, Anné Carole Butler, deserves recognition for highlighting Henry’s emotions and demeanor through costume design. By dressing Henry VI, in large clothing Butler makes Ralston appear as large as the other male actors, but it also makes Henry’s character seem smaller than he would have in tighter clothing (The Second, 2016). The large clothing gives the impression of a young boy trying to step into the footsteps of someone older and larger than himself. This take on Henry’s character fits given that Henry VI was “made a king at nine months old” (4.9.4).

The Shakespeare Tavern gave an impeccable performance, leaving the audience with much to ponder about as the final battle scenes highlighted characters that are sure to be important in the final part of their trilogy, which is coming out in November. The Shakespeare Tavern has set the bar high for performing King Henry VI Part III, delivering a level of character complexity that reaches far beyond that which can be obtained by simply reading the play.

Performances for King Henry VI Part III will be running November 5-11 and November 17, 20, & 27. Shakespeare Tavern also has performances of Macbeth from October 14-30. If you have a date or simply want to go with friends, I would highly recommend Shakespeare Tavern as a fun activity for a night out!