Henry V Film Adaptation (Tom Hiddleston)

Like I previously did for the film The Merchant of Venice, I’d like to portray the differences and perks the film version of Henry V has over the Shakespearean play by the same name:

  • Unlike Shakespeare’s written work Henry V, the film adaptation by the same name is able to add emphasis to scenes through the careful selection of the characters’ costumes. When first introduced, Henry is darned in brown leather which sharply contrasts Canterbury’s harsh red cloak and gold jewelry. Just from this distinction, the audience can begin to infer that Henry is (for the most part) sensible, down-to-earth, well-intended in his actions, and a hard worker; leather is commonly deeply associated with the earth, homeliness and strength/labor. On the other hand, due to just an analysis of his clothing one can assume that Canterbury and (since he is the archbishop and therefore represents the church) the church in general is cloaked in blood, a readiness for war, and a need to separate itself from the lower class. Henry’s leather ties him to the people immediately; a connection that one really is not confronted with in the play until Act 4, Scene 1 when Henry talks to his soldiers as a commoner and his kingly status goes unnoticed. And, just as Henry’s attributes are later portrayed through his actions, so are the archbishop’s in Act 1, Scenes 1 and 2 when the church is wanting to financially support the King in his war with France with more money than the church has ever lent out before, when Canterbury is willing to bet his right intentions for the war on his own life, and when Ely (another extension of the church) directly refers to blood/brotherhood in Act 1, Scene 2, Lines 115-121. The film adaptation’s visual aspect in clothing layers the exact same story under the play’s original dialogue.
  • The film adaptation is also able to utilize props to supplement the actors’ dialogue, unlike a silent read-through of the Shakespearean play. Props are carefully used in the film in Henry’s speech to the French Ambassador in what is Act 1, Scene 2, Lines 259-297 of the original play. When the two characters begin to speak, Henry is shown standing between two fiery torches, he sits in his throne for a few moments between the torches, then gets up and circles the ambassador as if he is circling prey. Henry V TorchesWhen the confrontation is over, Henry has to have two men open the massively heavy doors that lead out of his throne’s chamber. The props – the torches, the dark throne, and the massive doors – add to the scene’s eeriness; it made me connect the scene to what Hades’ palace may look like in the Greek underworld, which is a fitting connection considering that Henry is furious for vengeance when speaking to the French ambassador.
    • However, the most important prop used in this scene to defend the actor’s intent is the tennis balls Henry receives from the ambassador as a mocking gift from the Dauphin. After Henry finishes circling the ambassador, Henry throws the ambassador the tennis ball he had picked up off the floor and been holding as if to silently say, “make your move, England will war with you for this mockery, and the ball is now in your court.” This one gesture alone allowed Henry to threaten so much more than his lips uttered aloud.
  • The film adaptation, unlike the play, portrays male dominance through omitting Queen Isabel’s character in Act 5, Scene 2 and changing some of Henry’s lines in the same Act and Scene; in this way the play is freed from the original dialogue. In the film, King Charles speaks Queen Isabel’s line in lines 12-20 and line 98; and Burgundy speaks Queen Isabel’s lines in lines 354-363. This demonstrates male power over women because in the play, when Isabel speaks she is the one to greet King Henry, she is the one to decide that Catherine may stay to speak with Henry, and she is the one who ultimately dictates that Henry may wed Catherine; however, by omitting Queen Isabel’s character altogether – as the film does – and by having King Charles and Burgundy speak the Queen’s lines the men are seen to be the ones making the major decisions for their kingdoms and their households.
    • Unlike the written play, the film further demonstrates male dominance in this same Act and Scene by changing Henry’s speech in line 368. In the play Henry states, “Then shall I swear to Kate, and you to me…” When he says, “And you to me,” Henry is acknowledging Kate’s consent and presence. But, in the film Henry’s dialogue is changed to, “Then shall I swear to Kate, and she to me.” The use of the word “she” instead of “you” is a subtle difference; nevertheless, it shifts Henry’s dialogue from the acknowledgement of his fiancé’s consent to the acknowledgement of her father’s permission. Henry is even looking to King Charles and Burgundy, not Kate, when he speaks this line in the film.

Author: Emily

Senior at Florida State University. English Literature and Classic Civilizations major. Loves Shakespeare and Poetry!

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