Wednesday, August 06, 2008

And the trumpet shall sound

The first thing to strike you as the play opens is the noise – as my new ‘Complete Works’ (2nd edition) informs me,

trumpets flourish,

then hautboys

which is a pretty impressive, if loud, way to open.

You do notice it – there is a majesty, and a ceremony about it. A good trumpet ‘flourish’ – none of your wishy-washy blowing – this is a growing vigorously, a grand gesture, a flaunt, a boom! And then the hautboys follow – which is the signal for the stage to be processed (as in procession) on to … for a hautboy is to be processed to.

I like a good hautboy flourish almost as much as I like a good trumpet flourish.

Neither of Shakespeare’s previous plays even thought of opening like this – they both sort of … started: Which fitted their ‘domestic’ themes. Here we are in a different world – and, for the original Theatre audience, a more familiar world.

This is to be a play about England - this is to be a play about Dukes and Kings, about Duchesses and Queens, their lovers and rebellion – above all, rebellion: Overt, physical fighting and secret caterpillar creepings and crawlings; rebellion in the state, in the town, in the countryside and in the family.

And what colours and materials soon fill the stage! The royal velvety reds and rich shimmering blue silks, the sparkling cloth of golds, the lions and unicorns rampant, the full panoply of state laid out for both a royal wedding and a coronation.

For the young Henry VI, King of England is to meet for the first time his espoused bride and straight away lead her into Westminster Abbey for their wedding and her installation as Queen.

Which is when you notice that there is a link to both the previous plays – this is yet another play about marriage. Here the marriage is the actual union of man and woman, complete with all the associated ‘Shrew’ commands of mutuality and respect; but it is also the greater marriage of subject to state, for Henry is England; further, as God’s representative on Earth, wedding Henry is a holy marriage.

Now that is cause for the trumpets to flourish – and well might the hautboys ‘en-music’ the march to the alter.

How will Henry and Margaret measure up to the standards set by Petruccio and Katherine?

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