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Actes des congrès de la Société française Shakespeare 33 (2015) Shakespeare Ton Hoenselaars Great War Shakespeare: Somewhere in France, Avertissement Le contenu de ce site relève de

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Actes des congrès de la Société française Shakespeare 33 (2015) Shakespeare Ton Hoenselaars Great War Shakespeare: Somewhere in France, Avertissement Le contenu de ce site relève de la législation française sur la propriété intellectuelle et est la propriété exclusive de l'éditeur. Les œuvres figurant sur ce site peuvent être consultées et reproduites sur un support papier ou numérique sous réserve qu'elles soient strictement réservées à un usage soit personnel, soit scientifique ou pédagogique excluant toute exploitation commerciale. La reproduction devra obligatoirement mentionner l'éditeur, le nom de la revue, l'auteur et la référence du document. Toute autre reproduction est interdite sauf accord préalable de l'éditeur, en dehors des cas prévus par la législation en vigueur en France. est un portail de revues en sciences humaines et sociales développé par le Cléo, Centre pour l'édition électronique ouverte (CNRS, EHESS, UP, UAPV).... Référence électronique Ton Hoenselaars, «Great War Shakespeare: Somewhere in France, », Actes des congrès de la Société française Shakespeare [En ligne], , mis en ligne le 10 mars 2015, consulté le 21 octobre URL : Éditeur : Société française Shakespeare Document accessible en ligne sur : Document généré automatiquement le 21 octobre La pagination ne correspond pas à la pagination de l'édition papier. SFS Great War Shakespeare: Somewhere in France, Ton Hoenselaars Great War Shakespeare: Somewhere in France, This paper investigates relations between France and Britain during the Great War period, and the ways in which the reputation and the work of Shakespeare played a role in these, before and in the course of the Great War, as well as during the traumatic years immediately following the Armistice of It focuses on a unique moment in history when two more or less traditional enemies whose cultures are an almost continuing story of this reciprocal antagonism teamed up, originally in an entente cordiale, and later also in a political and military alliance, to face a third enemy, Germany. 2 In its study of this unique moment in history, this paper devotes special attention to the poems and plays of Shakespeare as these were read, performed, mobilised and became a record of the close relationship between France and Britain, providing wisdom and entertainment for those who had to face a war of unprecedented proportions. In doing so, it also challenges the traditional approach to these British and French cultures in isolation. Studying the nations separately ignores the vital fact that behind the military alliance against the Germans, there was still a bilateral entente cordiale. As this paper looks at the fate of Shakespeare during the Anglo-French alliance, it is especially alert to what may be learnt from this unique moment in history about the continuing fortunes of Shakespeare in the narrow national and bilateral contexts, as well as the broader European contexts. 3 When I first set out on my investigation into the relations between France and Britain during the Great War period, and the ways in which these affected and were affected by the reception of Shakespeare, it seemed like a rather vain undertaking. Shakespeare is surprisingly absent from the voluminous official Anglo-French history of the Great War. 1 Even the biographies of the main players have little or nothing to offer. Jonathan Rose s recent study, for example, The Literary Churchill, offers no connections for the First World War. 2 Matters are different when we turn to Shakespeare in French theatre history or to the modernist writing about the war by Apollinaire and Proust. Although no comprehensive study of the subject exists, the field has been amply explored, and we know much about how Shakespeare was performed and commemorated at the Comédie Française, or staged at the Théâtre Antoine where Firmin Gémier (inspired by Max Reinhardt) revolutionized the French stage practice of Shakespeare, and drew attention to himself as the founder in 1917 of the Société Shakespeare. 4 This French theatre history has been analysed at length, also across national borders. 3 The same cannot be said of a host of other events, like theatre productions on the English and the French amateur stages across the country, somewhere in France as the censor used to put it, for security reasons seeking not to divulge the real place of action. And journals and reviews of the time kindly obeying the censor repeated the censor s phrase or variants of it. Less familiar, too, are the materials in the popular press, propaganda releases, cartoons, diaries, letters and other ego-documents. Indeed, there is a tremendous volume of such materials, and this paper relies on a fair amount of them. Yet, it seems worth stressing at the outset that more research into these neglected sources is still desirable, research that is preferably (since it concerns matters of a bilateral kind and of an even broader geographical scope) an international team effort. How better to reason the need, than by trying to demonstrate how a reading of some of these previously neglected sources may invite a reassessment of some generally accepted beliefs about Shakespeare and the Great War, in both an Anglo-French and a European context. 5 Rather than revisit the more or less regular stage history or provide a reinterpretation of King Lear in Marcel Proust s Le Temps Retrouvé, therefore, this paper addresses the Shakespearean interest of the British Expeditionary Force in France as well as the bitter memories they took home with them; and the fortunes of Shakespeare in then contemporary French culture, so from a French perspective. Great War Shakespeare: Somewhere in France, World War I and the politico-cultural alliance between England and France created a matchless climate for Shakespeare and his work to thrive. This becomes clear, among other things, from a famous poster used to mobilize the British Expeditionary Force, recognizing a sense of identity as well as difference. In this poster, France is represented as a medieval knight in shining armour, incongruously brandishing a shield along whose edges are written the values of Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité. This pictorial representation of France obviously combines that nation s republican ideal Guided by faith and matchless fortitude as in Milton s description of Oliver Cromwell ( To Oliver Cromwell, line 3) with Shakespeare and the English nation s views of love, marriage and steadfastness as captured in Sonnet 116: Let me not to the marriage of true minds / Admit impediments. 4 7 The knight in shining armour prompts the observation that despite the sonnet reference, it is allusions to Henry V that abound in the Anglo-French space of the Great War. Let us first consider several English examples. In October 1916, The Times of London published a letter to the editor by the eminent Shakespearean Sir Sidney Lee, a letter that, in part, explains this phenomenon. Much of it was a quotation from another letter Lee had received from what he termed an English soldier on the Western front. Based somewhere in France, this is what the soldier had written: This is my second autumn out here, and somehow I manage to cart around my Shakespeare, and if sometimes it is left behind for a while then my memory is fairly good and I browse there. Some of those speeches in H. V on war are the most wonderful things absolutely true. 5 8 The image that Lee conveys of the English soldier carrying a complete Shakespeare around with him and quoting Henry V from memory, is confirmed by many sources. The popularity of Henry V need come as no surprise, given the fact that, as Andrew Gurr reminds us, Henry V (together with Richard II) was the most popular play in Edwardian schools. 6 Perhaps the best example of Henry V as the staple of school drama on the eve of the war was the 1913 production of the play at the Memorial Theatre in Stratford. It was mounted by the boys from Stratford s King Edward VI School at the invitation of Frank Benson, that same patriotic actormanager who, as soon as Britain declared war on Germany on that fateful fourth of August 1914, tirelessly performed Henry V first at London s Shaftesbury Theatre and later across the country to enlist recruits, which he did rather successfully. Easily the most moving part of the Stratford story recently reconstructed and written up by Richard Pearson of the King Edward School is the way in which three of the actors in the production of Henry V Victor Hyatt, Herbert Jennings and his brother Henry Jennings were to lose their lives as soldiers of the Great War, to find their graves at Bellicourt (north of Saint-Quentin), at Festubert, and at Mont-Saint-Eloi. 7 9 Henry V was by no means the only play recited or performed by the British in wartime France. Indeed, there are fascinating accounts of Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, and Macbeth, all of which were played in full or in the form of selected scenes. Yet, Henry V was the most popular hero in the British Expeditionary Force, as a personage, a stage character, a memory, or an ideal. 8 On occasion, Shakespeare s dramatic rendering of him served as an inspiring memory of what the English were capable of especially in hard times. At this moment, The Sunday Times wrote, looking back on the year known as the annus horribilis of the Great War, when we wait almost breathlessly, and yet with calm confidence, for news and yet more news of this great battle of the Somme, it is appropriate to recall some of the great adventures of Shakespeare s men under the warrior-king Henry V on the very ground on which our men are now fighting The prominence of Henry V is curiously borne out by the record of a BEF production of Hamlet, mounted in August 1915, again, somewhere in France, roughly within a few hours distance of the firing line. The press account of this impromptu amateur Hamlet is detailed and interesting, but for our present purposes the intriguing part really comes at the end, where the anonymous correspondent writes how [t]he proceedings were brought to a close by Henry V, clothed in all his shining accoutrements before Harfleur. Flashing his great sword he cried out the famous speech before the battle: Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more, and so on. The effect, the correspondent said, Great War Shakespeare: Somewhere in France, was electrical. Had the bugle sounded the charge, every man would have rushed out of that building, on the instant, as he was. All the latent warrior spirit of our race seemed to leap to a flame. As we went out into the still night our hearts were stronger, our minds brighter, our courage high, and in the quiet stars above brooded the certain promise of victorious and lasting peace Along similar lines, the great organiser of the concert parties in wartime, Lena Ashwell the Vera Lynn of the Great War recalled how a Canadian Colonel in northern France burst into Henry V s speech to his soldiers, Once more into the breach, dear friends. 11 But then again, as Ashwell duly noted, that was in Harfleur Valley, and as we know from Ashwell s other writings of the period, she was inclined rather to read great symbolism into the geographical coincidence of performing plays under strange circumstances and on the very scene where Shakespeare had drawn for the world the armies of our ancestors, equally gallant, equally gay R. B. Marston described this striking phenomenon of quoting Shakespeare and of alluding to the French Wars in appropriately modernist terms. In The Spectator of December 1916 he noted that: The constant references by our officers and privates to the battlefields in France so gloriously described by Shakespeare, shows how well the wireless message from his [= Shakespeare s] mind has been caught by the men of the British Expeditionary Force An observation of this kind makes better sense when we recall that the BEF s Great War action in France coincided not only with the fateful Battle of Waterloo of 1815, but also with the 500 th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt of Agincourt was the talk of the town, or the talk of the trenches, rather. 14 Any Shakespearean in his right mind would think that Agincourt was a potential source of embarrassment, a likely flee in the fur of any entente cordiale between England and France. Dr Johnson had been decidedly sardonic when, in the 18 th century, he suggested a performance of Henry V at Versailles. And he was of the same mind as the eccentric Cincinnati-born and French-married Shakespearean, countess Clara Longworth de Chambrun, who in 1918 noted that: It would [really] be a mistake to perform Henry V or the first part of Henry VI in France, because these plays would hurt the national feelings of the French Curiously, this perception was not as widely shared during the Great War as one might expect. On occasion the battle of Azincourt was used to boost the morale of the BEF, even if it required a flagrant act of reinterpreting Anglo-French history, Shakespeare s play, or both, to read it as the event that led up to the entente cordiale itself, which was considered by many to be a new, international band of brotherhood. As early as October 1914, George Russell noted: In twelve months from now [now being October 1914] the five hundredth anniversary of the triumphant prediction will have come round, and by that time the words, already famous, will have acquired a new and an even more glorious significance. For St. Crispin s Day, 1914, finds us again a band of brothers, but fighting shoulder to shoulder with the gallant people who once were our foes, in the most chivalrous contest which either France or England has ever undertaken. It is a moment for looking forward and for looking back. 15 Five centuries divide Agincourt from Mons and the Marne, another observer noted, but the battle waged then and the quarrels of the subsequent centuries had all been milestones in the long road which had to be traversed. Henry V the play was seen to be working through deadly strife to earnest and honest paction, thus symbolising five centuries of Anglo-French history now in happy though tragic issue Given such cases of deft and ultimately also persuasive wartime revisionism, one wonders if it was very sensitive for the men of the Queen s Westminster Rifles stationed at Rouen to commemorate only the Agincourt victory by lifting three of the relevant scenes from Shakespeare s play for an actual replay of On 27 September 1915 an entire act from Shakespeare s great play was performed, including: Scene I. Agincourt (Before the Battle) Tableau of the Battle Scene II. Agincourt (Evening after the Battle) 17 Certainly, as Thomas Barclay noted in his entente history entitled Angleterre et France of 1916, it was no longer possible for young people growing up in France at the time, to imagine a past when the prevailing hatred towards the English would ever find a proper reason to make Great War Shakespeare: Somewhere in France, popular a new war with England, but a bold focus in 1915 on the victory of 1415 cannot have been appreciated by all To my regret, I have not been able to find more than the production program listing Lance Corporal Herbert Maule as both director and as the actor who played Henry V so we may never know more about the contemporary impact of the play, about the live music performed by the Cavalry Y.M.C.A. Band, or about the costumes and armour rented in Rouen for the occasion Fortunately, we are better informed about that other wartime production of generous scenes from Henry V staged on Tuesday 2 and Wednesday 3 May It was mounted at the Y.M.C.A. s Kinema Hut of No. 1 Camp, somewhere in France, and, as further research reveals, this happened to be in one of the most symbolic towns in the troubled history of Anglo-French relations, even in Henry V, namely Calais. It is worth taking a closer look at this production presented under the patronage of the British and Belgian base commanders at Calais, as well as the Governor and the Mayor of the town, with proceeds intended for the Star and Garter Home for Disabled Soldiers and Sailors. 19 Conditions for this production were, of course, far from ideal, and the various reports are really a long description of the fortunes, the misfortunes, and the near misses that are the stock in trade of the amateur theatre. In this army setting, for example, with a rehearsal time of three weeks, there were no understudies, and this was a liability when troop movements were obviously unpredictable and random. In the event, the actor playing Henry V received orders to move on the day of the performance itself, but, as we learn, disaster was fortunately averted. 20 Henry V achieved his objective, in communal terms, but also artistically and financially. Le Phare de Calais described the enterprise as a truly great success [ un très grand succès ]. 20 The other local newspaper, Le Petit Calaisien wanted expressly to congratulate the organisers of this initiative, and also to thank them for allowing the citizens of Calais to celebrate what was, after all, the Shakespearean Tercentenary, with them. The many citizens of Calais who had braved the prospect of going out to the British camp at several kilometres from the town centre, the paper noted, had had no reason to regret their pains [ Les nombreuses personnes qui osèrent affronter les quelques kilomètres qui séparent le centre de la ville du grand camp britannique n eurent pas à regretter leur dérangement ] Clearly, on reading about the citizens of Calais in this context, it would be naïve to continue to assume, like the Countess de Chambrun, that the play might have a disastrous impact on French audiences. As the facts about the tercentenary celebrations in Calais reveal, much else could be read and was read into the play. And directorial choices in the play s production further helped to change Henry V from a play about war into a play about peace, from a history of hate into a history of love. 22 Henry was allowed his Act 3, scene 1, Once more unto the breach but this scene was followed by the language lesson (with Princess Katherine and Alice), and by Act 5, scene 2 (the courtship scene with the signing of the peace treaty at Troyes). The Harfleur scene, then, was balanced by scenes that furthered the rapprochement and entente between the enemy nations. Also incidentally (as one reviewer noted) this choice of scenes effectively resolved the language barrier, since these scenes were partly in French and partly in English already [ Ces scènes sont partie en anglais, partie en français ] It is true that in the eyes of one observer, Lieutenant W.J.F. Anderson Raby, the actor playing Henry V, was too serious in his interpretation, and appeared somewhat forgetful of the humour amid the heroics of his part. 23 Fortunately, though, a smart casting decision neutralised this effect. In the event, the part of Katherine was played by Marthe West, a local actress of Anglo-Calais descent. With her obvious status and her broken English accent, West perfectly fitted the part of Princess Katherine. 24 This explains why her exchanges with Alice played by Miss Lowson of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (F.A.N.Y.), whose long silences were as eloquently acted as her few words in the royal love-scene 25 met with great praise. 24 Clearly, the production s success may be explained by its focus not on the battle but on the entente cordiale achieved with the Treaty of Troyes and the marriage of Henry and Katherine. Great War Shakespeare: Somewhere in France, As one observer noted, The memories of Agincourt [were] not green enough to have caused a pang to our French visitors, 26 but no risk was taken to revive these either with la belle tragédie patriotique King Henry V as the Petit Calaisien called it 2
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