The King #5 Henry (2000)
King Henry V (Jeffrey Bate-Boerup)
and Exeter (James Murray) from
Ken Hudson's The King #5 Henry
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "hockey" was coined in the early sixteenth-century to refer to a game played with a stick and ball--a game sport historians claim to descend from bandy, shinty and hurley. Apparently, the oldest record of bandy is a thirteenth-century painted glass window in Canterbury Cathedral depicting a boy with a ball and curved stick. Thus, the religious devotion of some to hockey, one of our national sports, is deeply rooted in history. (Our other national sport, Lacrosse, doesn't command the same popular attention--probably because of its native origins.)
The modern sport of ice hockey dates back to 1875, where J. G. A. Creighton, a McGill student, wrote down a list of formal rules. The first organized hockey team was the McGill University Hockey Club, formed in 1879. (An interesting coincidence is that Charles Moyse, the first of a number of McGill professors and students to write adaptations of Shakespeare around the turn of the century--including Andrew Macphail and Carroll Aikins--arrived at McGill in 1878.) With an official set of rules, the sport spread across Canada. McGill won the first "world championship" at the 1883 Montreal Ice Carnival, and Governor General Lord Stanley donated the Stanley Cup in 1883 for the national championship--won by Montreal AAA before 5000 people.
With this history and cultural significance, it seems only natural that hockey is used in one form or another in adapting Shakespeare. In 1998, Richard Rose directed a production of Two Gentlemen of Verona at the Stratford Festival using costumes inspired by a 1917 photo of the Upper Canada College hockey team. In 2000, Ken Hudson presented his The King #5 Henry in a hockey arena with the Battle of Agincourt (fought on October 25, 1415 during the Hundred Years War) choreographed as a hockey game. And we know of two other upcoming hockey-adaptions: Chris Coculuzzi and Matt Toner plan to present Shakespeares NHL (National History League) in 2005, and Rod Carley is also planning a Henry V adaptation based on the infamous 1967 Stanley Cup play-offs between the underdog Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens dynasty, the last time the Leafs won the Cup.
Ken Hudson was born and raised in Toronto. He received his B.A. in literature from the University of Toronto, and pursued post-graduate study at the Institute for the Psychological Study of the Arts at the University of Florida, where he began his study of theatre. Hudson returned to Toronto to study physical theatre with a range of internationally recognized artists and teachers, and currently is the artistic director for Luke Arts, and teaches physical theatre in Peterborough, Ontario. In June, 2004, Hudson's Luke Arts will team up with Human Motion Machine to present The Android Me & Me, a post-modern Hamlet.
Hudson's The King #5 Henry, an adaption of Henry V, was produced in 2000 at Moss Park Arena, in Toronto. In the staging notes Hudson writes:
"The production was adapted to be specifically staged on an indoor ice-hockey pad split in half lengthways, with the audience bleachers installed on one half, and the action of the play on the other half. Mediating this set-up was a small stage (risers) at center-ice flanked by two mat walkways on either side of the stands for downstage right and left entrances. The stage was used for intimate scenes in the developing action. The whole rink was used in staging the conflict sequences, including the choreography of the Agincourt battle scene." (Playscript 1)
The Battle of Agincourt was choreographed by Paul Gibson (a detailed account of the choreography can be seen here), with the stipulation from Hudson that pucks and nets were not to be used. Because the actors were mainly hockey players and wore hockey equipment, however, greater liberties were taken with regards to punching and checking during the battle than there could have been in a less-padded environment.
Hudson's decision to stage his adaptation in a hockey arena comes from his interest in theatrical spaces. Hudson "create[s] works distinctly outside of recognized superstructures. Not only the bureaucratic ones, but also the literal structure of the physical theatre" (Unpopular Art 2). About the The King #5 Henry production, Hudson comments:
"I adapted Henry the Fifth to explore the mythical dynamics of a hockey arena, emblematic of the Canadian national identity, and to present my adaptation of the play itself, in the works for many years previously. The resulting epic on ice, The King #5 Henry, sought to evoke the spirits of the play by overlapping it in a charged environment. This palimpsest did not interpret Henry V in light of any specific Canadian historical moment, but instead strove to place both actors and audience into a vortex of meaning, allowing each individual's experience of this spectacle to be differentiated in its similarity. Of course, my own meanings were presented, and my theatrical aims in merging these two forms were realized. In Canada, hockey is Shakespeare. From the speed of the skaters evoking horses, the use of the stick as a weapon, the hockey-helmeted armor, and so forth, including the arena itself, which is our Canadian 'wooden O.' In my adaptation, all of these tropes coincided at once." (Unpopular Art 2)
There is a problem with staging Henry V in a Canadian context, however, that doesn't seem to be acknowledged in the script or other writings about the play. Although Hudson didn't intend for the production to be interpreted "in light of any specific Canadian historical moment," any staging of Shakespeare's play celebrating a successful English invasion of French territory performed in Canada must take into account the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759, and the Conquest of New France, alongside a number of other historical events affecting French-English relations (for example, the War Measures Act in 1970).
Indeed, the play's stage history shows that Henry V was revived throughout the eighteenth-century when Britain was constantly at war with France--it played at Covent Garden every season during the Seven Years War (1756-63)--and every time Britain has been at war ever since (Davies 198). Perhaps this cultural omission of the production will be addressed when the play is revived, as Hudson intends. One example of how the problems of Henry V have been negotiated at other times in Canada is Michael Langham's Stratford production in 1956. With Christopher Plummer playing Henry, Langham hired Québécois actors to play the French roles and promoted the production as "a manifestation of English-French cooperation" (McGee 145). A more recent example is Madd Harold and Anthony Kokx's 2002 production of Henry. Octobre. 1970, a bilingual adaptation of Henry V set in Québec during the FLQ October Crisis.
In email exchanges subsequent to the original posting of this introduction, Ken Hudson disagrees with the charge that he did not account for the Conquest. In his 20 April 2004 email he writes: "By not limiting my take on the play to one specific interpretation or event, I have left it open to be interpreted in light of all related events, such as this one which is at the core of our national psyche." In his 21 April 2004 email he continues:
"My key point is that, dramatically speaking, to tell the audience
the obvious is end of drama and the start of editorializing. Theatre,
my theatre, aims to be evocative. To be that, the less you state meaning
and the more you show meanings, the more success you have. You are "reading"
the play as text. You're right, it begs that kind of "reading" among
3 or so other ones.
"I staged the play (which isn't reading) in an arena in Canada. As such, it didn't need anything else to evoke those Canadian meanings, which is why I staged it there, beside an ARMORY, on QUEEN STREET, why I picked Henry V, did it at EASTER, chose the costumes, heavy metal music, etc. Everything is "in the scene" to evoke all of those meanings at once."
This debate demonstrates the constant problem of history in any production of Shakespeare, or indeed any theatrical production. Shakespeare himself was faced with this problem. In Queen Elizabeth's last years, Richard II was seen to be dangerously relevant to the political moment--Elizabeth was without a direct heir and the potential for rebellion was high. This fear proved correct when the Earl of Essex underwrote a performance of Richard II shortly before his rebellion in 1601. After the execution of Essex, Elizabeth reportedly said, "I am Richard the Second, know ye not that?" (Orgel 125).
CASP gratefully acknowledges Ken Hudson's permission to publish this play to its website.
Davies, Anthony. "Henry V." The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare. Ed. Michael Dobson and Stanley Wells. New York: Oxford UP, 2001. 196-99.
Marsh, James. "Hockey (Ice)." The Canadian Encyclopedia.
McGee, C. E. "Shakespeare Canadiens at the Stratford Festival." Shakespeare in Canada: A World Elsewhere? Ed. Diana Brydon and Irena Makaryk. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2002. 141-58.
Orgel, Stephen. "Elizabeth I." The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare. Ed. Michael Dobson and Stanley Wells. New York: Oxford UP, 2001. 125.