King Henry V of England - The Welshman? Jude Law, Fluellen and Leeks
My mam and I were lucky enough to see Shakespeare's great play on Nationhood over the New Year holidays. It was wonderful; Jude Law made an excellent Henry V! We would highly recommend it.
The play is based on the true story of the 'Prince Harry'. Wales, the Welsh and our traditions are mentioned many times throughout the play, but how Welsh is the King of England?
Here is an extract from Act 4, Scene 7:
Your majesty says very true: if your majesties is
remembered of it, the Welshmen did good service in a
garden where leeks did grow, wearing leeks in their
Monmouth caps; which, your majesty know, to this
hour is an honourable badge of the service; and I do
believe your majesty takes no scorn to wear the leek
upon Saint Tavy's day.
All the water in Wye cannot wash your majesty's
Welsh plood out of your pody, I can tell you that:
God pless it and preserve it, as long as it pleases
his grace, and his majesty too!
This scene shows Henry's Welsh patriotism. He honourably wears a leek in his Monmouth cap on St. David's day - a tradition which is still alive today (though we now have leek badges - a little more practical!)
He was in fact born in Monmouth, Wales (where our shop is based!) in 1386-87. Shakespeare also alludes this in Act 4, Scene 7:
Ay, he was porn at Monmouth, Captain Gower. What
call you the town's name where Alexander the Pig was born!
Fluellen, who mixes up Monmouth with Macedon (An ancient Greek kingdom), defends his mistake very comically:
I think it is in Macedon where Alexander is porn. I
tell you, captain, if you look in the maps of the
'orld, I warrant you sall find, in the comparisons
between Macedon and Monmouth, that the situations,
look you, is both alike. There is a river in
Macedon; and there is also moreover a river at
Monmouth: it is called Wye at Monmouth; but it is
out of my prains what is the name of the other
river; but 'tis all one...
Later in the scene, he conludes patriotically:
So there we have it, Henry V was Welsh in both the play and real life.
Fluellen - Comedic or Competent?
Fluellen is superbly portrayed by Swansea born Matt Ryan. The character is a captain under Henry V and is included, in part, to represent 16th century Welsh stereotypes for comic effect. He is chatty, fiercely proud, and talks in a ludicrous pseudo-Welsh accent (which, as you can see, principally involves replacing the letter “b” with “p”). However, he is not just a comedy vehicle, with some 281 lines he plays an important role. He is very likeable, and though clownish in early scenes, he is more competent and well informed than many of the cowardly commoners. The King himself says: "Though it appear a little out of fashion, There is much care and valour in this Welshman." Shakespeare wrote such a role for the character shows he had respect for the nation, though it seems he anglicised his name. Perhaps because he couldn't render the Welsh 'll' in Llewellyn!
Henry V is playing at Noel Coward Theatre until 15th February 2014. Buy your tickets here.