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Is I.2 meant to be boring?
Bar Harbor
alexx_kay
When I was first studying theater in high school, one important lesson I learned was not to look bored. Even if you are playing a background character who isn't specifically involved in the foreground action, stay focused on that action. If you don't, and let your attention wander, the audience will take a cue from you, and also not pay as much attention to the main action as they should.

Currently, during the 'Salic Law' speech, we background folks are being directed to act bored. This worries me, as it clearly goes against my early training. It's traditional to play this scene for laughs, but I am dubious about this. Canterbury actually has a well-reasoned and developed argument (if allowed to get his whole speech out without cuts). Henry is (at least on the surface level) explicitly very interested in the matter. Are the rest of us really meant to be bored with it?

On the other hand, I'm not sure that this direction is wrong, either. Look at The Tempest; I.2 in both plays is actually pretty similar -- a big chunk of background exposition. In Tempest, the on-stage listening character is explicitly bored, to the point of falling asleep. What is Shakespeare doing in these scenes?

Each of these scenes establishes the moral justification for all the actions that will follow. But does most of the audience *need* moral justifications? Prospero's tricks, and Harry's war, are inherently entertaining stagecraft, even if the audience doesn't have full understanding of their context.

I'm interested in hearing other people's opinions on this matter.

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You can look at it like "Dude, can we get this talking shit over with so we can get to the war we totally know we're gonna have? Blah blah blah LETS GO KILL SOME CHEESE EATING SURRENDER MONKEYS." (The Intensly Interested version of this would be "We know we're gonna have a war, now how is Golden Hal going to spin this? Lets find out!")


Canterbury actually has a well-reasoned and developed argument (if allowed to get his whole speech out without cuts).

Actually, Canterbury's presentation is loaded with inaccuracies, though I cannot say whether Shakespeare meant that deliberately or not. But if any of the attendant nobles were aware, for instance, that the Pactis Legis Salicae really did apply to Frankish lands in northern Gaul, and not to Charlemagne's conquests in Germany, they might take notice. Or that the law in question antedated Charlemagne by some 250 years; or that none of the Frankish or French kings that Canterbury cites based their claim to rule through their wives' dynasties.

I'm not saying the English nobles would or should know these things. Just saying that if they did, they might react differently.

You know my opinion, but let me state it for this forum:

Shakespeare wanted to make sure late-comers and people too interested in available refreshments didn't miss any good stuff.

I think Henry's brevity in this scene is to contrast the clear wordiness and send a humorous message. I think it is clearly done for humor.

The question is, can we get away with Christian doing a hand puppet gag during the scene?

As a matter of theatre...

Looking bored and keeping focus on the action at hand are not mutually exclusive. Yes, a human thing to do when bored is to turn focus to something other than the action.

Some tricks I know that may be worth mentioning...

1)Be bored, and keep referring back to the action at hand, and note how much this incredibly bores you. This is the "kid in class" model - not allowed to remove himself, and must occasionally at least pretend to pay attention.

2)Be bored, but have the thing you focus on be very much local to you. In a modern show, a bored character might pull out a yo-yo, for example. If however, too many other characters start focusing on that yo-yo, you have a problem.

3)Pretending to repeatedly doze off is your friend, if you are sitting.

I kind of like the first one - I might call that 'being actively bored'.

As others have said (in so many words), there is a difference between passive boredom and active boredom. The difference between an 8 year old falling asleep in class and an 8 year old who desperately wants to leave the dinner table to go watch the latest episode of MegaSuperHyperShow2000.

The -character- is bored, because the material might be old news to them, or irrelevant to their small view of the picture, but the audience should be filing it all away as foundational material.

Think about the trip over

While the delegation was on the way, did Canterbury go over his arguments over and over? Did the nobles get tired of hearing it? Can they now recite his speech from memory?

If so, then you can stand there and nod along. "Right, I know this bit." When Henry interjects, you might need to react to that. That way, you can look bored, but keep the focus on the speakers.

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