Color on the Set of Shakespeare’s Henry V Essay

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Color on the Set of Shakespeare’s Henry V

     Differences in color, especially sharp differences, emphasize the differences in moods between two parties; darker colors connote seriousness, while light colors connote frivolity. For a play of such stark contrasts as Henry V, color design like this heightens the divide. By darkening the set and costumes of the English, adding occasional bright swathes of red in a flag or a curtain, while presenting the French in a variety of pastels, accented with gold, the art directors of this performance were able to distance the two nations in their solemnity towards the act of war.

     The costume of the English, a mishmash of modern and renaissance styles, whether the padded flak armor style of the English, or the jackets-and-kilts style of the assisting Scottish, ranges from black to dark olive to a dingy gray; all in the same dim shade. Heavily contrasting this almost utter blackness are the silver accents: swords and necklaces, medals and rings. But even these give the whole of the English army a monochromatic scheme; if it weren’t for the faces and hands, one might start to see the play as a film shot in black and white (even more suggested with the occasional short films—all black and white—projected upon the backdrop). This darkness parallels the English army’s bleak view of the war: the French have insulted and withheld territory from Henry, and they far outnumber the English at the Battle of Agincourt. All this changes when the Earl of Cambridge, Lord Scroop, and Sir Thomas Gray are arrested for treason. When Exeter rips their shoulder badges off, the bright red circle in the patch’s center is as clear as the sun. The color red, being the third most recognizable shade to the h...

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...ndred, a large number of former squires that commanded units. The French costume enhanced their position toward the war, and was additionally boosted by the English contrast.

     Color can play such an important role in theatre, and when it is used to show such a contrast, especially in a play of such preexisting contrasts as Henry V, it instills a new life in the two sides, while also revitalizing the conflict and drawing a clear line between the French and English. It is the same divide we see before and after the Great War, or before and after Vietnam. The view of war has changed in the modern eye, and the dark English costumes show this jaded view of war, with the French sharing the same frivolous view as the prewar 1900s, or the 1950s. And, even as these views are demonstrated in the text, the colors of the focus these perceptions in the mind of the viewer.

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