Welcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British and Irish — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British and Irish themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!
Last week, I reviewed the thirteenth Maisie Dobbs novel. Heather enjoyed listening to Eric Idle’s memoir, Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life. Becky reviewed Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein by Lita Judge, an illustrated biography written in free verse. Gaele reviewed A Village Affair by Julie Houston and A Dangerous Duet by Karen Odden
It’s World War II in St. Louis (or a city near you — I suspect the half-dozen place-based lines are rewritten for each production) and a local theater company decides to cancel its season, for the first time in 26 years, because all of their usual male players have gone off to war. Maggie, encouraged in letters from her husband who was the director, proposes that the women take on the planned production of the Henriad — portions of Henry IV and Henry V by William Shakespeare.
The play tackles the numerous and complex social challenges facing women, black Americans, and gay men. The audience grows to love the characters, both when they are weak and when they are brave.
Of course, the play-in-a-play means we get to hear all the most rousing lines from the Henry plays — and those are some of the most rousing lines that Shakespeare wrote. Try reading them aloud to get the full impact.
The title “Into the Breeches” is a play on words about breech roles (male roles played by women in pants) and this quote:
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more,
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
Shakespeare’s speech to call men to battle, in the mouth of King Henry V, is called the St. Crispin’s Day speech. Here are a couple of passages of it:
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say “These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.”
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day.
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd—
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
I saw the play on Sunday — the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 100 years to the day after the end of World War I, the war to end all wars. I used to worry sometimes, that we humans will always allow ourselves to be roused to war by words like these. In recent years, though, I’ve had the opportunity to fight for a cause greater than myself and I’m convinced that we can embrace all the rousing words for fights that are strategic, dramatic, humorous, assertive, sneaky, or startlingly upfront. Victories that improve the lot of humans on this planet will come from the kind of fights that use all the skills and emotions of war, except for the actual maiming and killing part.
The executive producer of the Shakespeare Festival, wrote a reflection for Veterans Day about the complexities of the military experience displayed in the Henry plays.
I loved this play — I laughed; I cried; I wanted a sequel.
Into the Breeches is playing at The Grandel, brought to us by the Shakespeare Festival St. Louis. This is their last weekend. Tonight and tomorrow, the shows are at 8pm. On Sunday, there’s a matinee performance at 2pm.
Into the Breeches is new to the theater scene this year. So far, it’s played in Providence, Chautauqua, and St. Louis. Watch for it in a smaller theater near you!