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Contrasting Character Studies

For this blog post, I’d like to reflect on the two characters I play in Henry V, the Duke of Exeter and Captain Fluellen. To be more specific, I want to touch on the challenge and reward of bringing to the stage two rather different roles.

I’ve worked with Pigeon Creek on several productions and only once was I limited to one role. Performing with this group, therefore, usually assumes multiple characters. In the current case, the Duke of Exeter is Henry’s uncle, one of his primary advisors, and of high aristocratic rank. He also acts as the king’s ambassador to the French Court when preliminary demands are announced.

Shakespeare’s text guides me to strive for a certain aristocratic bearing and posture (external approach to the role), but also provides insight into his personal character and motivations: integrity, loyalty to Henry, devotion to discipline in matters military, and an overall disdain for the French (internal approach). Uniting the inside and outside aspects of the character gives me plenty to work on in developing the role (this is where the help of Frances and Angie, our directors, is invaluable).

Captain Fluellen is Welsh. This is clear both from references to him made by other characters in the play and by Shakespeare’s writing in “dialect” to help the actor speak the words written for him. I am not all that comfortable with dialects and accents, but the challenge of Fluellen is one of the reasons I wanted to do the play. (I have a veteran actor friend who will only take a role if she has the chance to try or do something new on stage…) With the help of a Welsh dialect CD, I’ve been able to pick out certain vowel sounds and consonant pronunciations that will, I hope, present the audience with an English ally who has his own attitude and approach to the events of the play.

First, Fluellen is a student and lover of military history, which makes him a bit of a pedant for several characters in Henry V, but is an integral part of his internal makeup. Henry’s actions and speeches are measured against this historical yardstick and are rarely found wanting. Second, Fluellen’s continual musings about war and warfare provide occasional comic relief which, in a play about war, blood, and dynastic politics, is welcome.

Every time I work with Pigeon Creek I come away grateful for the opportunity to stretch my acting wings and work with a committed, talented group of actors. As the Captain might say, “By Chesu, they are a prave pand of theatrical prothers… “

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