Henry’s interaction with Katherine in the “Hollow Crown”
Henry’s interaction with Katherine takes place after the battle of Agincourt, at the end of the play and the movie. The battle of Agincourt is the historical event of the play. Nevertheless, as the end of the play and the movie suggests, the other historical event is the wedding of Henry V and Katherine de Valois, which will bring in the future Henry VI as their heir. Though, this scene happens just before their wedding, while Henry V is wooing Katherine. In this particular scene, we have therefore Henry V and Katherine but, also, Alice, which has an important role, as she translates for both Henry and Katherine and helps them understand each other. As reflected in those lines:
“KING HENRY I said so, dear Catherine, and I must not blush to affirm it.
CATHERINE O bon Dieu! Les langues des hommes sont pleines de tromperies.
KING HENRY What says she, fair one? That the tongues of men are full of deceits?
ALICE Oui, dat de tongeus of de mans is be full of deceits — dat is de Princess.” (lines 114 – 121)
Although we could also see in Henry and Katherine’s words that they might, after all, understand each other in some moments like this one. Concerning the movie, we can remark in their looks to each other and their body language that they suggest otherwise, as Henry for example who is approaching himself like he is trying to make an effort to understand what Katherine is telling him. Nevertheless, their words betray them as they directly translate by themselves what the other is saying, acting as they knew each other mother tongues. On that point, the movie and the play may contradict one another but, it may also seem that the characters are similarly contradicting themselves with their words. Hence, on that note, the director may have interpreted something that underlines who those characters really are.
On another angle of analysis, I would like to insist on the casting choice that has been made in the Hollow Crown. Tom Hiddleston is playing Henry, Mélanie Thierry is Katherine and Géraldine Chaplin is Alice. As in this scene, we are seeing a more human side of Henry, Tom Hiddleston with his natural charm seems to be an amazing choice and we can see it as his curtseying advances with Katherine naturally. Looking firstly at her body language, we can observe that at the beginning of the scene (1:59:13 in “The Hollow Crown” version on BoB), Katherine is sat rigidly and is trying to look away from henry but as their discussion goes on, she begins to smile and laugh, during Henry’s attempt to speak in French, which shows that she is starting to be comfortable with him. All that evolution during the scene is thanks to the charm that Henry is trying to portray in that particular moment, which is why Tom Hiddleston’s natural charm falls perfectly in place for that part. To talk about Katherine in more precision and to compare this version to other movies we have seen, this Katherine played by Mélanie Thierry seems one of the best choices. In fact, as she is a French actress, she fits wonderfully for the role, compared to other productions that chose English actresses. We can say as she doesn’t have that English accent when trying to speak French, which as a result appears on the screen to be effortless as it should be for a native speaker of the language. Also, in the “Hollow Crown”, this Katherine looks young and a bit more innocent which corresponds more to reality as she was younger than Henry.
Now that we talked about the casting choices, we are going to focus more on the text itself and how it was adapted on screen. To begin with, when Henry says: “The Princess is better Englishwomen.” (line 122) and he continues to “I love you” (line 128), we can see him wandering around which is a sign that the King could be stressed, nervous or thinking about something important. Now, as finishes by saying “I love you”, we can conceive that it is a significant step to cross by saying that, which can explain the director’s choice of making the King walk like that. However, when we take a deeper look on the text and not on what is occurring in the movie, we understand that he is actually showing himself to Katherine but not, as the King of England but, as a human being who struggles sometimes. We observe that as he says:
“I am glad thou canst speak no better English, for if thou couldst, thou wouldst find me such a plain king that thou wouldst think I had sold my farm to buy my crown” (lines 123 – 126)
In fact, by the means of explaining that Katherine may find him a ‘plain king’, Henry shows us, in a certain way, his incertitude and his struggles. We can say that in this passage he opens up and as we were pointing out before, that should explain his wandering around the table on screen, which is an interesting interpretation coming from the director.
Moreover, there is a particular moment in that scene where, on screen, Henry V puts down his crown as he continues talking to Katherine. As he is doing that, he addresses these words:
“Marry, if you would put me to verses, or to dance for your sake, Kate, why, you undid me. For the one I have neither words nor measure, and for the other I have no strength in measure — yet a reasonable measure strength.” (lines 132 – 136)
We can understand from these words that Henry is in his last resort in front of Katherine. He doesn’t know what to do anymore to convince her to marry him since he has already told her he loved her. All of that translates well onto the “Hollow Crown”. As a matter of fact, just before he removes his crown, Henry is on his knees next to Katherine. However, as he tries to be closer to her, she walks away to the other side of the room. It is at this moment, after all his efforts that Henry takes off his crown. We can then suggest that it is a sign of him getting tired of trying or we can have another interpretation of the scene by saying that Henry is just showing the human being behind the King to his love one since this interaction between him and Katherine reveals the human side of him.
To conclude, in this interaction between Henry V and Katherine, we can see a more human Henry with an innocent and young Katherine, both trying to find their way to understand each other. Nevertheless, their words and their bodies do not send the same message. The movie portrays amazingly that underlined part and also shows this moment as a brighter point after all the events that have happened just before, as the brightness of the lightning suggests too.
SHAKESPEARE William (1599), Henry V, edited by TAYLOR Gary in The Oxford Shakespeare: Henry V, Oxford, 1982.
The Hollow Crown, BBC, London, 2012 (version on Bob): https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/prog/02B71526?bcast=121543420