Henry V Conversations: What is a Just War?

Performing Shakespeare in the era of the War on Terror

2242_henryv_1201013189The Actors’ Shakespeare Project presents the Bard as a playwright urgently relevant to our own times, whose work enables us to differently conceive of our most daunting questions. Their moving productions delve into the psychology of villains, the intricacies of race, and in the case of the 2007 production of Henry V, the questions inherent to the just war doctrine.

The global War on Terror was stretching on in 2007, with new promises never to finish, and the American military had announced a troop surge in Iraq. Actors’ Shakespeare Project sensed that the stage was set for Henry V, Shakespeare’s play dealing with the titular king’s conquest of France, in which he speaks the famous line “Once more unto the breach, dear friends…”

Mass Humanities provided funding for panel discussions following the play. Actors’ Shakespeare Project encouraged veterans to attend and participate. As a follow-up, the performers hosted a veterans’ workshop, including performances/reading from Henry V, writing prompts and journaling, sharing of personal stories, and a discussion of the play. The questions at the heart of the performances and discussions—why do nations go to war? What does the war mean to those who have to fight it? What are the costs?—still illuminate our human condition today.

Actors’ Shakespeare Project was awarded a $4,000 Project Grant responding to the Liberty & Justice for All initiative for post production panel discussions of the play and its relevance to our times, including veterans in the audience. As a follow-up, a veterans’ workshop will be held including performances/reading from Henry V, writing prompts and journaling, sharing of personal stories, and a discussion of the play. [Project Director: Lori Taylor; Date Awarded: 12/14/2007]

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