Sat 17 Sep 2011
Janna Rosenkranz as Westmoreland, Northumberland, Bardolph and Glendower.
I play four, very different men in Henry IV, Part 1: the solider Westmoreland, the politician Northumberland, the clown Bardolph and the Welsh, wizard-warrior Glendower. As an actor I approach my roles from the outside-in. I use everything from physical descriptions, historical renderings (in this case three of the four characters are based on real people), clothing and footwear, how the world sees the character from the outside to the image the character wishes to show the world when working on the essence of characters.
In this case I began by choosing an archetypical figure-type for my men, hence the title of this essay. I choose these archetypes to work as cores for all four characters. I’ll tell you about them in order of appearance.
Westmoreland, based on Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland (ca. 1364 – 21, October 1425) who, among other things, had 23 children and was survived by most of them. (wikipedia) The historical information I read mostly speaks about his responsibilities as a solider. In our play he is portrayed as simply this and, more importantly, a method of communicating exposition in the first scene. He only truly expresses emotions once; in the first scene when he describes the ‘beastly and shameless transformation” done to the bodies of Mortimer’s men by the Welsh women after a military loss to Glendower. In order to turn this character into someone three dimensional, I have concentrated on his loyalty to the King and his sons, Hal and John. My job as an actor is to make two speeches of exposition in the first scene interesting and compelling. Therefore, I worked on making him truly love the royal family and hate the Percy family as much as possible. This is nicely bookended by the final scene in which, without lines, I try to communicate my love for the Lancasters and pleasure that they have been victorious over the rebels.
Now to Westmoreland’s enemy, Northumberland. Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland, 4th Baron Percy (10, November 1341 – 20, February 1408). (wikipedia) He is only in one scene, but like Glendower, his name comes up a lot in other scenes. For an actor how much the character is talked about and what is said about them is very important. Northumberland has his hands full with a family that doesn’t quite live up to his standards. His brother, Worchester crosses the line with the King and his son Hotspur is impossible to control. I love my one full line in the first part of the one scene in which I play this character, when I manipulate the truth regarding Hotspur’s prisoners like a master (think former VP Cheney’s recent press tour). Sadly, the idiot Hotspur opens his mouth and messes my plan up. I spend the entire rest of that first half of the scene trying not to boil over with anger at him as he goes on (and on and on) and continues to dig his own grave. In the second half of the scene with only Hotspur and Worchester on stage, my favorite line is the bitingly sarcastic “Brother, the King hath made your nephew mad.” (Henry IV, Part 1: I, iii) Sadly, neither brother nor son are sophisticated enough to understand sarcasm. My Northumberland is full of anger towards his family, and I secretly believe that the illness that keeps him out of the Battle of Shrewsbury is an abandonment of his son and brother. He knows they will lose. Historically, Northumberland would go on to launch another rebellion in 1408 and end up with his head on a spike.
My third character , poor drunk Bardolph is one of the tavern clowns who ‘assist’ Falstaff and drink with him and Prince Hal. Again, my information came from what other characters say about him. His major characteristic is that “his face is all bubukles, and whelks, and knobs, and flames o’ fire: and his lips blows at his nose, and it is like a coal of fire, sometimes blue and sometimes red; but his nose is executed and his fire’s out. “ (Fluellen: Henry V: III, iv) In a pivotal exchange for Bardolph, Prince Hal comments that the redness of his face “portends…if rightly taken, halter” (Henry IV, Part 1: II, iv). Here Hal sees the future (as he does in this scene with Falstaff) and hints that one day, Bardolph will be punished for his thieving and drunkenness. Indeed this occurs when, as King Henry V, Hal will watch Bardolph hung. I love giving poor Bardolph a bit of a ’somebody just walked over my grave’ feeling here. Poor Bardolph is easily offended and tries very hard to believe that he’s a tough guy.
Finally I was extremely lucky to be cast as the wizard warrior Owen Glendower. Glendower, like his ally Northumberland, is often spoken about in the play although he only appears in one scene. The historical Glendower — or Owain Glynd?r or Owain Glyn D?r (c.1349 or 1359 – c.1416) — is seen as the Welsh King Arthur and was the last native Welshman to hold the title Prince of Wales. In the late 19th century the Welsh nationalistic movement Cymru Fydd recreated him as the father of Welsh nationalism. In 2000, celebrations were held all over Wales to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the Glynd?r uprising (our rebellion). He has since been voted in at 23rd in a poll of 100 Greatest Britons (a BBC produced program) in 2002. (wikipedia) As an actor, I felt playing Glendower was a huge responsibility. Along with the challenge of speaking Welsh (something director Scott Lange and fellow actor Lindsey Hansen and I continue to attempt to do – especially me, I’m sad to report) playing such a mythical creature is a huge deal. But, despite the hugeness of Glendower I have to make him human as well, so to do this I make him believe that he is a wizard and that he ‘thrice…sent him (Henry IV) Bootless home and weather-beaten back.” (Henry IV, Part 1: III,i). He can control the weather, the “earth did tremble” at his birth, he is a great magician. It’s this very Confidence (with a large C) that drives him to believe that the rebels won’t need him and his troops for two weeks. Of course, this lack of troops (Glendower’s and Northumberland’s) is the nail in the rebel’s coffin.
The above is a very general summary of how I approached each character, and many further specifications have to be made to make the moments they are on stage spontaneous and real. These come from Shakespeare’s words, my true inspiration.