It’s called Acting, Dear Boy… With Balls!

How dare I ever cover the subject of Shakespeare again without mentioning Kenneth Branagh. Here he played Henry V.

When I left school back in 1995, all I wanted to do was to become an actor. To be honest, I probably was not as strong a performer as Stanislavsky would have wanted me to be. A part of me always wanted to try out for Shakespeare’s Henry V. I already knew how to play the part when I stepped into his shoes for a solo acting exam back in 1997. I would however want to do a different type of performance if the chance ever came up, and without throwing tennis balls into the audience!
 
The scene that I covered was a very strong and memorable moment in Henry V when he received the gift/taunt of tennis balls from the son of the King of France. In a speech, King Henry uses the word “mock” several times, and I thought of the sound that a tennis ball would make when it hit the racket in the right place. I thought it would be great for the audience to experience King Henry’s passion, so whenever I said “mock” I bounced a ball off the stage into the would be audience (luck would have it, only several examiners behind a table with contorted looks on their face experienced my innovative attempt at “3D Shakespeare!”
 
 I passed the exam, but I was given a firm talking to by the examiners about health and safety. “If you’re going to throw tennis balls, throw them stage left, or stage right into the wings, not at the audience, dear boy!”
 
I added the dear boy… but perhaps, this was a good thing. I eventually found writing, and nobody will ever be in any danger from that, right?
 
That one acting exam was one of the last things I performed on stage. That was 18 years ago and a part of me (the mature part that knows a little more about subtlety and avoiding lawsuits) would like to give it a go again. 
 
For those who lap the words of the Bard up like water on a hot summer’s day, I bring to you the infamous monologue, and remember what to do when you read the word “mock”…

Stick it to the Dauphin of France… Balls to gun stones.

Trumpets and drums, followed by silence…
 
 Enter Exeter
 
 EXETER: Tennis-balls, my liege.
 
 KING HENRY V: We are glad the Dauphin is so pleasant with us;
 His present and your pains we thank you for:
 When we have march’d our rackets to these balls,
 We will, in France, by God’s grace, play a set
 Shall strike his father’s crown into the hazard.
 Tell him he hath made a match with such a wrangler
 That all the courts of France will be disturb’d
 With chaces. And we understand him well,
 How he comes o’er us with our wilder days,
 Not measuring what use we made of them.
 We never valued this poor seat of England;
 And therefore, living hence, did give ourself
 To barbarous licence; as ’tis ever common
 That men are merriest when they are from home.
 But tell the Dauphin I will keep my state,
 Be like a king and show my sail of greatness
 When I do rouse me in my throne of France:
 For that I have laid by my majesty
 And plodded like a man for working-days,
 But I will rise there with so full a glory
 That I will dazzle all the eyes of France,
 Yea, strike the Dauphin blind to look on us.
 And tell the pleasant prince this mock of his
 Hath turn’d his balls to gun-stones; and his soul
 Shall stand sore charged for the wasteful vengeance
 That shall fly with them: for many a thousand widows
 Shall this his mock mock out of their dear husbands;
 Mock mothers from their sons, mock castles down;
 And some are yet ungotten and unborn
 That shall have cause to curse the Dauphin’s scorn.
 But this lies all within the will of God,
 To whom I do appeal; and in whose name
 Tell you the Dauphin I am coming on,
 To venge me as I may and to put forth
 My rightful hand in a well-hallow’d cause.
 So get you hence in peace; and tell the Dauphin
 His jest will savour but of shallow wit,
 When thousands weep more than did laugh at it.
 Convey them with safe conduct. Fare you well.

  • William Shakespeare (Henry V) Act 1, Scene 2.
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