The 1916 Shakespeare Tercentenary at N˚ 1 Camp in Calais

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This essay explores archival materials documenting a gala performance on 2-3rd May 1916, which the British officers stationed in a B.E.F. camp in Calais organised to commemorate the three-hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. It focuses on the event’s use of selected scenes from Henry V: the ‘Once more unto the breach’ speech (3.1), Princess Katherine’s English lesson (3.4), and the negotiations surrounding Henry and Katherine’s marriage (5.2). It argues that performing these scenes in a setting that brought together Allied soldiers, French civilians, and the members of a women’s voluntary corps, the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY), produced ambiguous effects. On one hand, the production promoted an idealised vision of a post-war patriarchal order, with men as victorious agents and women as sexualised rewards for masculine heroism. On the other hand, the involvement of the FANYs – independent women who wore uniforms and performed tasks previously reserved for men – complicated this picture. Consequently, the Calais Shakespeare gala constitutes a wartime production of Henry V that does not simply promote conventional patriotism. Instead, it creates a space to debate national identity in relation to gendered subjectivity, juxtaposing the established ideals of masculinity and femininity with the reality of women’s increased agency during the global conflict.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationShakespeare at War: A Material History
EditorsAmy Lidster, Sonia Massai
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9781009042383
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2023

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