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.
|Title of host publication||Shakespeare at War: A Material History|
|Editors||Amy Lidster, Sonia Massai|
|Place of Publication||Cambridge|
|Publisher||Cambridge University Press|
|Publication status||Published - 1 Sep 2023|