I don’t remember which of Shakespeare’s plays I read first, but I do remember the first performance I watched, start to finish: it was Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V, playing on the TV when I was eleven and my dad was deployed in Desert Storm. I didn’t understand everything that was going on, and couldn’t have if I’d only read it. But because performance can energize and interpret the play for me, in specific ways, I was able to understand this play was about war, and it was about why men fight in wars. The monologue that made an unforgettable impression on small Tessa wasn’t from the Crispin’s Day speech. It was one spoken by a soldier with whom the king is conversing about the just nature of his war. Given the quagmire of wars American has been involved in since 2001, I could analyze this now with rather depressing politics, but as a child all I heard was why are we fighting this war? If my dad dies, what will it be for? The performance drew out the meaning of the speech even for my unprepared ears. I hadn’t thought to ask why before, and the performance taught that question.
I wish everyone were introduced to the Bard via great performance instead of being forced to read it, without the context of audience and energy, and usually by untrained voices. Because a capable performance changes everything.