• 19Jul

    War and the Promise of Glory

    By: Yvette Nolan
    Category: In the News

    I have been thinking about a play about Shakespeare and war for a number of years, for a number of reasons: there’s my friend Stephan Wolfert, the American vet whose play Cry Havoc! about PTSD played here one night last summer, there’s the fact that I have just spent two years translating Henry IV parts 1 & 2 for Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Play On! project (, there was Graham Abbey’s program notes from his adaptation of the Henriad called Breath of King, done a few years ago at Stratford…

    And then there is the world, is such turmoil, wars and rumours of wars, wars driving people to flee their homes and homelands with nothing more than what they carry.

    I worry about civil war, perhaps not here, but what of our neighbours to the south?

    I was just down there, in the States, for a holiday, and the evidence of war and the cost of war is much more present there than it is here. I was thinking about Glory on His Head, the idea of war as glory, and how young men and women are enlisted into the army with the promise of glory, and the American people make a show of thanking their veterans, “thank you for your service,” but I saw veterans on the streets of New York with signs saying “Veteran. Homeless and humiliated. Anything helps.”

    I did not mean for the trip to turn into research, it was a vacation, after all, but my playwright head does not turn off, and when you are thinking about a play, everything starts to feed into the play. Philip and I walked the National Mall in Washington, and saw the Vietnam memorial, and the Korean war memorial. We walked across to Arlington cemetery, where I looked down amongst the thousands of markers and saw the one at my feet that read “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers,” Shakespeare’s words from Henry V, laid over the resting place of this young man, dead these decades.

    Why did he go to war? For honour? “I like not such grinning honour as Sir Walter hath,” Falstaff says in Henry IV, when he stumbles on the corpse of Walter Blunt on the battlefield. For a better life? I have a friend, a Penobscot elder, who enlisted and went to Vietnam because there were no opportunities on her reservation.  For community? “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers – “

    I worry about war, I worry about peace. I worry about the rhetoric that divides us, that encourages us to hate those not like us, that cultivates violence and takes no responsibility for its harvest. I worry about who has the power to start war, and who will have to fight those wars. As Henry IV says:

    So shaken as we are, so wan with care,

    Find we a time for frighted peace to pant,

    And breathe short-winded accents of new broils

    To be commenced in strands afar remote…




    Yvette Nolan (Algonquin) is a playwright, director, and dramaturg. She is with us as our writer in residence this summer to complete further work and a staged reading of Glory On Its Head, made possible by Canada Council for the Arts.  Stay tuned for more information to come soon!

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