Samuel Martyn: Notes Reflection

My notes are awful. They are sparse and happen relatively infrequently. Particularly for reading a play or watching film. They are nondescript for the most part. If anyone aside from me was to look at my notes, they would not gain much, if anything at all.

Most of my annotation when it comes to going through the text of a play, does not consist of writing words between the lines or in the margins. I circle, highlight, and underline words or phrases of significance. I usually read the scene/passage out loud, and make these annotations during or after. This is so I can gauge the emotion, flow, and emphasis of the passage. The few words I write in are only to describe the emotion or tone of the speaker.

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The reason for my style of note-taking (or lack thereof) is that once I read or hear the text a couple of times through, I can process it quite easily. I also find it more beneficial to return and re-read the entire passage to remember or understand the text than to try and interpret what the annotation I wrote in at a prior time means. Following a single story-line with the same characters throughout the text, I can very easily process and engage in what is happening without taking many notes.

This sentiment is even further experienced when I watch a film. I rarely take notes while watching film. By actively pairing the narrative with faces and voices, and literally having the text played out in front of my eyes, I almost immediately process and internalize what is happening. Film is my favourite medium (aside from music) for the sole fact that I can recall its information so quickly and accurately. The only time I will write down a note from a film is when there is a line that I want to remember, or a song on the soundtrack that I want to download at a later time.

The only other time in which I will write something down while watching a film or reading a play text, is when I want to be looking for categorical or symbolic representations within the medium. However, these will not be specific things I write down, it will be more like “watch for: lighting shifts, change in tone, music”, etc. I do this instead of in depth, specific notes, because I want to be engaged with the text medium itself, rather than try to keep up with both note taking and observation and then end up missing something significant within the text.

My notes are typically not successful in the sense that they should be. When I do annotations, I typically look back a few days later and have absolutely no idea what it means. When it comes to the final exam however, I do realize that this choice of extremely limited annotation may cause some issues for me. I take notes in my history classes, when there are not necessarily story lines or narratives, or consistent characters that make the material a linear, thematic text. Annotations done on my part do not help me comprehend English literature any better.

My notes may come across as “insufficient” to others or, it may seem as if I am not engaging in the text, but that could not be farther from the truth. Notes are just not how I find I can actively engage the text.

Samuel Martyn: Film Review

Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V (1989) is an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play of the same name. I feel as though the film, through methods unavailable in a theatrical performance, was able to produce more subtleties and evoke emotion that a live stage performance would not be able to. These factors, I believe make the film not only an effective interpretation of the text, but also a more palatable version at that.

I found the way in which the Chorus (played by Derek Jacobi) is presented in this adaptation is very intriguing, particularly in the prologue. The Chorus – no doubt through the text itself – is supposed to break the fourth wall, but the prologue is removed completely from the world that the narrative takes place within. This first scene is placed on a movie set, with cameras and other equipment in full view of the audience, so as to give the impression that the Chorus is, while later appearing in the actual scenes of the narrative, a type of modern-day tour guide through the jungle that is medieval Europe. henry-v-prologue

The Chorus is also seen wearing modern clothes, while all the other players are seen to be wearing clothes appropriate to the medieval period of the narrative. This helps once again show the Chorus as a separate entity, our tour guide through the film. It seems as though Branagh has the Chorus conducting a type of documentary, which to me appears quite unique in a beneficial way, as it gives a sense of realness to the history.

Act 1 Scene 1 as it is performed in the film, allows the audience to experience the dialogue between the two Bishops in a way that a stage performance in a theatre could not. The shadowy lighting and the camera angles allow for close up and extreme close up shots to give a feeling of intimacy in the conversation between the two men. It allows for us to see the expressions of scheming and secrecy on the faces of the Bishops. henry-v-act-1-scene-1

This scene however not only allows the audience to feel these effects through camera angles, but through the dialogue itself as well. The two Bishops through this scene speak very quietly, sometimes even whispering. This effectively creates a feeling that this conversation is surreptitious in nature. In a theatre environment, these techniques would not be able to be employed, and I believe that their use in this film are effective and beneficial in the portrayal of Shakespeare’s text.

Another factor that helps drive along the narrative within the film is Branagh’s use of flashbacks to Henry V’s past. One in particular is the flashback to a conversation between Sir John Falstaff (Robbie Coltrane) and Henry (Branagh) before he became king. “No, my good lord, banish Peto, banish Bardolph, banish Poins, but for sweet Jack Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack Falstaff, valiant Jack Falstaff, and therefore more valiant being, as he is old Jack Falstaff, banish not him thy Harry’s company, banish not him thy Harry’s company. Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.” This dialogue appears nowhere in the original text of this play, but is drawn from Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1 (Act 2, Scene 4). These flashbacks, while from a different play, allow the audience to see into the past life of Henry, an effect that the original text does not necessarily provide. Branagh uses this as a tool to portray a conflicted Henry, who is turning his back on his former life. It also shows how his ascension to the position of king and the abandoning of his old friends affected them as well.

 

Branagh’s 1989 adaptation appears to be an effective, fluid, evocative interpretation of Shakespeare’s work. The film allows for an intimate view of the characters, as Branagh’s use of closeups and extreme closeups allow us to see more emotion and characteristics of the players, which is not an option in a theatrical performance. His use of the Chorus as a modern tour guide, leading us into and through the medieval period bridges a gap between our two eras, allowing us to see the film as a type of documentary. Finally, Branagh’s use of material from Henry IV Part 1 to show flashbacks to Henry’s past life allow the audience to see his emotional ties to those from his past and the conflict that arises not only within himself, but his old friends, which gives a more humanized, emotional interpretation of the text.