June 1, 2012

Laurence Olivier’s 1944 film of Henry V famously used Shakespeare’s play not only as a mark of the civilization to be protected by the Allies in the Second World War but also as a patriotic spur for a nation exhausted by war. Released late in 1944, in an England then in the fifth year of war, the movie began with a shot of a marble stone on which is engraved: “To the commandoes and airborne troops of Great Britain, the spirit of whose ancestors it has been humbly attempted to recapture in some ensuing scenes, this film is dedicated.”

From the Souvenir Performance Program Collection, 1840 – 1950, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Library, Yale University

America too used Shakespeare as a symbol of what was at stake. Even as James Michener’s 1947 novel was being adapted for the New York City stage as South Pacific (1949), the war-time locale exerted its effect on Shakespeare too, as in this promotional article “Mr. Shakespeare Goes To The Jungle” reporting on Maurice Evans’s performance before “the GI audience in Hawaii.”

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