Everything is Oll Korrect!

An eclectic bibliophile's journal…

Tag: Joan

The 2016 Shakespeare Project and Henry VI, Part 1

As longtime readers may already know, I majored in Literature but went to a university with only a token arts and humanities department. The professors I had were generally good, but to give an idea of what the school was like, there was no classicist on the faculty, and I managed to graduate without reading much of anything not originally in English or written prior to 1800 or so. The two best instructors were well aware of this, and though neither of them specialised in the period, they did make sure that one of them would offer a class on Shakespeare every semester – inadequate as the school was, it at least wouldn’t be so inadequate that graduates would entirely miss out on Shakespeare.

So, I do have some basic familiarity with the Bard – I’ve read most of his best-known works, and have seen Richard III and a couple of the comedies performed live. However, everyone who takes English literature seriously needs, at some point, to read all of Shakespeare. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, and even mentioned it in December 2014 as a goal for 2015, but I’ve decided that this will be the year I do it. This will be a year-long project, rather than something I do all at once, and I may combine multiple plays into one post if I don’t have a lot to say about them, so don’t worry – you’re not going to get thirty-some consecutive weeks of Shakespeare posts.

Now, I started with Henry VI, Part 1, which I haven’t read before. It’s fine, but it’s not going to be a favourite. It’s set just after the coronation of King Henry VI during the Hundred Years War, though Henry himself doesn’t do a lot during the play. Even the resolution feels like it’s just setting up for the Part 2, since not much seems to have been resolved at the end. Like the handful of Shakespeare’s other histories I know, there’s a fairly large cast of characters, which can make it a bit difficult to follow early on as the reader sorts out who’s who, who’s important, and who’s just a side character. A little historical knowledge of the period helps, but isn’t really necessary. 1 Henry VI is relatively action-packed, though reading action scenes in print isn’t exactly thrilling; I suppose I can’t really fault the author for that since, to be fair, this is supposed to be performed, not just read.

1 Henry VI is a bit weak, at least by Shakespearean standards, but I did like the scene just before the climax where Lord Talbot, commander of much of England’s army in France, finds himself in a hopeless battle because his comrades were too busy with infighting to send him support, and he urges his son, John, to flee and save himself. John refuses, saying:

No more can I be sever’d from your side,
Than can yourself yourself in twain divide:
Stay, go, do what you will, the like do I;
For live I will not, if my father die.

Interestingly, St. Joan of Arc is a major character here, though since Shakespeare wrote from an English perspective, and long before her canonisation, he portrays her as a villain, and near the end it’s revealed that her visions are a result of sorcery, not divine revelations. This portrayal is only surprising now because she seems near-universally admired today; Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s Joan, which I wrote about last year, seems closer to what I’m used to.

In any case, it’s rather mediocre start to the year, but there’s still a long way to go. Up next are the other two parts of Henry VI.…

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Joan (75 Books LV – LVII)

Now we move on to an older, shorter work from the mid-1990’s by Yasuhiko Yoshikazu, Joan. It’s a work of historical fiction, about a young woman named Emil who’d been raised as a man near the end of the Hundred Years War, who sees visions of Joan of Arc urging her to follow in her footsteps and serve the French king. I can’t say how historically accurate the work is overall, aside from the fictional Emil, but the last volume includes a short essay by Chojun Otani, a scholar of French literature, who says that Yasuhiko came to him for help in his research, so he’d apparently made at least some effort in keeping the work as accurate as the story allows.

In any case, the story gets off to a slow start, as Yasuhiko spends a lot of the first volume setting up backstory and just getting Emil into the king’s army. Once it gets going, though, it’s very good. As in Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, he does an excellent job quickly establishing each character’s personality and motives, which is important in a work that’s only three volumes long. Though Emil is the protagonist, St. Joan does the most to advance the story. It’s Emil’s visions of her that motivate almost everything she does, and Emil’s resemblance to Joan tends to remind everyone she meets about their own relationship with her. Yasuhiko takes an interesting approach, really – like many people, the artist is clearly fascinated and inspired by Joan’s life, so one could easily see him just writing a work about Joan herself. Instead, he takes an indirect route, and besides Emil’s visions we get to know the saint entirely by second-hand accounts. Though unusual, this method was very effective; somehow, there’s a feeling of loss from every character so powerful that by the end, I started admiring Joan myself, even though she only appears a few times.

The events of the plot occasionally feel disconnected from each other. In particular, most of the second volume, adding up to a large part of the whole work, focuses on Gilles de Rais. He is a fascinating character and fits right in thematically, but the overall story and Emil’s development would hardly change at all if this part were radically shortened or, perhaps, even excised entirely.

I mentioned in my reviews of Gundam: The Origin that Yasuhiko’s art is excellent, especially the watercolour pages. I was pleasantly surprised to find, then, that the entirety of Joan is in colour, which is unusual for Japanese comics. As in Origin, many pages have a dominant colour, while certain characters or some other focal point will be a strong contrasting colour. 

Joan is out of print, since it was published by the now-defunct ComicsOne. It doesn’t seem too hard to find online, though you should definitely check the condition. My copies looked worn and the second volume’s spine detached while I was reading it, even though they didn’t seem too roughly handled. That said, it’s well worth checking out.…

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