The RSC Summer School in August was host to a number of talks on Henry IV and that company’s marvellous productions of parts 1 & 2 which are currently touring the country. The actor playing Hotspur, Trevor White, was informed by Prof. Michael Dobson at a Q&A that the Shakespeare Institute Library held a copy of Laurence Olivier’s script from 1945 when he played Hotspur at The Old Vic. Having been told about Olivier’s performance by Greg Doran, Trevor White was more than keen to have a look at the script. Could we arrange that? Oh yes!
At first glance the Olivier script looks remarkably un-annotated but on closer inspection fascinating details emerge. There are the sketches of the character which Olivier drew.
The letter ‘w’ is underlined, quite heavily in places. In reviews it states that Olivier stuttered ‘speaking thick’ – it’s obvious on which letter he stuttered. Sometimes there are double-underlinings to indicate the level of impediment. It also becomes evident that when he is in the heat of battle or argument Hotspur gains control of his language with fewer underlinings on the text. When being subdued, for instance, in the scene with his wife, he stutters more. Why the letter ‘w’ – of course, it is the first letter of Percy’s last word which he cannot speak, adding an additional pathos to the death of this charismatic character.
HOTSPUR. …O, I could prophesy, But that the earthy and cold hand of death Lies on my tongue: no, Percy, thou art dust And food for–
PRINCE HENRY. For worms, brave Percy: fare thee well, great heart!
It was marvellous to see an actor so engaged in the document of one of his predecessors in the part. Trevor White read, took photos and was excited to see that some of his instincts and movements in the role echoed Olivier’s interpretation, especially in Act II Scene IV and the reading of the letter.
Along with Prof. Dobson we discussed the current staging, especially the breath-taking sword-fight – both he and Alex Hassle were a bit concerned that they’d make it alive to the end of the run! Oliver Ford Davies who plays Shallow in Part 2 also joined us to look at the script along with critic Michael Billington. When Olivier played Hotspur he also doubled as Shallow, something which Trevor White had never been asked to do, he assured his co-actor.
Trevor White commented that he is now looking forward to having a part in which he survives till the end of the play. Maybe a romantic comedy next time!