Second Reel

A Chorus' Lines

Branagh's Other Methods

While Branagh's cinematic techniques are perhaps the most impressive elements of his strategy to keep the Chorus relevant, they are not the only methods he uses. Most noticeable is his editing of Shakespeare's text. Whole scenes are removed, as are certain characters, their lines eliminated or abbreviated and given to others. The Chorus' lines fall victim to this same treatment.

Several — but significantly not all — of the Chorus' disclaimers are removed entriely. Gone from the Branagh's prologue, for example, are the instructions to imagine horses "Printing their proud hoofs i'th'receiving earth," to allow one actor to play several parts, or to "make imaginary puissance." By removing such directives, Branagh is free to show us horses, for example, without running counter to the expectations set by the Chorus.

The Chorus' appearances are also segmented and displaced throughout the film, instead of occuring only at the beginning of each act, where they were placed by Shakespeare. The Chorus at the top of Act 2, for example, first explains how the able men of England are eager to follow Henry to France, then tells us of the three traitors and their plan to kill Henry in Shouthampton. Scene 1, however, is set in the boarding house in Eastcheap, removed from Southampton, and not related to the just-mentioned conspiracy. Branagh, instead of presenting the complete Chorus at the begining of the act, divides this Chorus into two parts, and places each part immediately before the action it describes. Therefore the mention of the men excited to find fortune in France is followed by the scene at Eastcheap, and the exposition about the traitors immediately precedes Scene 2, when Henry confronts those conspirators. This helps keep the Chorus and its function as scene-setter important on a scene-to-scene, rather than act-to-act, basis and the Chorus' lines more relevant to the immediate action on screen.

Still, Branagh doesn't remove the Chorus entirely. He leaves in enough of the Chorus' apologies to give the impression that something is lacking, so his film must therefore reflect that lack.

(Olivier also edits the play substantially. Indeed, he rearranges scenes and segments the Chorus' lines much more than Branagh does. Because his method is based upon the Chorus' instructions to imagine, however, Olivier's edited text still maintains these instructions and disclaimers. His elimination of other lines, scenes, and characters has less to do with keeping the Chorus relevant and more to do, it would seem, with time restrictions, clarifying language for a modern audience, and with making a pro-English statement during World War II [see Olivier & Alexander Nevsky for more on this].)