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Henry IV, part 1

by William Shakespeare

Firstly I must say that this is the 100th play that I have blogged about. Yes, I'm a little behind, but hey, sometimes life interrupts. Regardless, I'm pretty proud that I've kept it up this long. So thanks for being a part of the journey.

Second, it's no mere accident that my 100th play is a Shakespeare play. If I'm gonna celebrate, I want Will with me.

Thirdly, I'd like to take a sec to plug the Globe's travelling production of Merry Wives of Windsor that I saw this past weekend. Hilarious. So fun. If you missed them this year, be sure to catch them next year when they're back in town!

And now. Back to our regularly scheduled program.

Where to start? Well, after seeing Merry Wives I have Falstaff on the brain. And all through reading this play I kept picturing the actor from the Globe's production (the brilliant Christopher Benjamin) playing Falstaff in 1HenryIV. There are so many brilliant Falstaff moments - mostly jokes made of his behalf but certainly he has plenty of his own. The very first time we see Falstaff, Hal is making fun of him. Falstaff merely asks Hal the time, and this is the response he gets:
Thou art so fat-witted with drinking of old sack, and unbuttoning thee after supper, and sleeping upon benches after noon, that thou hast forgotten to demand that truly which thou wouldst know. What a devil hast thou to do with the time of the day? Unless hours were cups of sack, and minutes capons, and clocks the tongues of bawds, and dials the signs of leaping-houses, and the blessed sun himself a fair hot wench in flame-coloured taffeta, I see no reason why thou shouldst be so superfluous to demand the time of the day.
A simple 'ten o'clock' would have sufficed. This sets up Falstaff's role in the community and also lays the ground for many a fat-joke throughout the rest of the play. This is also the first scene where we meet Hal, the prince and heir to the throne. His 'loose behaviour' is set up here, showing him drinking and carousing with his friends -- not very princely. In the previous scene his father, the King, was telling us how he wished that his son had been switched at birth with the noble warrior Percy. Ouch. That's rough. But then comes this brilliant speech by Hal (and one of my favorite male monologues in Shakespeare.)

I know you all, and will awhile uphold
The unyoked humour of your idleness.
Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wondered at
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapours that did seem to strangle him.
If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be a tedious as to work;
But when they seldom come, they wished-for come,
And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.
So when this loose behaviour I throw off
And pay the debt I never promised,
By how much better than my word I am,
By so much shall I falsify men's hopes;
And, like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation, glittering o'er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
I'll so offend to make offence a skill,
Redeeming time when men think least I will.

And in about two hours, that's exactly what he'll do.

This next quote comes from the pompous Own Glendower as he's speaking to the hot-headed Percy, aka Hotspur. He tells him:

                                       Give me leave
To tell you once again that at my birth
The front of heaven was full of fiery shapes,
The goats ran from the mountains, and the herds
Were strangely clamorous to the frighted fields.
These signs have marked me extraordinary,
And all the courses of my life do show
I am not in the roll of common men.

Okay, so put away the measuring sticks boys. I like this speech because he gets to say ex-tra-or-di-na-ry with all of it's syllables and that's not the way we hear that word very often. It makes me smile. Also, it's funny to hear a guy talking about what happened on the day he was born, as if he would know. Also, was he born in a field? Why were the goats so scared? Anyway.

In this play Falstaff gets caught in many a lie and more than one sticky situation. You'd think he would learn, but no. Earlier, he fell asleep behind an arras and is now accusing his hostess of picking his pocket. This infuriates Hal and Falstaff is quick to make good:
Dost thou hear, Hal? Thou knowest in the state of innocency Adam fell, and what should poor Jack Falstaff do in the days of villainy? Thou seest I have more flesh than another man and therefore more frailty. You confess, then, you picked my pocket?
Oh, is Falstaff overweight? I hadn't realized. I'm glad he told us. Seriously though, how many Falstaff=fat jokes do we think are in the play? 100? More?

Falstaff makes for many a merry scene but the driving action of the latter half of the play is the epic battle of the rebels versus those in power. Both sides are hurting for men, rest, and strategy, but Hotspur and his noblemen are down a few major players. He gets the news that his father will not be joining him, as he's in poor health. Needless to say, Hotspur isn't happy:

Zounds, how has he the leisure to be sick
In such a jostling time?

It seemed to me slightly suspicious that he was sick at this critical moment. That may just be the cynic in me, but perhaps we'll learn more about that in 2HenryIV.

I cannot honestly imagine Falstaff fighting in a war. I just feel like he would hide behind a tree and get out his flask and make up insults for the soldiers passing by. Perhaps he would narrate the fights - the world's first commentator. Apparently, he will fight, and he's not happy about it:
Well, 'tis no matter; honour pricks me on. Yea, but how if honour prick me off when I come on? How then? Can honour set to a leg? No. Or an arm? No. Or take away the grief of a wound? No. Honour hath no skill in surgery, then? No. What is honour? A word. What is in that word 'honour'? What is that 'honour'? Air. A trim reckoning. Who hath it? He that died o'Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No. Doth he hear it? No. 'Tis insensible then? Yea, to the dead. But will it not live with the living? No. Why? Detraction will not suffer it. Therefore I'll none of it. Honour is a mere scutcheon. And so ends my catechism.
Wise words. When he uses his wit, he sometimes says things worth hearing. And yet, his honor does lead him on to fight, and he must not be half bad either, because he lives to see another day. Though, not without some trickery. More on that later.

I was cheering for Hotspur all the way through. That may just be because I'm partial to that scene between he and his wife, but I sorta fell in love with him. He's damaged but he's only human and he know what he's good at. Yes, he has a temper, but he's a WARRIOR. Hello. As he rouses his men to fight what will end up being a losing battle he tells them:

An if we live, we live to tread on kings;
If die, brave death when princes die with us. 

To tread on kings. What an image. Whether he is speaking metaphorically or literally, the idea is a strong one and his men fight bravely. Alas, Hotspur is killed by Prince Hal in a moment where Hal reveals his true colors. We see the man who may be King and he has earned the honor. He is even gracious in his win, complimenting Percy after death:

When that this body did contain a spirit
A kingdom for it was too small a bound,
But now two paces of the vilest earth
Is room enough.

That certainly puts things in perspective. Hotspur was a man that was feared; the very mention of his name brought with it an air of honor, courage, fierceness, and yet all men must die. As Hal says, "thou owest God a death." He died in battle, as he would have wanted. And the stories of his conquests will always live on....

Perhaps my very favorite moment of the play was when Hal mourns the loss of Falstaff, exits, and then Falstaff pops up, alive as ever. Of course he would fake his own death in order to escape death. Brilliant. Lucky for him, Douglas didn't give him an extra stab in the gut after he fell to the ground. That would have thrown a wrench in his plan. Thank you Shakespeare for not killing off so brilliant a character.

The best part about finishing a history play is knowing that there are more to come..

Here's to the next 100 ... *cheers*

Tomorrow's Play: All This Intimacy by Rajiv Joseph

1 comment:

Logan said...

So fitting that the 100th play is Henry IV Part 1! Personally, I love me some Hal and Falstaff. :)

Congrats on 100, sister of mine. Love you and your fabulous blog.


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