Not the play (although I do love the play), but the character. In the nine years since reading Henry IV, Part One, and in the seven years since reading Henry V, I have not once forgotten about Hal. I love when stories do that. I love when they are so impactful that they become a part of you, sinking into your bones and finding a permanent place in your already crowded heart.
I love Hal because he is human. He isn’t always good, but he tries. He has a good heart, I think. I am constantly thinking about what it is to be good, and I am constantly trying to be better, but it’s difficult. And I see the same struggle in Hal. I see the desperate desire to be loved and understood – is there anything more human than that?
If you read my Shakespeare Roundup, you already know that I was not impressed with Netflix’s synopsis of The King, a movie that was advertised as an adaptation of the Henriad. I watched it with my best friend of nine years, dressed in fleece pajamas and wrapped in a thick shawl as I tried not to freeze to death in her home in rural New Hampshire.
Pro-tips: do not visit New England in the winter if you can help it, and do not expect The King to be an actual adaptation of the Henriad.
We live in a world of gritty storytelling. I don’t like gritty, though. I like dreamy and hopeful and optimistic. The King is gritty. Not because it’s about war, but because Hal was made a brooding, grumbling prince instead of a fun-loving, rakish disaster of a human being.
This was my first time seeing Timothée Chalamet in a film and I have to say that I was not very impressed. His lines were all whispered, his expressions rarely reactionary, and his overall demeanor very grim. The thing about Hal is that he should be noisy and reactionary and hot blooded. He starts out as a rascal through and through, and then takes the tentative steps from rakish prince to respected king. It is a huge undertaking for an actor, and it’s difficult to get the journey across in two hours.
One of the great defining moments of Hal’s story occurs near the end of Henry IV, Part Two. Hal finally makes peace with his dying father, and I cannot stress how important and deliberate a decision this was on Shakespeare’s part. Hal’s behavior is a result of his tumultuous relationship with Henry IV. If he is not given the opportunity to make amends, then his growth in future plays makes no sense. Think about it: no matter how you slice it, we still see slivers of the rake in Henry V. But Hal is able to mature into a king his father would have approved of because he is no longer resistant to being the person Henry IV pushed for him to be.
The King ripped this reconciliation from my hands, and I whispered an emphatic “oh, no,” as I watched Hal tear the covers off his dying father and metaphorically spit in his face. Henry IV is made to be extra terrible in this movie, and it is done to allow Hal the opportunity to express that he wants to be a different, better king. But how am I, as a viewer, supposed to root for a Hal that is lacking in compassion? I’ve never considered Hal to be a hateful character, not at his core. His great failings are his temper and reactionary nature. Come Henry IV, Part Two, he presents with an undercurrent of melancholy as he begins to navigate the inevitable grief that will come with losing his father.
Because of course there’s grief. There’s a sense of loss, strained relationship or not. He asks Poins in Henry IV, Part Two what he would think of him if he were to grieve his dying father, and Poins tells him he’d think he was playacting. If we are not going to give Hal the opportunity to make amends, then the very least we could do is give him the opportunity to grieve. In The King, he gets neither.
Falstaff outlives his Henriad storyline in The King, becoming Hal’s military adviser. Yes, you read that right: Falstaff is given the all-important job of helping King Henry V of England make decisions. And they stripped him of all his jovial wit, turning him into the perfect match for Chalamet’s brooding Hal. And so, Falstaff is rendered pointless. He adds humor to the Henry IV plays, but also provides Hal with an accepting father figure. For all his failings, and he has many, Falstaff does love Hal. And along with the tension between Hal and Henry IV, Falstaff’s unwavering love and acceptance also play a big role in who the prince is.
Basically, you won’t be seeing this Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor any time soon.
There were two things I did like about The King, and that was Katherine and the Dauphin. Katherine featured for all of five minutes, but I did enjoy the strong front she presented when she finally came face to face with Hal. But, of course, I was robbed of his bumbling, ridiculous proposal scene because The King was made to spite me specifically. Robert Pattinson played a hilarious Dauphin, and I lived for his flowing golden locks. The Dauphin was played with such exaggerated flair that he instantly became my favorite character in the movie. Was Pattinson’s French accent any good? No. Was he threatening in any way? No. Did I immediately want for him to be in every gritty Shakespeare adaptation from this point onward? You bet.
The problem with The King is that it was advertised as an adaptation of the Henriad when it is really no such thing. If Netflix wanted to make a movie about Henry V and his success at Agincourt, they could have done so quite easily. The movie would have been much less of a disappointment if it had been separated from a set of already well-told plays. The material was right there, and they refused to take it.
I do think it is important for us to present Hal the way Shakespeare wrote him. He easily models a positive form of masculinity that other male characters are sometimes lacking. Because we follow him for a whopping three plays, we see him express everything from anger to melancholy to anxiety. The King did not allow Hal these emotions, molding him instead into a caricature of unfeeling, toxic masculinity.
The long and short of it is this: Netflix should have hired me as a character consultant, and all The King does is make me realize just how spectacular the Henriad is. Those plays are a feat of storytelling, and I’m happy to have been reminded of that.
Even if I did have to watch Timothée Chalamet whisper for two hours for the message to come across.
I have not been reading any Shakespeare lately, but I have been listening, watching, and just absorbing him in all the ways I am able to, and my heart feels so big. I sometimes worry that I’ll forget, or that my feelings will lose their depth, but every time I am pulled back into Shakespeare’s orbit I enjoy the peculiar feeling of my heart inflating like a balloon.
And since I have been engaging in all this fun media, I thought I would do a roundup and talk about some of the things that have been on my mind! It might be the only way to get my heart to shrink down to its original size (a reverse-Grinch, if you will).
Shakespeare Unlimited Shakespeare Unlimited is the Folger Shakespeare Library’s podcast, and I highly, highly recommend it if you’ve never listened! It isn’t perfect, but every so often you’ll find yourself listening to a total gem. Other times, well…
I had the misfortune of listening to an episode called Steven Berkoff: Shakespeare’s Heroes and Villains. I love character-centric episodes because I love to harp on about Shakespeare’s characters! This episode made me so incredibly uncomfortable though, and it has a lot to do with Berkoff’s interpretation of Shylock. They played a clip of his Shylock and I was totally floored by the accent he was putting on. It was, well, terrible.
BOGAEV: How did you decide on that voice for him? Where did that come from?
BERKOFF: Well, I thought part of the reason was that Shylock today has been, and I mention in the piece, homogenized, deodorized, cleaned up, because we don’t like to, you know, infer that we are supporting him, so even some directors cut one or two lines. He says, “I hate him for he is a Christian,” they’ll cut that, they’re so dumb. So I wanted to go the reverse way.
First, I’d like to say that I’ve never seen the line “I hate him for he is a Christian,” cut out of The Merchant of Venice, and the one production I’ve been to was incredibly abridged. Second, is Shylock homogenized, deodorized, and cleaned up? This seems a stretch. All that has changed about The Merchant of Venice is the audience. We now have more empathy toward Shylock because it is a different time and we are different people. Frankly, I found this comment to be a little disrespectful to all the different interpretations of Shylock that have been brought forth by other Jewish actors.
BERKOFF: I didn’t want to, although I could have done, played him as a heroic Jew, they’re the current fashion. The philosophical Jew, the noble Jew, the Fiddler on the Roof Jew, I thought, “I want to play him as the Bard, as Shakespeare, wrote him, as disgusting, rancid, angry, filthy, dangerous.”
Look, Steven Berkoff is Jewish, so I can’t really knock the way he chooses to play Shylock. But I would like to ask how he knows what Shakespeare intended. I promise I am not being facetious. Is the heroic Jewish character really the current fashion?
The Merchant ofVenice is a tough nut to crack. Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta was a big box office hit, and Shakespeare was trying to emulate that. But here’s the thing: he could have written a character who was outright disgusting, rancid, filthy, and what have you. He could have written it very clearly. Shakespeare needs no help with words. He’d have known how to do it. He has, after all, given us characters like Iago and Richard III. He knows what evil is.
Instead, he had Shylock challenge the audience, ask the Christians in this play to explain the logic behind their racism. I do not know what Shakespeare’s view on Jewish people was. I have no idea if he ever met any Jewish people, as they’d been banned from England in the late 1200s. But in Shylock, he gave us a complicated, three dimensional man. And when I read Merchant, I do not see him as a villain. Because he does not have to be. He is a man wronged, and despite the acidity of his demeanor, you can’t help but think that Antonio, Bassanio, and even Portia sort-of-kind-of deserve it.
I was so upset by this depiction of Shylock that I went online to find out what other controversial opinions were held by Berkoff. And, lo and behold, I found out that he thinks Othello should be an option for white actors, and that we shouldn’t cast black men in the role for the sake of ‘political correctness.’
So I think it’s safe to say that his opinion on The Merchant of Venice is now null and void. The Folger, meanwhile, needs to be more careful about who they let onto their podcast.
Shakespeare Uncovered So, after being deeply disappointed by Shakespeare Unlimited, you find yourself wondering where you might go to find more nuanced, sensible discussions of Shakespeare. Lucky for you, Shakespeare Uncovered exists.
Shakespeare Uncovered is a documentary series that airs on PBS here in the USA. I have absolutely loved every episode I’ve watched. Discussions of the plays are incredibly detailed, and the hosts are so obviously passionate. Since we’re on the topic of The Merchant of Venice, F. Murray Abraham’s episode on the play was top notch. I watched it early one morning while getting ready for work, and the closing lines wrecked me.
ABRAHAM: The Merchant of Venice is hardly what we see as a comedy today. It’s a play with dark shadows, and the character that casts the longest one is Shylock. Shylock will not go away because we haven’t answered his questions. We can’t explain why we persecute difference, why we reject the outsider, why we still refuse to see each other’s humanity.
What a thought-provoking and intelligent interpretation of The Merchant of Venice. The episode on Measure for Measure (which, by the way, still haunts me on the daily) was also carefully written and hosted. The subject matter is delicate, the time we are in even more so, but host Romola Garai and the guests she spoke to made it clear that Measure for Measure is a difficult play with no right answers.
Because, as we know, there is no clear hero or heroine. All we have to deal with is Isabella and Angelo, the Duke and Mariana. The episode was gorgeous and interesting, much like the rest of Shakespeare Uncovered. I highly, highly recommend it! I’ve used it in the past to prep my family for plays, and it’s always been a huge help. And for someone who is well-versed in Shakespeare, it is a relaxing, thoughtful dive into our favorite plays.
The King (2019)
What is a post from me if it does not contain even one mention of Henry V? The King is an upcoming Netflix movie based on Henry IV Parts One and Two and Henry V. Oh, the endless possibilities! And oh, the potential for absolute disaster.
From the get-go, I was very skeptical of the casting. I think you need incredible range to play Hal, especially if you’re going to carry him through the Henriad. The shift from rebellious scoundrel to pressured king cannot be jarring. The transition needs to be smooth and natural, which is quite difficult. I thought Tom Hiddleston did a good job of it in The Hollow Crown. I saw Jamie Parker as Hal in Henry V at the Globe in 2012, and I could see glimmers of the prince I love and know so well even in what was being put on as a stand-alone play. What I’m saying is a ruffled bowl cut does not a Prince Hal of England make.
The AV Club’s synopsis more or less confirms that I am going to be hate watching this more than anything else. It goes, “Hal is a reluctant heir to the English throne who’s been living as a commoner these many years. He’s forced to take the crown, however, after his tyrannical father bites it. Now the young king must navigate the palace politics, chaos and war his father left behind, and the emotional strings of his past life – including his relationship with his closest friend and mentor, the aging alcoholic knight, John Falstaff.”
Reluctant heir is right. But living as a commoner? I’m not sure I’d call messing around at the Boar’s Head ‘living as a commoner.’
I take the most issue with him being forced to take the crown after his tyrannical father ‘bites it.’ 4.3 in Henry IV, Part Two is an incredibly important scene, and this part of the synopsis tells me that Henry IV isn’t the only thing that’ll be biting it. Hal and Henry IV’s tension reaches its limit in 4.3, and their reconciliation is incredibly important for Hal’s character development. While Hal does have to navigate palace politics as he tries to reconcile who he is with who England expects him to be, I would not say that he is dealing with chaos and war left behind by Henry IV. 4.3 very clearly shows Henry IV telling Hal to distract the court with French wars so that they don’t have the time or energy for another uprising a la Hotspur and Northumberland.
Speaking of Hotspur, where is he?
As for Falstaff, I guess he isn’t dying anymore! If we cut out 4.3, and if we reduce Henry IV down to a tyrant, then we are getting rid of what pulls Hal toward Falstaff – the deep-rooted desire for a father figure who does not mind his rakish ways. Mentor, no. A source of validation and support, yes.
It also looks like Katherine might have more of a role in this movie, which I can’t really complain about. I did laugh out loud at her asking Hal, “Do you feel a sense of achievement?” A little on the nose there, don’t you think? Also, definitely not a line from 5.2 of Henry V!
I think the Henriad is wonderfully accessible, but we need to listen to what the source material is trying to tell us. Shakespeare has it all laid out in black and white: Hal, the struggling prince, later the struggling king. How do you make peace with your past? How do you bridge two parts of yourself while ensuring the loyalty and love of your people? How do you cope knowing that all of England has put their souls on your shoulders? Who do you grow up to be when you’ve been desperate for your father’s approval all your life?
And Falstaff: the clown, but also the crude, makeshift father figure for the unruly prince. A source of oddly put wisdom, a warm, funny place to go when the palace is too cold and the walls begin to close in.
It’s all there, and I don’t think The King went into this knowing that. But we shall see! November 1st is fast approaching, and I doubt this movie will leave my radar any time soon.
And, before I leave, all hail the King? Really? That’s the tagline they came up with for the Henriad? Talk about dark times.
When I was in the 12th grade, I was taught Henry IV, Part One in my English class. I was a bit disinterested by it at first. After all, it was only my second play ever, and what could possibly top Richard III? But my first taste of the Henriad quickly bloomed into an intense love that I carry around with me even today. Absolutely nothing can change the way I feel about it – not bad theater productions, not poorly written analyses, nothing. I feel so incredibly privileged to have been able to read the Henriad. I feel privileged to have had a fantastic English teacher in high school, and to have been taught Henry V in London in 2012 with a professor who let me gush about it nonstop.
So, as you can imagine, I was just giddy with excitement when I picked up Henry IV, Part Two. I am going to try to be as coherent as possible. It may help if you go back and read my post about Prince Hal, because I have a very specific idea of who he is that I will be carrying into this post. So let’s get started!
Rumors around England have been painting the rebels as the winners of the intense battle that occurred at the end of Henry IV, Part One. But, as we know, this isn’t true. Hotspur is dead, and Hal dealt the final blow.
I do love Hotspur dearly – I think he is a wonderful character, and although I was technically rooting for Henry IV, I was sad that things ended the way they did. But nothing made me sadder than reading Northumberland’s reaction to his son’s death:
NORTHUMBERLAND Yet, for all this, say not that Percy’s dead. I see a strange confession in thine eye. Thou shak’st thy head and hold’st it fear or sin To speak a truth. If he be slain, say so. The tongue offends not that reports his death; And he doth sin that doth belie the dead, Not he which says the dead is not alive. Yet the first bringer of unwelcome news Hath but a losing office, and his tongue Sounds ever after as a sullen bell Remembered tolling a departing friend.
If there’s one thing Shakespeare knows how to do well, it’s how to write grief. Losing Hotspur shatters Northumberland’s heart to pieces. Morton recounts how badly the loss affected the rebels as well:
MORTON [to Northumberland] […] In few, his death, whose spirit lent a fire Even to the dullest peasant in his camp, Being bruited once, took fire and heat away From the best-tempered courage in his troops; For from his mettle was his party steeled, Which, once in him abated, all the rest Turned on themselves, like dull and heavy lead.
I absolutely believe this happened. Hotspur, despite his temper and occasional attitude problems, was a very passionate and ferocious man. I can see why his death would cause things to spiral downward. In Henry V, we see how Hal’s words and presence help morale – and although Hal and Hotspur are two very different people, they are both equipped to inspire and lead people.
The tone of this play changes suddenly as we cut to Falstaff, who is in trouble with the law. A quick word on Falstaff: I like him, and there are times I pity him. I believe he loves Hal, no matter what he likes to say. He has been a father figure to the young Prince for so long now – a terrible father figure, but a father figure nonetheless. I do not, however, harbor the same obsession with Falstaff that a lot of Shakespeare’s fans do. As you all know by now, I don’t suffer fools gladly. Falstaff isn’t your typical Shakespearean fool, and I can see his appeal, but this blog post won’t be a love letter to him. Although, after all the gushing I’ve done about Hal, I don’t know why anybody would expect that of me.
In any case, as usual, Falstaff is in trouble.
CHIEF JUSTICE […] Call him back again.
SERVANT Sir John Falstaff!
FALSTAFF Boy, tell him I am deaf.
PAGE You must speak louder. My master is deaf.
CHIEF JUSTICE I am sure he is, to the hearing of anything good. – Go pluck him by the elbow. I must speak with him.
The Chief Justice is annoyed that Falstaff hasn’t faced any consequences after the hilarious Gad’s Hill robbery. Fortunately, Falstaff’s service (if you can even call it that) at Shrewsbury is keeping the Chief Justice from tossing him in the clinker.
CHIEF JUSTICE You have misled the youthful prince.
FALSTAFF The young prince hath misled me. I am the fellow with the great belly, and he my dog.
CHIEF JUSTICE Well, I am loath to gall a new-healed wound. Your day’s service at Shrewsbury hath a little gilded over your night’s exploit on Gad’s Hill. You may thank th’ unquiet time for your quiet o’erposting that action.
It was rather interesting to me, hearing the Chief Justice make excuses for Hal. I’ll go into this a little later, but Hal is an incredibly complex character – but only if we want to see him that way. I don’t think that every irresponsible action has been a direct result of his hanging out with Falstaff. I think he has a very complicated and strained relationship with his father that results in a lot of acting out and rebellion, no matter what he or other characters like to say and think. Falstaff, of course, would never admit to leading the prince astray.
At York, rebels are talking through their chances of actually beating Henry IV’s forces in battle. If Northumberland doesn’t show up, their chances won’t look too good:
LORD BARDOLPH Yea, marry, there’s the point. But if without him we be thought too feeble, My judgement is we should not step too far Till we had his assistance by the hand. For in a theme so bloody-faced as this, Conjecture, expectation, and surmise Of aids incertain should not be admitted.
ARCHBISHOP ‘Tis very true, Lord Bardolph, for indeed It was young Hotspur’s cause at Shrewsbury.
LORD BARDOLPH It was, my lord; who lined himself with hope, Eating the air and promise of supply, Flatt’ring himself in the project of a power Much smaller than the smallest of his thoughts, And so, with great imagination Proper to madmen, led his powers to death And, winking, leapt into destruction.
I understand their hesitation. In fact, it’s amazing that they are still willing to fight after Shrewsbury. They need Northumberland, but they don’t seem to trust him that much. Eventually, the fact that the King’s forces are split up will give them a sense of security.
We finally see the infamous Prince of Wales in Act 2. Post-Shrewsbury, and he is spending his time with Poins – old habits die hard, I suppose. But his father is sick!
PRINCE Marry, I tell thee it is not meet that I should be sad, now my father is sick – albeit I could tell to thee, as to one it pleases me, for fault of a better, to call my friend, I could be sad, and sad indeed too.
POINS Very hardly, upon such a subject.
PRINCE By this hand, thou thinkest me as far in the devil’s book as thou and Falstaff for obduracy and persistency. Let the end try the man. But I tell thee, my heart bleeds inwardly that my father is so sick; and keeping such vile company as thou art hath in reason taken from me all ostentation of sorrow.
POINS The reason?
PRINCE What wouldst thou think of me if I should weep?
POINS I would think thee a most princely hypocrite.
And here, my friends, is the root of the problem. The way we see Hal, the way we analyze him, is entirely up to us. We can see him as completely rebellious and irresponsible (the way Poins is implying people do), or we can see him as someone who is truly royal and kingly, playing commoner for his own purposes (which Warwick suggests to be the case later on). Or, we can see him as a mixture of both – as someone who is fully capable of being royal and well-behaved, but simultaneously has a streak of rascal in him. I know it sounds like I’m complicating things just for the sake of it, but bear with me.
So if we see Hal as a human, someone who is multi-faceted, then this conversation is painful. Hal has the capacity to feel grief about his father. People around him refuse to see that – to them, he is a one dimensional disgrace of a prince. The things he’s done haunt him to the point where he finds himself unable to tell people how distraught he is. They’d see him as a hypocrite, and nothing else. Poor Hal.
But, as I said, Hal is multi-faceted. He feels grief for his father, and is dealing with some very complex emotions, but is still able to make the time to disguise himself as a waiter to spy on Falstaff. It’s like I said: old habits die hard. Hal can’t force himself to be one thing or another – instead, he’s going to have to figure out how to reconcile who he is and who people want him to be. But that’s a journey for Henry V, mostly.
Northumberland, meanwhile, is being encouraged to abandon the rebels by Hotspur’s wife.
LADY PERCY O yet, for God’s sake, go not to these wars. The time was, father, that you broke your word When you were more endeared to it than now, When your own Percy, when my heart’s dear Harry, Threw many a northward look to see his father Bring up his powers; but he did long in vain. Who then persuaded you to stay at home? There were two honors lost, yours and your son’s. For yours, the God of heaven brighten it. For his, it stuck upon him as the sun In the gray vault of heaven, and by his light Did all the chivalry of England move To do brave acts. He was indeed the glass Wherein the noble youth did dress themselves. He had no legs that practiced not his gait; And speaking thick, which nature made his blemish, Became the accents of the valiant; For those that could speak low and tardily Would turn their own perfection to abuse To seem like him. So that in speech, in gait, In diet, in affections of delight, In military rules, humors of blood, He was the mark and glass, copy and book, That fashioned others. And him – O wondrous him! O miracle of men! – him did you leave, Second to none, unseconded by you, To look upon the hideous god of war In disadvantage, to abide a field Where nothing but the sound of Hotspur’s name Did seem defensible. So you left him. Never, O never, do his ghost the wrong To hold your honor more precise and nice With others than with him. Let them alone. The Marshal and the Archbishop are strong. Had my sweet Harry had but half their numbers, Today might I, hanging on Hotspur’s neck, Have talked of Monmouth’s grave.
I find Lady Percy to be remarkably brave in this scene. She lays all of Northumberland’s wrongs out in front of him, clearly unafraid of a bad reaction. And yet, she is being torn apart by grief. You can see how much she loved Hotspur, how passionate she was about him. She even thinks fondly on his manner of speaking (apparently a flaw of his) – I’ve always imaging Hotspur speaking very fiercely and passionately, no matter the subject. Poor Lady Percy – she’s been made a widow, and now stands bravely in Northumberland’s way so that she and Lady Northumberland do not suffer another loss.
Northumberland is quite moved by Lady Percy’s speech – he decides to hold off on leaving.
Meanwhile, at a filthy tavern in Eastcheap, Hal and Poins are spying on Falstaff, who is spending his time with Doll Tearsheet. She asks about Poins.
DOLL Why does the Prince love him so then?
FALSTAFF Because their legs are both of a bigness, and he plays at quoits well, and eats conger and fennel, and drinks off candles’ ends for flap-dragons, and rides the wild mare with the boys, and jumps upon joint stools, and swears with a good grace, and wears his boots very smooth like unto the sign of the Leg, and breeds no bate with telling of discreet stories, and such other gambol faculties he has that show a weak mind and an able body, for the which the Prince admits him; for the Prince himself is such another. The weight of a hair will turn the scales between their avoirdupois.
PRINCE, [aside to Poins] Would not this nave of a wheel have his ears cut off?
There is something of a gap growing between Falstaff and Hal at this point, and it’s quite sad to see. I would say that Falstaff is a bit jealous of Poins, that he misses Hal. I think he does. I think he misses him very much.
But to Hal, all of this just sounds like he’s being spoken ill of. He makes himself known to confront Falstaff.
PRINCE Why, thou globe of sinful continents, what a life dost thou lead?
FALSTAFF A better than thou. I am a gentleman. Thou art a drawer.
PRINCE Very true, sir, and I come to draw you out by the ears.
HOSTESS O, the Lord preserve thy good Grace! By my troth, welcome to London. Now the Lord bless that sweet face of thine. O Jesu, are you come from Wales?
FALSTAFF, [to Prince] Thou whoreson mad compound of majesty, by this light flesh and corrupt blood, thou art welcome.
DOLL How? You fat fool, I scorn you.
POINS My lord, he will drive you out of your revenge and turn all to a merriment if you take not the heat.
I got a bit annoyed with Poins for that last line. It’s almost like he wants to make things worse – possibly because he feels the need to compete with Falstaff for Hal’s favor. And, to be honest, I find Poins to be a very poor replacement for Falstaff.
Peto enters, and new of the coming war brings Hal back to reality. He feels a bit guilty for messing around.
PRINCE By heaven, Poins, I feel me much to blame So idly to profane the precious time When tempest of commotion, like the south Borne with black vapor, doth begin to melt Give me my sword and cloak. – Falstaff, good night.
There is such a sense of finality to Hal’s “good night” to Falstaff. There is something incredibly sad about it. Well – if you want to read it that way.
Henry IV, meanwhile, can’t sleep. There are so many things on his mind. And –
KING […] Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.
Truer words have never been spoken. I am indifferent toward Henry IV as a character, but I do feel sorry for him here. He’s sick, he can’t sleep, and he’s worried. He almost reminds me of Hal in Henry V here, musing about all the suffering the crown brings. Henry IV feels the crushing weight of his responsibilities here – a quality that he and Hal will end up sharing.
While Falstaff gathers troops for the upcoming war, Prince John is dealing with the rebels in his own particular way. He sends Westmoreland to listen to the rebels’ grievances:
ARCHBISHOP […] When we are wronged and would unfold our griefs, We are denied access unto his person Even by those men that have most done us wrong.
They feel that Henry IV does not care to listen to their issues. But here’s John, willing to take all their grievances to heart and to make things right.
WESTMORELAND Pleaseth your Grace to answer them directly How far forth you do like their articles.
JOHN OF LANCASTER I like them all, and do allow them well, And swear here by the honor of my blood My father’s purposes have been mistook, And some about him have too lavishly Wrested his meaning and authority. [To the Archbishop.] My lord, these griefs shall be with speed redressed; Upon my soul, they shall. If this may please you, Discharge your powers unto their several counties, As we will ours, and here, between the armies, Let’s drink together friendly and embrace, That all their eyes may bear those tokens home Of our restorèd love and amity.
I have to say, John really had me fooled there for a second. I was beginning to think that talking things through was his strong suit. Imagine my surprise when the rebels were charged with treason and taken to the block – and by then, all of their troops had dispersed. John is brutal, that’s for sure. What kind of king would he have been, if Hal hadn’t been the firstborn?
4.3 is the most important scene in this entire play to me. Henry IV is in a chair, surrounded by Warwick, and by his sons, Thomas and Humphrey.
KING Humphrey, my son of Gloucester, where is the Prince your brother?
HUMPHREY OF GLOUCESTER I think he’s gone to hunt, my lord, at Windsor.
KING And how accompanied?
HUMPHREY OF GLOUCESTER I do not know, my lord.
KING Is not his brother Thomas of Clarence with him?
HUMPHREY OF GLOUCESTER No, my good lord, he is in presence here.
THOMAS OF CLARENCE, [coming forward] What would my lord and father?
I wonder if Humphrey knows where Hal is, and is simply trying to steer the conversation away from the truth. In fact, I am almost certain that Henry IV knows where Hal is. Look, we all know where Hal is, so Henry IV may as well hear it.
Henry IV is particularly skilled at letting everybody know just how he feels about his disgraceful son. But he sings a different tune here:
KING, [to Thomas] How chance thou art not with the Prince thy brother? He loves thee, and thou dost neglect him, Thomas. Thou hast a better place in his affection Than all thy brothers. Cherish it, my boy, And noble offices thou mayst effect Of mediation, after I am dead, Between his greatness and thy other brethren. Therefore omit him not, blunt not his love, Nor lose the good advantage of his grace By seeming cold or careless of his will. For he is gracious if he be observed; He hath a tear for pity, and a hand Open as day for melting charity; Yet notwithstanding, being incensed he is flint, As humorous as winter, as as sudden As flaws congealèd in the spring of day. His temper, therefore must be well observed. Chide him for his faults, and do it reverently, When you perceive his blood inclined to mirth; But, being moody, give him time and scope Till that his passions, like a whale on the ground, Confound themselves with working. Learn this, Thomas, And thou shalt prove a shelter to thy friends, A hoop of gold to bind thy brothers in, That the united vessel of their blood Mingled with venom of suggestion As, force perforce, the age will pour it in, Shall never leak, though it do work as strong As aconitum or rash gunpowder.
There are times when Henry IV’s clarity surprises me. What he says about Hal is completely and utterly true: he is willing to be kind if he’s humored and treated with respect, and he is compassionate and generous. But he also has a temper, and needs room to work through his own feelings before he is able to calm himself. Regardless of the accuracy of this assessment, Henry IV’s original question remains unanswered:
KING Why art thou not at Windsor with him, Thomas?
THOMAS OF CLARENCE He is not there today; he dines in London.
KING And how accompanied? Canst thou tell that?
THOMAS OF CLARENCE With Poins and other his continual followers.
KING Most subject is the fattest soil to weeds, And he, the noble image of my youth, Is overspread with them; therefore my grief Stretches itself beyond the hour of death. The blood weeps from my heart when I do shape, In forms imaginary, th’ unguided days And rotten times that you shall look upon When I am sleeping with my ancestors. For when his headstrong riot hath no curb, When rage and hot blood are his counsellors, When means and lavish manners meet together, O, with what wings shall his affections fly Towards fronting peril and opposed decay!
Ah, there’s the Henry IV that we all know and love. He voices his frustration with Hal for the umpteenth time, and worries what will happen when headstrong, wild Hal takes the throne.
If we look at Henry IV’s words, we have a somewhat complete picture of Hal: he has the capacity to be kind, compassionate and generous. But along with those qualities, he can be stubborn and unpredictably mischievous. Warwick doesn’t think so.
WARWICK My gracious lord, you look beyond him quite. The Prince but studies his companions Like a strange tongue, wherein, to gain the language, ‘Tis needful that the most immodest word Be looked upon and learned; which, once attained, Your Highness knows, comes to no further use But to be known and hated. So, like gross terms, The Prince will, in the perfectness of time, Cast off his followers, and their memory Shall as a pattern or a measure live, By which his Grace must mete the lives of others, Turning past evils into advantages.
You know I disagree with this. This is one of my least favorite interpretations of Hal. It makes him an awful character, impossible to root for. Hal is a complex, and rather conflicted creature. His father said it himself: he has good qualities in him (qualities fit for royalty), but he has a wild streak. He’s young, he’ll learn. And, oh Warwick. If only things were that simple. Hal will cast his friends away when he feels he needs to, but his past will haunt him well into his own reign.
When the good news about John’s success with the rebels comes, Henry IV collapses. And, speak of the devil, Hal shows up.
PRINCE Who saw the Duke of Clarence?
THOMAS OF CLARENCE, [weeping] I am here, brother, full of heaviness.
PRINCE How now, rain within doors, and none abroad? How doth the King?
Thomas is allegedly Hal’s favorite, and we can see that in the way he speaks to him. I thought the line “How now, rain within doors, and none abroad?” was quite sweet. Hal’s mood changes quickly once he realizes how grave the situation is. He is left alone with his father, who has the crown by his head. Henry IV appears rather dead, and Hal is overflowing with emotions. He takes the crown, the object that caused his father’s death, and leaves the room.
Henry IV is incredibly upset by this. He demands to know where Hal is, and is angry even though Warwick tells him that Hal is having an emotional breakdown in the next room.
PRINCE I never thought to hear you speak again.
KING Thy wish was father, Harry, to that thought. I stay too long by thee; I weary thee. Dost thou so hunger for mine empty chair That thou wilt needs invest thee with my honors Before thy hour be ripe? O foolish youth, Thou seek’st the greatness that will overwhelm thee. Stay but a little, for my cloud of dignity Is held from falling with so weak a wind That it will quickly drop. My day is dim. Thou hast stol’n that which after some few hours Were thine without offense, and at my death Thou hast sealed up my expectation. Thy life did manifest thou loved’st me not, And thou wilt have me die assured of it. Thou hid’st a thousand daggers in thy thoughts, Whom thou hast whetted on thy stony heart To stab at half an hour of my life. What, canst thou not forbear me half an hour? Then get thee gone, and dig my grave thyself, And bid the merry bells ring to thine ear That thou art crownèd, not that I am dead. Let all the tears that should bedew my hearse Be drops of balm to sanctify thy head; Only compound me with forgotten dust. Give that which gave thee life unto the worms. Pluck down my officers, break my decrees, For now a time is come to mock at form. Henry the Fifth is crowned. Up, vanity, Down, royal state, all your sage councillors, hence, And to the English court assemble now, From every region, apes of idleness.
He continues, but we get the idea. When this happened, I breathed a sigh of relief. Finally. The tension between father and son had to reach its boiling point. Otherwise, reconciliation would have been impossible. How wrong Henry IV is, though. His son loves him and wants nothing more than his father’s approval. They have butted heads for so long that it may seem impossible, but Hal does love him.
PRINCE God witness with me, when I here came in And found no course of breath within your Majesty, How cold it struck my heart! If I do feign, O, let me in my present wildness die, And never live to show th’ incredulous world The noble change that I have purposèd. Coming to look on you, thinking you dead, And dead almost, my liege, to think you were, I spake unto this crown as having sense, And thus upbraided it: “The care on thee depending Hath fed upon the body of my father; Therefore thou best of gold art worst of gold. Other, less fine in carat, is more precious, Preserving life in med’cine potable; But thou, most fine, most honored, most renowned Hast eat thy bearer up.” Thus, my royal liege, Accusing it, I put it on my head To try with it, as with an enemy That had before my face murdered my father.
Oh, Hal. He talks of this noble change he’s been planning on, something that he once tried to explain to the audience in Henry IV, Part One. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never bought a word Hal has said on the subject of his wildness, because it all sounds a little like he’s trying to justify his actions to himself. Inside of Hal, there is a deep-rooted hatred for himself and who he is. If he has truly been playing at being wild this entire time because he thinks that a sudden transformation will impress the nobles, then he’s an idiot. I’d like to give Hal more credit than that, and I like to think that Shakespeare intended for him to be an interesting character, so I’ll have none of that.
Hal also has a very interesting view of the crown – it’s an enemy, something that sucks the life out of everybody that wears it. There is such negativity tied to it, that it makes you wonder what sort of terror and dread he felt at his own coronation.
In any case, his words touch Henry IV, and they are finally able to reconcile. Henry IV counsels him (which Hal takes very seriously). All that mattered to me was that Henry IV was saying things like “O my son,” and “my Harry.” Finally. This is what Hal has needed his whole life. This, if anything, is what causes him to sober up enough to be be a good ruler in Henry V. His father having faith in him is so significant. None of this it-was-planned-all-along nonsense. Hal needed to come to peace with his father.
Henry IV dies – long live Henry V of England. The Chief Justice is shaking in his boots – after all, how many times had he gotten Henry IV’s unruly son into trouble? After comforting his brothers (good Lord, nobody has any faith in poor Hal), Hal turns to the Chief Justice.
PRINCE You all look strangely on me. [To the Chief Justice.] And you most. You are, I think, assured I love you not.
CHIEF JUSTICE I am assured, if I be measured rightly, Your Majesty hath no just cause to hate me.
PRINCE No? How might a prince of my great hopes forget So great indignities you laid upon me? What, rate, rebuke, and roughly send to prison Th’ immediate heir of England? Was this easy? May this be washed in Lethe and forgotten?
The Chief Justice has a good explanation for all of this: he was acting on behalf of Henry IV. And what would Hal do if he had a son that made a mockery of the law? A good point, really, and I would loved to see Hal be a father instead of seeing Henry VI be crushed the way he was. But I digress.
I’ve said this a thousand times, but Hal knows exactly what people expect of him, and what they think a proper ruler should do. Those two things don’t exactly align: here, the Chief Justice expects to have his position stripped from him. But a proper ruler should find his past actions reasonable. Hal is a proper king now, so he lets the Chief Justice keep his position while speaking very highly of him.
Look, I don’t think for a second that Hal would have kicked the Chief Justice to the curb, no matter how often he was thrown in prison for being a nuisance. But I wanted to point out the pressure he feels because it follows him no matter what he does, now that the crown is on his head. And speaking of that exact pressure…
FALSTAFF, [to the King] My king, my Jove, I speak to thee, my heart!
KING I know thee not, old man. Fall to thy prayers. How ill white hairs become a fool and jester. I have long dreamt of such a kind of man, So surfeit-swelled, so old, and so profane; But being awaked, I do despise my dream. Make less thy body hence, and more thy grace; Leave gormandizing. Know the grave doth gape For thee thrice wider than for other men. Reply not to me with a fool-born jest. Presume not to me that I am the thing I was. For God doth know – so shall the world perceive – That I have turned away my former self. So will I those that kept me company. When thou dost hear I am as I have been, Approach me, and thou shalt be as thou wast, The tutor and the feeder of my riots. Till then I banish thee, on pain of death, As I have done the rest of my misleaders, Not to come near our person by ten mile. For competence of life I will allow you, That lack of means enforce you not to evils. And, as we hear you do reform yourselves, We will, according to your strengths and qualities, Give you advancement.
I know my love for Hal sometimes leaves me a little blind, but even I can see how incredibly harsh and hurtful this is. Hal is in a very difficult situation – he needs the nobles to see that he is worthy of the crown that is now sitting on his head. In Henry IV, Part One, the line “I do, I will,” can be spoken coldly – in which case, we’d be expecting this. But it should be said brokenly. Hal knows it had to come to this, that this was bound to happen at some point. In this moment, he reminds me of a boy in one of those depressing dog-centric movies. You know the type. There’s always a scene where the young protagonist tells his dog to leave, but the loyal dog stays. So the protagonist almost always shoos him away with violence or with harsh words – but only because it’s for the dog’s own good. I’m not calling Falstaff a dog, but you get my point. This has to be done, or Hal will never be able to win the respect of the others. If played convincingly, if the idea is to get the audience to still care for Hal after all of this, then we should get a sense of veiled sadness from the new king. Things have to change.
Henry IV, Part Two ends on that rather depressing note, and we get an epilogue that has Shakespeare begging us not to hate him too much. But how can I hate him? Henry V is one of my favorite plays!
A last word about Hal (but not really, because I’m sure I’ll find other ways to talk about him): in Richard II, Hotspur mentions having seen Hal. The newly crowned Henry IV finds out that his son has quite the disgraceful response to his father’s triumphs at Oxford. You see, Hal has always been a bit wild. And no, it’s not because he wants to impress the nobles by doing a complete 180 when he becomes king – how was he know his father would even succeed in taking the crown from Richard II? This has always been a part of who he is, and we see him grapple with every aspect of his personality in the final part of the Henriad.
Much Ado About Nothing is next – another play that I love dearly, but have never actually read. You’ll be hearing from me at the end of the month, because I’m going to be knee-deep in work until then. Actually, I am knee-deep in work now, but even my responsibilities as a student couldn’t stop me from writing 5,000 words about how complicated and fascinating Hal can be if we let him.
Have a good June! And if I don’t see you before June 24th, have a good midsummer! And for God’s sake, don’t wander into any woods.
As promised, I forced myself to put Henry V back on the shelf. I’ve already started Macbeth – I’m only two acts away from its gruesome close.
But, as expected, I cannot move on from Henry V. This is no surprise, as I’ve always clung to Shakespeare’s histories…like a new-married wife about her husband’s neck. See? I’m even quoting, for heaven’s sake.
I spent most of last night looking for a very specific book that I’m afraid does not exist. I wish I were in a position to spearhead the publication of such a book! Since I am not, and likely never will be, I thought I’d just write the idea out so that it can stop plaguing me.
What I was looking for, specifically, was a nice, large volume containing the entirety of the Henriad. For you Shakespeare hatchlings, the Henriad is the name given to the tetralogy of Richard II, Henry IV Parts One and Two, and Henry V. Those four plays in particular, I think, are a real experience if read one after the other. I do not feel this way about the other histories – in fact, I see no reason to have to plod through all the parts of Henry VI just to get to Richard III. But to read Henry V without touching upon the rest of the Henriad is just criminal and can really ruin a reader’s enjoyment of the play.
I was so sure that a collected volume would exist, but it doesn’t. For shame! Of course, in the midst of my disappointment, my imagination began to get carried away with itself. Not only am I dreaming of a volume collecting all four plays, I’m dreaming of a leather-bound volume. The thought of illustrations crossed my mind…before it was swiftly replaced with fantasies of the entire thing being fashioned as an illuminated manuscript. Can you imagine? And, oh, think of all the thoughtful and inspiring essays that could be sprinkled in between the plays. Think of all the history that can be contained in such a publication of the Henriad – does such an amazing tetralogy deserve any less?
The leather of the cover would be embossed with intricate patterns influenced by the art of the time period in question, of course. And the style of the illustrations that accompany the plays do not have to be accurate – who’s to say that there isn’t an artist out there capable of capturing the magical, golden haze of an illuminated manuscript and the beauty of anatomically correct, aesthetically pleasing art?
Any large illustrations would be followed by that lovely, translucent, almost wax-like paper that you sometimes discovered while flipping through especially precious books as a child. Do you know the type? Even if the illustrations didn’t need it, I’d want them in this collection anyway because they always give the distinct feeling that you’re handling something special and fragile.
I guess it’s worth wondering who would be interested in such a volume of the Henriad. Obviously, any Shakespeare lovers or historians out there would fall in love with the idea immediately. But I also think there would be something attractive about it for new readers – I mean, owning a beautiful book won’t make you love Shakespeare any faster, but it does help, doesn’t it?