Friday, July 14, 2023

37 Days of Shakespeare, Day 8: Henry IV, Part 2

The Second Part of King Henry the Fourth containing his Death: And the Coronation of King Henry the Fift [sic], first broadcast December 16th, 1979
  • Possibly written: Somewhere between 1596 and 1599, possibly his 16th play.
  • What’s it about? Prince Hal and Falstaff continue to pal around but King Henry is getting sicker. More lords rebel and Falstaff is called into duty again, but this time Hal’s brother puts them down easily. Henry IV eventually dies and Hal, now Henry V, denounces Falstaff and banishes him.
  • Most famous dialogue: Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown
  • Sources: Same as Part 1
  • Interesting fact about the play: Falstaff was originally called Oldcastle, but the actual man’s descendants weren’t happy, so it was changed, possibly after a few performances, to Falstaff. There was a real Falstaff, but he had no descendants so that name was safe.
  • Best insult: Once again, too many good ones to choose from:
    • that errant malmsey-nose knave
    • Why, thou honeysuckle villain!
    • Poor, base, mean, rascally, cheating, lack-linen mate! Away, you mouldy rogue, away!
    • You basket-hilt stale juggler, you!
    • He, a good wit? Hang him, baboon! His wit’s as thick as Tewksbury mustard.
  • Best word: Sortance
  • Best production of this play I’ve seen: I haven’t seen this one on stage either. See my comment last time regarding Chimes at Midnight and The Hollow Crown
  • Notable Names in the BBC Adaptation: The same cast is mostly back, but some new faces I don’t recognize.
How’s the cast?
  • Quayle and Gwillim get to have their falling out and make the most out of it. Finch has even less to do in this play, barely counting as a supporting role. The expanded roles, for Hal’s brothers, don’t stand out.
How’s the direction by David Giles?
  • Once again, it would have greatly helped to be able to go outdoors. Giles sense of cinema does not impress, but he does what he needs to do, which is to get fine performances out of Quayle and Gwillim. I will point out that this has the worst costumes of the eight I’ve seen so far.
Rulebook Casefile: Once You’ve Set Up That Something Can Happen, You Can Get Lots of Drama Out of the Possibility of It Happening Again

This is a fairly lame play for the first two hours, until Henry finally dies and Hal and Falstaff get to have their falling out. There are new rebels, but they aren’t anywhere as near as fun as Hotspur was in Part 1, and it’s a bizarre choice to have Hal’s heretofore unseen brothers put down the rebellion instead of Hal himself (though Falstaff does briefly get in on the action.)

Ultimately, we, and Shakespeare’s original audience, know the history and know that these rebellions aren’t going to get very far, but it helps that this eight-play cycle begins with a successful overthrow of a king by a lord. That sets up that it is possible, which helps juice the next six plays where it threatens to happen again, but the king holds on to power. Then those six plays build us up to the final of the eight plays, Richard III, when a king is finally again successfully overthrown, completing the cycle.

Rulebook Casefile: Always Get Their Hopes Up

By the time Henry dies, we’ve seen enough of Hal’s transformation to know that he’s no longer going to suffer fools gladly, but Falstaff and Hal don’t actually have much time together in this play, so Falstaff hasn’t seen the gradual change we’ve seen. Thus, when he hears that the old king is dead, Falstaff is overjoyed, thinking that Hal will set him up in luxury and he’ll finally have it made.  He’s in for a rude awakening in the next scene.

We always love scenes where characters get their hopes up, especially if we have reason to suspect that they’re actually doomed. We love to see potential energy built up, knowing it will be released in a devastating manner.

(Flashing forward, there’s a great line in the next play when the French overconfidently speak of the upcoming battle at Agincourt and say “If we but blow on them, the vapour of our valour will o’erturn them.” Oh, how we long for that overconfidence to get punished.)

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