Henry The Fourth Part II

I realize that, since I wrote this up on Valentine’s Day, I probably should have tried to read a romantic comedy this week.  But I didn’t, because I don’t actually care.  There is a whore named Doll Tearsheet, who offers a few elements of romantic comedy to this play, so I suppose that works.

1) Doll Tearsheet has been a great porno name for over 400 years. Think about it. 2) I LOVE this image.

So… this play feels like a weird mystery meat sandwiched chronologically between two great plays.  Part I of Henry IV was really enjoyable, and it’s been a long time since I read Henry V but I remember it being fairly awesome as well.  This play is kind of just… there.  It wraps up some loose ends from the last play, and does help explain how the young rogue in Part I grows one of his country’s greatest leaders ever.

How this awkward little shit grew the massive balls to face off with Russia, for example, I do not know.

Let me actually try to summarize the action of this play, first.  It begins with Rumour in the prologue.  Yes, the anthropomorphic embodiment of “the blunt monster with uncounted heads” addresses the audience directly to explain that most of the characters don’t realize the ending to the previous play.  Word reaches Northumberland that his son was victorious, and that Prince Hal was slain.  However, thanks to Rumour, we know that this information is false.  And it makes the situation even more heartbreaking once the Earl learns the truth.  As we saw in the last play, his son is actually dead, and Prince Hal is victorious.

Strangely, we see very little of Hal in the rest of the play.  The balance in the structure is very similar to Part One, alternating between political intrigue and the comical and illicit adventures of Falstaff and his gang.  The drunken debauchery grows and grows until events crown Hal the king, and Falstaff runs to meet up with what he assumes is destiny.  Unfortunately for him, in the final scene of the play, it is evident that Henry has turned away from the reckless ways of his youth.

Shut DOWN...

This is one of two beautifully poignant scenes in an otherwise forgettable play.  (Well, that isn’t entirely fair to say, it does have it’s funny moments as well).  Despite all of the sharp gibes and back and forth insults that Falstaff shared with Hal, it becomes clear that Hal really does care for the fat man like a friend.  Sure, he opens with the callous “I know thee not, old man: fall to they prayers; How ill white hairs become a fool and jester,” but he offers him love again if Falstaff ever reforms.  But after this rebuke, we immediately see Falstaff in denial, sure to keep in his ways.  Sure, Falstaff never will reform, and Hal knows that.  But he made the offer anyways, out of what can only be construed as love.  When we compare that monologue with Hal’s soliloquy from Part I, “I know you all,” Shakespeare has deliberately crafted Hal as a man in full control of his own destiny, despite the confusion and machinations around him.  Even the craftiest manipulators in his works die violently.  Hal is, I think, unique among the Bard’s creations.  But we will have to see.  [Actually, that description is very similar to the Duke in Measure for Measure – the Author, 6/25/2011]

And yes, I still prefer Hotspur.

His widow, Lady Percy, get’s the other significant monologue of the play, “O yet, for God’s sake, go not to these wars!” She is speaking to Northumberland, Hotspur’s dad, and indeed addresses him as her own “father.” But actually, now that I think about it, Northumberland gets his own awesome monologue early on in the play.  When he finally realizes that his son is dead, he describes his desire for vengeance like this: “Let heaven kiss earth! Now let not Nature’s hand Keep the wild flood confined!  Let order die!”

So, yeah. Happy Valentine's Day/Apocalypse

Northumberland basically goes back and forth through the early parts of the play, between his own grieving rage and the advice of his close friends and family.  Ultimately, he resigns from the whole war business, and rebellion stops being an issue because Hal’s brother, John, is a manipulative diplomat.  Oh, and that crazy old magician from Part I, Glendower?  This guy Warwick gives us one line mentioning that, oh yeah, “I recieved A certain instance that Glendower is dead,” or something.  That’s it.

Like Rasputin, but with an anticlamactic death.

So really, the politics of this play aren’t worth much.  It really is about Falstaff and his “apes of idleness” avoiding arrest, occasionally being a soldier,  seducing a whore, and getting PLASTERED with Justices of the Peace.  Even though it’s supposed to be a history, it’s a comedy.  If you don’t approach it as such, it’s going to fall flat.  The trouble is, it can’t be some high brow attempt at humor.  It has to be about the dick jokes.

Rasputin reference, Part II.

And then, to top it off, we get an epilogue from a Dancer. I don’t know why.  He does a little dance, and apologizes for “a displeasing play” that was staged recently, and admits that “I meant, indeed to pay you with this; which, if like an ill venture, it come unluckily home, I break, and you, my gentle creditors, lose.” It is basically a long monologue of self-deprecating humor, and I enjoyed it.  In my mind, I took it as an apology for Henry VIII, and heartily forgave the author for it.  Historically, though, I can only assume it was referencing Richard II.

That Fu Manchu mustache looks ridiculous.

Next week, I will take on the much celebrated Henry V, where we get to see King Hal in full glory.  And I expect, since that play is actually about the “most royal imp of fame,” that I will reference back to these plays to note how he grew as a character.  But I will leave this post with words from Henry IV, even though he doesn’t really do anything in this play except have insomnia and die.  It is a sentiment that Shakespeare returns to throughout all of his works: “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

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  1. […] but ultimately superior Henry IV parts I and II, Prince Hal is all grown up and done with Falstaff, and he decides he wants to invade France because he thinks he can.  He invades France, a bunch of […]



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