Sunday, August 26, 2012

Reader's Diary #857- William Shakespeare: Henry IV (Parts 1 and 2)

Earlier this summer I unintentionally reread William Shakespeare's As You Like It. I read the whole thing, and then, when I went to blog about it, discovered I'd already read it and wrote about, right here on this very blog, back in '07. I didn't remember it all and this was a little concerning to me. Do I invest so little in my reading that a mere five years later it's completely out of my head?

Well, it turns out that my grandmother had just suffered a heart attack while I'd been reading As You Like It (she's since died), and I can forgive myself for not having given Shakespeare my full, undivided attention. In any case, I moved on— after checking to make sure I'd not already read it— to reading Henry IV, parts one and two. However, tragedy struck our family again this summer, and I can't say I fully attended to this play either.

In any case, Henry IV wasn't the most fascinating of Shakespeare's plays. I think I chalk a lot of that up to the insignificant women characters. Some of my favourite Shakespearean characters have been women (Lady Macbeth, Queen Margaret) but you can almost ignore their existence in Henry IV, especially the first part.

However, the father-son story was interesting to a degree. King Henry IV, whose time upon the throne continues to be stressed by rebellious factions, also has to deal with his son and the heir to his throne, Hal, who isn't behaving in the most royal of ways (well, he is behaving like Prince Harry), drinking and partying with his friend and knight John Falstaff instead. Later, however, he proves his worth by helping suppress at least some of his father's enemies. In the 2nd part, Hal and John Falstaff do not spend a lot of time together and most of the emphasis seems to be upon Falstaff, who is aging and reflecting upon his wild ways (but not necessarily giving them up). There's a few distractions here and there (another rebellion, misunderstandings between the king and Hal), but eventually it draws nearer the conclusion as Henry dies and Hal becomes King Henry V. Falstaff shows up, hoping to reunite with Hal, but is rejected. The new king decides he no longer wants to be associated with the lowlifes of London.

I thought Hal's character was the most interesting of the play. On the one hand, people could argue that he was being noble for his country and respectful of his father by finally assuming the behaviour and expectations put upon him. On the other hand, he was, I thought, quite cold where Falstaff was concerned. If I'm being honest, I suppose many of us have people in our past that were fun in our youth but didn't, shall we say, mature at the same pace as we did. We drift apart, move on and such is life. But in Hal's case, there was always an undercurrent of cruelty and disrespect where Falstaff was concerned, and it wasn't so much drifting away as it was cutting ties.

Hmmm. Upon writing this I think I enjoyed the play more than I realized. But will I remember it?

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