King Henry the IV part one was the first of Shakespeare’s historical plays that I had either seen of watched. Confusingly, the main part of the play actually follows his son Harry, also known as Hal, later known as Henry the V. I suppose it makes sense in that the story is set during the reign of Henry IV. Prince Harry has chosen to shun court life and live a dissolute life with an elderly witty drunkard names Falstaff and a group of other ruffians. This has caused him to be estranged from his father who despairs of him becoming a good King.
Yea, there thou makest me sad and makest me sin
In envy that my Lord Northumberland
Should be the father to so blest a son,
A son who is the theme of honour’s tongue;
Amongst a grove, the very straightest plant;
Who is sweet Fortune’s minion and her pride:
Whilst I, by looking on the praise of him,
See riot and dishonour stain the brow
Of my young Harry.
Harry however is not simply an irresponsible young man life most think. He fully plans to take his rightful place and shoulder his responsibilities when he is needed. He will enjoy himself now and explore the world in a way usually not seen by royalty, and create low expectations:
So, when this loose behavior I throw off
And pay the debt I never promised,
By how much better than my word I am.
This time comes fairly soon, when the aforementioned son of Northumberland, (Henry/Harry Percy, also known as Hotspur ) feels insulted by the king, and joins with other relatives to plan a rebellion. Prince Harry joins his father, and shows himself ready to defend the realm. Percy is the mirror to Harry- when Harry is despised by court, everyone wished Percy was the prince. Then Percy becomes a rebel and Harry the defender of the realm. They are both son’s of powerful men, and their futures determine the future of the Kingdom. Percy begins as a revered military man, but we see his decline as he becomes more focussed on his rebel plans, to the point of being obsessed, or maybe a bit manic.
(This one is my Quote of the Week)
Doomsday is near, die all, die merrily.
This of course leads him onwards to his own death.
Harry to Harry shall, hot horse to horse, meet and ne’er to part till one drop down a corse.
Ill-weaved ambition, how much art thou shrunk!
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
The other main juxtaposition is of Prince Harry and old Falstaff. Falstaff is a cowardly, drunk, boasting lewd man who looks out for himself and hopes to grow in favor when Harry becomes King. But at the same time he is intelligent and comedic- he is considered one of the greatest of Shakespeare’s comedic characters.
Fun Falstaff quotes:
Hang thyself in thine own heir-apparent garters!
Can honor set to a leg? No. Or an arm? No. Or take away the grief of a wound? No. Honor hath no skill in surgery then? No. What is honor? A word.
My first experience of this play was seeing it in Stratford upon Avon. I was holidaying with friends in Oxford, and took the train up for a day trip. I visited Shakespeare’s birthplace, Hall’s Croft, Nash’s house… I sat in the sun and watched actors launch into monologues and short scenes at request of the audience- they knew at least a couple from each play! And I finished off the day by seeing Henry IV part one by the Royal Shakespeare Company. It was a wonderful day. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to see part two as there was only one train home after that one- and it would have gotten me home after 1 am which is a bit late for me and would have been rude to the people I was staying with. So alas I did not find out what happened next… until now!