15. Henry IV: Part 1
For whatever reason this week has felt like the hardest week so far to squeeze in my Shakespeare reading. Whilst part of this is due to the nature of my work week, part of it is definitely due to the play itself. I have to admit, I struggle with Henry IV somewhat. Of all Shakespeare’s plays it is the one where my opinion of it as a piece of literature and my opinion of it as a piece of theatre diverge the most.
There is no denying Henry IV: Part 1 is a brilliant piece of writing. The characters are well drawn, the journey from reckless Hal to royal Prince Henry is brilliantly constructed, the contrasts between the ‘high’ and the ‘low’ are well observed and powerful. What’s more Shakespeare’s use of language is fantastic in this play – especially having read through from his early work, you can really see here his maturity and firm grasp on language (compared to the Henry VI plays for instance).
But, despite all this, I don’t really enjoy it! I enjoy it in parts – Hal has a couple of great speeches, the scene where Hal and Falstaff role-play Hal with his father is highly theatrical and effective, Hotspur’s emotional outbursts are energetic and entertaining – it just doesn’t really speak to me as a play.
I think mainly it is that I just don’t find the tavern scenes at all funny or the general thieving antics at the start entertaining. I find the character of Falstaff crude and slightly repulsive – rather than jolly and loveable. Now, I know that Falstaff isn’t supposed to be universally liked or likeable, but I personally struggle to find a way ‘into’ this character – maybe it will come in time. Moreover, the language used between the tavern characters is very difficult to decipher as a modern audience – it is witty and funny enough with the Arden footnotes but not when played out in real time.
At some point, I may return to this and write about it in more detail and make more tangible points about the piece. This week, I’m struggling for time and the energy to properly understand and articulate my thoughts. So, I’ll just leave this blog with the opinion that: I can see that this is a great play but, for whatever reason, it isn’t a play for me. I’m sure there is a version of the play in there that I would find compelling and exciting to direct. Maybe more ideas will emerge after reading Part 2 next week.