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  • Writer's pictureMarcus Bazley

16. Henry IV Part 2

The first little blip in my Shakespeare-A-Week Challenge. You’ll have to trust that I did actually read Henry IV Part 2 last week (I did, honest!), I just didn’t get the time to write anything about it.

In reality, I don’t have an awful lot to add from the previous blog on Henry IV Part 1. I’m not really a fan of these two plays, I can appreciate them as pieces of literature, but I struggle to really connect with them on an emotional level.

This part has some strong scenes and speeches from Hal and Henry IV – in particular, the moment when Prince Hal takes the crown from Henry’s chamber before he has actually died. These musings on kingship and the balance of servitude and power within the role of king sow the seeds for more thematic discussion in Henry V. Similarly, the moment when Falstaff is finally rejected and sent from Hal’s person is very moving and powerful. Falstaff’s joy and relief when he finds out Hal has become king, his mad rush to be there for the coronation, then the dashing of his hopes when Hal spurns him and admonishes him for his lewd and foul way of life. It is excellent drama because it is both satisfying (it’s about time someone said this to Falstaff) and pathetic (it’s devastating to see all the hope of this fat, old man crushed). Shakespeare here uses his mastery of opposition and conflicting emotions and desires.

What I find most frustrating in this play is that there is a lot of talking about things and not that much doing! In this respect, I can see why combining the two Henry IV’s has become quite commonplace. This allows a lot of the inactive rhetoric and unfunny comedy to be cut, whilst still maintaining the main thrust of the story. I certainly think this is the only way that I’d realistically be interested in directing these plays.

I feel I should have been able to write more about these plays, but I must admit that I have really struggled to. I don’t know whether that is because the plays struggle to resonate with us today generally or whether they simply don’t resonate with me in my life and interests. I suspect they are plays that will come in and out of fashion and feel more or less relevant at different times in history. Right now, they are not for me, but who knows how I will feel in a few years’ time!


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