Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Henry IV Part 2

For those of you who are like me — i.e., you hate rhetorical excess, unnecessary prolixity, and value, above all things else, concision and radical get-to-the-fucking-pointedness — you have the option of skipping this post altogether1 yet still getting a review of 2HIV by going to my Twitter feed, where, this very morning, before 5:00 a.m., I successfully summarized the essence of the play in 140 characters. Proving once and for all that Shaxberd was just one needlessly wordy fuck of a hack writer because — SPOILER ALERT!1!his version of 2HIV is waaay longer than 140 characters. Shakespeare could never have made a living in this day and age because he lacks pith. There! I said it! And I don't care how many people it pitheth off!1!

Anyoad, yeah. Here I am nearly finished Hank Cinq and I still haven't discussed 2 Henry IV. So I'll be brief. Prince Hal — whom I insist on calling "Prince Hal" even though he's just as often called "Harry" in the Henry IV plays — completes his journey to Noble Worthiness in this play by rejecting Falstaff at the end, though Falstaff, now that his drinking buddy Hal is king, refuses to believe it, insisting he'll have it made under the regime of Henry the (as Shakespeare often has it) "fift":
God save thy grace, King Hal! my royal Hal!

The heavens thee guard and keep, most royal imp of fame!

God save thee, my sweet boy!

My king! my Jove! I speak to thee, my heart!

I know thee not, old man: fall to thy prayers;
How ill white hairs become a fool and jester!
I have long dream'd of such a kind of man,
So surfeit-swell'd, so old and so profane;
But, being awaked, I do despise my dream.
Make less thy body hence, and more thy grace;
Leave gormandizing; know the grave doth gape
For thee thrice wider than for other men.
Reply not to me with a fool-born jest:
Presume not that I am the thing I was;
For God doth know, so shall the world perceive,
That I have turn'd away my former self;
So will I those that kept me company.
When thou dost hear I am as I have been,
Approach me, and thou shalt be as thou wast,
The tutor and the feeder of my riots:
Till then, I banish thee, on pain of death,
As I have done the rest of my misleaders,
Not to come near our person by ten mile.
For competence of life I will allow you,
That lack of means enforce you not to evil:
And, as we hear you do reform yourselves,
We will, according to your strengths and qualities,
Give you advancement. Be it your charge, my lord,
To see perform'd the tenor of our word. Set on.

Exeunt KING HENRY V, & c


That can hardly be, Master Shallow. Do not you
grieve at this; I shall be sent for in private to
him: look you, he must seem thus to the world:
fear not your advancements; I will be the man yet
that shall make you great.
Falstaff thinks Hal's elevation is his dream come true, but King Henry V tells him that what came before was a dream (I have long dream'd of such a kind of man,/ So surfeit-swell'd, so old and so profane;/ But, being awaked, I do despise my dream). One of the perks of nobility, it seems, is that you get to be arbiter of what is a dream, what reality. (It is indeed good to be the king.)

All-in-all, 2HIV lacks the drama of 1HIV — Hal isn't in it much, and he and Falstaff are almost never together in it, which is a bit of a disappointment, but dramatically necessary, I guess, to show the distance that is growing between them. The play makes much of a threat of rebellion, but the threat is negotiated away by Prince John (Hal is not even involved), a negotiation that sees Prince J. turn on the rebels after agreeing to their demands, noting, essentially, that they never specifically negotiated that they be given immunity. So he has them arrested and killed ... after they dismiss their armies. (In many Shakespeare plays — be they tragedy, comedy, history or romance — you will encounter this kind of language manipulation, where the letter of an agreement is adhered to but the spirit of it is violated as blithely as when King Louis sneaks up on Marie Antoinette in her garden, raises her skirt, and starts thrusting away.)

Other highlights of the play: The Father and Son reconciliation speeches in Act IV: Hal, thinking his father dead, walks offstage with the crown to weep alone; the king, waking up and seeing his crown gone, mistakenly believes Hal is happy to see that he (the king) has died; Hal's speech in particular is affecting; the king's is also quite good at inducing guilt in Hal, but not Irish-Catholic-Mother-good.

2HIV also includes the justly famous quote (spoken by King Henry IV): "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown." Henry IV is still haunted by the questionable means by which he became king — i.e., by deposing the previous king, Richard II. It's not hard to understand why his head is uneasy and he can't sleep. He passes this worry on to his son Hal, though, because in Henry V, King Hal vaults into a similar soliloquy during his sleepless dark-night-of-the-soul before the battle of Agincourt, in which speech he argues that even "the wretched slave" has it better than he, the king, because all the king has to comfort him is meaningless "ceremony" whereas the slave? He's livin' the fuckin' high life in comparison. Henry V is famous for quite a few things, not the least of which is the truly stirring St. Crispin's Day speech that King Hal, at his most regally inspiring, gives to rally his men2, a speech that even the most peace-loving pacificist would have to concede is unsurpassed in its soul-stirring rhetoric, I think. But in the same play, Hal also gives this self-serving and -pitying "Ceremony" speech, which, while I was reading it? I couldn't help thinking: Pfffftt! Bullshit! throughout. The speech isn't bad, and it is arguably in keeping with Hal's developing character, but this whole the-wretched-poor-don't-know-how-easy-they-have-it argument leaves me kinda cold, though admittedly, Shakespeare handles it much more elegantly than Faux News, where that argument is made essentially every night.

Well, I'm getting ahead of myself a bit — a discussion of Henry V is for next time — so I'll just leave things at that, then ... for now.

1 Footnote designed to BLOW YOUR MIND: You have always had this option. "O, sure," I hear you say — for my Twitter account has given me super hearing — "now he tells us, some 300 posts into his (latest) blogging career." Well, when Dorothy gets to the Emerald City, which is at like the very end of Teh Wizard of Oz, it is only then that Glinda Teh Good Witch tells her, "You have always had the power to go back to Kansas!" Now, in a more realistic movie, Dorothy would have answered: "The fuck would I wanna go back to Kansas for? You ever been there, you Big Old RBR-Like Drag Queen? Know what's waiting for me there? Some old sepia Gertrude Stein-looking lesbian, and these three pedophiles [gesturing at her 'friends'], except there, they're not dressed up like a lion, a scarecrow and Mitt Romney."
Point is, you (readers) can leave (the Oz of my blog) any time you want — just click your heels three times, not because it'll help, but just because it makes me laugh thinking you just might do it. Okay, NOW click your mouse on a different hyperlink — any other hyperlink — and you're out of here and back into the vast black-and-white Kansas that is the Rest of Teh Interwebs That Is Not My Blog.

Full Disclosure: Okay, yeah, I just wrote a whole footnote featuring an elaborate Wizard of Oz conceit, but I am NOT gay. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Nor am I Kansan. Because, whoo-boy! There'd be something wrong with that.

Fuller Disclosure: No Kansans were hurt in the writing of this post, unless you count their feelings. But why would you? Because I'm pretty sure no Kansans read my blog. Fuck 'em! Snobs!

2 j'og, who seems to have disappeared from the blogosphere again, at one point e-mailed me about a competition (started by some other blogger) that he was entering in which foax were committing to learning that speech then videoing themselves declaiming it and posting the results on youtube, I think. (I probably have some particulars wrong, here. It was awhile ago.) I don't know if he ever followed through on it ... or, for that matter, if anyone did because I can't remember which blogger issued this challenge.


  1. G-I'm in Phily waiting for a connecting flight. Thanks for giving me a big-ol' laugh during the time when I am usually bored, miserable, sleepless, and often LATE! Glad I wasn't late today so I could read this quickly :))).
    That "1 footnote is "1! Mitt Romney....Ha!
    Wow, I'm first...guess everyone else clicked their heels and didn't come back.
    Have to go now. I'm clicking my heels three times.....BUT..... To quote the former governor of the state I'm flying in to: "I'lllll BE BACK!"
    I like Oz, and I don't like Kansas.
    Stay well, Ann
    PS--After I posted on RBR's blog I felt bad for taking your "First." Sorry...really

  2. Where's the rainbow flag to go with all your Wizard of Oz comments??? BTW, you are out of control on twitter. We're gonna have to put some limits on the # of tweets you can send out in one day. Oy vey.