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I was recently at a book signing for Don Winslow's new book The Force and he brought up his life-long fascination with Shakespeare and how the Godfather books/movies (at least the first two) are basically a retelling of Shakespeare's Henry IV with the moral poles flipped (with Al Pacino playing Hal and Diane Keaton as a gender-bent Falstaff). I can run with that.
Anyway, Henry IV, Part 2 is fantastic. It is less playful than Henry IV, Part 1 and the comic role of Falstaff drops an octave into tragicomedy. Falstaff still possesses a comedic greatness to him, but he has suddenly seen his relationship with Hal changed at the end as Hal puts away childish things and takes up the mantle (and crown) of his father. One of my favorite of Shakespeare's Histories (right there with Richard III). It is a mature and serious play. Youth's sandbox has been replaced with the battlefield and folly has been replaced with responsibility.
“Rumour is a pipe
Blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures
And of so easy and so plain a stop
That the blunt monster with uncounted heads,
The still-discordant wavering multitude,
Can play upon it.” (Prologue, Scene 1)
"I am not only witty in myself, but the cause that wit is in other men." (Act I, Scene 2)
"I were better to be eaten to death with a rust, than to be scoured to nothing with perpetual motion." (Act I, Scene 2)
"A good wit will make use of anything; I will turn diseases to commodity." (Act I, Scene 2)
“By my troth, I care not; a man can die but once; we owe God a death and let it go which way it will he that dies this year is quit for the next” (Act 3, Scene 2)
The oldest sins the newest kind of ways." (Act 4, Scene 4)
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After you've listened to Henry IV Part One, get the other half of the story here. Although Part One can sort of stand on its own, with a great battle scene at the climax, skipping Part Two would deprive you of one of the best plays about aging ever written - and also one of the great father/son scenes of all time.
There's not so much sturm and drang in Part Two. There's another batch of rebels to bring to heel, but they're defeated by a trick, by Hal's brother John - a serious, devious young man who cares about as much for Falstaff as Falstaff does for him - which is to say, not much. (Falstaff's speech about the virtues of sack is a miniature masterpiece.) Meanwhile Falstaff is feeling the effects of age. There's a poignancy about his scenes with the prostitute Doll Tearsheet, or the country bumpkin Justice Shallow, that's unlike anything in the first play. And it leads up to one of the most painful scenes of rejection in all of Shakespeare.
Prince Hal has much to do to convince his father, the dying Henry Bolingbroke, that he's not a wastrel and good-for-nothing. He's playing a long game. When he ascends the throne, he plans to throw off all his old companions and let his true virtue show forth, arousing his subjects to wonder and admiration. In a long and moving scene, he and his father finally come to terms.
The cast of Part One continues here, with Julian and Jamie Glover as Hal 4 and Hal 5; Richard Griffiths as Falstaff; and introducing the energetic Edward de Souza as the crazy Marlowe-quoting Ancient Pistol ("What? Shall we have incision? Shall we imbrue? Then death rock me asleep, abridge my doleful days! Why then let grievous, ghastly, gaping wounds untwind the Sisters Three!").
Is Hal a cynical jerk, or is he making a painful but necessary decision to reform? Some of the scenes in this play really hurt, up close and personal. Falstaff is a bloated scoundrel, but he's also - as Pistol later says of King Henry V himself - "a lad of life, an imp of fame, of parents good, of fist most valiant. I kiss his dirty shoe, and from heart-string I love the lovely bully."
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