“I do; I will.”

Henry IV, Part One

Act Two, Part Two

By Dennis Abrams


I want to start off with something I alluded to in my last post – the leap that Shakespeare made in Henry IV, Part One in his use of language.  In Richard II, there was soliloquy after soliloquy, a single voice, progressively more and more inwardly-directed, less and less inherently dramatic, as the play progressed.  Richard, as he turned away from the world he was unable to rule created a second world, a poet’s and self-dramatist’s (and self-dramatizing) world within his mind.  Even the language of the other characters in the play was usually rhetorical rather than dramatic, as in the case of John of Gaunt’s justly famous speech about ‘this England.”  Even the Gardener, a relatively “low” character spoke like a gentleman, in verse; not like a common worker or citizen.  What’s astonishing then, when we read (or watch) Henry IV, Part One, is the sheer dramatic energy of the play.  Prose comes to live, the play’s so-called “low” characters come to life, expressing themselves in their own English, whet her it’s the baffled Francis in the tavern scene, torn between his duty to Hal and the constant siren call of commerce (Poin’s voice from the next room demanding beer); to Bardolph, to Mistress Quickly, to the completely beguiling (I’m with Bloom here) brilliance of Falstaff, “sweet Jack Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack Falstaff, valiant Jack Falstaff, and therefore more valiant being, as he is, old Jack Falstaff.”  It is, of course, Falstaff who is speaking and his voice is, I think, unmistakable.  The range of the play is as wide as the world itself, from the splendors of its prose to the high and lofty language of Hotspur; the flexible, subtle language of Hal; the puns and wit of the tavern scene; and the heroics (still to come) of the battlefield.


From Marjorie Garber:


“The play’s design is one that emphasizes correspondences between its various worlds.  For example, the play begins with a long speech by Henry IV on the need for national unity, a plea to turn the energies of the state away from civil war and outward, toward holy wars in Jerusalem.  Henry’s first words, the King’s first words in the play, are, ‘So shaken as we are, so wan with care.”  He has aged; he and his land are weary, and they long for an end to internal strife.  The concept of pilgrimage, which is echoed repeatedly in Richard II after the banishment of Mowbray and Bolingbroke, here returns since Henry had sworn at the end of that play to ‘make a voyage to the Holy Land.’  This is what he now proposes – to go to Jerusalem.

The edge of war, like an ill-sheathed knife,

No more shall cut his master.  Therefore, friends,

As far as to the sepulcher of Christ –

Whose soldier now, under whose blessed cross

We are impressed and engaged to fight –

Forthwith a power of English shall we levy,

Whose arms were moulded in their mothers’ womb,

To chase these pagans in those holy fields,

Over whose acres walked those blessed feet

Which fourteen hundred years ago were nailed

For our advantage on the bitter cross.

Even his language sounds more like Richard’s than before – Henry’s evocation of the ‘bitter cross’ echoes Richard’s ‘sour cross.’  But no sooner does King Henry propose this expedition than his lofty plan is interrupted, and indeed abruptly canceled, by the arrival of news about another outbreak of civil war, in Wales and Scotland:  ‘It seems then that the tidings of this broil/Brake off our business for the Holy Land.’  Seconds after Henry has announced his plan for a pilgrimage he has had to abandon it, to face instead the unwelcome prospect of more civil war at home.  Juxtaposed to this scene, the first scene of the play is a scene in the Prince’s apartments, where we hear Poins’s plan for the robbery of Canterbury pilgrims and traders riding to London, the Gads Hill caper.  Henry’s kingdom is in fact to be threatened by two rebellions, not one:  the lawless rebels led by Hotspur, and the lawless rebels led by Falstaff.  The Gads Hill caper is another version of Hotspur’s rebellion, another kind of anarchy and robbery; both are the result of the failed kingship of Henry IV and his usurpation of the throne.  One group of rebels steals crowns and nobles, that is, coins, the other group is out to steal the crown and win over the nobles.  Not only nobles and crowns but also sovereigns and angels were coins in Elizabeth’s realm (and we might recall Richard II’s conviction that ‘angels’ would fight on his side).  The play thus places side by side two groups of rebels, a ‘high’ (aristocratic) group and a “low’ (tavern-haunting) group, allowing each to point up the qualities of the other.

Another example of the uncanny dramatic correspondences of 1 Henry IV emerges from Falstaff’s wonderful story about the ‘buckram men’ in act 2.  (Buckram, a kind of coarse cloth stiffened with gum or paste, was often used for linings.)  Falstaff begins by telling Hal that he was attacked by two men:


Two I am sure I have paid – two rogues in buckram suits…here [where] I lay, and thus I bore my point.  Four rogues in buckram let drive at me.

Prince Harry:

What, four?  Thou sadist but two even now.


Four, Hal, I told thee four.


Ay, ay, he said four.

In a matter of seconds, the four have become seven, then nine, and finally eleven, as the Prince comments, mockingly, ‘O monstrous!  Eleven buckram men grown out of two!’  Now, this is a funny story all by itself.  It shows something of Falstaff’s fertile imagination; his tendency to expand, both in girth and in imagination, his proliferation of disorder; and his facility for lying.  But the buckram men also lead right to the moment at the close of the play when we hear that the King ‘hath many marching in his coats’  This was a common battle strategy:  as we have noted in connection with other history plays such as Richard III:  to protect the king, decoys dressed like him would draw attention from the real monarch in the field.  But in many minds the usurping King Henry was himself only a man dressed as a king, with what the Earl of Douglas calls a ‘borrowed title.’  In a line that brings together the prevailing language of false or cracked coinage with that of impersonation, Douglas demands of one of these costumed figures, ‘What art thou/That counterfeit’st the person of a king?’  But the person of whom he makes this demand is the King himself.  Henry IV does, in a way, ‘counterfeit’ the person of a king (‘person’) in this sense is nicely related to persona, or mask, as well as to ‘body.’)  Falstaff’s imaginary men in buckram are the ‘low’ and comic counterparts of the many men marching in the King’s coats, and Falstaff’s lie is in a way no more a lie than Henry’s claim to the throne.  Men in costume are men in costume, whether they are encountered in the tavern, on the highway, on the battlefield, or, indeed, on the stage.

Henry IV Part I works to a certain extent by this mode of comparison and contrast.  The play is full of complex correspondences between its characters, as well as by telling juxtapositions between its several dramatic worlds.  Thus, for example, the King and Falstaff are similar – both are subversives, rebels, pretenders – and both are elderly examples for Prince Hal.  But they are also opposite:  the King stands for rule, Falstaff for misrule. The King and Hotspur are similar – they are rivals in the same game, a quest for a crown that belongs, rightly, to neither of them.  But they are also antithetical.  The King is the emblem of authority, Hotspur the emblem of resistance and rebellion.  Hotspur and Falstaff are alike – both are embodiments of anarchy and revolt – and they are also unlike.  Hotspur is an idealist, Falstaff a cynical realist.  Hotspur is a perfect physical specimen, Falstaff a ‘tun of man.’  Falstaff and Hal are alike.  Both are jokers, scoffers at the world, companions in crime, and wordmongers.  But they are also opposed – Falstaff a figure of age and dissoluteness, Hal a figure of youth and vigor.  Falstaff, like Juliet’s Nurse, cannot change his nature to adjust to new circumstances, while Hal is manifestly in the process of getting an education.  The King and Hal, father and son, are opposed and allied at the same time.  And finally, Hotspur and Hal are alike in their youth and their valor, alike in their names – Harry to Harry.  But they are unlike in their past degree of practical wisdom – Hotspur is a romantic dreamer, Hal a pragmatic realist.  Hotspur, one could say, is a Marlovian hero; Hal is the Shakespearean protagonist par excellence.  It is worth noting, in this connection, that the historical Henry Percy (Hotspur) was twenty-eight years older than the historical Prince Hal.  Henry Percy was in fact of the same generation as Henry IV, not of his son.  But here, as so frequently, Shakespeare changes and fictionalizes history to make a better play.  He makes Hal and Hotspur contemporaries, to show how much they are both alike and unlike.  ‘Harry to Harry shall, hot horse to horse,/Meet and ne’er part till one drop down a corpse.’  The play thrives on this kind of balance and equipoise, as it does in the correspondences between and among its several dramatic worlds.”

Garber on Hotspur:

“Hotspur is a man of action.  Like Tybalt he prefers single combat, or ‘single fight,’ to massed troops; he would rather have fewer soldiers, so as to increase the glory of the battle.  Even his dreams are of war.  He seems to belong on horseback – ‘That roan shall be my throne,’ he says, not entirely joking.  He is a larger-than-life figure who has no use for music, and who quips, with a brusquely appealing tenderness, that his wife must wait for her turn for his attention until he has finished with the business of war:

Love?  I love thee not;

I care not for thee, Kate.  This is no world

To play with maumets and to tilt with lips.

We must have bloody noses and cracked crowns,

And pass them current, too.  God’s me, my horse!

‘Maumets’ are dolls, and ‘crowns’ are, simultaneously, royal diadems, heads, and coins.  (A ‘cracked crown’ would no longer function as legal money, though Hotspur wants to ‘pass them current,’ or as we would say, as ‘currency;’ a ‘cracked crown’ would also be an injured or broken head, or a challenged or disputed title to the throne.)  ‘Come, ,wilt thou see me ride?’ he says to his wife.  ‘And when I am a-horseback, I swear/I love thee infinitely.’

It should not surprise us that this epic figure considers it merely a trifle to move a river out of its course.  ‘It shall not wind with such a deep indent,’ he says to Glendower and the other conspirators, complaining that the ambit of the Trent deprives him of a desirable piece of land.  ‘Not wind?’ cries the outraged Glendower.  ‘It shall, it must you see it doth.’  Nor should we be surprised that Hotspur is so frequently described in terms that are taken from classical mythology, from the world of legendary and epic heroes.  ‘Mars in swaddling-clothes’ is what King Henry calls him, and ‘[t]his infant warrior.’  Hotspur alone is characterized in these epic, and pagan terms.  Prince Hal, his counterpart, will be described in terms that are insistently biblical and Christian.  Hotspur comes from an older world of drama, as well as an older world of history and myth.  Like the heroes of Christopher Marlowe’s plays, he is an overreacher, a hyperbolist, a mythic figure in some ways too big for life and too uncompromising for the world of mere mortal men.  Hotspur’s grandiose ‘if we live, we live to tread on kings’ might well remind a Shakespearean audience that Tamburlaine had literally used a conquered Eastern king as his footstool (‘villain, thou that wishest this to me,/Fall prostrate on the low disdainful earth,/And be the footstool of great Tamburlaine.’  In George Puttenham’s Arte of English Poesie, the rhetorical term hyperbole is ‘Englished,’ or translated into English, as ‘the overreacher,’ a term that served the modern critic Harry Levin as the title of his book on Marlowe and his plays.

There is no better parody of Hotspur than Prince Hal’s, in act 2 of Henry IV Part 1.  It sounds almost as if Hal had been present at the scenes the audience has just witnessed between Hotspur and Kate (Lady Percy):

I am not yet of Percy’s mind, the Hotspur of the North – he that kills me some six or seven dozen of Scots at a breakfast, washes his hands, and says to his wife, ‘Fie upon this quiet life!  I want work.’

Hotspur is easy to parody, because he, too, is a figure of excess.  His impatience with the popinjay on the battlefield is understandable and even comic, but his impatience with language in general, and with rhetoric and persuasion in particular is more serious and more dangerous.  One of Shakespeare’s most effective speakers, Hotspur has a real distrust of language and its effects, and contempt for politics and compromise…

So Hotspur rejects time in favor of honor.  At the other end of the scale of heroism and idealism, Falstaff rejects time as well, the first time we see him:


Now, Hal, what time of day is it lad?

Prince Harry:

Thou art so fat-witted with drinking of old sack, and unbuttoning thee after supper, and sleeping upon benches after noon, that thou hast forgotten to demand that truly which thou wouldst truly know.  What a devil hast thou to do with the time of day?  Unless hours were cups of sack, and minutes capons, and clocks the tongues of bawds, and dials the signs of leaping-horses, and the blessed sun himself a fair wench in flame-coloured taffeta, I see no reason why thou shouldst be so superfluous to demand the time of the day.

For Falstaff time is only a dimension of pleasure.  His use of it is an aspect of disorder.  Timelessness, as we will see, is a capacity of comedy, but history – and history plays – will demand a consciousness of time.  We have already noted that beneath the exterior of this supple and lifelike play is the vestige of an older allegorical structure, the battle between vice and virtue for the soul of a prince – a familiar topic for the old moralities.  In Falstaff we encounter the early modern equivalent of one of the most popular morality play characters, the Vice – the personified image of depravity or corruption.  In the mumming scene in the tavern in act 2, when Hal and Falstaff take turns playing the parts of ‘Prince’ and “King,’ Hal, in the role of his father, King Henry, admonishes his ‘son’ to avoid the ‘old fat man’ whom he characterizes as ‘that reverend Vice, that grey Iniquity, that father Ruffian, that Vanity in years.’  Like the Vice figure, Falstaff is established as the contrary of everything virtuous and orderly.  He himself speaks at one point of hitting the Prince with a dagger of lath, the light wooden sword that was the usual stage prop of the medieval Vice.  In other words, the play deliberately points in the direction of this medieval heritage, which forms a kind of moral scaffolding for it.

But if Falstaff is Vice, he is also a Lord of Misrule, a figure popular in, and after, the time of Henry VIII.  An ordinary man temporarily raised to high estate, the Lord of Misrule was a personage chosen to preside over Christmas games and revels in a great man’s house, as a kind of anti-lord or anti-king.  Part of the topsy-turvy world of carnival, the Lord of Misrule reigned chiefly at night, promoting wild singing and dancing as well as drinking, and his ‘misrule’ provided a temporary safety valve for pent-up social, sexual, and political energies.  Such festivals predate the Christian ear (one such was the Roman Saturnalia), but they are also closely associated with the Christian holidays.  Thus, for example, Mardi Gras precedes Lent, and Halloween precedes All Saints’ Day.  (The word ‘carnival,’ from carnevale, ‘farewell to meat,’ gives a sense of the stakes:  first there is a defined period of social anarchy – much eating of meat and drinking of wine – then a return to a more repressive or regulatory order of abstinence and law.)  As rebellious subjects, analogous to the political rebels led by Hotspur, Falstaff, and the Gads Hill robbers mark this carnival instinct in society, and it is characteristic of Hal’s role as both rebel and lawgiver that he pays back the money Poins and Falstaff have stolen from the travelers, turning their theft into play.  Yet Falstaff himself literally embodies carnival, misrule, and vice, as he cheerfully admits in the tavern at Eastcheap.  His language incorporates both rule and misrule…

Yet the play takes an evenhanded view of Falstaff’s qualities.  While he is not the sublime antihero sometimes claimed by his uncritical admirers [MY NOTE:  Harold Bloom, perhaps?], he is an excellent antidote to unrealistic idealism, as well as (in this play at least), a diverting and amusing stage presence.  For all of his flaws, he speaks, upon occasion, a crucial and even painful truth, as when, for example, he acknowledges that he lives in a fallen world.  ‘Thou knowest that in the state of innocency Adam fell, and what should poor Jack Falstaff do in the days of villainy?’  Not only do human beings eat and drink and make love, they also die, and where Hotspur had faced the possibility of death in battle with a kind of ecstatic joy (‘die all, die merrily’), Falstaff, predicatibly, takes the opposite approach, and recruits for his unit the most ragged fragments of humanity he can find, first drafting young husbands and men about to be married, allowing them to buy their way out of army service, and then, taking his profit, filling his ranks with ragamuffins.  ‘I never did see such pitiful rascals,’ says the Prince, and Falstaff replies,

Tut, tut, good enough to toss, food for powder, food for powder.  They’ll fill a pit as well as better.  Tush, man, mortal men, mortal men.

This, too, is a truth about war, a fact that Hotspur has all but forgotten, and that Hal, as King Henry, will do well to remember.”

[Garber also points out the comparison made in the play between Hal’s deceased grandfather, John of Gaunt, and the companion that the Prince calls “Sir John Paunch,” while also noting that while Hotspur is almost unimaginable when not on a horse, Falstaff spend much of the play calling for a horse.]

Garber on Prince Hal:

“To Shakespeare’s contemporaries the reputation of Prince Hal, later to become Henry V, was legendary – the story of his miraculous reformation preceded him, and it would have been assumed knowledge on the part of any period audience.  Thus, when Henry IV Part 1 begins by showing us the Prince involved in a local robbery, Shakespeare’s Hal is right ‘in character.’  His closest friends appear to be Poins and Falstaff, whose court in the tavern at Eastcheap, and whose dominion is the night world, ‘under whose countenance we steal.’  It is no surprise that this Prince is held in general disdain at court, that the King publicly admits to his disappointment, and that Hotspur dismisses him as ‘that same sword-and-buckler Prince of Wales,’ a man who is armed with the weapons of the lower classes.  Yet no sooner has the play allowed us to form, or confirm, this opinion than the stage is cleared of everyone but Prince Hal, and we hear him speak for the first time in soliloquy.  He speaks to himself, and to the audience, since to a certain extent we will be part of his internal consciousness throughout the play – or, to take the complementary view, the play itself takes place within his consciousness, with its characters each representing a ‘part’ of him.  What Hal says in his celebrated speech shows a startling degree of intent and control, of self-awareness and of cold calculation.  (A good litmus test for the audience is to imagine the play without this telltale aside.  It would be a very different theatrical experience.)

I know you all, and will awhile uphold

The unyoked humour of your idleness.

Yet herein will I imitate the sun,

Who doth permit the base contagious clouds

To smother up his beauty from the world,

That when he please again to be himself,

Being wanted he may be more wondered at

By breaking through the foul and ugly mists

Of vapours that did seem to strangle him.

If all the world were playing holidays,

To sport would be as tedious as to work;

But when they seldom come, they wished-for come,

And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.

So when this loose behaviour I throw off

And pay the debt I never promised,

By how much better than my word I am,

By so much shall I falsify men’s hopes;

And like bright metal on a sullen ground,

My reformation, glitt’ring o’er my fault,

Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes

Than that which hath no foil to set it off.

I’ll so offend to make offense a skill,

Redeeming time when men think least I will.

[MY NOTE:  Contrast “redeeming time” with Falstaff’s world out of time.]

Hal then, is in disguise, performing – like Richard III in the play that bears his name – a role that he can doff at will.  Whereas Richard III was a ‘devil’ pretending to be an angel, Hal is a virtuous man pretending to be a madcap and a thief – or is he?  Whom is he addressing when he says ‘I know you all?’  Surely it is not only the ‘loose companions’ who have just exited the stage, but also the audience in the theater.  We are not only his confidants and confederates but also the objects of his deception and manipulation.  The ‘idleness’ of playgoers, as well as the idleness of tavern-dwellers, is a tool for his advantage.

There is a great deal in the language of this famous soliloquy that should be suggestive to attentive readers and listeners.  ‘[H]erein will I imitate the sun;’ the sun, of course, is the emblem of the King of England.  When Hal’s father’s predecessor, Richard II, was the sun, he was covered up by ‘envious clouds’ – that is, by the rebels and by Bolingbroke, who would become Henry IV.  But Hal proposes to ‘permit the base contagious clouds’ (his own reputation as a wastrel) to cover him up, so that he will seem more virtuous and more powerful when he does emerge as himself, as the Prince and as the Prodigal Son.  ‘Imitate’ is an actor’s – or a writer’s – word, from the Latin word for ‘copy.’  ‘If all the word were playing holidays,/To sport would be as tedious as to work:’ Hal is himself in a condition of holiday, or festival, but unlike Falstaff he knows the limits of carnival and misrule.  When war comes, and with it the serious issues of life and death, and he finds Falstaff with a bottle of sack in his pistol case, Hal will ask, impatiently, ‘What, is it time to jest and dally now?’  His ‘now,’ a word of time and timeliness, will interrupt and disrupt the perpetual holiday that is the heedless affect of unthinking Falstaffism.  Comedy has its bounds, and outsides its boundaries lie war, death – and history.

‘So when this loose behavior I throw off/And pay the debt I never promised:’ reckonings, bills due and bills paid, an economic language of debt and payment, will be associated with Prince Hal throughout the play.  He pays back the money stolen at Gads Hill.  He finds and mocks Falstaff’s unpaid bill at the tavern for a great deal of sack and a halfpenny’s worth of bread.  In fact, the language of debts paid and money responsibly handled works in this play as a healing antidote to the imagery of counterfeiting that pursues Hal’s father, Henry IV, the king as usurper, and that Falstaff himself will employ in the battlefield scene in this play…

As we have noticed, both Hotspur and Falstaff are in their different ways oblivious to time.  Hotspur because he prefers timeless glory even if it comes only with death, and Falstaff because for him all the year is playing holidays; life is one long festival.  But Hal is quintessentially a man in and of time.  He is a man of good timing, like an actor; he can surprise Falstaff on the road, lead him into more and more monstrous lies in the tavern, and finally put his story of the buckram men down with a ‘plain tale,’ a true account.  Hal is also a man who knows his time.  He will wait for the right moment to reveal himself, to step from behind the clouds and shine like the sun, and like the King’s son.  Equally important is the fact that he is a man who knows the times, who knows that England is changing, and that the commons as well as the ‘gentles,’ and the Welsh and the Scots as well as the English, must be included in any unified nation.  In all these ways Prince Hal is a man of time.  And yet ‘[r]edeeming time’ is also something else again.  The phase comes from a passage in Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians:

But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient, but rather giving of thanks.  For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God…Be not ye therefore partakers with them.  For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord:  walk as children of light…See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil…And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.

                                                                    Ephesians 5:3-18, King James Bible

Plausibly this passage can be taken as a description both of Hal’s former life and loose companions (jesting, fornicating, coveting), and of his reformation, glittering over his fault.  The Prince who was ‘sometimes darkness’ will now bring light, like the sun (and the Son), and redeem time, because the days are evil.  Paul writes of redeeming ‘the time,’ whereas Hal intends to redeem ‘time;’ the presence of absence of the definite article makes a difference.  Hal’s mode of redemption must address history and mores (‘the time’ and ‘the times’) in order to point toward transcendence (‘time’ as timelessness).  Shakespeare’s brilliant use of biblical typology allows for this allegorical dimension to Prince Hal’s character without ever making him into a cutout or a stereotype.  The Pauline injunction, doubtless familiar to an Elizabethan audience, would not overshadow the lively surface action of the play, but would nonetheless stand behind it as a backdrop of biblical prophecy…

…Prince Hal is seen as a student of language.  We learn from him in the tavern scene that he has carefully studied the jargon and patois of his companions:

I have sounded the very bass-string of humility.  Sirrah, I am sworn brother to a leash of drawers, and can call them all by their christen names, as ‘Tom,’ ‘Dick,’ and ‘Francis.’  They take it already, upon their salvation, that though I be but Prince of Wales, yet I am the king of courtesy, and tell me flatly I be but Prince of Wales, yet I am the king of courtesy, and tell me flatly I am no proud jack like Falstaff, but a Corinthian, a lad of mettle, a good boy – by the Lord, so they call me; and when I am King of England I shall command all the good lads in Eastcheap.  They call drinking deep ‘dyeing scarlet,’ and when you breathe in your watering they call ‘Hem!’ and bid you ‘Play it off!’  To conclude, I am so good a proficient in one quarter of an hour that I can drink with any tinker in his own language during my life.

We may notice that the Prince alters the traditional ‘Tom, Dick, and Harry,’ removing his own name from the list and adding that of the hapless ‘drawer,’ or tapster, Francis, whom he and Poins will genially torment in the episode that follows.  His linguistic accomplishment, though lightly worn, is hardly trivial.  In politics today, regional accents breed regional prejudices, as they did in Hal’s time, and in Shakespeare’s too.  To be able to drink with a tinker ‘in his own language’ allows for a level of communication that will become increasingly important when Prince Hal does, indeed, become King of England.  The mastery of many languages and regional dialects plays a vital role in the success of the king called Harry in Henry V.

Yet there is another reason as well for Hal’s presence in the tavern, and for his role as madcap prince, the companion of the riotous Falstaff and Bardolph – a reason we have already noted in looking at the language of the ‘I know you all’ speech.  Prince Hal is not the first princely son to be rebuked for associating with thieves and murders.  In a play that draws strongly on biblical typology, he is both implicitly and explicitly compared to Christ – who defended the woman taken in adultery, who took common fisherman for his disciples, who washed the disciples’ feet and urged the rich to sell all they had and give the money to the poor, who died with publicans and sinners.  Hal becomes one of the people, as Christ descended to Earth, to learn about them, to instruct them, and to redeem them.  Where Bolingbroke, Hal’s father, wooed the common people as a calculate act (‘Off goes his bonnet to an oysterwench’), Hal’s wooing, though in a sense no less calculated, is much closer to an act of love.  Like all the most successful monarchs – including Queen Elizabeth – he is a master of role playing.  Acting gives him the twin tools of control and freedom…”

And finally, Garber’s last words on the play-acting scene between Hal and Falstaff, where Falstaff tells Hal, “Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world,” and Hal replies, “I do; I will.”

“These are key words, cold words:  ‘I do; I will.’  The language of the marriage ceremony here seems deliberately and ironically to signify an impending divorce.  The play-within-the-play predicts the future, as would be clear to anyone in the audience who knew either the historical facts or Shakespeare’s unerring way with prophecy.  It is an extraordinary moment onstage, poised between ‘play’ and ‘reality,’ between ‘past,’ ‘present,’ and future’ – all rendered for a split second equally notional and fictional.”


So a question for the group:  Garber pointed out (to pick one example out of hundreds of possibilities), that Shakespeare constantly referred to Hotspur using ‘mythic’ terms, and Hal in ‘Christian’ terms.  Was this conscious on Shakespeare’s part?  Unconscious?  Are all works of art Rorschach test in which anyone can see what they’d like?  Discuss!




Our next reading:  Henry IV, Part One, Act Three

My next post:  Thursday evening/Friday morning



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