Henry IV Part I continues the Henriadic saga at the point at which Henry IV wanes and Henry V waxes. The folks producing the Hollow Crown also continues its stellar casting, acting and excellent focus of each story. They consistently choose to starkly portray their Henrys, eschewing a generic storyline for their vision. We pick up the story with Hal (Prince Henry, admirably portrayed by Tom Hiddleston) playing the dissolute youth; at various times cavorting with and tricking of fat, funny but ultimately false friend Falstaff.
King Henry IV (played by the excellent Jeremy Irons) vehemently expresses his disappointment with his son to any and all including his son.
Duly chastised, Prince Henry takes up the gauntlet and shows his mettle against upstart Percy to maintain the crown. Henry IV relents, repents of his rage and declares:
Thou shalt have charge and sovereign trust herein
Shakespeare, William (2011-09-07). The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Kindle Location 45319). Latus ePublishing. Kindle Edition
Henry IV is a wonderful study in character, one’s impact on the world and the world’s impact on oneself. King Henry’s friends are rethinking whether he may have over-stepped himself in taking the throne from Richard II. Now he’s not acting like their friend but their King. He’s making demands of them. So, he is no longer the golden haired boy whom Richard mistreated, he’s the steel-grey man who rules them and intends to have his cavalier son do as well. The crown has steeled the man and made him a monarch with focus on his dynasty.
Hal does him no favors by rollicking wtih the low-life of Falstaff and friends. Yet he never quite fits nor does he fully forget he is Prince of Wales. He amuses himself with them but is not really one of them. So, when his father upbraids him for his behavior and touts the many virtues of Percy, he takes the challenge to become a true prince and rightful heir.
So he does, but without leaving behind his humanity. The same impulse that drives him sympathetically to promise not to banish plump Jack has him recognize the virtues of his enemy Percy who died trying to kill Prince Henry, as born in his famous eulogy:
…brave Percy: fare thee well, great heart! Ill-weaved ambition, how much art thou shrunk! When that this body did contain a spirit, A kingdom for it was too small a bound; But now two paces of the vilest earth Is room enough: this earth that bears thee dead Bears not alive so stout a gentleman. If thou wert sensible of courtesy, I should not make so dear a show of zeal: But let my favours hide thy mangled face; And, even in thy behalf, I’ll thank myself For doing these fair rites of tenderness. Adieu, and take thy praise with thee to heaven! Thy ignominy sleep with thee in the grave, But not remember’d in thy epitaph!
Shakespeare, William. Complete Works (Kindle Locations 46270-46283)
In this last battle, we see director Richard Eyre’s take most clearly – Prince Henry is grievously wounded and intends to retire briefly from the field; this is much less clear in the text itself; the wound seems much lighter with no intention to leave. He saves the King from Douglas, which is omitted from the show, as well at the redeeming lines:
Stay, and breathe awhile: Thou hast redeem’d thy lost opinion, And show’d thou makest some tender of my life, In this fair rescue thou hast brought to me.
Shakespeare, William (2011-09-07). The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Kindle Locations 46230-46233). Latus ePublishing. Kindle Edition.
Finally, in The Hollow Crown, Prince Henry is being bested by Percy, but, at the last stroke, kills Percy even as Percy was coming in to bring a death stroke. The stage direction from the text is simply: “HOTSPUR is wounded, and falls”. All of this paints a more vulnerable picture of Prince Henry; one who loved life and even deeply flawed characters like Falstaff (who is shown less lovable and more base during this battle by his ignoble actions and the attempted claim on Percy’s life).
Hiddleston, Irons, Armstrong, Beale et al do a marvelous job and the slant we receive is brilliant. I love this Prince Hal (and it’s hard to imagine a more perfectly played one) and begin to loathe this utterly self-seeking Falstaff. I’m late getting to Part 2 but equally excited to see it (whilst the rest of the US watches Henry V).