Monday, October 21, 2013

Henry IV Part 1 by William Shakespeare

Bonnie and I recently watched the Great Performances broadcast of William Shakespeare's Henry IV Part 1. Including both Jeremy Irons (above) and Tom Hiddleston, the film shot in historical locations in Great Britain promised to be entertaining. It proved fascinating, but I was a little confused throughout.

Shakespeare did not provide an explanatory prologue in Henry IV Part 1. Instead, readers of the play or viewers of the broadcast are from Act One thrown right into the plot with Henry IV (Irons) telling his court why he is unhappy with the news from battlefronts. Long passages introduce numerous characters, whose allegiances are questionable. I knew from previous Shakespeare experiences to wait and much will become clear. In the meantime, I tried to remember bits of British history and draw on my memory of reading the play in college.

I found that I remembered comic parts about the Prince and his friend Falstaff better than any of the political and military history. Of course, on the screen the pub scenes seemed edgier than I ever imagined when reading. The prince was more wayward than just a school boy involved in pranks. Hiddleston brought the role to life splendidly.

Near the end of the video during the battle scene, Bonnie pulled down The Riverside Shakespeare (one of the few books that I have kept from college) and tried to follow along. She discovered that some very helpful lines were cut and the sequence of the action altered somewhat. After the play ended - its summation as brief as its introduction - I kept The Riverside Shakespeare out and read the play again over the next three nights.

I see now that while viewing I confused facts about the character Mortimer with that of the character Worcester. I also learned the Henry Percival the younger, called Hotspur, was a brother-in-law of Mortimer. Mortimer had been designated as heir by Richard II, who was dethroned and probably executed by Henry IV. Mortimer was a more important character than I realized. No wonder Hotspur had issues with the king.

Reading the play before viewing the broadcast would help, but conversely, viewing the broadcast helped me in reading the play. Make your choice.

The play is part of the Hollow Crown: Shakespeare's History Plays Series, produced by Thirteen New York Public Media's with NBC Universal International, and Neal Street Productions (who made Call the Midwife). I do want to see more. We were supposed to start with Richard II. We'll have to get the DVD from the library or watch online.

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