Friday, July 3, 2015

Sometimes Shakespeare Gets Better on Second Reading

I’m traveling and have slightly less time than usual for blogging. On the other hand, I’m behind: I’ve finished several things that I haven’t posted anything about yet. So the next few offerings will probably be short.

The first time I read 2 Henry IV, I found it harsh and confusing that Harry would renounce Falstaff when he ascends to the throne. They make such a good pair in the first Henry IV play, it was just terribly disappointing to see the break-up. I don’t remember what I thought the second time I read the play. But this time through, the renunciation seemed like the inevitable conclusion from the beginning of the show. “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” King Henry tells us. And young Prince Harry knows it; he says throughout the play that he’ll have to give up his roving ways when he becomes king. He even announces in the first play that he’ll give up his pals when his father dies.

Falstaff on the other hand shows no sense of responsibility whatsoever. He spends the whole play bragging about how much forgiveness and promotion he will enjoy when his partner in crime becomes king. It never occurs to him to think that the ruler of a nation shouldn’t perhaps fraternize with petty criminals. But I don’t think Harry’s rejection actually hurts Falstaff; he just goes on trying to rationalize the new monarch’s public words and planning what to do when the “true” news comes to him privately. So the rejection is the ultimate proof of the rotund rogue’s happy-go-lucky character; of course it had to happen.

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