Blogging The Hollow Crown: Henry IV Part One

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.

(1.2.216-221)

Okay, this was pretty awesome. This adaptation was leaps and bounds better than Richard II. I felt like I was actually watching a film as opposed to a play that was staged on real sets. It gives more life to scenes of Prince Hal at the tavern than a play version ever could and lets the action breathe a little with these glimpses into everyday people’s lives. More so than in Richard II (where they utilized this trick a little), this adaptation endeavored to represent some of the most important monologues as INNER monologues. In many plays, you do get the sense that you have been awarded temporary telepathy to access these private character observations. A voice over takes this to the next logical level, showing the viewer that we are privy to something no one else is hearing. To be fair, Henry IV Part One is much more fun than Richard II could ever be; the plays really shouldn’t be compared tonally. Henry IV is gifted with many entertaining scenes and is downright hilarious but at the same time packs an emotional punch whenever those scenes turn to the serious matters at hand.

The cast: I love, love, love Jeremy Irons. In my eyes, he can do no wrong. Shakespeare from his lips seems as natural as breathing. Who else do I love? Our Lady Mary, Michelle Dockery. She certainly managed to breathe life into a character (Lady Percy) that I only gave cursory regard to while reading the play. Among a plethora of fantastic character actors, I have to single out Harry Lloyd as Mortimer. Mainly because this is literally the first time I have not felt an overwhelming urge to punch his character in the face. Re: as Viserys in Game of Thrones, annoying-weird side-grin posh kid from Doctor Who’s “The Family of Blood” and “Human Nature.”

But the spotlight must be put on Tom Hiddleston. Yes, I am a super fan of his and I am dangerously close to devouring his entire filmography but, Prince Hal is also a literary character close to my heart. And Tom somehow perfectly captured all of the emotions that resonate the most for me when it comes to the character. Best moment: when the king calls Hal to court and the news reaches him at the tavern where he had just been toying with Falstaff over their latest caper. Hal’s face falls at the weight of the news that war is brewing: on his face I read this is it, the time for games is over, I must now become the person I have been running from…but before he sinks into his despair we get a glimpse of Falstaff’s worth as well. He knows the way to cheer Hal, to put on an impromptu scene where they both get to play at being King Henry. This serves for a while but sooner than he’d like Hal’s thoughts return to the problem at hand: the end of passively playing his role as Prince. I think everyone (even those that are not the crown prince) can find some commonalities with Hal. He’s just a young dude trying to ignore the fact that he already knows what his destiny is by having a bit of fun. But when the time comes to step up to the plate, he realizes that there is no way to ignore destiny; what matters is how you handle yourself when that time comes.

For every honor sitting on his helm,

Would they were multitudes, and on my head

My shames redoubled! For the time will come

That I shall make this northern youth exchange

His glorious deeds for my indignities.

(3.3.142-146)

The juxtaposition of Hal with Hotspur is another excellent thing about Henry IV Part One. The way Shakespeare writes it (and not necessarily the way history would have it) Hal and Hotspur are just two young guys who don’t get the privilege of making youthful mistakes. Hotspur cannot undo this rebellion and Hal cannot undo the fact he is Prince of Wales. At the outset, King Henry bemoans the fact that Hal is his son and not Hotspur; Hotspur has numerous achievements in battle under his belt and a doting wife while Hal has Falstaff and the hunt for constant amusement. They are both the talk of the country: Hotspur for his prowess and Hal for his tavern-hopping. The difference between the two being that for Hotspur, his activities must end in his death and for Hal, he must sacrifice what he enjoys to live up to his title. And similarly to Richard II, I started out being largely annoyed by Hotspur but by the end I had heaps of sympathy for him; it is particularly heartbreaking that he never hears the king’s pledge to stand down. Yeah, obviously I am not naive enough to believe he would have been able to get out of his rebellion unscathed (or even alive really) but he deserved to know that he received the king’s love on the battlefield.

If I had one gripe, it would be the particular brand of fighting they used to stage the final battlefield scene: it was of the blurry, no idea what is going on variety. And when you really want to know what is going on, that is frustrating. I assume it was budgetary but yeah, frustrating. But everything else I loved. The humor, the heartbreaking moments, and especially all of the great character moments that make up the play. Hotspur challenging the crazy beliefs of Glendower, the rapport between Hotspur and Lady Percy, Hal and Poins tricking Falstaff, every quiet Hal moment encompassing his acknowledgement of the outrageous life he leads to the point where he sees just how his behavior has affected his father’s opinion of him. Great, great stuff. On to much heavier stuff (namely, betrayal!) in part two.

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About Staciellyn Chapman

Grad student at the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University. This blog is an attempt to condense the craziness that is my TV viewing habits (with the occasional aside into film, music, and general life).

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