Blogging The Hollow Crown: Henry IV Part Two

I know thee not, old man. Fall to thy prayers.

(Act 5.5.49)

The most important thing about Part Two? I finally realized what this project is trying (very deftly) to accomplish: a very smooth, cohesive narrative from these history plays (excepting perhaps Richard II, which suffers from being the most cutoff from the rest of the action). There is an age-old argument over whether Henry IV Parts One and Two are meant to be accepted as two separate, divorced narratives or an over-arching 10-act play. This adaptation is attempting the latter, with my guess being that the cohesiveness will continue into Henry V.

Play vs. Adaptation

For my money, I am a huge fan of Part One and sort lukewarm towards Part Two. Both plays mirror each other (Hal messes around, the threat of rebellion looms, confrontation, King Henry and Hal reconcile) but Part One is much more successful while Part Two ends up being a weaker re-hash. All of the action in Part Two feels like filler, keeping time until the king dies. It is as if Shakespeare was looking for any excuse to utilize Falstaff again (and in this case, 50% more) as well as recapture some of the main antagonism from Part One. If you don’t like Falstaff, this play is a problem. Like a case of “too much of a good thing” gone literary. While the formula for Falstaff was perfect in Part One, the sequel fails to harness the same appropriate level. What this leaves us with is a Part Two where less than half is significant in the long run.

The film adaptation attempts to fix some of the errors of the play while also shining the edges to make it fit better as a continuation. And talk about continuity from Part One to Part Two: Hal still has visible injuries from the Battle of Shrewsbury; where he is stabbed in the shoulder is still clearly nasty and unhealed, his lip scabbed over. It benefits not only from the emphasis on making it flow as an actual sequel to Part One, but it also juggles around a few scenes to make it more balanced. For instance, in the fourth act of the play, King Henry IV inquires after the whereabouts of Prince Hal (who is supposed to be hunting) and discovers from Hal’s brother Clarence that he is actually at the tavern; Hal shows up soon after this exchange. In the film, this exchange shows up about 15 minutes in, thus making the scene follow more logically while also balancing out the representation of various main characters: the next scene involving Hal places him in a position that will directly lead to him to the tavern, confirming his brother’s information and making the story flow significantly better.

It also makes more sense in the film because the story and actors strive to make the audience see Hal’s changing perception and feelings toward Falstaff. Warwick (Iain Glen, who inevitably pops up in everything I watch) defends Hal after the King learns he is at the tavern and his analysis of Hal’s behavior (that he is studying his tavern friends) is proven more or less to be true by the final act. At the end of Part One, you can help but imagine that Hal must feel palpable resentment toward Falstaff for taking the credit of killing Hotspur. So in Part Two, Tom Hiddleston’s Prince Hal is much more guarded and curt with Falstaff. His jabs seem meaner and cold, setting us up for Hal’s rejection.

I spake unto this crown as having sense,

And thus upbraided it: “The care on thee depend-

ing

Hath fed upon the body of my father.

Therefore, thou best of gold art worst of gold.

Other, less fine in carat, is more precious,

Preserving life in medicine potable,

But thou, most fine, most honored, most renowned,

Hast eat thy bearer up.”

(Act 4.5.157-164)

The fundamental piece to making these two plays work as one is eliminating a portion of Part One where Hal saves the King’s life and they reconcile. I was upset at the removal (especially due to its status as a pivotal moment in the play) but because this process is basically repeated in Part Two, this is more evidence for the plays being two separate entities. To correct this, the adaptation removed this crucial bit in order to make their eventual reconciliation in Part Two flow better and remove the redundancy that would have occurred otherwise. Although I much prefer Hal saves the King’s life in battle vs. Hal is accused by the King of stealing the crown. Oh well.

To conclude, the BBC did  Henry IV Part Two all kinds of favors by treating it as a true sequel and ironing out many of the kinks that make the play less successful at the same story. It made the experience more enjoyable, and the actors were definitely up to the task of presenting the ever-changing moods and emotions of Shakespeare’s characters.

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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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