Saturday, September 27, 2008
Friday, September 26, 2008
Gil replied: Railing Captains indeed people the city comedies of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, and continued unabated [sic] into the Eighteenth Century: Behn’s Willmore, Congreve’s Petulant; Garrick’s Fribble in Miss in Her Teens, and most gloriosus of all, all ten acts of Almanzor in Dryden’s Conquest of Grenada. Ancient Pistol is one of four candidates I have for who might replace Hotspur in 2 Henry IV (the others are Prince John, Lady Percy, and Francis Feeble, of whom more later). Pistol is indeed a braggart soldier, a miles gloriosus, a stock type I may have applied to Falstaff in 1 Henry IV, but Pistol better conforms to the narrower dimension of this humour character.
Doll Tearsheet offers the grace note to Pistol before his entrance (Act II scene 4) as a ‘swaggering rascal, the foulmouth’d’st rogue in England,’ and Mistress Quickly expands: “If he swagger, let him not come here … I’ll no swaggerers … Shut the door, there comes no swaggerers here … I have not liv’d all this while to have swaggering now.” [Do you remember the Beyond the Fringe skit, “I’d Rather Be a Judge than a Miner,” in which the miner says it is boring down the mine, boring is the word that comes to mind, when he thinks of conversation down the mine, it is boring, etc.?] And when we meet him, he is part of the flurry of those sallies which make Eric Partridge, Shakespeare’s Bawdy, blush: “I will discharge upon her, Sir John, with two bullets" [he’s Pistol, get it, and goes off half-cocked], and “I know you, Mistress Dorothy,” until Sir John says “No more, Pistol, I would not have you go off here. Discharge yourself of our company, Pistol.”
But the characteristic of Pistol that caught my ear is how he laces his bombast with garbled allusions to heroic drama. My notes identify George Peele, Turkish Mohomet and The Battle of Alcazar, but best is:
And hollow pamper’d jades of Asia,
Which cannot go but thirty mile a day,
Compare with Caesars, and with cannibals,
And Troiant Greeks? (II.iv.163-67)
which mangles “Holla, ye pamper’d jades of Asia” from Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, Part II in which Tamberlaine has harnessed Asian kings to his chariot. I don’t even want to think of Hannibal the Cannibal. Anyway, Tamberlaine is the most monumentally heroic figure in Elizabethan drama, and I am impressed that Shakespeare could tweak his rival Marlowe and send up his own chivalric hero Hotspur with the swaggering—did you note that he swaggers?—Pistol. Thus, the concept of honor, catechized by Falstaff at the end of 1 Henry IV, is here degraded, not to survive the cold-hearted Prince John in Part 2.
Back in the beginning, at my prep school in the North of England, we performed Henry V, and I still remember my classmate Johnny Edwards (the boy) greeting Pistol’s entrance with “Mine host Pistol” with his inflection revealing “hoss piss.” How could I not love Shakespeare’s language ever after? And we still have ahead of us Cressida's entrance: “Hark. The Troyan’s trumpet,” don’t we?
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
1. Shakespeare was regarded by many as the best dramatist going by the time of this play. His Falstaff is famous, but practically inimitable (except by Shakespeare himself), but Pistol, the “railing captain” was quickly picked up by Marston, Jonson and others who used Railing Captains for satirical purpose in their satires and “humors” plays.
2. Rumor, “painted full of tongues,” is, perhaps, something out of folk drama that Shakespeare may well have encountered in his youth. He reminds me of the so-called “wild men” covered with leaves who appeared in comedies and shows in the sixties and seventies—especially in the smaller, away-from-London parts of England. Shakespeare makes brilliant use of him with splendid gossip-like language: the metaphors of Rumor as the sun, the earth as a rotund woman impregnated by him, Rumor as a pipe, the mob as a Blatant Beast (a many-headed monster out of Arthurian times), the mob as a musical instrument Rumor plays upon; and the wonderful assonance-and-consonance-rich imagery of “And this worm-eaten hole of ragged stone/Where Hotspur’s father, old Northumberland, lies crafty-sick.” (Notice the o’s and r’s in this speech and how they lead to the two s’s and k’s in the final words.)
Indeed, Rumor serves as a kind of Fate to which we are privy, but Northumberland’s court is not aware of Fate, which provokes some real dramatic tension where a lesser dramatist would simply have told the story in straight narrative. This exposition is a long way from “Stand forth, Lysander.”
This leads me to further appreciate the general density of language in this nonetheless easy-to-understand play. There is more stuff happening in the lines than (at least) begin to here with a casual reading.
3. In Scene i. we meet the first of the play’s old men, Northumberland—the David to his Absolom, the Judas to Christ, the George Bush to the Army and Marines, Henry’s disenchanted co-conspiritor and thug (in Richard II), a kind of gutless nihilist. He knows there is no honesty in politics; he believes in no God. Northumberland has nothing to hold him together except the energy of his anger at the world; one feels he would be dissatisfied even had his son become king. He is surrounded by rumors and courtiers bringing rumors and, like some of the glass-half-empty people I know, he is supremely interested in rumors because they, taken together, reinforce his scorn for life and his inability to practice or understand any practice of or capacity for Grace. His relationship to Heaven stands in sharp contrast to Hal’s (II.ii.141-3).
So Northumberland is subconsciously expecting bad news regarding his son. And, when it comes, he falls into a brilliant rising speech which, on one hand, is a splendid apostrophe to anarchism (I.i 154 [“Let order die!”] – 150 [“And darkness be the burier of the dead!”]) and, on the other hand, the words of a very shallow, but dangerous, man. (And what contemporary politician would you compare HIM to? None speak sufficiently well.) Northumberland is so shallow that, immediately after this speech, he is totally under the sway of the conspirators around him who are themselves fools for not recognizing that he will desert them much as he did his son.
4. The richness of language I mention above continues in the wonderful comic scenes that follow—all surrounding the second of the play’s “old men,” Falstaff, whose venality is as nothing next to Northumberland’s. Falstaff is perhaps the most famous version of the Braggadocio, or “braggart soldier,” of which Pistol (pronounced “pizzle” for obvious comic reasons) is a different kind of derivative. This relates him, as Wayne Burns wrote in his “Panzaic Principle,” to comic side-kicks like Leporello, Sancho Panza, (Walter Brennan?), which archetype-plus pulls the Bacchus-like notion of Pan into the archetype. Of Shakespeare’s characters, Sir Toby Belch may be the clearest example—a person in a work of literature who is set in contrast to an idealistic hero (Giovanni, Quixote, Hal).
But what most impressed me about Falstaff listening to my CD of the play was the sheer density of his comic material. In his first speech (1.2) note:
5. (Page’s response) Good diseased water;
6. “gird” means both make fun of and reflects on trying to put a belt around Falstaff’s fat belly;
7. “compounded clay” refers both to some sort of poppet or doll and also to humankind’s own creation, with a foreshadowing of Falstaff’s coming battle with his own mortality and enlarges to tiny page to encompass all humanity;
11. “the cause” is, perhaps, a side view of Falstaff as dramatist;
13. “set me off”—Falstaff=jewel (red complexion);
15. “Mandrake” is, in addition to being a man-shaped root, a penis inasmuch as it is a method for getting impregnated;
18-19: the Falstaff=jewel is reversed, now the page+jewel;
19. “vile apparel”—jewel’s setting=clothes;
20. “jewel” leads to “juvenile” leads to Prince Hal;
21. “fledge” picks up earlier feather and suggests the “fledgling” Falstaff pretends that Hal is.
Etc., etc. This is indeed dense joking and wordplay, spinning on in ways that would make my father’s college friend, Jim Agee, who—in an important essay talking about how the great silent comedians [Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd] were able to “top” their jokes, spinning on from what a normal comedian would use as a conclusion to a new joke)—jump with joy in whatever afterworld he now inhabits.
Equally delightful is the wonderful run of dirty jokes in Mistress Quickly’s beginning of 2.1: “enter the action,” “stand to it,” “stabbed me in my own house,” “most beastly,” “his weapon be out,” “foin” (see Dekker’s The Shoemakers Holiday and its comic character Firk (whose name means essentially the same thing as “foin,” a play much influenced by these tavern scenes), “undone,” “comes continually,” “Pie Corner,” etc., etc., etc. I have been told that “quickly” is also a pun—especially in Elizabethan pronunciation—but I’m not sure I get it, unless “quakely” suggests orgasms. Hmmm.Ernst
Sunday, September 7, 2008
I have just re-read the terrific introduction by Norman N. Holland to my dog-eared Signet edition of 2 Henry IV. It is worth reading, but I do not want to lay too much of it on you because going at this play fresh and without undue critical influence is probably a good thing. I would, however, like to mention some of Holland's thematic concerns and other potentially helpful insights.
Holland lays great stress on how radically different 2 Henry IV is from Part 1―especially in tone and in how the characters are used and relate themselves to a larger vision of "how the world goes." Those who do this right end up the winners; those who do not have little more to look forward to than a gaping grave.
Holland also sets forth "betrayal," or, more correctly, "expectation mocked" as a central theme, introduced by Rumor's words and repeated again and again throughout the play. Even Falstaff's cannon-fodder recruits show this in that their satiric names are often the opposite of their natures. (It is, he notes, one of the few plays in which Shakespeare uses a whole bunch of names that are related to people's occupations or social positions.) It can also be seen in the double-sided nature of the Page's answer to Falstaff's "Sirrah … what says the doctor to my water": "He said, sir, the water itself was a good healthy water; but, for the party that [owned] it, he might have [more] diseases than he knew…."
He also raises the question of how, indeed, does one grasp fortune by the forelock and shape it to one's will, suggesting that both Francis Feeble (and a number of the more successful characters) are actually quite stoical in their responses to Fate:
"A man can die but once. We owe God a death. I'll ne'er bare a base mind. And't be my destiny, so. And't be not, so. No man's too good to serve's Prince. And let it go which way it will, he that dies this year is quit for the next." (See this quote used in Howard Hawks' Only Angels Have Wings.)
It is a dark play, says Holland, foreshadowing the tragedies and the sometimes curative suffering so many of Shakespeare's tragic heroes have to endure. There is a keen awareness of humans' relationship to the "gods" or fates King Lear's characters mention again and again, I think. In Holland's view, the play may be a bit more optimistic/presciptive than King Lear, but not terribly. To quote Holland: To raise oneself to the superior perspective, one must gain "… the ability to give up one's own desires, to trust, even to merge and identify with the 'necessity' represented by others, even, in a sense, to tolerate being engulfed by or devoured by it (as King Henry's crown, emblem of the larger order, has eaten its bearer up), than enables us to reemerge, as we did in earliest infancy, into a new sense of identity, a new role. In a paradox almost biblical, we must lose ourselves to find ourselves."
"Enough, or too much."
Saturday, September 6, 2008
With incomplete returns, my impression that 2 Henry IV is relatively unfamiliar ground for us is born out. With the exception of Ernst, most of us are tabulae rasae (forgive my pig-Latin): 3 have read, only one has taught, two have seen, at least in the Chimes at Midnight film, and only two, Ernst and Cindy, have seen it staged (Seattle Shakespeare Company will do a “brilliant distillation” of Parts 1 and 2 in late October which I hope to report on). Ernst notes 2 Henry IV is one of his favorite plays, but I think the rest of us might just say ‘Lord, Lord, here is something we might talk about,” and I’ll try to keep it oiled enough so we can chat without any need to find conclusions.
I am among the initiates. My only reading was in grad school, and my marginal notes are now too small to read without a magnifying glass. Since, through general reference, I am familiar with IV.v, Hal trying on his sleeping father’s crown, and V.v, the turning away of Falstaff. I remember the Lord Chief Justice and justice Shallow, but somehow I conflated them into the same person, which makes no sense.
I have no 2 Henry IV t-shirt, but I do have a few lines: “Is it not strange that desire should so many years outlive performance,” “They were his fancies or his good-nights” (John Collier has a book so named), “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” “Thy wish was father, Harry, to that thought,” and, alas, “I know thee not old man.” Before we finish our discussion, I want to talk about “he that dies this year is quit for the next.”
I don’t want my opening remarks to direct your thoughts, but here are a few of the ways my mind is tumbling. “Part 2” telegraphs “sequel,” and, except for fanatics of super-hero genres, this promises a negative experience. Northumberland is still rebelling, Falstaff is still drinking, Hal and Poins are still playing at disguise, poor Frances is still drawing bumpers of sack, King Henry, as though the triumph at Shrewsbury never took place, is still disillusioned with his eldest son. Hotspur and Glendower are gone. Yes, but … what do we get, beyond a chronological transition from Prince Hal to King Henry V? Doll Tearsheet? The Justices, chief and least? Ernst has stimulated me to think about “its study of three old men living out the consequences of their lives.” That’s a play I want to read.
Hal: 1 Henry IV began with “I know you all” (1 Henry IV, I.ii.195). Stu was troubled that if this was a premeditated scheme, the character would be less sympathetic, and he wanted his actor to speak fresh—“as if hatching his plan in the current moment, and justifying his past behavior in the context of the new plan.” But now we have “I know you not, old man” (2 Henry IV, V.v.47). Anyone troubled by this? Still, here I begin to apply Ernst’s “three old men”—Northumberland, King Henry, Falstaff—and begin to see a great play. Maybe in the second phase of our discussion, instead of “digits,” each of us could write a paragraph on “I know you not.”
Falstaff is an extraordinary character. Is there another character in all English literature that has similarly burst out of his play or novel? We have not much talked about him yet. I’m wondering about Falstaff, Part 2. I think he alludes more to age than fat this time, but what else?
A generic sidebar: 1 Henry IV might be subtitled “The Tragedy of Harry Hotspur” (Mike, I owe you a response to you last posting on Hotspur and Hamlet. I think I may be working on the Meaning of Everything.). Can we here think of “The Tragedy of Northumberland”? For that, the scene I most respond to is II.iii, Northumberland, Lady N. and Lady Percy, Hotspur’s widow. What has happened to honor in this play? Time to think of the cold-hearted Prince John of Lancaster? Or, without Hotspur, who do we have new: the Chief Justice, Shallow, Pistol (who has read Marlowe), Doll Tearsheet?
(When I found my magnifying glass, I was able to read a marginal note from thirty years ago, at the end of II.iv, the Boar’s Head, with Pistol swaggering, Falstaff and Mistress Quickly bantering, Doll Tearsheet waxing sentimental, and Eric Partridge, author of Shakespeare’s Bawdy, hysterically disapproving. My note says “Bill Matchett calls this one of the sweetest, saddest, funniest scenes I know.” Bill Matchett is a friend and mentor to both Ernst and me.)
Last, the text. Ernst has noted “some magnificent dramatic poetry” in 2 Henry IV. Yes. In small, I noted two “tide” images that took me all the way back to Mike’s consideration of water and oceans in Comedy of Errors. This play begins with Northumberland, contrasted to 1 Henry IV starting with what I called King Henry’s public or political rhetoric (“No more…”). The father/ son exchange when Henry is dying, wonderfully rolls. I feel the verse is still closer to, maybe (a stretch), Romeo, than to Coriolanus. Yet 2 Henry IV is 52% prose (1 Henry IV is 45%, Richard III is 1.5%, and Richard II is 0%, none, nada, as Rudy Giuliani might say—percentages from Marvin Spivack, Concordance).
OK? Enough? Just jump in for a moment, the beat of a sparrow’s wing. No essays. But here’s a threat. If no one bites, I will construct a statement about “public” and “personal” in 2 Henry IV and the Republican Convention.
Friday, September 5, 2008
Out of the Depths . . .
2 Henry IV is one of my favorite plays. It has some magnificent dramatic poetry in it, and I love its study of three old men living out the consequences of their lives. I think I got a bit bored with Part 1; it was all very neat and clever and funny, but the laughter had an echo that was grim, I was too aware that Falstaff was being played for a sucker, and larger issues were not really played out. This is superficial, I realize, but that's the way it was.
I think I managed to squeeze 2 Henry IV into some of my earlier Shakespeare classes, where I always bit off too many plays to teach, but I don't remember exactly how that went, so much water has flowed under the bridge since. What I ended up doing in later years was using David Bevington's The Necessary Shakespeare (I like Bevington generally―especially his sense of the larger dramatic/historical contexts of Shakespeare's times), assigning 1 Henry IV (in Bevington), and then copying and assigning sections of 2 Henry IV (not in Bevington), and a few bits from Henry V (in Bevington), as well as some chunks from the Olivier film).
The Part 2 portions I asked my students to read include:
(I also made tapes/CDs for my students to buy at $1 apiece--an offer that was never as broadly taken up as I would have liked.)
As I recall, there is a good bit from 2 Henry IV in Chimes at Midnight (including that phrase), which I haven't seen recently. Betty and I also sat through an afternoon/evening presentation of 1 Henry IV and 2 Henry IV at the Barbicon in London (it must have been the Royal Shakespeare Company), but it didn't work very well and, as I recall, got pretty mediocre ratings in the reviews. It was flat, a bit boring even, with no stand-out actors and (as I also recall) a Prince Hal with whom it was difficult to get involved.
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Though it may just be my personal impression, I think 2 Henry IV may be among Shakespeare’s lesser known plays, despite being crucial to the greatest English epic “the Henriad.” Experiences vary, of course. I have seen, by dint of mere proximity, Pericles four times, but before we tackled them in the Will Shakespeare Experience, I didn’t know any of the Henry VI’s at all, except for my “kill all the lawyers” t-shirt, and the Coriolanus I saw this summer in Ashland was my first exposure to it.
I’ll delay until a couple of years from now trying to explain how I found myself teaching fifth-graders Cymbeline (uncut). Anyway, I seem to be host for 2 Henry IV, of which I am ignorant. I don’t mind. I thought we had a great time with Comedy of Errors and Henry VI, but couldn’t find much to converse about with Midsummer Night’s Dream, possibly because we all know it so well. Thus, to give me a start would each of you inventory your exposure to Henry IV, Part 2.
Approximates are fine. Just send a single line, cataloguing how often you have 1) read before this month, 2) taught, 3) seen a performance, 4) seen a film, and 5) acted, directed, or "dramaturged" (strike this ‘verb’ from your memory). If you have anything under #5, you need not include all the nights of the run under #3. Except for BBC, I’m not sure there are films, except The War of the Roses and Welles’s Chimes at Midnight (Cindy, did you see it on stage? If so could we have a performance log?). For instance, my line looks like this:
Gil: 1) 1; 2) 0; 3) 0; 4) 0; 5) 0.
Please do this soon. While I wait, I think I will read Hemingway’s “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.”