Friday, September 5, 2008

2 Henry IV - Preliminary Remarks

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:

1.2.1-63, 137-210;
2.2.28-73, 109-172;
3.2.1-115, 199-225;

(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.


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