Shakespeare's Staging
King Henry IV Part 1
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Friday, 22 April 2005 06:10

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Henry IV, Part 1,V.iv: Henry Marston (1804-83) as Hotspur defeated by Prince Hal (Frederick Robinson, 1832-1912), at Sadler's Wells Theatre Royal, London, 1849.

STAGING KING HENRY IV, PART 1

This enormously popular play has always been rated as one of Shakespeare's outstanding theatrical successes, mostly because of the Gargantuan figure of Falstaff, whose witty skepticism transcends the form of the history play and becomes an archetype for humorous self-indulgence (2.1.37, 2.1.39, 2.2.1; 3.1.23; 6.1.18, 6.1.19; 9.1.39). In performance this figure often becomes grotesquely exaggerated and actors are usually nervous about excessive audience expectations. Nevertheless, the script dexterously interweaves its several plot lines, the robbery at Gadshill, Prince Hal's relations with his two father-figures, and the Percys' rebellion, all neatly reaching a dynamic climax in the series of spectacular duels at the battle of Shrewsbury. The alternations of tone and topic—political, moralist, military, domestic—are well-designed to entertain the audience. The script also uses history didactically, often approximating to a morality play in which Falstaff seems to be a vice-figure tempting the young prince to betray his obligations as heir to the throne. Modern psychiatry may even see Hal not just as Everyman but as the Ego trying to arbitrate between the temptations of the Libido incarnated in Falstaff and the obsessions of the Superego, detectable in Hotspur's fixation on honor—not to mention the Oedipal tensions of sons and fathers throughout. Most critics feel the play stands perfectly on its own, with Hal committing himself to the established order, but his full repudiation of Falstaff comes only at the end of the play's sequel, Henry IV, Part 2, so that this first script ends on a more positive note, with England's harmony temporarily restored. HMR

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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Collins, David G. "A Prince Hal for Our Times: Darkness and the Search for Self in Stratford, Ontario (1979)." Publications of the Missouri Philological Association 11 (1986): 11-18.

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Kastan, David Scott, ed. Henry IV, Part 1. London: Arden Shakespeare, 2002.

Keynes, Laura. Review of Henry IV, Part 1, directed by Nicholas Hytner, National Theatre, London, 2005. TLS 100, 2005.

Lyons, Bridget Gellert, ed. Chimes at Midnight. Dir. Orson Welles. Rutgers University Press, 1988.

McMillin, Scott. Henry IV, Part One. Shakespeare in Performance. Manchester; New York: Manchester University Press, 1991.

Murray, Matthew. Review of Henry IV, adapted by Dakin Matthews, Lincoln Center, 2003. Talkin' Broadway, November 20, 2003.

Poole, Kristen. "Saints Alive! Falstaff, Martin Marprelate, and the Staging of Puritanism." Shakespeare Quarterly 46 (1995): 47-75.

Potter, Lois. "The Second Tetralogy: Performance as Interpretation." In A Companion to Shakespeare's Works, Volume II: The Histories, edited by Richard Dutton and Jean E. Howard. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005.

Richmond, Hugh M. "Henry IV, Part 1." In Shakespeare's Political Plays, 141-58. New York: Random House, 1967.

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Symons, Jim. "Roughing Up the Histories: Production Approaches to Richard III and Henry IV, Part One." On-Stage Studies 10 (1987): 84-96.

Henry IV at Talkin' Broadway.

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