ASHLAND OREGON SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL
compiled from The Tudor Guild's "The
Story of Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part I "
by Marchette Chute
Pictures from OSF 1998 Program
Henry IV, Part One begins one year after Richard II dies. Henry has just gained the thrown with the help of Douglas of Scot and other "rebel" factors who have supported him in exchange for a split of England. Shakespeare captures the burgeoning uprising against Henry IV from Scotland and Wales, and from these "rebel" factors who feel they are not getting their fair share of the property promised to them.
But the play is also about young Hal (Prince Henry V soon to become one of England's most memorable kings) and his quest for identity. OSF, setting Shakespeare's play in nineteen sixties England, portrays this quest using Hal's metamorphosis from "punk" to "hunk."
The play weaves three stories: 1) the king and country's wellbeing, 2) the honor of the military protege, Hotspur, and 3) Hal's "coming to age" among the motley crew of Falstaff and company (shown in the picture above).
The first scene of the play is set in London in Henry's castle. Quite concerned about uprisings in Scotland and Wales and perturbed that he must put off expeditions to the Holy Land in order to protect his own kingdom, Henry broods over the possibility of battle. Hotspur (Harry Percy) has done an adequate job preventing Scottish attacks on England, but the young militant will not give up his Scottish prisoners to Henry, and Henry demands an explanation. (Could this be the start of a civil war?)
Henry although vexed at Hotspur, admires Hotspur's strength of
will and eagerness to fight-- (OSF paints him as a stud muffin body-builder)
traits his own wayward son Hal lacks. Hal is more interested in taverns than battle grounds, and would prefer a good ale and a romp with fat, drunken, witty Falstaff to an expedition any day. Henry is a bit ashamed of his son, and we can sense even in the beginning of the play that Hal is unsure of how to please his father without jeopardizing his own identity.
Falstaff and Hal, companions who taunt each other constantly, plan a robbery together--but Hal has a joke for Falstaff: in disguise, he will rob Falstaff after Falstaff robs the rich merchants passing Gad's Hill on their way to London. The plan is a success, and Falstaff later recounts how he had a "magnificent battle" as he adds more and more men to the band who stole his money. Hal and Poins finally let him in on the joke; and uncomfortable with the truth, Falstaff rationalizes: "Was it for me to kill the heir apparent?"
Meanwhile, Hal is beginning to question his role of prince as partier: can he spend much longer in taverns drinking away his responsibilities? He decides he can't let his "loose behaviour" last forever; he tells the audience he is ready to behave as a prince should. And he is just in time for the battle.
But before we see Henry and Hal reunited again, the scene switches to the rebels who've thus far supported Henry's quest for kingdom. Now, however, they are mapping out a plan to split England's property among themselves. Hotspur and a Welsh warrior, Glendower, both hot-headed, spat over the matter, and when Mortimer tries to keep the peace, Hotspur cannot be appeased and cries out that he is not getting an equal share of England. Hotspur calms down and has a good sing with his wife (one of the only females in the play); alas, it is the last time they will be together for he will soon ride off into his death.
Back to the kingdom, (after rehearsing with Falstaff) Hal finally attempts to reconcile with his father, telling Henry that he will be proud of his son in warfare. Henry accepts his pleas, putting him in charge of part of the royal army. Hotspur, whose ill father does not send the soldiers he requested, is feeling more jilted by the minute. Hotspur's uncle, Douglas the Scot (right, Hotspur and Douglas), visits Henry to address the fact that even though he and his family have supported Henry, Henry turns his back on him now that he has the throne. Henry offers them a general pardon if the family will lay down their arms. Hal is convinced, correctly, that Hotspur will not comply.
In a bloody battle, Hotspur (who as we predicted will not surrender), is killed by Hal (rather symbolically): Hal embraces Hotspur's corpse in a moment of truth--he has become the warrior that Hotspur once was. Falstaff yet again reveals his cunning cowardice, pretending to be dead to escape confrontation. And after the battle, Good King Henry, offers Douglas his freedom. Stay tuned for Henry IV; Part Two!