Thursday, March 31, 2011

Necessity and ugency

In all honosty, my blog post were with written, for the most part, with extreme sense of urgency. All to often they I find my eyes shooting open in the middle of the night as I come to the startling realization that I have completely forgotten to post, I make no excuses. But this isn't all bad, only mostly. Due to the manic and frantic state I'm most likley in when coming up with these posts, I find that they are my honest, first gut reaction to the story. Now for some, their first and honest reaction could be and intelligent and insightfull look into the world literature. For me, not so much as it usually boils down to what characters I like and how little I'm understanding the story (along with a plethora of typos and spelling errors). As illustrated by the post "Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness" I struggle with the launguage of Shakespeare. Jeff states that "I (Jeff) am constantly amazed at Shakespeare's use of language and especially at his use of words. His ability to sew words and phrases together in such a fashion that they not only say somthing elegant and beautiful even on a superficial reading, but that the knitting of those words together often reveal meaning that is there or four layers deep. Yes, it can seem wordy, but that wordiness has and purpose and it's not merely there to jack up the word count." I actually agree with Jeff, Shakespeare is a phrase-smith of the highest caliber and I was by no means critizeing him for it. I was only trying to illustrate my personsal struggle with the language as I am no Shakespere expert by any stress of the imagination. My other posts "Ineffectual sympathetic villian?" and "The Dukes Dirty work" deal more with the things I, along with pretty much everyone else on the planet, find most interesting about Shakespeare, his characters. Whether it be Richard's status as villian or hero or the true reason behing the Dukes seemingly eccentric actions, I enjoy speculating on these characters true natures. For some reason I seem to gravitate more towards the unsavory characters like Falstaff and his cowardice or Hotspur and his temper. They are much more interesting and relatable then say Isabella and her incorruptible pure purness. All in all I'd have to say that my previous bloging experiences have taught me that I simply have to try harder in the future, both at understanding the work and remembering to blog about it...oh and watch out for typos.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Burden of Power

Immediately after Henry IV puts the crown he seized from Richard II on his head he inherits a kingdom's worth of troubles: threats to his legitimacy, Welsh blades itching to find themselves down his throat, and all the weights of statecraft and reputation hanging heavy on his shoulders. The play opens with a speech to this effect: "So shaken as we are, so wan with care/ Find we a time for frighted peace to pant/ And breathe short-winded accents of new broils..." (1.1 1-3) One wonders what this Henry Bolingbroke wants with the powers of Kingship, since the only thing Henry IV seems be be doing with his royal privilege is scrambling to maintain his power from threats internal (Mortimer and Northumberland) and external (the Scots and the Welsh led by Owain Glyndwr). This and his heir-apparent is a constant drag on his reputation.
It is easy to see why the Eastcheap lifestyle of raucous and bawdy merrymaking appeals so much to Prince Harry, considering what his father goes through on a daily basis. Knowingly, Falstaff, his drinking buddy, comments "when thou art a king, as God save thy grace- majesty/ I should say, for grace thou wilt have none-" (1.2 14-15) to suggest that the Prince would no longer be able to enjoy himself when he assumes the throne; he would lose his 'grace'. Prince Harry himself seems to believe he can readily assume the throne when the time comes, looking even better shining against a filthy background: "My reformation, glittering o'er my fault/ Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes/Than that which hath no foil to set it off" (1.2 191-3). On the surface he seems to believe he will be an excellent king, rising like a glorious sun, yet he idles about with thieves rather than practicing statecraft. One wonders if he is ignorant to all of the responsibilities that come with the crown like his beleaguered father as Duke of Lancaster before ascension.
While his son fools around in the underworld King Henry is under assault from all sides. "That great magician, damned Glyndwr" is Henry's known threat, but Hotspur and Northumberland also plot behind his back for the sake of Edmund Mortimer, Hotspur's brother. This is going on while Prince Harry and Poins conspire to play a prank on the fat knight Falstaff. The juxtaposition is marvelous: conspirators in jest with the Prince, and conspirators in warfare within the court. Prince Harry in disguise scares Falstaff away after he robs a fat purse and then goes to return it. In a sense, Prince Harry is governing much more effectively than the titled ruler, who is so consumed with protecting his position that he may as well not even exist to his subjects. Harry is much more real to the people (and more likable) than veiled hell of the court.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Hypocrisy in the Percy Family

So, where did all this rage from Hotspur come from? I find it interesting that the Percy family, who were instrumental in disposing of Richard II, are now conspiring to get rid of Henry IV. Hotspur, also known as Harry Percy, started off as a mild young boy in Richard II. His father, Lord Northumberland, was Henry Bolingbroke's main supporter when Henry returned to England from exile to claim his father's estate and title. Not only did Northumberland help with Henry succeeding this goal, but he pushed Henry to the throne. In Richard II, all Henry said was that he wanted to claim his estate. All of these events happened while Hotspur looked in in childlike wonder. Now, in 1 Henry IV, Worcester brother claims a little detail that neither Northumberland or Hotspur denies: that Lord Mortimer, Hotspur's brother-in-law, is the rightful heir to the throne. It's like these guys aren't happy with any sort of king. In fact, Northumberland concurs with his brother Worcester's claim. Hotspur says: “But soft, I pray you; did King Richard then / Proclaim my brother Edmund Mortimer / Heir to the crown?” (1.3.153-155). Northumberland responds with: “He did; myself did hear it,” (1.3.156). Now, I'm dumbfounded by this. Why would Northumberland assist Henry's rise to the throne if he knew that Richard already named an heir? I call shenanigans on this. I believe the Percy family is just choosing to believe its own bullshit here, and they want to help their own man rise to power because they want to keep their ransom money for all of the war prisoners they take. If I were Henry IV, I would find a way to take these men out. They've taken down a king before, and he knows they're looking to do it again.

On another note, I really like how the this rebellion storyline is paired with a subplot about Prince Hal's capers and his abuse of Falstaff. It's funny that just as many lines, if not more, are devoted to a Prince partaking in a robbery of a bunch of robbers. I'm waiting to see how this could fit in with the larger plot, even though this storyline has been given a lot more attention than the more serious matter. Prince Hal's scenes highly contrast him with his father, who is pretty straight-laced. Hal, on the other hand, gets drunk with his commoner buddies whose main form of entertainment is robbing the wealthy. I predict that Prince Hal is going to thwart the actions of the Percy family in some form, thus proving himself an upstanding citizen and redeeming himself from the degenerate actions he participated in in the past, paving the way for him to become king after the conclusions of the Henry IV plays.

Monday, March 14, 2011


As I keep reading Shakespeare, I continue to try to make connections to the present day, and in the case of “Henry IV” I wonder what role the characters would play in today’s society. Would they be presidents, CEO’s, mobsters, or just part of the middle class struggling to make it. I think it is probable that the nobility would be in the upper class, but would they still be as ruthless as they are in the plays. If they were they would definitely be part of some mafia connections running some type of illegal trade or distribution. There are already hints of this type of behavior in the play, especially the means that King Henry went to in order to be king, and also not to mention the robbery that Falstaff commits. The corruption in these acts of violence and treason are indicative of an underworld of crime that most only hear about. With these ideas floating around, I wonder what role a character like Falstaff would occupy. Could anybody really rely on him to overtake any power, and would he be trusted to take hold of a situation that requires the utmost skill and accuracy? I feel that Falstaff is the antithesis of a trustworthy person, especially one I would use for any work that required even the slightest amount of attention. His laziness alone is enough to warrant the use of another person: “If I travel but four foot by the square further afoot, I shall break my wind” (2.2.13-14). He is unable to even walk without getting tired. With that trait of his, he definitely sets himself up for disaster. When I compare Falstaff to characters in modern books or shows, he seems to parallel the deadbeat/criminal cousin or in-law. Apparently the role of these characters has not changed because they always seem to provide most of the comic relief of the stories, such as Falstaff. Given all the bad things that can be said about Falstaff, I think it is safe to say that he is one of the most likeable and admirable characters. This is based solely on his demeanor and outlook on life. Everyone around him picks up on his wittiness and comical attitude. This is evident when Harry and Poins take away his horse:
Poins: I have removed Falstaff’s horse, and he frets like a gummed velvet. [exit Poins]
Prince Harry: Stand close!
Falstaff: Poins! Poins, and be hanged! Poins!
Prince Harry: Peace, ye fat-kidneyed rascal! What a brawling dost though keep! (2.2.1-7).
At any moment some sort of prank will be pulled and they always seem to surround Falstaff. It must be that his humor is contagious to those around him. The most appalling part of their humor is how they seem to jeopardize their friend’s life without even thinking twice. I think that Falstaff would be the most entertaining character to be around, but there is a flakiness about him and Poins that would hinder any relaxation around them.

Some Much Needed Comic Relief

            While I ended up enjoying (and more importantly, understanding) Richard II by the end of Friday’s discussion, I have to say it wasn’t my favorite. I always have a hard time with history plays, as history (i.e.: names, dates, familial ties, etc.) is not my strong suit or my cup of tea. So when I saw that we were also reading 1 Henry IV, the sequel, I shuddered a little. But after reading Act 1.2, I am so happy to finally see comic relief, thanks to Prince Harry and Falstaff! Their friendship seems to be based on friendly mocking, silly banter, and sarcasm, which I found refreshing after the seriousness of Richard II.
            In the very start of the scene, Harry is already using his language to cleverly poking fun at Falstaff for being overweight by using expressions like “fat-witted” (2; drunk, or dumb) and “Come roundly, roundly” (19; get to the point). Falstaff fires back with, “[M]ajesty I should say, for grace though wilt have none […] not so much as will serve to be prologue to egg and butter” (14-18). In other words, he is implying that the prince doesn’t even have enough grace to bless a small snack with.
            I was most surprised by the amount of sexual innuendo in the Prince’s dialogue, particularly lines 27-34. While I noted the obvious “purse”/genitalia reference, as well as “snatched” and “lay by”, the Norton brought to my attention the other sexual references: “spent with,” “lie back” (duh!), and “low and high” referring to an erection. Whoa dude!
            My favorite moment – and probably the most nonsensical – of this conversation is this exchange:

FALSTAFF: By the Lord, thou sayest true, lad. And is not my hostess of the tavern a most sweet wench?
PRINCE HARRY: As the honey of Hybla, my old lad of the castle. And is not a buff jerkin a most sweet robe of durance?
FALSTAFF: How now, how now, mad wag? What, in thy quips and thy quiddities? What a plague have I to do with a buff jerkin?
PRINCE HARRY: Why, what a pox have I to do with my hostess of the tavern?

            Here, Prince Harry is mocking Falstaff’s “stupid” question by retorting with an equally ridiculous question, about the durability of the sheriff’s uniform. I also love Prince Harry’s use of the expression “what the pox” to foil Falstaff’s “what a plague.” This is some classic male battle of the wits.
            As I was reading this scene, I had to remind myself that Harry/Hal is a prince. And here he is, hanging out with the likes of thieves and robbers, plotting practical jokes with a low-life of sorts. Huh? But instead of being horrified or shocked, I actually found it humbling to see a prince actually enjoying himself, being funny.
            After we enjoy several pages of sexual puns and sarcasm a la Shakespeare, the humor dies down as we learn Prince Harry’s true motives: “Yet herein will I imitate the sun,/Who doth permit the base contagious clouds/To smother up his beauty from the world,/That, when he please again to be himself,/Being wanted, he may be more wondered at/By breaking through the foul and ugly mist/Of vapors that did seem to strangle him” (175-181). Basically, Prince Harry reveals in the monologue that he is only hanging out with this sordid bunch so that when he reveals his true character, everyone will be that much more impressed with him; he will appear more desirable to be king.
            I know that some may interpret Prince Harry as using Falstaff to his advantage, and – who knows? – maybe by the end as this all unfolds that will prove true. But for now I actually sympathize with him; he is acting as many sons/daughters act to gain their parents’ approval, to feel the need to prove themselves. Sure, this may be a dirty way to do it, seeing how much Falstaff respects him. But I don’t know, I don’t see it as so horrendous.

Falstaff is one of the most interesting characters in King Henry IV. He is a thief, and described as fat, old, and lazy, to name a few. What’s so ironic about Falstaff’s character is that he is Harry’s mentor, giving him advice and as someone to look up to. Yet Falstaff drinks all day and steals, nothing that a prince should be surrounded with.

Falstaff, though a knight, doesn’t seem to care about anything, except drinking and stealing, and his dialect shows him to be more of a comedic character, often entertaining;

FALSTAFF: Yea, for obtaining of suits, whereof the hangman

Hath no lean wardrobe. ‘Sblood, I am as melancholy

As a gib cat or a lugged bear. (I.ii.177)

When the robbery for Gad’s Hill is discussed, Falstaff asks Harry to come along. Again, here we have not so great of an influence. Although Harry declines at first, he changes his mind and eventually goes along with the plan. The relationship between Harry and Falstaff is also a little strange but humorous;

FALSTAFF: Now, Hal, what time of day is it, lad?

HARRY: Thou art so fat-witted, with drinking of old sack
and unbuttoning thee after supper and sleeping upon
benches after noon, that thou hast forgotten to 115
demand that truly which thou wouldst truly know.
What a devil hast thou to do with the time of the
day? Unless hours were cups of sack and minutes
capons and clocks the tongues of bawds and dials the
signs of leaping-houses and the blessed sun himself 120
a fair hot wench in flame-coloured taffeta, I see no
reason why thou shouldst be so superfluous to demand
the time of the day. (I.ii.113)

Falstaff also offers such a nonchalant lifestyle, making him so different from most of the characters. He lies and is a criminal, but has fun along the way and seems to live an easy, simple life. I really like Falstaff so far, even though he isn’t the greatest influence for Harry, but he is laid back and a clever sort of humor to read.

Oh, not to mention the interesting Romeo and Juliet reference at II.ii.770:

FALSTAFF: Whew! A plague upon you all! Give me my horse, you
rogues; give me my horse, and be hanged!


So far in the play you can see the visible conflicts and foils between the Percy family King Henry’s family. One of the most visible conflicts is how Hotspur feels wronged by the King. After the Percy’s have given up so much including their brother-in-laws right as heir to the throne, Hotspur is outraged that the King will now do nothing to help out the Percy family. This is possibly one of the biggest foils in the play. The King’s family overall and the Percy family. The Percy family is all about honor, doing the right thing and protecting ones country. The King’s family is about honor but when it comes down to it the King’s family doesn’t honor their debts such as the debt King Henry has towards the Percy family for helping him rise to power.
Another major foil in the play occurs between Hotspur and Harry. Hotspur is a noble solider who prides himself in his ability on the battlefield. As well do others due to Hotspur’s fearlessness and hastiness of action. He believes in honor, nobility, and glory to the exclusion of all other things. Due to his extreme values he however, tends to be very quick and hot tempered at times. Prince Harry on the other hand, King Henry’s son seems to be quite the opposite. Harry is lazy, and although he claims to be noble he continues to hang around less than savory characters. Harry hangs out with robbers, highwaymen and prostitutes. Along with hanging out with these people he also partakes in some of these robberies. Aside from the illegal activities and criminals Harry hangs out with he claims to be secretly smart and states that he doesn’t want to overly impress anyone now with his intelligence because if he does the people might expect too much from him when he is King. He believes that by doing this when he is King and does do something great then the people will be overly impressed by him. This ludicrous idea Harry comes up with is seen in Act one scene two:
“Prince Henry: I know you all, and will awhile uphold
The unyoked humor of your idleness.
Yet herein will I imitate the sun.
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wondered at
By breaking through the foul and ugly mist
Of vapors that did seem the strangle him
If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work,
But when they seldom come, they wished for come,
And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.
So when this loose behavior I throw off
And pay the debt I never promisèd,
By how much better than my word I am,
By so much shall I falsify men’s hopes;
And, like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation, glitt'ring o'er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
I’ll so offend to make offense a skill,
Redeeming time when men think least I will”.

It’s possible that Harry is smarter that we all think. And that Hotspur may be more ill-tempered then he seems in these beginning acts, making me beg the question: Will these two characters be each others downfalls? I wonder if by the end of the play Harry’s wantingness to impress the people later on and Hotspur yearning for revenge against the King will lead to these two characters becoming each others archrivals instead of just each others foils.

Disappointing Children & Another King's Overthrown Future?

So far, I enjoyed the beginning to this play. Two particular things stand out to me. First, the cliché father who wishes his son was something different. In our century, usually a father wants a son who can play sports and who he can hang out with; he does not necessarily want a son who is too into his studies. I have been in the position where parents compare their children. In the play, King Henry wishes his son Hal was more like Hotspur. King Henry is disappointed that Hal (Harry), is almost like a waste; the way he spends his time in taverns and goofing around instead of fighting. He even contemplates whether Hal and Hotspur were switched at birth when he says "Then would I have his Harry, and he mine" (1.1.89).

At the same time, Hal is positive that one day he will take over his father’s reign. Although he seems to be a goof, he states that he acts this way so that he can appear worthier later on. He tells us this when he says "I know you all, and will a while uphold / The unyoked humour of your idleness" (1.2.173-174). He reinforces this idea after he tells us that he is only friends with the “thieves” and that "My reformation, glitt'ring o'er my fault, / Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes" (1.2.191-192)

However, not all is what it seems. Even though King Henry wishes Hal could be like Hotspur, Hotspur’s character seems to materialize further in the act. Hotspur has the characteristics of a warrior unlike Hal, but he also has a hot temper. He also doesn't seem to have the personality of Hal who can exploit the language and appeal to everyone's better side. Northumberland, referring to his son, states that sometimes something “Drives him beyond the bounds of patience" (1.3.199). Possibly this spontaneity could corrupt Hotspur.

The second thing I see in this act, is what goes around, comes around. Bolingbroke was the reason for Richard II’s decline of power. Scene 3 shows that there could be the same type of power struggle for King Henry. There is a rebellion stewing in the mix between the Scots at Holmedon and the Welshman. Hotspur continues to refuse giving the prisoners to the king and tries to have Edmund freed from the Welshman, Owen. (I believe this is the layout. Once again, too many names introduced) My point is that the Welsh and the Scots feel alarmed by the authoritative tone. They become a team and plan to overthrow King Henry and Hotspur agrees saying:

“Yea, on his part I'll empty all these veins,
And shed my dear blood drop by drop in the dust,
But I will lift the down-trod Mortimer
As high in the air as this unthankful king,
As this ingrate and canker'd Bolingbroke” (1.3.131-35).

High and Low Dialectics

Shakespeare again shows his love of wordplay in the first two acts of Henry IV--and I think it’s some of his best. A fairly obvious instance that I’ll start off with is his use of cousin and its homonym cozen (cheat). Early on Henry refers to Westmorland as “coz” meaning kinsman (1.1.90), which resonates in the next scene with “cozening” as used by Prince Harry (1.2.109). The overt play on “cousin” comes from Hotspur in 1.3.156. All of this wordplay works under the surface of the drama to enforce the dialectic movement between high and low culture, between royal knaves and knavish royals. I think this is the most subtle and difficult text that we’ve looked at so far. I have so many things to say about how the play’s working thematically but at the same time it’s harder to articulate it and get a sure grasp on the text as a whole. I guess I’ll focus on this dialectic between high and low by talking about Prince Harry who will “imitate the sun” (1.2.175). Later we know he also imitates his father while Falstaff takes the son’s role. It’s really striking to see this comic scene at the inn in Eastcheap where a fat, thieving drunkard pretends to be the king of England scolding the actual Prince! And then to see him deposed and made Prince while Harry imitates his father--it’s hysterical and ridiculous. The most intriguing aspect of the acts, though, are the layers of meaning that weave so elusively through the play. Another instance of this is the use of majesty versus grace. Falstaff says that Harry will be called “majesty” and not “grace” when he becomes king because he lacks grace--in terms of the divine right, he lacks the grace of God because his father is a usurper. The only time anyone refers to the king as “grace” and not majesty is when Falstaff calls Prince Harry “your grace” when he is imitating his father. Again, I find this play very hard to talk about, but here are some other words and phrases I picked up on: Henry wants to “child swap” while Falstaff and Harry swap roles later on; “fat”; purse (euphemism for vagina); clock/watch and the sun and moon imagery--moonlight thievery; “tongue”; Queen (prostitute); heir-apparent; merit/holy works (used by Falstaff to justify thievery); lion (Richard); ‘Sblood, zounds, Ecce Signum/Homo--in general a lot of allusions to Christ.

Richard II

Richard II shows no sense of justice right from the beginning of this play. He banishes Bolingbroke from England, and seizes John of Gaunt’s property and money. Richard’s main concern is to raise money for the war in Ireland. He is excited at hearing the news of Gaunt’s death so he can get money and leave for Ireland. Once he hears Bolingbroke is coming to invade England, he does not really put up a fight. He shows how weak he is because he doesn’t know how to fight back. He uses his poetic words as weapons such as when he is giving up the thrown:

“Ay, no; no,ay; for I must be nothing; / Therefore no, no, for I resign to thee. / Now mark me how I undo myself” (4.1.191-193).

I think Richard uses this clever language to make everyone feel sorry for him. It is his only way to fight back and feel power over Bolingbroke.

Bolingbroke proves to be an effective leader when he returns to England. He knows how to handle situations effectively, and has a way with his words. He never states that he wants to take the crown from Richard, but he ends up getting it in the end because Richard is weak and proves himself unfit as king.

It's a little late to get Richard back, isn't it, Hotspur?

I’ve only read the first act of Henry IV, and already there is so much to discuss. I could write an essay on the topics brought up in this act, but for here I need to post about the complete irony of how some of the characters feel in bringing Henry IV up as king, particularly Hotspur.

In the third scene of act one, Hotspur is going on a rampage about the king and his regrets about killing off Richard II. Around line 155 and following, Hotspur gives a mini speech about the betrayal of King Henry IV:

“…But shall it be that you that set the crown / Upon the head of this forgetful man, … / shall it be / That you a world of curses undergo, / Being the agents or base second means, / The cords, the ladder, or the hangman, rather?” (158-164)

Remember that Hotspur is actually Henry Percy, talking with Northumberland about this. These two men are key characters that helped King Henry IV (known in Richard II as Bolingbroke) get to the position in which he sits now. I find this part fair and understandable with how Hotspur feels: it does seem that after Bolingbroke came into power and became King Henry IV, he has forgotten who his allies were. Later, however, he compares Richard to a “sweet, lovely rose” (173) and Henry as a “canker” (174). I just want to say, ‘you put him there!’ How is now Richard a rose, when in the previous play Hotspur helped in getting Richard to renounce his kingship?

What really blows my mind is the blind spot Hotspur had in Richard II. He obviously has respect for Edmund Mortimer, a man for whom King Henry IV has deep seated hatred. Hotspur shoots off another long-winded speech defending Mortimer to the king earlier in the play, portraying Mortimer as a bona fide soldier,coming head-to-head with the true rival of Henry IV, Glyndŵr (100). If you look at the tree (or read any of the footnotes), you’ll see that Edmund Mortimer was next in line after Richard II. This became void when Richard voluntarily relinquished his crown to Henry IV. Hotspur had to have known this, yet he continued to help Henry IV in his pursuit to have the throne.

Perhaps I am wrong about this. If Richard kept the crown and died without giving up his crown, Mortimer would have received it, right? I was confused about this during the reading of Richard II as well. If this is true, why did Hotspur assist Henry IV? Was Richard II that bad as a king that he couldn’t wait? To think that now, Hotspur sees Richard as this “lovely rose” and Henry the “canker,” was it worth the overthrow? Or was Henry too powerful at the time, so Hotspur thought ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’?

Come Roundly or say what you mean!

Why doesn't Shakespeare just say what he means? Or why does he take so long to say something simple? These were questions brought up in my group last Friday. For some reason this was a question I have always taken for granted having forever been fascinated by sounds. And who else has better sounds than Shakespeare? In my mind it was an automatic response, that Shakespeare's long windedness was there to create a parade of sounds. I'm so enchanted I have never paused to think about the function of the language. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright's famous guidelines of design was " form follows function". Does the same apply to Shakespeare's language or is it all just a glorious form without function?

There may be no better person's language to break down than Sir. John Falstaff. In Act 2 sc 2
I am accursed to rob in that thief's company: the
rascal hath removed my horse, and tied him I know
not where. If I travel but four foot by the squier
further afoot, I shall break my wind. Well, I doubt
not but to die a fair death for all this, if I
'scape hanging for killing that rogue. I have
forsworn his company hourly any time this two and
twenty years, and yet I am bewitched with the
rogue's company. If the rascal hath not given me
medicines to make me love him, I'll be hanged; it
could not be else: I have drunk medicines. Poins!
Hal! a plague upon you both! Bardolph! Peto!
I'll starve ere I'll rob a foot further. An 'twere
not as good a deed as drink, to turn true man and to
leave these rogues, I am the veriest varlet that
chewed with a tooth. Eight yards of uneven
ground is threescore and ten miles afoot with me;
and the stony-hearted villains know it well enough:
a plague upon it when thieves cannot be true one to another!
Whew! A plague upon you all! Give me my horse, you
rogues; give me my horse, and be hanged!

First this speech serves the practical function of setting the scene for Elizabethan audiences. In our own theatres today with projections, realistic sets, and modern sound design, a stolen horse could be shown in a variety of different ways. However for The King's men this was not an option. The Globe theatre had no scenery it was a fixed space that was altered minimally for performances. If Shakespeare wanted the audiences to see something they would have to hear it described through the actors on the stage.
It takes Falstaff eighteen lines to tell his friends to quit the joke and give him back his horse. Had this been a contemporary play Falstaff probably just would have said something along the lines of " Give me my #$%^ horse back before I kill you bros, remind me why I hang out with you again F#$%". However the wealth of information provided by Falstaff is beyond the quick to the point prose of today. For one thing amongst the hyperbolic complaining there is a real sense of affection towards Poins and Hal even as Falstaff threatens to kill them with the lines " Yet I am bewitched with the Rogue's company.... " If the rascal hath not given medicines to make me love him, I'll be hanged". These lines add so much depth to Falstaff's character, not mention create a context for the relationship between himself and Hal. Within a speech that at first appears as verbose hot air that rambles only for comical purpose show cases the unconditional love Falstaff has for Hal. This love and relationship established here in this speech serves as a foil to the relationship to Hal and King Henry. King Henry has none of this sort of love for his own son and confesses early on within the play his desire for his son to be Harry Percy. All of this creating a deeper complexity and context for future action within the play. It is in this speech which proves that form does indeed follow function!

Harry and Hotspur

Henry IV is not unique within Shakespeare for having two plot lines running side by side. What is unique is that at this point, it's very hard to see how they will ever have anything to do with one another. It's very easy to see in Twelfth Night that when Sebastian returns, there will be confusion between him and Viola, or that Richard returning to Wales will obviously have to encounter Bolingbroke at some point. With the two plot lines in Henry IV, we get very little insight in the first two acts as to how they will be related in a practical way. However, in a thematic way, the ties between the two story lines are there.

For instance, early on King Henry admits that he is jealous of Henry Percy for having a child as impressive as Hotspur.

Yea, there thou mak'st me sad, and mak'st me sin
In envy that my lord Northumberland
Should be the father to so blest a son - ...
Whilst I ...
See riot and dishonour stain the brow
Of my young Harry. (1.1.77-85)

Hotspur has nobly fought the Scots and imprisoned many.. Meanwhile, Harry is hanging out with thieves and commoners. What ties these two characters together is both this line and, with the threat of rebellion from Hotspur becoming apparent later, that both Harry and Hotspur are potential heirs to the throne. It's also worth pointing out that Harry and Poins have essentially overthrown Falstaff and the others, or at least sneakily rebelled against them (though only for laughs, evidently) while Hotspur is planning to rebel against the King. The two seem to have completely contrasting characters yet are similar enough in their predicaments to see this contrast as being something deliberate. Perhaps Shakespeare is going to say something about leadership with these two characters, or the difference in behavior of the privileged and someone who must fight for power. I'm not sure if there is anything conclusive to say about this relationship in just the first two acts, but at this point I'll be reading on with the idea that the contrast between these two characters is worth noting.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Apathy for Richard II but Sympathy for King Henry IV, I think not.

The question was posed at the end of our last class whether people had changed their minds and were sympathetic to what happened to Richard and how we felt towards King Henry. To my surprise many people did not really change their sentiment toward Richard, although he gave up the throne and was wrongfully killed, he was still an indecisive, ineffectual ruler. Yet, the now King Henry who has similar emotional traits as Richard did is getting away unscathed. I don't think we are looking at Richard's situation fairly; it's not easy being king.

Richard's indecisiveness and emotional response to situation should not be viewed unsympathetically just because he tries to be diplomatic, this shouldn't mean that he is weak. When did having sympathy for mankind become a bad thing? I understand that he is suppose to hold up the morals, standards, demeanor and law of a king.... but who cares? You cannot for your entire life deny the kind of person that you are. I do not believe that Richard was the greatest king, despite a few mishaps, he was not at all horrible. I believe that he was wise enough to realize that engaging in a war with Henry wouldn't be smart and just gave him what he wanted. Henry was holding his ground strong and was relentless about what was rightful his therefore playing "chicken" with him is a losing game. Richard understood that this was a lose lose situation, either he could try and murder his kin or lose the throne. Being ever the sympathizer Richard knew just to let go. Not to mention the pool of people standing with him was dwindling. Richard was just trying to do the best that he feasible could, so I stand to sympathize with his situation.

King Henry however, I am not sure how much I feel for him yet. I think it was interesting how he was able to talk a big game about being a better ruler and how people want him to be in command while the first decision he has to make is rough and he choses his decision based on the heart not the law. Now I do understand and sympathize with the initial state of being that Henry was first put into under King Richard, but he went a step too far for me and starting a vicious fight that I don't believe needed to escalate to that point. I believe there were other less hurtful, more manipulative ways for Henry to have gotten what he wanted. He already knew that Richard was sensitive, the job shouldn't have been that hard to get done. I really do see this as a vicious cycle with King Henry and he should wise up and realize his situation probably won't work out so hot. King Henry, as we read in Act I of King Henry the Fourth, also back handedly usurped the throne from Mortimer. Mortimer was named heir to the throne before Richard died. Yet, he is not king, and there are quite a few people in Henry's land that wished he was, Hotspur feeling very passionate about this. I can easily foresee a rebellion happening in this play as well.

To feel, or not to feel for Richard; that is the question

After finishing the final act of Richard II, and with the discussion in class on Friday, many ideas and thoughts have been running through my head. One major idea that will not leave my mind involves the character of Richard II. Is Richard a sympathetic character or did he get what was coming to him?
Many people are split down the middle when it comes this question. Many people are on either team Henry Bolingbroke (who will go on to become King Henry IV) or they are team Richard. Which team am I on? I am not exactly sure yet. Each character has their flaws and their strengths. Bolingbroke in the beginning of the play seems like a wronged man who deserves revenge, while Richard was the villain of the play…but as the play goes on, they seem to almost switch places. Richard falls and Bolingbroke gains the reins of kingship. He takes Richard’s crown, but now that he is king, he starts to become more like Richard.
Richard on the other hand is becoming more like a commoner. He isn’t the tyrant he was in the beginning of the play. The thing about Richard that takes away from his sympathy factor is how childish he comes off. In many scenes he acts like a baby who is throwing a temper tantrum and doesn’t seem like an actual good person.
The reason I do feel sympathy for him in the end is the fact this is the only thing he’s known his entire life. He has been king since the age of ten, and to suddenly have it all ripped away from him must be a living nightmare. Many people would not know what to do with their lives when a change like that happens all of a sudden. After all Richard is still only human. When he is giving Bolingbroke the crown, Richard gives a long speech that lasts for a big part of Act IV, Scene I; his speech is so long, because I assume he does not want to get rid of the crown. He is losing his identity; this is shown throughout his speech:
No lord of thine, thou haught insulting man, 

Nor no man's lord; I have no name, no title, 

No, not that name was given me at the font, 

But 'tis usurp'd: alack the heavy day, 

That I have worn so many winters out, 

And know not now what name to call myself! (4.1.244-249)
He doesn’t know who he is anymore. Everything he ever knew is gone. Being king is ALL that he knows and that is why I feel some sympathy for him. Its not like he had a chance to grow and mature in his life. From the moment of being ten years old, he has been king and has had help with everything in his life. Also the fact that he is still young plays towards his immaturity. These few thoughts repeat in the back of my mind, causing me to feel sympathetic for Richard.
In Act V Richard is nothing. He is a shell of a man, while Bolingbroke has all the power. Richard was never a good king and he was downright annoying at points, but I have to say I feel sympathy in the end, especially when the people of the town are spitting at him and calling him names. The play didn’t really turn him into a villain. Richard II didn’t seem to have a villain, nor a hero. Each character was flawed and almost unlikable, but I found myself sympathizing with Richard in the end, especially when he lost his crown.

Be Careful What You Wish For, or... "Miss Me Yet?"

I've decided to follow up with the interesting idea posed at the end of class on Friday, namely, the following photo and the very contemporary question posed by this image and Richard II:

Miss me yet

Depending on your particular political point of view, this image likely resulted in a number of feelings spanning the spectrum from an intense gag reflex, or a resounding "hell yes!", to, "Isn't that the guy who's always on the cover of Mad Magazine?" No matter what your feelings, or how visceral they are, the danger that we all face is letting those feelings obscure the larger point that Richard II, and I think Professor Mulready, was trying to make.

When we first meet Richard he is King but, from what we can glean, not a particularly good leader and maybe even a bit of a child, both in the way that he comports himself and in the way that he handles his role as king. He often chooses the easiest path, avoids tough but necessary decisions, and plays the diplomat when he should instead make more politically expedient decisions. This results in a number of decisions exhibiting poor judgement or just plain selfishness on the part of Richard. His decisions, rather than being Solomonic in nature and inspiring those who surround him, instead tend to frustrate and confound them. They are also decisions that lead to his dethronement and, ultimately, death.

Henry arrives on the scene a mistreated son of the kingdom. Richard has treated him poorly and has attempted, using means only available to a sovereign, to steal Henry's birthright. We come to despise Richard for it and begin to side with and root for Henry to become king. But as the play progresses, we begin to see that Henry, for all his apparent virtue, is not as virtuous as he appears. He too is avaricious and willing to use, shall I say abuse his power and position in order to gain what it is that he wants. By the end of the play, when the one we have been hoping would take the throne finally ascends to the position we wanted him to, it seems that we have gotten something and someone not all that different from what we had before. The end of the play doesn't leave us satisfied, it leaves us wondering whether what we hoped for is really what we wanted or if it's all that different from what we had in the first place.

The reality is that the act of ruling is far different from the act of campaigning and, once anyone enters office, whether they be kings or presidents, the political realities of being "in charge" often dictate the actions that they take. As Mark said in class, what rulers often find once they ascend the throne is that they have Damocles' sword hanging over their head. They do not have the power to create the change that they promised, and they often find that the very things they railed against in pursuing the throne are the same things they need to leave in place to keep it.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ineffectual sympathetic villian?

Richard II seems to be a case of protagonist centered moarality. If he were not the title character would Richard not be seen as anything but a villian? A sympathetic villiean to be sure, but a villian none the less. He orginizes the death of the Duke of Gloucester, banishes anyone who knows to much or gets to close to the truth. He seizes the land and money of John of Gaunt to finance a war with ireland, makes the nobles pay for the crimes of their ancestors, and taxes the common folk.
But Richard is still sympathetic due to his many flaws. He makes mistakes, is easily led, and genuinely cares for his allies. Richard is crushed when Bolingbroke exand executes his friends and it is this despair that leads him to abdicate the throne. He is smart, but wise as he is often led by his uncles. He is a typical young man who bit off more then he could chew.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Veil of Victimization to Cover the Tyrant Beneath

As Act III progresses and Richard II begins to don a veil of supposed victimhood, it is difficult to see him as anything other than the Machiavellian villian that we remember from the earlier Acts. While, at the end of Act 3: Scene 4 Richard promises to give up his crown to Bolingbroke, this act is not one of kindness or penance, but one made out of desperation after having exhausted all other available avenues of escape from what seems to have presented itself as his unavoidable fate. It seems thus, that in realizing that he must inevitably give up the crown, Richard II attempts to characterize himself as the innocent victim who has been forced to give up his God-given power by the "discomfortable"(3.2. 32) Bolingbroke who he claims will inevitably be punished for his treason by God who "...darts his light through every guilty hole/then murders, treasons, and detested sins/the cloak of night being plucked off their backs/stand bare and naked trembling at themselves?" (3.2. 39-42). However, when read in reference to the fact implied by several of the characters in the earlier scenes, that Richard II is responsible for the Duke of Gloucester's death, it seems that during this moment of despondency, Richard II is entering a semi-disturbed state of dilusion and denial spawning from his fear of being tried as a common citizen once he loses his crown. Thus, his attempt to don the persona of one who has been persecuted begins in this speech and continues into Act 4 where his affected state of victimization becomes one of Christlike comparison, where he eventually likens Bolingbroke and Northumberland to that of Pilate who "have here delivered me to my sour cross/and water cannot wash away your sin" (4.1. 31-32). It is in this scene that Richard II's realization of the actuality of his fate both in this world and the next becomes most clear, at least subconsciously, to him who has realized that "...within the hollow crown/that round the temple of a king/keeps Death his court; and there the jester sits" (3.2, 156-158). Disillusioned, he realizes that he was never immune to God's judgment, that all of his sins, those of gluttony and of greed, will not be forgotten by a God who judges mortals all the same. In this same vein, the Queen reaches a similar frightening realization when she overhears the gardener recounting what he has heard, that Richard II will give up the crown much to the liking of all of the citizens. Her reaction to this news seems similar to the beginning of Richard II's speech in Act 3: Scene 2 where he attempts to portray Bolingbroke as the treasonous villian. Similarly, upon hearing this news, the Queen curses the gardener, who only an innocent citizen recounting what he has heard, she portrays as one resembling "...old Adam's likeness..." (3.4, 74). By characterizing the gardener as the fallen man, she attempts to avoid accepting her own mortality and sin. Thus, Act III seems overpowered by an air of avoidance that casts a spell over Richard II and the Queen, who realizing their impending fall from power, refuse to accept the implications of their fate.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Politics of Family

Shakespeare’s Richard II deals very much with the idea of family, more specifically—ancestral ties and their place in England at the time. To be of noble ancestry was to inherit power directly, and this power was often sought after. While family may affect the possibility of obtaining a noble title, its connection to power compromises the importance of family because there is a high chance that family members are pitted against one another.

Richard II himself is in the center of quite a few family affairs. He begins by organizing the death of his own uncle, the Duke of Gloucester. He then is involved with family when he must banish his own cousin Bolingbroke—the presence of a familial tie does make Richard lighten the sentence on his cousin and his cousin alone. Does he do this at the pleas of his cousin himself, or does Richard do this because he knows his uncle (the father of Bolingbroke) will die soon? Bolingbroke would rather duel Mowbray than accept the punishment of his cousin, who he knows will be influenced by their familial bond: “Pale trembling coward, / here I throw my gage, / Disclaiming here the kindred of the King, / And lay aside my high blood’s royalty, / Which fear, not reverence, makes thee to accept” (1.1 68-72). This is a sign of the importance of ancestry in society—it affects status and certain privileges; sometimes, a duel would actually be the best way to avoid the favoring of an individual because of family.

After Richard stops the duel and banishes both Bolingbroke and Mowbray, Bolingbroke’s banishment is reduced. He may be favored to this extent, but is still forbidden to return at his father’s death. Not only is it the emotional aspect of the death of Bolingbroke’s father is a factor, but Bolingbroke would receive the title of Duke of Lancaster—it is also a political matter. It affects John of Gaunt (Bolingbroke’s father) and Bolingbroke both emotionally and politically, and therefore, the familial conflict will be much stronger than a purely motional or a purely political matter. John of Gaunt goes as far as to accuse Richard’s banishment of Bolingbroke as a cause of his illness and death: “Watching breeds leanness, leanness is all gaunt./ The pleasure that some fathers feed upon/ Is my strict fast; I mean my children’s looks” (2.1 78-79). Richard’s lack of sympathy at John of Gaunt’s death shows the bad blood between family and its emphasis on politics in the nobility as opposed to familial love. Richard, therefore, should not be surprised when Bolingbroke returns to take his place in the nobility by force.

Bolingbroke and Richard’s uncle, the Duke of York, is reluctant to take the side of Bolingbroke in gaining his title because he knows there are political, not only familial, consequences. One of his nephews will triumph, and his best place is to be with the victor of the dispute. He says to Bolingbroke “It may well be I will go with you—but yet I’ll pause, / For I am loath to break our country’s laws. / Nor friends nor foes, to me welcome you are. / Things past redress are now with me past care” (2.3 167-170).

In Richard II, family is mixed with political dealings, and the drama is increased. Characters are torn between their family and their betterment in the nobility—these do not always coincide.

A Similar Soliloquy

While reading (and reading to make sure I understood correctly) I found a familiarity in Richard's soliloquy in Act III similar to that of Shylock from The Merchant of Venice; both characters articulate the concept that they are no different than anyone else. While Shylock is trying to defend his equality, Richard comes to the realization that he, nor any king for that matter, is divine, that they are the same as all other humans. Beginning on 3.2.140, King Richard states:

No matter where. Of comfort no man can speak. Let's talk of graves, of worms and epitaphs, Make dust our paper, and with rainy eyes write sorrow on the bosom of the earth. Let's choose executors and talk of wills - And yet not so, for what can we bequeath save our deposed bodies to the ground? Our lands, our lives, and all are Bolingbroke's; and nothing can we call our own but death, and that small model of the barren earth which serves as paste and cover to our bones. For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground, and tell sad stories of the death of kings - How some have been deposed, some slain in war, some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed, some poisoned by their wives, some sleeping killed, all murdered. For within the hollow crown that rounds the mortal temples of a king keeps death his court; and there the antic sits, scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp, allowing him a breath, a little scene, to monarchize, be feared, and kill with looks, infusing him with self and vain conceit, as if this flesh which walls about our life were brass impregnable; and humoured thus, comes at the last, and with a little pin bores through his castle wall; and farewell, king. Cover your heads, and mock not flesh and blood with solemn reverence. Throw away respect, tradition, form, and ceremonious duty, for you have but mistook me all this while. I live with bread, like you; fell want, taste grief, need friends. Subjected thus, how can you say to me I am a king?

Although Shylock is pleading for acceptance and Richard is being knocked down a peg, they both focus on the points that they have the same needs to their superiors/inferiors. I think this is a true example of Shakespeare's ability to grasp readers or the audience into the play, by displaying the vulnerability and humanity of the characters.

Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness

Why use one word when ten will do? Okay, okay, I know this is Shakespeare and I should be prepared for lengthy dialogue but this play is something else. Is it just me or is this one of the most wordy plays you've ever read? Richard himself spouts off ornate and flowery speeches at when ever he gets a chance, though I suppose that would be the kingly thing for one to do.

His gift for gab is nicely contrasted by Bolingbroke's more plain speaking manner...well plain speaking for Shakespeare at any rate. Richard and Bolingbroke create a nice foil for one another as Richard, who speaks in in this eloborate style seems to be more of a thinker then an actor while the Bolingbroke is as straightforward in word as he is in deed.

Now I'm not saying that lavish speeches are a bad thing, heck they're part of what makes Shakespeare great, I'm just not feeling it in this one, especially as I'm having a problem just following the characters names, let alone deciphering what they're saying.

Readings and Misreadings of Duchess of Gloucester and King Richard

In our early readings of Richard II, two characters interest me, one for her character’s archetypal past and the other for his unapparent complexity.

Almost three hundred years after Shakespeare’s time, Henrik Ibsen, the father of Modern drama, invents a new convention and gives the (problematically) flawed female character a way out. A colleague of Professor of Theatre Frank Trezza calls the plays to which Ibsen responded “a woman with a past plays.” They are dramas characterized by a disgraced woman who inevitably goes off stage to kill herself whether due to a fault of her own or more often was the case a man’s. This convention would lead an audience to expect that a corrupted woman like A Doll’s House’s Nora would do just that. She of course did not kill herself but instead (much to the dismay of 19th Century Norwegian audiences) returned and basically flipped her husband the bird.

This is not to suggest that the female characters that predated Nora were entirely passive. Duchess of Gloucester is no wall flower. She does not pull any punches or hold back her passion. Her husband’s death need be revenged. Blood for blood as it were. When John of Gaunt pushes back and calls attention to the elephant in the room that he can’t quarrel with a king, Duchess of Gloucester doesn’t cede any ground. “Where then, alas, may I complain myself” is her response effectively emasculating and shaming John of Gaunt’s weak sense of familial responsibility. Now this is not the perfect example of a woman with a past play (but maybe a woman without a future?) but it is notably parallel in that the Duchess has few options in the bleak future ahead. Her last lines offer an ominous assortment of suicidal tendencies: “ Yet one word more... Nay, yet depart not so... Let him not come there to seek out sorrow that dwells everywhere. Desolate, desolate will I hence and die.”

Like Hamlet, King Richard is a hard nut to crack. Each characters’ inaction offers an irresistible impulse to judge them as being indecisive. The last point is one that I challenge. Let’s first start with Hamlet, the philosophizing, art loving nerd terribly miscast to do instead of his more inclined impulse to talk and think ad infinitum. In the first scene we meet a Hamlet intent on hitting the books at Wittenberg. We listen to him mediate on ideas and words, “Seems, madam?” And later we of course have no choice but to indulge in his meta-theatrical designs. These character traits point to idea that Shakespeare has (purposely and terribly) miscast Hamlet in the bloody role.

In King Richard’s case the potential to misread his character lies in how he acts (or does not act) as ruler of England. In act one, the nobles and officers stand in disbelief when King Richard calls off Bolingbroke and Mowbray’s duel. But here too we see a classic Shakespearean (and historical) miscast. King Richard is in fact a sensitive, pampered, diplomatically-inclined ruler who to no fault of his own is attuned to nature and peace rather than blood and war: “Which, so roused up with boisterous untuned drums, with harsh-resounding trumpets dreadful bray, and grating shock of wrathful iron arms, might from our quiet confined fright fair peace.”

What's in a Name?

Let me just throw this out there: I am really bad with names. When I meet people, I focus more on waiting for them to finish speaking so that I can say “nice to meet you,” than listening to what they say their name is. Needless to say, this is something I really need to work on. Along with this terrible habit, I am also the worst at keeping characters’ names straight in plays such as this. Richard II poses and extremely difficult task for me: so many names, second names, nicknames, aliases, it seems, I feel like my head is going to explode. Not only are there several names, but so many names are alike or the same; there are two Thomas’, several Dukes, and some characters have titles attributed to them by where they live as well as where they govern. It makes following the story extremely difficult for me and turns into more of a project when I have to write down character names and create a sort of summary just so I avoid further confusion. I figured that maybe, for this blog post, I’d simply delve into the characters and plot in a way that hopefully can be commented on for accuracy. I hope someone is up for the challenge of reading this blabber…

I’ll begin with Richard. Richard II is the king who begins Act I Scene I attempting to settle an argument between two men. One of the men is Henry Bolingbroke, also known as the Duke of Herford. He is the son of John of Gaunt, who happens to be Richard’s uncle. This would make Bolingbroke Richard’s cousin. The other man is Thomas Mowbray, also known as the Duke of Norfolk. Bolingbroke is accusing Mowbray of several crimes, including participation in the murder of one of the king’s uncles, Thomas of Woodstock/ Duke of Gloucester. Mowbray denies these charges although, he does confess that he had once plotted to kill another of Richard’s uncles, John of Gaunt, without success. We are then introduced to John of Gaunt himself, as he and Richard attempt to make Mowbray and Bollingbroke settle their argument. John of Gaunt, as noted earlier, is Bolingbroke’s father. If I may go off on a tangent, this part confused me a bit- how can John of Gaunt try to stop Bollingbroke from fighting Mowbray when Mowbray just admitted that he was plotting to murder him? Wouldn’t John want Mowbray to be punished? Regardless of this issue, we’ve now got King Richard II, Henry Bolinbroke, John of Gaunt, and Thomas Mowbray. Richard is Bolingbroke’s cousin and John of Gaunt’s nephew. Thomas Mowbray, I believe, does not have any familiar relations to other characters at this point. I think…

Then we are introduced to the first female character, the Duchess of Gloucester, the widow of Thomas of Gloucester. Thomas of Gloucester is the deceased brother of John of Gaunt, uncle to both Bolingbroke and Richard. Thomas of Gloucester gives us the second Thomas to keep track of, although this should be easier since Mowbray is usually addressed as so. The Duchess also mentions another of Richard’s uncles, Edmund Duke of York.

In summation, Richard's uncles include Edmund, John, Thomas. The Duchess is Richard's aunt. Bolingbroke is Richard's cousin, and Mowbray has no relation to other characters.

Am I right? I hope I can keep this straight...