Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. King Henry IV
We have heard the chimes at midnight. Falstaff
Majesty / Sits not so easy on me as you think. Prince Hal
The return of jovial old rogue Falstaff, beleaguered King Henry IV (plagued by rebellions, illness, a guilty conscience and a strained relationship with his oldest son), and Prince Hal, black-sheep, war hero, conflicted heir to the crown. If Hal succeeds to the kingship, he'll face choices between loyalty to his carousing, incorrigible comrades of the taverns, and the stricter, colder rule of law. The 3rd in a series of 4 histories of this father and son, beginning with Richard II and ending with Henry V; it's set in England around 1400.
Logistics: Due to the increasingly cool, overcast weather and increased likelihood of rain, the meet-up will move to our indoor back-up location, which this time is the meeting room at 7364 E Green Lake Dr. N. (This is the Green Lake Branch of Seattle Public Library, though they are not sponsoring this event.) For directions, see http://www.spl.org/locations/green-lake-branch/glk-getting-to-the-branch The # 16 and 48 buses go here. We will meet at 1:15 (the room is in use earlier). If you have questions, call[masked] 2910.
Bring a copy of the text if you have one, if not we usually have an extra and can share. It's not necessary to read the play before hand, but some familiarity with the plot is helpful. With intros, dividing out the parts, reading, break, and optional discussion afterwards, expect this to take much of the afternoon.
Synopsis (spoilers ahead):
When we left everyone at the end of part 1, Prince Hal had saved his father's life and defeated his rival Harry Percy (Hotspur) at the battle of Shrewsbury; he'd also allowed Falstaff to lie and claim credit for Hotspur's death. Other rebel forces in Wales, and in England under the Archbishop Scroop and the Earl of Northumberland (Hotspur's father), remained a threat. Hal went with his father to fight the Welsh, while his younger brother Prince John was sent with others to meet Scroop and Northumberland.
As part 2 opens, Northumberland hears false rumors of a rebel victory at Shrewsbury, followed by the bitter truth of his son's death. He is enraged with grief, but other rebels counsel him to calm himself and join forces with the Archbishop. The Archbishop and others are not certain they can count on Northumberland (who was unexpectedly absent at Shrewsbury, claiming illness), but they decide to go ahead with the rebellion since they believe in their cause and reason that the king's forces will be divided between themselves, Wales and France.
In London, Falstaff has been consulting a doctor, but appears unworried, and is serenely proof against mockery of his size:
I am not only witty in myself, but the cause that wit is in other men.
He has a run-in with the stern Lord Chief Justice, who remembers an unsettled thievery case against him, and rebukes him for leading Prince Hal astray. Feeling secure in Hal's favor, Falstaff brushes off the Chief Justice, who warns him:
Wake not the sleeping wolf.
They part, but later Falstaff is accused of defaulting on his tavern bills by Hostess Quickly, who brings officers to arrest him. Falstaff, his friend and page fight them:
Murder, Murder! Ah, thou honeysuckle villain!
Away, you scullion! ...I'll tickle your catastrophe!
The Chief Justice arrives and remonstrates with him. Falstaff is impudent to the Justice, and manages to sweet-talk the kind-hearted tavern hostess into not only dropping charges but lending him more. The Chief Justice is drawn away by news of the return of the King and Prince from the fighting in Wales.
Prince Hal and Poins, one of his tavern companions who went to war with him, return from Wales. Hal complains of weariness and wishes for beer, while Poins teases him that those of high blood shouldn't feel such things. Hal replies:
Indeed these humble considerations make me out of love with my greatness. What a disgrace it is in me to remember thy name, or to know thy face tomorrow.
After some jesting, he tries to confide in Poins:
I could tell to thee - as to one it pleases me, for lack of a better, to call a friend - .... my heart bleeds inwardly that my father is so sick.
Poins refuses to believe that he really cares about his father, and Hal knows that no one else will either. Hearing that Falstaff is in town, the two of them go to his favorite tavern with a plan to disguise themselves as tapsters and eavesdrop on him to see what outrageous things he might say when he doesn't know they're there.
At the tavern, the hostess tries to keep the peace between the drunken company, including Falstaff, the tempestuous Doll Tearsheet, and the blaggart Pistol, but a fight breaks out. Afterwards Falstaff and Doll share a tender moment, and she tries to distract him from thoughts of mortality by asking him about the Prince and Poins, whom he dismisses as shallow boys. Falstaff confesses:
I am old, I am old....Thou't forget me when I am gone.
Doll assures him:
I love thee better than I love e'er a scurvy young boy of them all.
They are interrupted by Hal and Poins, who protest the insults they overheard. While Falstaff tries to recover, news comes that the men are needed for battle in the north. Hal leaves at once, Falstaff more reluctantly, with Doll weeping to see him go.
The king is ill and sleepless, haunted as he remembers that the present rebellion was foretold by Richard II, whose throne he had usurped.
Falstaff goes into the countryside to muster up soldiers, where he meets with an old school mate, now Justice Shallow. They reminisce about the wild times of their youth. Falstaff dismisses the strongest candidates for the sake of bribes, and ends up with a very raggedy group to take to war.
Northumberland does not bring his troops to join the other rebels - he is dissuaded by his fiery daughter-in-law Lady Percy, now a widow. She tells him that the time to fight honorably passed when he did not arrive to support her husband Hotspur's troops, and that nothing is left him now but to keep the rest of his family safe. The Archbishop and other leaders of his rebel force parley with a representative of Prince John, and present a list of grievances. Prince John agrees to redress their grievances, drinks to their health, and bids them disperse their armies, which they do; he then arrests them as traitors, claiming that their safety was no part of his promise, and they must die.
The King becomes very ill. Prince Hal, sitting alone with him at his sick-bed and meditating on the burdens of kingship, believes him dead. He takes the crown from his father's pillow , puts it on, and leaves. The King then awakens and accuses his son of wishing him dead and stealing the crown:
Thy wish was father, Harry, to that thought.
He predicts that England will fall into lawless chaos under Hal, who has preferred the company of ruffians and scoundrels. Hal protests in tears, and they are reconciled. The King confesses that his rule has been overshadowed by the "indirect crook'd ways" he came to the throne:
For all my reign hath been but as a scene
acting that argument.
Dying, he passes on some advice: distract the populace from troubles at home by making war abroad.
Be it thy course to busy giddy minds
With foreign quarrels....
How I came by the crown, O God, forgive,
And grant it may with thee in true peace live!
The Chief Justice, Hal's younger brothers, and other members of the court are afraid of what his rule will be like, but a sober Hal assures them that he has reformed and will be a responsible ruler. The Chief Justice and Hal had had a contentious history; Hal had struck him once and been imprisoned for it. Now, the Chief Justice defends his actions as impartially upholding the King's law, and Hal announces that he will accept his guidance.
You shall be as a father to my youth....
My father is gone wild into his grave,
For in his tomb lie my affections;
And with his spirits sadly I survive,
To mock the expectation of the world.
In the countryside, Justice Shallow and Falstaff have been indulging in good food and small corruptions when they hear that Hal is now King. Falstaff rides off to London, sure that with his influence over Hal, his fortune is now made:
I know the young King is sick for me. Let us take any man's horses: the laws of England are at my commandment. Blessed are they that have been my friends, and woe to my Lord Chief Justice!
However, in London Hostess Quickly and Doll Tearsheet are under arrest for a brawl in which a man was killed. Falstaff arrives to see the royal procession and calls out:
God save thee, my sweet boy!...
My king! my Jove! I speak to thee, my heart!
But Hal, now King Henry V, answers:
I know thee not old man. Fall to thy prayers....
Presume not that I am the thing I was.
He orders that Falstaff and his other "misleaders" are banished from within 10 miles of him, although he will allow them enough to live on. Falstaff assures his friends that this is just for show and the King will send to him at night, but officers come to arrest him.
Prince John remarks to the Chief Justice that he expects war against France will be coming soon. Will he be proved right? Stay tuned for further adventures in King Henry V.