Henry IV, Part Two (2012)

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*. This play/film is a sequel, and isn’t often produced today as a stand-alone (though originally the two plays seem not to have been done together very often, if at all).
*. It’s never been as popular as the first part, mainly because it’s not nearly as much fun. Instead of a big battle we have Hal’s younger brother John pulling a heel move on the rebels. Illness is a dominant metaphor throughout, as the old king is fading fast and Falstaff isn’t far behind, his glory days, recalled by Justice Shallow, now half a century or so behind him. The climax has the new king rejecting Falstaff, leaving him to the mercy of the court. This isn’t feel-good stuff.
*. Despite this, it’s a play that’s grown on me over the years and now I think I like it better than Part One. It’s darker, but fuller too.

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*. Despite the solid two-hour running time, a lot has been cut. I’ve addressed the reasons for this in my notes on the first two parts of the Hollow Crown series (Richard II and Henry IV Part One), and basically it boils down to making Shakespeare more “realistic” given today’s movie conventions. So instead of Rumour coming on stage to get things going (which might have been interesting) we have a series of flashbacks to the previous episode. But then this is a bit of material that is often cut even from stage productions.
*. Some of my favourite bits are missing. Lord Bardolph’s comparison of rebellion to the construction of a house that has to be carried through to completion or else leaving “the part-created cost / A naked subject to the weeping clouds, / And waste for churlish winter’s tyranny” is left out. But that’s perhaps not surprising. This is a play where characters like to talk a lot, and pages of blank verse are hard to credit on screen.
*. Other passages may have been dropped for other reasons. When Lancaster tells Falstaff that he will speak of him at court better than he deserves, Falstaff mutters “I would you had but the wit.” In the play he goes on for forty lines about how Lancaster should try drinking more, but they are lines that are difficult for a modern audience to follow.
*. So I understand this cut, but at the same time I think it’s a dangerous precedent. Cutting for length or theme or verisimilitude are all defensible, but once you start cutting Shakespeare for the difficulty he poses to a modern audience’s comprehension you’re on a slippery slope. Personally, I find all the Eastcheap stuff here with Pistol hard to follow, but I’m still glad it’s there.

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*. I wasn’t sure about Simon Russell Beale as Falstaff in the first part, but he seems deeper here, and more tragic. He also stands out from what is a very strong cast. The real tragedy with Falstaff though is that while we enjoy him, it’s only an indulgence. Not everyone can act like him. His is a purely personal liberty that he holds at the king’s pleasure, and ours.
*. In keeping with the emphasis placed on realism, I didn’t find this a groundbreaking or especially interesting treatment. It did strike me as strange that even after being discovered taking the crown and sitting on the throne, Hal relinquishes neither as his father tears into him. Finally, King Henry has to cast him down from the throne and take the crown away. This seemed a bit unlikely, all things considered.
*. Still, the play’s the thing and it’s well handled here. Falstaff’s story is clearly the heart of the piece, but that may be because the plays were all being done together here so that the audience knows there’s more Hal/Henry to come. To fat Jack, however, we must say adieu.

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22 thoughts on “Henry IV, Part Two (2012)

  1. Bookstooge

    This was the last play I read, fully, before taking my Shakespeare break.

    With the plays being so old, and culture having changed so much, how do the movies handle the unspoken stuff (that editors comment on today in the plays and explain to the audience in the book)? Some of the wordplays between Piston, Falstall, Hal, etc only make sense if you understand the context of the time. I don’t see how a movie can bridge that gap.

    Reply
    1. Alex Good

      They cut it up quite a bit and edit it visually so it plays more like what a movie audience would expect. Plus an actor can really help with an understanding of the text just in how they sell the lines (e.g., that’s meant as an insult, here he’s cracking a joke). But for sure there’s a lot of what goes on here particularly in the Eastcheap scenes that’s hard to get. But then it’s hard to get even when you’re reading the play with modern footnotes.

      Reply
    1. Alex Good

      Where else can you find informed, scholarly commentary on Sharknado 3 one day and Henry IV Part Two the next? Where?
      You needn’t struggle over that one. The answer is nowhere but here. This is a blog for all seasons.

      Reply
      1. tensecondsfromnow

        What season will your blog start offering paragraphs, coherence or anything recent? Is that season still on it’s way? Bear in mind I’ve only been reading for a year, although it seems like 20. This blog is a cultural no-man’s land….

      2. Alex Good Post author

        You do remember what happened to the helicopters that tried to catch the sharks in Jaws 2 and Deep Blue Sea. I’m afraid this would be the same. Alex 1, Helicopter 0.

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