Willie Shakes wrote this aroundabouts 1597, but there's really no way of knowing for sure, since Willie Shakes didn't actually exist, amiright?
First off, I want to start by saying that one thing I loved about this production was that the Welsh characters (Hotspur, Lord Percy, et al) actually sound Welsh. A Welsh accent being what it is, it sounds very similar to what is known in the biznit as OP. That is, Original Pronunciation. That is, what Shakespeare and his contemporaries likely actually sounded like when they spoke Early Modern English. I thought this was a really clever way of sticking some OP goodness into the production, instead of everyone flouncing around with posh RP pronunciation. Not that I am down on posh RP. I can do it like a boss and I often launch into it upon a fortnight with little provocation. Whether it was director Sam Mendes's intention or not to give us a little OP to go with our supper, it was not lost on me and 'twas most appreciated, good sirrah.
During the course of Henry IV, Part I, the aging king has more than his fair share of Medieval England Problems. He just could not wait to be king, and now that he's got the job, he's finding it comes with a lot of work-related stress. He so thought that pillaging the Holy Land to absolve himself of guilt over Richard II's murder would be therapeutic for him, but as it turns out, not so much. Those pesky Scottish and Welsh subjects are agitating for autonomy AGAIN, and even though the Percy (Northumberland) family helped him overthrow Richard II, Henry feels like they're being completely unreasonable, too.
The title of the play is kind of a misnomer. It really isn't about Henry IV at all. He's a presence in the movie, but his part is very small and he's much more of a background character, and he's honestly not a terribly interesting character. Jeremy Irons is the type of seasoned, veteran actor dude to pull off the part and make it memorable and significant. Henry wouldn't work at all without someone like Irons in the role, and if there isn't a good Henry to bring urgency to Hal's situation, then play just doesn't work. Mostly, he's concerned about the succession and his legacy after he dies, and he spends a lot of time ranting and nagging Hal about straightening up. There's not a whole lot of depth to him as a human being in this part of Henry IV, and the way the character is written is sort of static and uninteresting, but his story is more or less the engine of the play. So, in sum, Henry's way more boring in this play than he is in Richard II. Apparently, he goes batshit in Part II. We can look forward to that.
Really, the play is more about the dichotomy between Prince Hal and Henry Percy (Hotspur). I'll let the professors parse out the complexity of their relationship, but it's no coincidence that they share a name (Henry) and similar personality traits. However, they express themselves in different ways. While Hal sows the proverbial wild oats of youth in taverns, drinking wine and banging whores, Hotspur spends most of his time ignoring his wife (Lady Mary Crawley herself, Michelle Dockery) and fuming over the indignities Henry has been subjecting the Percy family to. They're both idiots, but Hal only emerges as the champion of the play because he wises up.
Ahh. If only you'd seen my Santa Claus back in '86.
Anyhoo. Harry Percy, or Hotspur, is emo, but Henry thinks that he'd rather have Hotspur for a son because Hotspur does his noble duty and goes out and kills Scottish people like he's supposed to, whereas his own son is drunk at the bar. Kids these days.
At the start of the play, Henry whines about how his son is a layabout and a good-for-nothing and a slacker. These mid-millenials. Interrupting his self-pity-a-thon are Hotspur and Lord Percy. Hotspur's been out battling the Douglas at Holmedon like a good laddie. Henry wants Hotspur to return the Scottish prisoners that Hotspur took in action, and Hotspur is like no. Hotspur wants the king to ransom his wife's brother, Edward Mortimer, who's been taken prisoner by Owen Glendower (most Welsh name ever). The king goes ballistic, basically because he's a control freak, and insults Lord Percy and Hotspur.
Hotspur: The king is being a total asshat.
Lord Percy: I know, right?
Remember when the Earl of Northumberland helped Henry overthrow Richard II? Yeah, those were good times. The Percys sure do remember that Henry owes his throne to the support of nobles like themselves, and they are PISSED that Henry is dissing them.
MEANWHILE back at the whorehouse, Falstaff decides that he, Hal and Poins should rob a merry band of travelers who are making their way into the shire. Because reasons. Hal and Points decide that that is not enough highjinksery for them, so they don't show up to meet Falstaff at the appointed time, and Falstaff has to do the highwayman thing all on his own. Falstaff robs the travelers (who really deserve to be robbed if they can have their asses kicked by Falstaff), and then Hal and Poins jump out from behind some trees to surprise Falstaff and steal the money that Falstaff stole. It's like Robin Hood, but postmodern. Hal returns the money to Falstaff, and they all go back to drinking and wenching. All is right with the world.
Falstaff: You! Elf! Get back to making toys!
Hal: And more wine!
Falstaff! Yes! More wine!
Hal: And more whores!
Falstaff: Yes. More whores, more wine, and more toys. I said now, elf!
Over at castle Northumberland, Hotspur is raging against the machine. His obsessive anger with the king has not gone unnoticed by his wife, Kate.
Shags: 0. If possible to have negative shag balance, am probably getting there.
Weight: Same. However, have been eating cold roasted peacock sandwiches, butter directly out of churn, and some cheese off wheel when servants are asleep. If someone would invent ice cream, would be grateful. Weight gain: imminent. Am defo not preggers.
Harry Status: Continues raging. Day 7 of tirade. Am hoping tires himself out but has been up all night ranting about king.
"Don't marry the Welsh guy," said friends. Wonder if that cheesemonger in Surrey is still single...
This is for all of you Downton Abbey fans who can't stand to see Lady Mary with anyone but Matthew.
Hotspur's all up in arms this time because he got a letter from one of his noble kinsemen in re: Hotspur's request for them to join in Hotspur's plan to overthrow the thing. Survey says: No. Kate threatens to castrate Hotspur if he doesn't tell her what he's up to, then he insults her, tells her he doesn't love her, and throws her on the bed. Real winner you've got there, Kate! Hotspur's worried that his kinsmen will betray him and tattletale to Henry, so he leaves to go plot his rebellion, and tells Kate that she can, like, join him in a few days or... he'll call her or...whatever.
Come and see the violence inherent in the system! Help! Help! I'm being oppressed!
Because Henry IV has got a serious case of he oldz, he's really concerned that he's going to die and leave England without a decent king. The guy is one rebellion away from a triple bypass. He's got his little spies everywhere, and he's aware that Hotspur & Friends are a-plottin' and he's got to get Hal to sober up long enough to walk a straight line and maybe get stabby with a few rebellious folks.
Henry: Ohhh, my prostate.
Hal: Soo...just to clarify. No hookers ever again or just tone it down a bit?
Henry: Ahh! My acid reflux.
Hal: Okay. Bad time to ask. Did you see I killed that guy-
Henry: Shut up!
Henry summons Hal into his throne room, and Hal shows up and Henry is is all like,
Henry lays some smack down on Hal and tells him this drunkenness, tomfoolery, monkey business, frequenting of strumpets, and general errant knavery have got to stop. LIKE RIGHT THIS MINUTE. He tells Hal that he is just like Richard II (only Henry hasn't had him imprisoned yet) and thinks Hal is going to go over to Hotspur's side in the rebellion. Henry's speech itself kind of goes on and on without much point, but it spurs (ha!) emotion in Hal.
Christ. Seven years of college down the drain. Might as well join the fucking Peace Corps.
And THEN Sir Walter Blunt enters and alerts them to the fact that Douglas, who's leading the Scottish rebels, has joined forces with the English rebels near Shrewsbury and they're getting ready to attack. OH NOES.
Over at Castle Glendower in Wales, Percy and the other rebels have gathered to plot their battle against the king, and this is where we meet Glendower's daughter, Lady Mortimer, who's married to Kate Percy's brother. Yeah, I think I've got that right. She doesn't speak any English, and Mortimer doesn't speak any Welsh, and neither of them have bothered to learn the other's language for, you know, relationship purposes. I guess that would require literacy. Hey, don't judge. I'm sure they connect on other levels. They gather in the evening to have a fancy dinner party before they all die horrible deaths or are executed or torn apart limb from limb or are banished and whatnot.
This isn't Chanel? Then WTF is it? "A skinned muppet"? Okay. What is a muppet?
Lady Mortimer doesn't have any lines per se in the play, but she does get to babble incoherently in Welsh. Needless to say, I would be all over that part like it was my job. Lady Mortimer decides to give a concert for the rebel alliance, and there's a moment where Kate and Hotspur appear to set aside their differences for the sake of snuggletime. They sneak off during Lady Mortimer's song for a make-up quickie.
Weather: Continues bleak.
Shags: 1. Harry. Against cold stone wall in dank castle. Bum: a bit cold.
Shags: 1. Harry. Against cold stone wall in dank castle. Bum: a bit cold.
This Enya music is making me horny.
That brings us up to Act IV, or thereabouts. This is where it starts to get real. It's all Empire vs. Rebel Alliance from here on out.
In Shrewsbury, which is near Wales, Hotspur, Worcester (pronounced Wooster) and Douglas are discussing their strategy when this guy shows up and tells Hotspur that his father is too sick to fight that day. Really? You've got fat old fuckin' Falstaff waddling onto the battlefield to support Hal and the king, but Lord Percy can't toddle his sorry ass to the fight? I call shenanigans. AS IF THAT IS NOT ENOUGH BAD NEWS FOR ONE EFFING DAY, Vernon shows up and tells Hotspur that Henry's other son, Prince John, is, like totally headed their way with a bunch of soldiers, AND the king AND Hal are on their way with a bunch of other soldiers. Vernon has seen Hal on a horse, and he looks completely regal and is totes ready for Hotspur to baaaariiiing it.
AND AND AND. Glendower is bailing. Well, I guess he's not technically bailing, but he can't assemble enough forces together before the battle. This would maybe be a good time to BACK THE FUCK OFF, but Hotspur says NOPE. We are going to fight this thing to the end, and he expresses a wish to have a mano a mano confrontation with Hal.
Hotspur: We're going to win, right?
Dudebro: Oh, yeah. Totally!
The battle is actually pretty cool, and should, I hope, satisfy all the stage combat and SCA nerds out there. It's not exactly Orcs vs. Elves or Harry vs. Voldemort (I said it), but it's pretty exciting and historically accurate from a combat perspective. Hal is wounded, but he's got his vow to redeem himself to keep in mind, and, though wounded, he meets Hotspur in one-on-one combat and kills him.
Yeah, that's right. I stabbed you. Mind THAT gap, bitch.
I'm not sure who delivers the tragic news to Kate Percy, but I'm guessing she's sensing a theme.
The rebellion thus quashed, and the rebels either killed in battle or executed, King Henry is able to hang onto his ill-gotten throne and Falstaff lives to drink and whore another day. So, a net gain for our fair city.
Obviously, the play is much richer than what I've presented here for you, and there's way too much going on in the movie for me to have room for to recap for you fine folks here. There's a new episode airing this week, and that will be Henry IV, Part II: The Wonder Years. Head over to PBS.org for more info.