I have been trying to keep my posts fairly chronological, but after today, I simply have to post out of order, to keep my raving fresh perhaps. Because today we went to the Globe to see Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1 and was taken away into a medieval England chock full of people called Henry, Harry, Hal, Hotspur and England’s favourite rogue, Falstaff. Falstaff was Shakespeare’s most popular character, appearing in 4 plays (in Henry V, mainly viewed as flashback I think, but I’m only working on the Kenneth Branagh version!).
Before getting to the Globe, we had much fun navigating a successful route, due to the Jubilee line being down for maintenance. It meant that we ended up at St Paul’s tube station and had to make the walk around the Cathedral and across that bridge… Ushered into the Globe itself, we settled just to the side of some stairs near the stage. I loved the way the Globe had been decorated for the season of Kings & Rogues, quite atmospheric really. We were groundlings, which meant that while we were right up close to the stage, we had to stand throughout the performance. A small price to pay for £5 tickets!
As would have been usual in Shakespeare’s time, a short, bawdy scene was acted out at the beginning of the performance, getting the audience warmed and instructing us during the skit to “Turn off your mobile phones, they havn’t been invented yet.” It was a brilliant way to include that most modern of theatre instructions.
For those who have no clue as to the plot of Henry IV (that would have included me 12 hours ago) I’ll attempt a KT synopsis :
King Henry is cranky because there has been a battle where the valiant Henry Percy (Hotspur) has won the day and taken prisoners. Henry is cranky because his own son is cavorting with rogues & whores and not being very heroic at all. We soon learn that Hotspur has no intention of handing over the prisoners to the King and is using the excuse that the King has refused to pay the ransom for his brother-in-law Mortimer. Hence there will be blood.
Enter Prince Hal (rather amusingly in a state of undress, presumably from cavorting with one of those whores) and Falstaff, who exchange banter about the roguishness of Falstaff, and how Hal should not ‘hang a thief when he is king’. Hal also makes a soliloquy about how he intends to break out of his bad behaviour and become a hero worthy of Kingship. Interesting character development here, as Shakespeare redeveloped the character of a King (Hal becomes Henry V) into a hero, using the character of Falstaff as a foil of Vice, who is trying to drag Hal back to his old roguish ways.
Hal is drawn into a plot to waylay some of the royal cash, also partaking in a double cross of Falstaff, basically for the entertainment of himself and Poins. Much laughter & hilarity comes of Falstaff lie & bluff his way through his explanation of how he was set upon & lost the treasure. There’s some dancing, but then the sober news that Hal has to meet with his father in the morning to discuss going to war against Hotspur, Mortimer, Owen Glendowner (Welsh guy, good singer) and The Douglas (obviously a Scot, and a battle hardened one at that), who have had quite a discussion about the division of land once they defeat the King.
Hal meets with his father and swears to prove himself to his disapproving father. He gathers up Falstaff, who recruits a ragtag division of men to help Hal in the fighting.
Some other stuff happens, which I’m sure is terribly important to character development, the display of how Shakespeare understood human emotion & feeling, but I’ll skip that for now. Needless to say, Hotspur yells a lot, and Hal shows his mettle in a grave petition to fight Hotspur in combat instead of the two armies destroying each other. Hotspur doesn’t hear of this offer, it is held back by his Uncle, who has dealt with King Henry before and does not trust his offer of ‘love’.
Fighting happens! It’s all very exciting, lots of clashing swords and running about and shouting. Various people die, and then there’s a clash between Hotspur and Hal, and Hal kills Hotspur. He rushes off, mourning briefly over the apparent death of Falstaff (who had been fighting The Douglas and feigned death to escape). Falstaff gets up and noticing the dead body of Hotspur, stabs him, to claim the kill as his own. The Battle is won, though there are still more to be had, as Glendowner and Mortimer and Northumberland had not made it to the battle and still need to be dealt with. Hal has won his father’s pride & favour and looks to be on the rise, a shining Prince.
So, did I confuse you?
After the play had ended, Falstaff came back on stage, and we all cheered and applauded. And he hushed us, then encouraged, then hushed – but it was all play acting. The actor playing Falstaff (Roger Allam) had the audience so in thrall it was amazing. The cast danced around a bit, took their bows and left.
Without a doubt, the play today has been a shining example of the ‘Best thing’ so far. I am very eager to see Henry IV Part 2, which could be next week! More battles! More beautiful, glimmering words. More Falstaff. More please.