Henry IV, Part 1 (William Shakespeare)

Article by liz

Henry IV, Part 1 Cover Image
$8.00
ISBN: 9780812969245
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Published: Modern Library - August 25th, 2009

If you only read one Shakespeare play in your life, read HENRY IV, PART 1. Don’t be put off by the title--it's really more about the future Henry V, and despite the “Part One,” this gem of a play stands alone. It’s the story of three Henrys: King Henry IV faces a rebellion led by heroic Henry “Hotspur” Percy, while his oldest son Prince Henry, called Hal, spends his days in taverns avoiding his responsibilities and committing various (hilarious) petty crimes with his best friend, the roguish old mischief-maker Sir John Falstaff. Hal purposefully cultivates his terrible reputation, to make his eventual "reform" that much more meaningful, but Hotspur’s rebellion forces Hal into growing up sooner than he’d anticipated.

HENRY IV, PART 1 has every genre you can ask for. You want tragedy? Hotspur's pride and devotion to his cause back him into a corner there's no escape from. Here for the broad comedy? Those famous “Shakespearean Insults” all come from Act II, Scene IV, as Hal and Falstaff one-up each other with over-the-top banter and practical jokes. It's laugh-out-loud funny, but more than that, Hal and Falstaff’s relationship forms the emotional heart of the play. Hal and Falstaff tug at your heartstrings almost as much as Hal’s emotional scenes with his father, or Hotspur’s painfully difficult scenes with his semi-estranged wife, Lady Percy.

The histories are full of wonderful, flawed people who all just did what they thought was best. HENRY IV, PART 1 is something for everyone: young adults trying to figure out what they want from life, heroes trying to stay true to their ideals, and the older crowd who've watched the world change and aren't sure if they've changed with it. It's also a pure example of dramatic pacing at its finest: this play flows from the austerity of court to the rollicking taverns of Cheapside and the wilds of Wales, to the inevitable conclusion where two armies clash on the plains of Shrewsbury. Inevitability is the heart of this play--war are death are inevitable, and as Hal's royal duties clash with his tavern games, maybe the breakup of Hal and Falstaff’s friendship is inevitable, too. Nothing in this play will last, so everyone fights, laughs, and lives fully while it does.


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