Reading Henry IV, Part 2 (yet again), in my head I can still hear John Gielgud anguished about how he came to the throne and what will follow his imminent death in Welles’s “Falstaff,” I can see his breath—and also see the other characters, not least Welles himself. Is Prince Hal a parricide, speeding both his fathers to their graves (his biological father reassured, his drinking companion hearbroken) with some degree of intention? There are plenty of foreshadowings of reformation (and the concomitant deposition of Falstaff) in both Henry IV plays.
The subterfuge by which John of Lancaster gets the Archbishop of York and his confederates to disperse the rebel troops, then seizes and executes them is less than honorable, recalling the blood of Richard II on his father’s hands and his brother’s the slaughtering of the prisoners at Agincourt to come in Henry V.
Warwick in IV.4 understands that the prince is exploring disorder better to govern it later, yet seems to have forgotten his insight in V.2. There is a lack of relationship between the good younger brothers and the sort of prodigal returned (although he could not take his inheritance of the crown in advance and does not leave the kingdom he will inherit).
Henry III (John Gielfud) and Prince Hal (Keith Baxter” in Orson Welles’s “Falstaff”
I am convinced that Falstaff is impotent (“cannot go” I.2173. Poins: “Is it not strange that desire should so many years outlive performance?” II.v.267-8).
I don’t interpret Falstaff calling the crowned king “Jove” as casting himself as Saturn (but as the ruler), and attend more to “my heart” (V.5.48 in the exclamation that brings down the withering rejection of “the tutor and feeder of my riots”).
My attention was also grabbed by “the juvenal, the Prince, your master, whose chin is not yet fledge” (Falstaff at I.2.20-21) the conventional marker of a still-desirable youth. Hal does not otherwise seem like a Ganymede.
I don’t know what to make of “I am the fellow with the great belly, and he [Prince Hal] my dog” (Falstaff to the Chief Justice in discussing who misleads whom, I.2.150-1).
© 1996, Stephen O. Murray