Tag Archives: Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s “Henry IV, Part II”

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.

h IV.jpg

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

Shakespeare’s “The Winter Tale”

I do not see how anyone could read Shakespeare’s late play ‘The Winter’s Tale” (first published in 1623) as “placid.” Antigonus being slain by a bear is not a usual transition for a courtier to the pastoral! The first three acts constitute a tragedy of jealousy (Leontes has no Iago—Camillo is Iago’s antithesis— his paranoia bout being cuckolded is spontaneous) followed by the next generation’s romance, which the audience knows reconciles the estranged former friends. Romeo and Juliet starts as a comedy and ends as a tragedy (as, more murkily, does Troilus and Cressida); The Winter’s Tale starts as a tragedy and ends as a comedy. I am disappointed that the climactic reconciliation scene is told rather than showed, even if another happy ending is still to come.


(Hermione reviving from having been a statue)


I am not convinced that Leontes is a character and not a type. What I find most striking is the contrast between the view of adolescence of the old shepherd who finds and rears Perdita and Polixenes, (her future father-in-law talking to her mother Hermione before Perdita’s birth). The shepherd wishes that “there were no age between ten and three-and-twenty” or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting” (3.3.58-62), while Polixenes recalls a male-male paradise before the temptations of (owning?) women intruded:”Temptations have since been born to ‘s (1.2.78). In contrast,

We were as twinned lambs, that did frisk i’ th’ sun,

and bleat the one at th’ oher; what we [ex]changed

Was innocence for innocence; we knew not

The doctrine of ill-doing, nor dreamed

That any did… (1.2.66-71).

It is Leontes who has since then tripped and jealousy unhinges him—to the extent of defying the judgment of Apollo and living long after to regret his badness (madness?) before undeservedly having friend, daughter, and wife restored.

(The more deserving Paulina is also to wed the wise Camillo who went with Polixenes when Leontes was going to murder Polixenes.)

©1996, Stephen O. Murray