You wouldn’t have expected it based on how he acted as a youth. But no
sooner had his father stopped breathing than the prince’s wildness died
too. Really, at that precise moment he gained a capacity for reflection,
which appeared like an angel to chase away the sinful part of him,
leaving his body like a paradise, fit to house only lofty thoughts and
Henry IV: Hal’s conversion and the king’s two bodies
I’m rewatching season 1 of The Hollow Crown, and I’d say I didn’t know why I didn’t notice the pure genius of how the end of Henry IV, part ii is filmed before, but I totally do know. It was because I was sobbing my eyes out over Jeremy Irons’ Henry IV while rocking myself gently. Anyway.
The cinematography and acting – and unusual decisions about cutting – all contribute to our suspense. Even though a 21st-century audience will know how Hal’s character arc continues, this film emphatically DOES NOT. And I love it. In the film (in contrast to the play) Hal is observed by no one as he sits alone with the crown. His self-defense is delivered only after time for him to deliberate, and it’s shorter than that in the play. All of the courtiers’ anxious deliberations, and Falstaff’s eager imaginings, are given full play. And when we first see Hal after his father’s death, his face is a perfect mask. The fears of Henry IV and everyone else support the supposition that everything might go terribly wrong for the court, in a variety of terrifying ways. Will Hal prove no more than a wastrel? Will he prove no less than a tyrant? We don’t know!!!
…Until we get his pledge of “formal majesty.” And then, of course, the splendid and heartbreaking coronation. Of all the Henriad adaptations I have ever seen, I think The Hollow Crown does the best job of depicting the theory of the king’s two bodies. The king, according to this theory, has one earthly body and one transcendent. This isn’t just about identity; it comes down to the body itself. So while surely there are many who would gladly contemplate Tom Hiddleston for his own sweet sake, the point is that in the coronation, his body becomes that of the king. He becomes the king. And this mystical transformation, this near-intolerable burden of a new existential reality, is what Falstaff and his cronies fail entirely to comprehend. That Falstaff thinks he understands it (see his biblical language foretelling his own elevation) only adds to the poignancy. There is a cruelty in it, and there is a coldness to it, and there is glory, and I love it. It is not insignificant that the first we see of Hal crowned, in Henry V, is of his delight in his own body, in an hour apart from the sacred responsibilities of kingship. This not counting the “prologue” sequence, in which, of course, we see only the transcendent king’s body, at first shrouded entirely under the royal banner.
On this day in 2012 Henry IV part 1 aired on BBC 2 for the very first time! Here is a classic scene between Hotspur (Joe Armstrong) & Prince Hal (Tom Hiddleston):
Henry IV Part 1, Act 5, Scene 4
If I mistake not, thou art Harry Monmouth.
Thou speak’st as if I would deny my name.
My name is Harry Percy.
Why, then I see
A very valiant rebel of the name. I am the Prince of Wales; and think not, Percy, To share with me in glory any more: Two stars keep not their motion in one sphere; Nor can one England brook a double reign, Of Harry Percy and the Prince of Wales.
‘So, when this loose behaviour I throw off And pay the debt I never promised, By how much better than my word I am, By so much shall I falsify men’s hopes; And like bright metal on a sullen ground, My reformation, glittering o'er my fault, Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes Than that which hath no foil to set it off. I’ll so offend, to make offence a skill; Redeeming time when men think least I will.’
Hi there! This might sound a little silly but you sound very well informed on the matter I was just wondering what your opinion was on the easiest and best ways to experience Shakespeare's plays? I dont really have access to theatre productions and stuff but I'm interested and I wondered for example about whether there are any tv shows/movies online that present it well and stay very true to the originals? Or would reading the scripts be best?
This is not silly at all, and actually accessible shakespeare is something very important to me, so I’ll do my best to give you some options.
For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to assume you’re comfortable with torrenting things because that is the absolute easiest way for me to handle this, but if you’re not – send me a message off anon and I can upload things to google drive or find some other good way of getting you anything you can’t find streaming for free online and don’t feel like/aren’t able to buy.
First I’d like to start by saying: there’s no wrong way to enjoy Shakespeare. If Baz Lurhmann's Romeo and Juliet is the best thing you’ve ever seen, or if you adore Kenneth Branagh, or if The Lion King is your favorite adaptation of Hamlet, there’s no “right” Shakespeare. Some people prefer 100% faithful productions, but for some people, three hours of Kenneth Branagh reciting every line the bard penned for Hamlet is exhausting, boring, or impossible. And there’s nothing wrong with that! The most important thing about Shakespeare is to enjoy him, whether that means reading the plays in the middle of the night with 8 colored highlighters, or watching Heath Ledger dance down the bleachers in 10 Things I Hate About You (better known to Shakespeare as The Taming of the Shrew). That being said, here is my as-comprehensive-as-possible-for-a-blogger-who-just-woke-up guide to Shakespeare.
Shakespeare is, above all, meant to be watched. I wrote a whole paper about the importance of physical action in Shakespeare, and I firmly believe as a dramatic artist that it is necessary to watch Shakespeare. So, here are some options for watching him.
Kenneth Branagh is not my cup of tea, but you can’t deny that the man understands Shakespeare. He has made films of quite a hefty percentage of Shakespeare’s well known plays, and most people adore them. I’ve heard especially good things about his Othello and his Much Ado About Nothing, and anything with his name attached should be a piece of cake to find steaming online, whether for free or on Amazon instant video if you feel like shelling out a few dollars. His Hamlet is done with a completely unabridged text, and I expect many of this others are too.
The BBC has some amazing films of Shakespeare plays that they’ve released, especially recently, and all of these are of incredible quality and handle the script really well. In fact, their Hamlet (with David Tennant in the title role) is one of my favorite productions of Hamlet ever. Just last year they released The Hollow Crown, which was the biggest of Shakespeare’s history plays (Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 and 2, and Henry V) with great great actors like Ben Whishaw, Jeremy Irons, Tom Hiddleston, Patrick Stewart, Michelle Dockery, and Rory Kinnear. These, too, are pretty easy to find online, and are stunning. The BBC also did a series awhile back called Shakespeare Re-Told with some fairly outrageous but fun looking modern adaptations of Shakespeare plays, and while I can’t attest to the quality of these as I’ve never seen them, the casting looks great (Billie Piper, James McAvoy, and Imelda Staunton among them)
A number of bigger theatres will actually film and release their productions. The National Theatre in London has a program called NTLive, where they release filmed productions of some of their plays. I saw their Othello when I was in London with Rory Kinnear as Iago and enjoyed it. If you look around, I’m sure you can find a handful of other one’s they’ve done (as well as some great non-Shakespeare productions)
Even when the stories don’t include the bard’s on words, watching modern adaptations is a great way to get the story without the fuss of the seemingly-unapproachable Early Modern English that Shakespeare writes in. There are a ton of these, but some personal favorites are
10 Things I Hate About You, or, The Taming of the Shrew in high school with Heath Ledger and baby Joseph Gordon-Levitt
She’s the Man, or, Amanda Bynes stars in Twelfth Night and also shoves a tampon up her nose
The Lion King, or, Hamlet with impossibly hot animated lions
West Side Story, or, Romeo and Juliet plus 1950s gangs and race relations
Listen to it:
One of the best decisions I ever made was to download a torrent of The Complete Arkangel Shakespeare. It’s a huge huge file and it took my computer almost a week to do it, but that’s fully dramatized unabridged audio recordings of 38 Shakespeare plays. Which is, really, pretty incredible. Each play is fully cast from a pool of actors shared across plays, and it’s basically the complete auditory experience of going to a Shakespeare play, just minus the visual. As sometimes Shakespeare’s language can be dense, hearing actors who really understand what they’re saying handle the language makes it much much easier to know what they’re saying. I find it helpful to listen to the plays as I read them, adding an extra layer of both comprehension and entertainment. And David Tennant plays Mercutio!
There’s nothing wrong with reading Shakespeare. It shouldn’t be your stopping point – you shouldn’t read them and, upon hating them, decide you hate Shakespeare. Shakespeare wouldn’t have wanted it that way. But, if you enjoy reading them? Read all of them! It’s by far the most accessible way of tackling Shakespeare, as they’re all public domain and thus free online, and there are half a dozen published copies with good footnotes that will help you slog through some of the language. I love the Folger’s Shakespeare Library editions of the text for their notes and critical material, but you can also get a plain old copy of the text free online with just a simple google search (project Gutenberg, I think, has all of the, though I tend to get mine here.
I know you said you don’t have access to theatre productions, and obviously I’m not going to tell you to fly yourself to the Globe and see them anyway, but what I will say is: keep an eye out. Colleges and Universities do Shakespeare a lot and even if it’s not an incredible production, the experience of seeing Shakespeare live is unbeatable. Shakespeare in the Park-type productions tend to be free or cheap depending on where you are. Check out and see if theaters in your area have student/artist/unemployed discounts on tickets, or if they do discounted preview showings, find small indie or community theaters with cheaper tickets or, if locations is your issue, take every chance you get while traveling to see if there’s an opportunity. I’m not going to act like you can’t truly love Shakespeare if you see him live, because that’s not true, there are a million and one ways to love Shakespeare and each one is as valid and important as the next, but seeing his work live truly is a treat.
Don’t take him too seriously. There’s plenty of bloodshed and betrayal and tragedy but at the end of the day, Shakespeare wasn’t trying to be a Great and Noble Artist, he was trying to make money by entertaining a crowd. Look up a list of Shakespeare’s 10 best dick jokes and laugh your way through the plays as you read them. Find the joy in the comic relief characters, and don’t be afraid to have fun.
I’ve started a collection of Shakespeare movies – it is by no means comprehensive, but I have at least one adaptation of every play. I’m more than willing to distribute them to whomever wants them. If there’s a particular adaptation that you want, let me know and I can almost definitely get my hands on it for you. Message me for links.
Posting this under a readmore so that I can continue to add to it