Philadelphia Reflections

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Shakspere Society of Philadelphia
Maybe not the first, but the oldest Shakespeare club in America or possibly even the world, has kept minutes for over a hundred fifty years.

Hal Becomes Henry V


Vice Dean Fallon in the chair, due to the indisposition of the Dean. Other members present: Ake, Bartlett, Bovaird, Cheston, Dupee, Fisher, Friedman, Jensen, King, Mabry, Peck, and Petsopoulis. We were happy to welcome Mr. Ake's guests Erlis and John Wickersham, who visited us a couple of years ago.

We were alerted that this Sunday, January 9, at 1:00 PM, the Bryn Mawr movie theater will show Hamlet from the National Theater, with the much-praised Rory Kinnear as the gloomy prince.

The Vice Dean introduced our evening's reading of Henry IV, Part Two by reminding us of the many parallels between the two Henry IV plays. Henry's usurpation of the throne upset divinely ordained order; chaos followed. Since Henry rules by force of arms only, his reign invites rebellion. He has finally put down the last of the rebels, but he now, in Act Four, lies on his deathbed. Is his untimely demise God's judgment on the killer of Richard II?

4.2—We began to read in the middle of this scene. Hal has thought his father dead and has taken the crown from the king's side. Henry recalls the exhausting efforts he has made to restore right rule in the land and angrily predicts catastrophe for England under Hal's rule: "For the fifth Harry from curbed license plucks/ The muzzle of restraint, and the wild dog/ Shall flesh his tooth in every innocent." The Vice Dean reminded us of Henry V before Agincourt, meditating in soliloquy on the burdens of kingship.

A member saw Henry IV making a transition from justifying himself for his past acts to a more statesmanlike attitude, worrying about his country's future. Another member wondered why the king should condemn Hal so violently: what has Hal done to provoke such an attack? Others: Hal's tavern life seems to promise a debauched king who ignores law and order. Another member: "Henry sees himself in Hal." Perhaps he recalls his own disruption of proper order in winning the people's favor and then seizing the crown. A member mentioned the importance of the crown as symbolic object on stage here as it was in the

deposition scene in Richard II. The Vice Dean: Shakspere does not show us any attempt by Hal to take power, but the king sees his younger self in his son. A member: Hal in fact chose a better man than Dad as his father figure! Fat, jolly, life-affirming, a boon companion, a master of witty language.

Another member asked for sympathy for Henry: he truly fears for England's future, after the civil wars he has had to fight with a series of rebels. The king makes an eloquent final speech to Hal as he nears his death. He is full of guilt about seizing the royal power. Hal will benefit by his father's death: "For all the soil of the achievement goes/ With me into the earth." He fears God's judgment for the "by-paths and indirect crooked ways" by which "I met this crown." The Vice Dean: does Henry at last face justice here? A member: in Act Three, Henry said that he was "forced" by circumstance to become king. A refreshing readiness to take responsibility here? A member: Henry was of "mixed mind"; he allowed himself to be drafted to run, so to say, knowing he was morally wrong to do so.

5.1—Falstaff visits his old friend Justice Shallow in the boonies. A member wittily recalled Ava Gardner's comment, "Deep down, I'm shallow." Both men want to use the other for their own purposes. Falstaff has a fine long soliloquy sneering at his skinny friend, thinking of how he will entertain Hal in telling stories about this pompous, ridiculous country bumpkin who thinks himself a man of distinction.

5.2—The Lord Chief Justice meets King Henry V, expecting disaster, since he imprisoned the king when he was an unruly prince who insulted authority. The new king upbraids the Justice for his earlier behavior; the Justice eloquently retorts that he had defended "The majesty and power of law and justice." A member: a great performance as a lawyer by the LCJ! Henry V commends the old man, offers his hand, and promises, "You shall be as a father to my youth." He promises to "frustrate prophecies" that he would be a lawless monarch.

The Vice Dean called this scene the "rehabilitation of Hal," a reformation the prince had promised as early as his soliloquy in 1.4 of Part One. A member disdained Hal's "insincere fawning" over the Justice as he had over his father, in

sharp contrast to the prince's witty and frank exchanges with Falstaff, "Give and take between equals": wit, fun, a close mutual bond. Another member: Hal makes no promises as to what he will do as king, despite his airy generalities. A member: Hal never tells Falstaff before Hal becomes king that he will have to dismiss the fat man from his presence once Hal rules. A guest: we wonder how Hal will now rule as king, not convinced that he can walk the walk. A member: Henry V "takes the high ground" with the LCJ, a good augury that he will defend law and order as monarch. A member: we now have "measurable expectations" by which to judge the new king as he begins his rule.

The Vice Dean asked us to return to an old idea about Hal as prince: that he had been offered three models of how to rule, by Henry, Hotspur, and Falstaff. Only Falstaff still lives. We are left in suspense as to the model Hal will follow in ruling England as Henry V. Hal has not followed anyone else's lead up to the point that he begins his reign.


Respectfully submitted

Robert G. Peck



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