Shakespeare Seminar 2016

February 10th, 2016

Henry IV, Part One
– I am not usually a fan of reading up on the background of plays and literary works, preferring to read it as a stand-alone, but Henry IV Part One is an unabashedly historical work (if also one of Shakespeare’s greatest dramas) and knowing some of the history and characters involved can give us a richer experience in reading it.

Your copy of the play should have an extensive introduction to Henry IV and his son, the eventual Henry V (now the Prince of Wales), but here are some links for more if you need them:

From British Library:
From PBS:

A very quick overview:

Henry IV has recently upset the foundation of feudal monarchy by overthrowing his cousin Richard II for the throne of England. He has finished fighting what could be considered a civil war, but is in that uneasy place between being king by divine right and an usurper. And like most English kings, he is dependent on noble families for arms and services, and in particular, the great Percy family, who fight for Henry, but are also wondering if they can replace him with one of their own.  Their son Henry Percy (Hotspur) has just had a great victory against some Scottish rebels and is holding back the spoils from Henry IV, partly because Henry IV won’t rescue/ransom Mortimer from the Welsh.



23 thoughts on “Shakespeare Seminar 2016”

    • I should have hit “reply” instead of making a new comment so it threads properly. Sorry. I am waiting to hear back from Eliot to see if Josiah wants to talk now or at 8 pm. I’ll let you know.

    • Is anyone out there? How about I start?
      I will say that I have read most Shakespeare but don’t remember reading Henry IV. I can never remember the details from English history, and keeping track of all the Henrys and Richards and Johns is hard work. But so many people love his history plays, so I am willing to give it a try. What do you guys think?

      • I definitely enjoy his comedy plays more than any of the historical ones but if Henry V is anything to go by, Henry IV might focus a little more on the interactions between the characters instead of the facts and Shakespeare’s commentary on them.

          • By commentary, I meant the modern(for him) references Shakespeare puts into the historical plays, not so much any opinion of the actual characters themselves. Although I haven’t read many of the historical plays.

      • So I have read Scene 1 and 2 of Act 1, and have also been doing some research on different way to tackle analyzing a piece of drama. The usual way to tackle a literary work is through looking at plot, characters, motivations, style of the writing, voice, and so on and so on. And Jack and I don’t necessarily tackle literature in an orderly, “go down the list” way, we usually dive into the Big Questions of the piece, and use tools and the aforementioned list to give us hooks to get started. However, drama is a little different. Do you guys read the scenes out loud? Some people think that you cannot read Shakespeare quietly and to yourself, it just does not convey the true richness and depth of Shakespeare. It feels silly, but I do try and read most of it out loud. And of course we can also watch performances, but that is someone else’s interpretation of Shakespeare, yes?

        • That’s true, we prefer looking at the entire play as a single entity, although I’m not sure we’ve gotten far enough into the story to be able to effectively do that. With just the first act we only have the set up for the characters, the king hasn’t even had a chance to respond to Hotspur and we’ve really only heard bits of banter with the titular character.

          • Oh, you mean the first exchange between Prince Hal and Falstaff? This one:
            Thou art so fat-witted, with drinking of old sack
            and unbuttoning thee after supper and sleeping upon
            benches after noon, that thou hast forgotten to
            demand that truly which thou wouldst truly know.
            What a devil hast thou to do with the time of the
            day? Unless hours were cups of sack and minutes
            capons and clocks the tongues of bawds and dials the
            signs of leaping-houses and the blessed sun himself
            a fair hot wench in flame-coloured taffeta, I see no
            reason why thou shouldst be so superfluous to demand
            the time of the day.

          • old sack = cheap wine from Spain
            capons = neutered roosters raised for food, usually quite fat and lazy, like Falstaff himself
            flame-colored taffeta = something prostitutes would have worn

          • I think it is quite clear very early on what kind of person Falstaff (and maybe the Prince) is. One way directors and actors get started with a drama is to think about archetypes. You could even think of archetypes as stereotypes or caricatures, but I think it is more that we humans have developed a stock library – so to speak – of characters that make for easier analysis/understanding. One modern archetype would be a Mafia bad guy, right? But there are more general ones too, like warrior, sovereign, trickster and carer.

          • No, I didn’t pull those out of thin air, I got them from the Royal Shakespeare Company’s teaching guidelines! But they are useful for beginning.

          • That entire exchange seemed very similar to many of the witty conversations in his other plays, with each character taking a serious part of the last statement and making a pun on it. Falstaff probably seems like a pretty stereotypical character from Shakespeare’s other plays because Shakespeare used to write most of the fool types for one person in his acting troupe(William Kempe).

        • Your method sounds great to me and reading out loud for sure helped me understand a lot more. I personally haven’t watched any performances that’s something I’ll have to try.

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