So some final thoughts… before I take the next couple of days off. I like The First Part of Henry the Fourth. A lot. I rate it just below Richard the Third as my second favorite history, and in the top five of all the Canon thus far, in my humble opinion (I still rate Romeo and Juliet, Midsummer, Titus, and of course Dickie Three ahead).
I like Hal, really like Falstaff, absolutely love Hotspur, and am always intrigued by the king himself. I find its structure (save for a couple of things, which I’ll touch upon later) a marvel: our titular king beginning, middle and end, Falstaff where and when the king isn’t, and our foils Hal and Hotspur throughout. It shows a halting maturation of Hotspur, and the slow emergence and reformation of the man who will be King Henry V. Sure, there are issues, like that interminable (for me at least) Act Two, Scene Four in the tavern; but it is just a great and solid piece because of the characters.
I said earlier that I’m intrigued by Henry… it should be no surprise then that I find Hal somewhat an enigma. He’s everyman. He’s an actor. He’s a profligate. He’s a hero-to-be. He’s all those things, but I also think that he’s never sure of who he is. And he’s our main character… which adds a layer of uncertainty to the play.
On the other hand, we have Hotspur: Mr. Certainty. Rash, reckless, over the top, bordering on the ridiculous… but charmingly so. He’s funny, sexy, and brave… what a foil for our everyman/no man, Hal!
The play has political intrigue, battle scenes and bawdiness, comedy (both broad and domestic), incredible foreshadowing of the history plays to come, scenes of love… it’s got it all, and it’s all there on the page.
There’s no way the sequel can match that, right?