A couple of nights back, I caught the performance of Henry V as part of the 20th anniversary season of the Kingsmen Shakespeare Festival on the campus of California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California.
Think of a Shakespearean character who is a notorious party boy, a man-child who (while second-in-command) is still hanging out with the wrong crowd. An impressive speaker who’s not above using that skill to threaten his living enemies and eulogize his dead ones.
Know who he is?
Now think of his adversary. A too-serious, single-minded idealist, with a caring wife who is desperate to know his secrets, but a wife whose constancy is in enough question for him to keep things close to his vest. A man not above insulting an ally in conflict.
The Merry Wives of Windsor doesn’t appear in (m)any Top Ten lists of Shakespeare. Most critics find it a weaker play.
There’s not a great deal of deeper meaning in the play, its plot or its characters.
What seems to be the greatest sin in the eyes of most critics, however, is in the character of Falstaff. While the fat knight is seen as a comic creation of genius in The First Part of Henry the Fourth, one with wit and ironic wisdom, the Falstaff of The Merry Wives is seen as a bad copy of that earlier character.
According to theatrical legend–which, because it’s legend cannot be validated–The Merry Wives of Windsor exists because Shakespeare had been told by his patron, Queen Elizabeth, that she wanted to see “Falstaff in love.”
It’s a great story. The only problem is that the first time we hear this legend, it’s a hundred years later and the legend is brought forth by English dramatist John Dennis.
So we’ve reached the end of what many critics call the Henriad, the tale of Henry of Monmouth, Prince Hal, King Henry the Fifth. I find him as a character and the play itself FULL of contradictions. But unlike earlier plays that felt at odds with itself (read Love’s Labor’s Lost, Taming of the Shrew, and even to a certain extent, Merchant of Venice), this one I feel as if the contradictions are meant to deepen the play, and they don’t weaken it. Continue reading “Henry the Fifth: Wrap Up”
Using Professor Rodes’ midpoint theory, let’s take a look at Henry the Fifth.
There are 3228 lines in the play, so the midpoint takes place at line 1614, which occurs 46 lines into Act Three, Scene Seven. The scene takes place in the French camp the night before Agincourt. Our main (and titular) character is nowhere to be seen (or heard) in this scene. The exact center comes as the Dauphin discusses “the prescript praise and perfection of a good and particular mistress” (III.vii.45-46).
3228 total lines; longer than average (average play: 2777; average history: 3009)
At 35 and 14 lines, the Act Three chorus and Epilogue are the shortest of their kind in the Canon
At 170, 53, 124, and 45 lines, Act Three, Scene Six, Act Four Chorus, Act Four, Scene Eight, and Act Five chorus, respectively, are the longest of their kinds in the Canon
Act One: 443 lines; shorter than average (average play: 590, average history: 612)
Act Two: 563 lines; slightly shorter than the average, much shorter than average history (average play: 568, average history: 621)
Act Three: 717 lines; MUCH longer than average (average play: 576, average history: 632)
Act Four: 991 lines; MUCH longer than average (average play: 563, average history: 651)
Act Five: 514 lines; longer than average (average play: 480, average history: 493)
1320 lines of prose (40.89% of total lines [as opposed to The Comedy of Errors: 13.31%, Titus Andronicus: 1.39%, The Taming of the Shrew: 20.82%, 1HenryVI: 0.37%, 2HenryVI: 16.64%, 3HenryVI: 0.14%, Richard III: 2.89%, Love’s Labor’s Lost: 35.08%, The Two Gentlemen of Verona: 26.81%, A Midsummer Night’s Dream: 19.75%, Romeo and Juliet: 14.18%, King John: 0.0%, The Merchant of Venice: 21.79%, Richard II: 0%, 1HenryIV: 44.7%, and 2HenryIV: 51.31%])
74 rhyming lines (2.29% of total lines [as opposed to Comedy: 20.10%, Titus: 2.42%, Taming: 3.93%, 1HenryVI: 9.79%, 2HenryVI: 3.16%, 3HenryVI: 5.37%, Richard III: 7.55%, LLL: 40.86%, 2Gents: 35.08%, Midsummer: 43.5%, Romeo: 16.61%, King John: 6.19%, Merchant: 5.16%, Richard II: 18.95%, 1HenryIV: 1.04%, and 2HenryIV: 2.32%])
29 scenes; more than average (average play: 21; average history: 24)
46 characters; more than average, about average for a history (average play: 36, average history: 47)
OK, according to Eric Partridge’s Shakespeare’s Bawdy, Henry the Fifth, is seen as a dirtier play than The Second Part of Henry the Fourth, which in turn is seen as dirtier than the first part. In fact, Partidge calls this “the obscenest of the Histories” (Partridge, Eric. Shakespeare’s Bawdy. New York: Routledge, 2008; page 57).