A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Henry IV and the Redd Family


In Henry IV, the King has some serious doubts about his son Hal. Hal's got game, he's a leading NBA scorer after all, but he's also got attitude, hanging out with Falstaff, who attempts to involve Hal in a highway robbery among other crimes and debaucheries. So when war comes, and Hal returns to the castle, and finds his father napping, and takes up his crown to contemplate the meaning it has for him, and Henry IV wakes up and sees him holding it, you can understand the father's suspicions:

Hen: "Thy life did manifest thou lovedst me not,
And thou wilt have me die assured of it.
Thou hid'st a thousand daggers in thy thoughts,
Which thou hast whetted on thy stony heat,
To stab at half an hour of my life.
What, canst thou not forbear me half an hour?
Then get thee gone and dig my grave thyself,
And bid the merry bells ring to thine ear
That thou art crowned….".

Actually it isn't Hal who's got game, but Michael Redd, a star player for the Milwaukee Bucks, who leads the team in scoring at 23 points per game, 11th highest in the league. Michael's father is a minister in Columbus Ohio who, in raising Michael, took some precautionary steps that Henry IV perhaps regrets not considering:

Hen: "For now a time is come to mock at form
Harry the Fifth is crowned. Up, vanity!
Down, royal state! All you sage counselors, hence!"

The Redd family has managed its transmission across the generations better than Henry's. James Redd delivers his sermons at the Philadelphia Deliverance Church of Christ in Columbus, Ohio. The church is brand new, and a tribute not only to religious faith but in this case to the love that can exist between a father and a son. Since his son Michael paid for it. Here's Michael Redd in his own words:

"That was the first thing in my heart.
The Lord, he gave me life. What I did
was to give it right back to Him. That's
the least I could do, is buy a church.
The very least I could do."

Meanwhile, back in England, Henry's son Hal, influenced by the Redd family or at least by the enduring spirit which informs it, is able to persuade his father that he intended no usurpation, and seeks his father's valued blessing in the normal course of human events:

Hal: "Coming to look on you, thinking you dead,
And dead almost, my liege, to think you were,
I spake unto this crown as having sense,
And thus upbraided it: "The care on thee depending
Hath fed upon the body of my father;
Therefore, thou best of gold art worst of gold…".
"If any rebel or vain spirit of mine
Did with the least affection of a welcome
Give entertainment to the might of it,
Let God forever keep it from my head
And make me as the poorest vassal is
That doth with awe and terror kneel to it."

The passing of manhood between fathers and sons is a delicate thing, and like winning in football, for the two men involved it can be - underneath everything else in their lives - the only thing. As with fathers and sons so too with the passing of rule between kings, or the transfer of governments following elections, or even the passing of the mysterious Blessing from G-d to Abraham and along the line of the patriarchs; in all these cases, authority descends, it is not grasped from thin air. In the end Henry IV too understands:

Hen: "….O my son,
God put it in thy mind to take it hence,
That thou mightst win the more thy father's love,
Pleading so wisely in excuse of it!
Come hither, Harry, sit thou by my bed,
And hear, I think, the very latest counsel
That ever I shall breathe…".

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