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

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Henry IV - Casting Today's Falstaff


Earlier this year Bardseye did Hamlet - all of it, scene by scene (see archives for January ’06 – March ’06). Now, because of its oddly persistent parallels with the events of out times, we take on an unusual selection, the Henry IV series. (And if you’re joining late, scroll down toIn seeking for a present-day actor to cast as our Falstaff, the first Henry post, or use the archives from October, 06 onward).

In this next scene we are introduced to the character that lifts the Henry IV plays from dry history to sheer and brilliant comedy - that notorious, amoral, opportunistic and yet somehow charming vitalist Bill Clinton, whoops, Falstaff. Here Prince Hal tells Falstaff what he thinks of him:

Fal: “Now, Hal, what time of day is it, lad?”

Hal: “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 now. 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-
colored taffeta, I see no reason why thou shouldst be
so superfluous to demand the time of the day.”

Gee, Hal, tell us what you really think. But to return to the casting problem, actually former President Clinton, while similar in so many ways, fails ultimately as a Falstaff for one signal reason – Clinton has precisely no sense of humor, while Falstaff overflows with mirth. Here Falstaff asks Hal, when he becomes King, to adjust the laws so as to elevate the status of those who occupy Falstaff’s profession (Falstaff is a highway robber, if a bit too fat to perform this job competently):

Fal: “Marry, then, sweet wag, when thou art king, let
not us that are squires of the night’s body be called
thieves of the day’s beauty. Let us be Diana’s foresters,
gentlemen of the shade, minions of the moon; and let
men say we be men of good government, being governed,
as the sea is, by our noble and chaste mistress the moon,
under whose countenance we steal.”

This plea that under Hal’s reign thieves not be called thieves reads like an anthem for political correctness. “Let us not that are (for example) big-boned be called fat. Let us be (for another) Zionists, neo-cons, Israel’s amen chorus, but not Jews, and let men say that we of Sudan, Congo, north Korea and Iran be men of good government, approved members of the UN, after all, who are governed as the sea is, by our noble and chaste jackbooted regimes, under whose countenances we steal.”

Throughout the Henry IV plays Falstaff’s role is as a sort of guide to Prince Hal, even if he guides the Prince toward an understanding of all the low and rough corners of the realm. In seeking for a present-day actor to case as our Falstaff, Bardseye finds two world players in particular who combine his Machiavellian self-interest and hypocrisy with utterly amoral joie de vivre in the face of human suffering. One is the United Nations, and the other is Old Europe. Both these entities share as well with Falstaff the desire to mis-educate the Prince. And Hal, the Prince, correspondingly, whom the UN/Old Europe/Falstaff so seeks to train in amorality would be the governments of the world’s responsible democracies, chief among them the US (but not only the US).

Fal: “I prithee, sweet wag, shall there be gallows standing
in England when thou art king? And resolution thus fubbed
as it is with the rusty curb of old father Antic the law?
Do not thou, when thou art king, hang a thief.”

To be continued….

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