Katherine's Reviews > King Henry IV, Part 1

King Henry IV, Part 1 by William Shakespeare
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Jun 10, 09

bookshelves: underrated

All right, this was my favorite Shakespeare for a long time, and I'm writing it up by itself because I think it's under-appreciated. (And believe me, I've had to spend a LOT of time with Bill.)

The play opens on Henry IV, who in his youth de-throned Richard II. Henry IV is now aging and faced with a band of rebels who may have legitimate grievances but are so disorganized it's a wonder their army forms a united front and not 100 million fistfights. Henry hasn't lost a covetous part of himself - he catches himself wishing that his son, Prince Hal, could be like his rival's more apparently princely son, Hotspur. Hal, who is boorish, manipulative, and entitled, has taken to haunting a tavern with a group of shady characters, adding to talk that Henry Sr.'s not-unshady lineage is not fit for the throne. A decisive battle is set.

Relevant? Hell yes it's relevant, and not just because Gus Van Sant based a movie on it. In an era marked by officially sanctioned genocides, foolish wars, and (seemingly uncharacteristic) disdain for human life, Falstaff's churlish cowardice takes on a deep ambiguity, and his speech "What is that word - honor?" reads like a solid protest. Additionally, political essayist Jacob Weisberg has compared the Bush family legacy to the Henriad (the catch being that GW never emerges from his Prince Hal self). I think you'll all be surprised by it.
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