Last night Kish and I enjoyed a terrific adaptation of Henry IV, Parts I and II by Shakespeare & Co., a performance troupe in Lenox, Massachusetts. My lovely wife treated me to front row seats. It was a fine way to celebrate the Bard of Avon’s 450th birthday and will be an evening I’ll always remember.
Henry IV will always be one of my favorite Shakespeare plays. I first read it for Shakespeare Seminar, a class taught by Charles Will at Upper Arlington High School in the ’70s. Mr. Will was a great teacher who brought joy and passion to teaching Shakespeare. He loved Henry IV, and all of his students did, too. The teenage boys in the class, in particular, relished the barbs traded between the carousing Prince Hal and Sir John Falstaff, and relished calling each other “vile standing tucks” and whoreson rogues that semester.
Henry IV was one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays during his lifetime, too. It not only features witty insult dialogue, but also royal intrigue, roaring humor, rebellion, whoring, swordfights, drinking, death, and the human drama of a difficult relationship between royal father and rebellious, oat-sowing son.
But the real attraction for me and for many is Falstaff, one of Shakespeare’s greatest creations and one of the most memorable characters ever devised in literature. Falstaff, the fat, duplicitous, cowardly, sack-guzzling, honey- tongued, quick-witted rogue, is the true center of the play. When Falstaff is on stage, all eyes are on him, whether he is cheerfully enduring the insults of his drinking companions, playing the king in a jest, coming up with another lie to cover his misbehavior, or making deft observations about the human condition. Falstaff’s wry battlefield comments about the concept of honor as he stands over the dead body of Harry Hotspur is some of Shakespeare’s best writing.
It’s a crucial role and not an easy one to play. Last night Malcolm Ingram was wonderful in his depiction of that iconic figure. In a cast that was filled with talent, Mr. Ingram made a great night into an unforgettable one. Mr. Will would have loved it.