Boozy Plays: Richard II & Henry IV pt One

Heyo! Welcome to the first of this year’s special Boozy Plays features, and the second of our posts during Shakespeare-a-palooza 2016!

If you missed it, Monday’s Post was about Shakespeare’s Histories and why a stickler for historical accuracy such as myself (or just me) can still love the histories despite their being… not very historically accurate.

Today’s post is basically just Boozy Books only with plays. *gasp* I know, I know… what a revelation. The plays we’ll be pairing are those we’ll be seeing up in Stratford at the end of this month. First up, Richard II and Henry IV pt One. I’ll keep them brief so you’re not stuck here reading an essay.

Richard II is about, you guessed it, King Richard II of England. It focuses on the final two years of Richard’s life, particularly as it relates to his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke (the future Henry IV), son of Richard’s primary adviser, John of Gaunt. (In fact, it is Gaunt who delivers my favorite speech from the play, in which he compares England to a garden.) Richard is an indecisive, petty, arbitrary, and abrupt ruler (note: he’s a bad ruler), who agrees to hear a dispute between Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray, then decides at the last minute to exile both men. When Gaunt dies, Richard seizes all of Bolingbroke’s lands and money (which were due him as John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster’s, son), causing Bolingbroke to return and seize the crown for himself. Richard’s horrible leadership sends most people to Bolingbroke’s side, and he ends up broken in Pontefract (Pomfret in the play) castle, murdered by one of Bolingbroke’s supporters (note: this is one of those historical inaccuracies I mentioned on Monday. It’s far more likely Henry IV let Richard starve to death). Henry repudiates the action and heads to Jerusalem to cleanse himself.

This play, then, is the fall of a bad King and the rise of a new King (as well as the beginning of the House of Lancaster, which would later play such an important role in the Wars of the Roses). We know from history that Bolingbroke hardly turns into a heroic ruler, but he is absolutely seen as the heroic, decisive leader to Richard’s… Richard.

Rebellion continues to be a theme into Henry IV pt 1 (which is, I’m sure, why the play we’re seeing that combines the two is called Breath of Kings: Rebellion). This time, we’re seeing the results of Bolingbroke’s rebellion, the Henry who is forced to rule once he has taken the throne. (And, as Henry says, “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.”) He wants to deal with his personal misgivings over usurping the throne by going on Crusade (because killing the heathens is just so relaxing), but is forced to deal with problems in Scotland and Wales. He also has to deal with the rumblings of the Percy family, the preeminent northern family who supported Henry’s coup, and Edmund Mortimer, Richard II’s heir (resist the urge to history at them, C… resist… no one likes genealogy as much as you do). Henry’s imperious nature essentially drives the Percys, the Scots, Edmund Mortimer, and Owain Glyndwr (the leader of the Welsh rebellion, called Owen Glendower in the play) together into shared open rebellion, which all culminates in the Battle of Shrewsbury. (Basically, Henry IV’s reign was pretty constantly beset by rebellions.)

Meanwhile, Prince Hal, the future Henry V, is a drunken, dissolute fool who has forsaken the court to pal around with his friends, including one of Shakespeare’s most famous characters: Falstaff. The comparison between Henry Percy (Hotspur) and Prince Henry actually forms one of my favorite components of this play, because Henry IV spends a great deal of it wishing his son were more like the apparently noble, valiant, strong-willed Hotspur. But, in the end, it is the Henry (Hal) he disdains that ends up being the truly loyal, regal, noble son Henry (IV) always wanted. Because, at Shrewsbury, it is Hal who defeats Hotspur, shedding his youthful foolishness and proving himself a true warrior (who ultimately becomes Henry V & gets his own play). The King’s forces prevail on the back of Hal’s personal victory, and the Percy rebellion is defeated.

Of course, there’s all those other players to contend with (Mortimer, the Archbishop of York, Glendower, Northumberland, etc), so the play ends with a “TO BE CONTINUED” rather than a real end. But that’s OK, because I’ll tell you all about it in two weeks.

Now… what to drink? I suppose I could go into an analysis of drinks that seem frivolous, but’ll actually kick your ass, like a Hurricane or a Long Island Iced Tea, but I don’t want to go there. Mostly because I hate both of those drinks and prefer to stick with Whiskey Sours. Instead, I want to recommend my favorite, oh-so-punny hard cider from Trader Joe’s: Henry Hotspur’s Hard Pressed (for) Cider. I literally giggle every time I see it and think of Henry IV pt One, so… I have to recommend it. We wouldn’t want anything drippy and gross like Richard II, now, would we?

OK, so you made it. And because this ended up being longer than I wanted it to be, here’s a reward for you: Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal.

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Sorry for keeping you here so long. Tomorrow, A will give you recommendations of Richard II and Henry IV to watch. Obviously, the above version will be on that list.

See you Sunday!

C

 

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