Tyranny and Mutation: A Continuation of Dynastic Sovereignty
Like the burning streets of Hamburg, 15th century England degenerates amidst belligerence and civil war. Seditious forces seek to subvert the crown of King Henry IV, while he is ill and despondent at home, conjoining his jeweled crown with striped pajamas. The tempestuous clamor of Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Henry IV Part One is more subdued in Part Two, opting instead for internal conflict and introspection, amplified by the inordinately uncertain state of authority in Shakespeare’s fatherland. His historical embellishments propel this tale to heights of poetic brilliance, as spontaneous articulation induces a dying King Henry to proclaim, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” An amusing thing for a usurper to say, proving that the power that one seeks can often turn into a dismal and corrupting force, while still being addictive, much like a deleterious narcotic. This theme of power and how it affects man culminates in a spellbinding dialogue between the King and his son Prince Hal, who recently was required to dispose of his promiscuous, salacious ways in order to serve his father and his country. This newfound responsibility causes a rift to form between Prince Hal and the classic Shakespearean wisecracker, John Falstaff, who is still as scandalous as ever. Falstaff’s witticisms are not quite as clever as in Part One, but a new character joins him in the pursuit of vital comic relief, the high-waisted goof Feeble, true to his namesake.
Prior to all this raucous drama and humor, the play opens with a prophetic prologue by the semi-mythological character Rumor, a personification of the same term. She speaks of the nature of rumor itself, and how it is doused in scandal and falsehood. This proves later on to be words that the rebel forces should’ve heeded, as they inevitably fall into the ruse of predominant forces. While Part Two continues to explore the theme of power as did the previous episode, it also examines the question of loyalty, and to what extent one should exercise it. Both intrapersonal and interpersonal loyalty are brought under old William’s magnifying glass, but leading to no absolute conclusions, cleverly leading the viewer to come to their own verdicts. As Prince Hal must question where his confidence lies, with the weight of an impending crown burdening his head, his gang of hooligans remain frivolous and apathetic towards the turmoil facing England. Falstaff instead redirects his focus to coin and a local impudent strumpet, Doll. This courtship is as amusing at is objectionable, knowing Falstaff to be a sly finagler in possession of a serpent tongue. Prince Hal seems to be visibly fed up with this improper behavior, and must choose how to treat his former friends as he ascends to the throne. As the play comes to a close, and the newly crowned King Henry V professes that “God doth know I have turned away from my former self,” one must decide whether his newfound allegiance is the result of duty or betrayal.
Henry IV, Part Two
1:30 and 8 pm, through October 29
Oregon Shakespeare Festival, 15 S. Pioneer Street, Ashland
$30 – $120