Before he captured our hearts (and France) as Henry V, he was just Hal: professional party boy and tavern regular who spent his time standing still and pulling pranks with his fat friend Falstaff instead of rising up to manage the affairs of state, as his father King Henry IV would prefer. Push comes to shove when Scotland and Wales team up with Hotspur (DA KING IN DA NORF) to wage war with England, and Hal risks throwing away his shot to rise up and shoulder his legacy if he continues to wait for it to come to him.
Henry IV, Part 1
by William Shakespeare
Directed by: Glenn Schudel
Assistant Directors: Daniel Bailin, Nora Zahn
Production Intern: Chase O’Neill
From the director:
“Let each man do his best.”
Six little words, all of one syllable, arranged in normal order. Almost any first-grader could read and understand that sentence. It’s not particularly lovely or poetic. It has nothing to do with muses of fire ascending the brightest heaven of invention or sweet banks of violets stealing and giving odor. And yet, it’s my favorite sentence in all of Shakespeare.
The character who speaks that line dies in battle a few scenes later. (I don’t do spoiler tags for 400-year-old stories.) But when he goes down, he goes down swinging. Before he goes down, he does his best.
So does just about everyone in Henry IV, Part I. Being a person is a pretty difficult job. We tend to have big dreams and set lofty goals. And then we do something stupid. We realize we screwed up. We eat an entire pint of ice cream right out of the carton. Then, if we’re smart enough or brave enough or ambitious enough, we get out of bed, re-assess the situation, and go back to work.
That’s why I’m so drawn to this play. The interpretation of 1 Henry IV that best resonates with me is that it’s the story of people who want more than they have, who want to be better than they are, and who do their best to be their best despite their own profound character flaws. (Really. Even the hero of the piece spends the first half of the play drinking cheap wine and committing larceny and doing long-form improv and generally disappointing his father. But he gets it together eventually.
Thus, we have a play with a not-very-interesting title that, on its surface, is mostly about Medieval British politics. But crack it open, and you’ll find a world of weird, messy, imperfect human beings with objectives and desires that feel really familiar. It’s a great show, and (I daresay) an important show. I love it, and I’m going to do my best to get you to love it, too.