One More Word, I Beseech You

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Henry IV: Part Two, Epilogue

I have to hand it to Shakespeare.  Just when I think there’s nothing he can do that will surprise me, he pulls a quarter out of his ear and defies me to explain his magic.

I didn’t see the Epilogue coming.  Nor the Monty-Pythonesque humor of its rollicking apology for a play that Shakespeare all but openly admits is not up to his own standards.

Maybe he felt guilty for forcing the golden goose to hatch one more guilded egg.  Maybe it seemed to him that he laid on Falstaff’s lowbrow humor a little thick.  Or maybe he felt a little sick from having stretched his own talents to supply the audience exactly what they were clamoring for without the usual challenge or curve ball.

In any case, there the epilogue is, begging almost for forgiveness and another shot at glory.  It’s offered tongue-in-cheek, one supposes, in the form of a sheepish narrator who enters the stage after the primary action is complete, saying,

EPILOGUE: First my fear, then my curtsy, last my speech.  My fear is your displeasure; my curtsy, my duty; and my speech, to beg your pardons.

He promises that if we didn’t like this one, we ought to give him another chance.  More Falstaff (a promise unkept) and Katherine of France.  More laughs, a little sex.  And the exploits of one of the greatest kings in England’s storied history.

And with that, he exits the stage.  Strange stuff indeed…causing me to scratch my head and laugh out loud at the same time.  Is he serious?  Is this a put on?  What am I supposed to make of it?

That Shakespeare.  What will he think of next?!

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