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What Is Honor?

Posted in Henry IV Part 1 with tags , , on 2014/04/13 by mattermind

King Henry IV: Part I, Act V

FALSTAFF: Can honor set to a leg? No. Or an arm? No. Or take away the grief of a wound? No. Honor hath no skill in surgery then?  No.  What is honor?  A word.  What is that word honor then?  Air – a trim reckoning!  Who hath it?  He that died a Wednesday.   Doth he feel it?  No.  Doth he hear it?  No.  ‘Tis insensible then?  Yea, to the dead.  But will it not live with the living?  No.  Why?  Detraction will not suffer it.  Therefore I’ll none of it.  Honor is a mere scutcheon – and so ends my catechism.

On the heels of finishing Act IV, I couldn’t wait to begin Act V.  One way or the other, the play was hurtling toward a dramatic climax.  Either Prince Hal would clash with Hotspur in an epic duel, or somehow convert him over to the royal side.

Not knowing the actual historical events (not that this seemed to bother Shakespeare), I found myself rooting for a Hollywood-like ending, a conversion scene where Hotspur is won over to become Hal’s partner in crime.  With Robin as his sidekick, together they could clean up Gotham and take a bite out of crime.  Surely Shakespeare had to realize that Hotspur was his best character in the story.  What writer wouldn’t be loathe to kill that guy off and let him go?

Breaking: I’m a romantic.  But I don’t think I’m that far off, at least in my sense that Shakespeare was reluctant to see Hotspur leave the play.  We have reason to believe from Worcester’s treachery that – if Hotspur knew the truth – he would most likely have surrendered.  This turn of events thoroughly angered me (yes, I get wrapped up in these things).  King Henry goes the extra mile to offer the rebels a way out of their predicament: state their claims, and he will address them and offer a full pardon to all involved.  In addition, Prince Hal volunteers to grapple with Hotspur against the longshot odds in one-on-one combat.  He is determined to win back favor in his father’s eyes come what may.

Unfortunately, Hotspur is not present to hear either the conditions for pardon or the terms of Ultimate Fighting against his shadow nemesis.  We are virtually certain he would accept the latter in a heartbeat – he has been looking for a way at Hal since the start of the play.  But as for the former, we have only Worcester’s deceit to understand that Hotspur may have taken the gentleman’s way out.

So instead of recapitulating the king’s words and allowing Hotspur to decide, Worcester deliberately lies to stoke Hotspur’s outrage and engage him in the battle.  And why does Worcester do this?  Because he’s convinced that Hotspur would be forgiven for his youth, valor and reputation for rashness, while the rest of the rebels would never fully be trusted again.  The king, he is sure, would only look for a convenient excuse later on to get them all back.

This argument has logic, but absolutely no moral grounds other than self-survival.  Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Worcester, in fact, gets his in the end.  Rounded up by the king’s men, he is summarily sentenced to death.  No honor, no valor, no glory to accompany his decision.  If, as Isaac Asimov says, Worcester was the “brains” of the operation, then the plan was doomed to failure from the beginning.  There was never a team here but a collection of self-interested individuals.

I am most intrigued, however, by Asimov’s suggestion that Hotspur and Falstaff represent polar opposites on the spectrum of the future Henry V’s personality traits – characteristics that must be reconciled for him to ascend to greatness.  As much as I hate to see Hotspur die, we comprehend in graphic terms how important it is that Hal adopt a more humble approach to honor.  Honor, in the ancient and medieval sense which means acquired glory from battle.  It stems back to the Greeks when such heroes as Achilles and Hector fought fearlessly – not for the tactical advantages or team-building, but rather for reputations that would survive them as a legacy (the riches, fame and women weren’t bad either).

Here, then, it becomes crucial to study the contrast between Falstaff and Hotspur, and how Hal manages to reconcile and transcend them both.  After killing Hotspur, he does not boast of the accomplishment, but allows Falstaff to make the claim if he can. It doesn’t say a lot for Falstaff that he would try.

As Hotspur dies, he cares less about the mortal life fleeing his body than for the honor that will now pass from him to the prince who defeated him.  In his eyes, honor is a zero-sum game. Nothing he ever achieved in his lifetime will matter.  You are only as notable as your final triumph or defeat. Sigh.

Thus, we close Part One with the death of Hotspur and the rout of the rebel force.  Because the attack was launched prematurely, before the full storm of opposition had gathered its strength, there are still opposition armies out in England that need to be dealt with.  But now, with Hal on the ascendant, Douglas captured and converted, and even Hal’s little brother John finding his mettle in the field, there seems little doubt that Henry will seize back the initiative and his reign will regain its footing.

But that remains to be seen in Part II.


No Harm. What More?

Posted in Henry IV Part 1 with tags , , , , on 2014/04/12 by mattermind

“It’s just a flesh wound.”

Henry IV: Part I, Act IV

I’ve got to hand it to Hotspur.  In a play bursting at the seams with memorable characters, he singlehandedly steals the show.

It’s your typical case of Good Guy Wins Hearts and Minds, Bad Guy Gets the Girl.  He’s brash, he’s brazen, he’s cocksure and half-loaded.  He’s fired up for battle when he ought to be measured and tactical – and still, I just can’t help loving the guy.

Up to this point, everything has gone swimmingly for the insurgency.  They have might, they even have right, with a greater claim to the legitimate crown than the sitting king himself.  Armed with confidence and united in purpose, they have come out into the open and declared their challenge to the realm.

And then things fall apart.  It’s almost comical, just how fast the fist of fury dissolves into a sputtering wreck.  It all starts when Hotspur’s own father, the great Northumberland, sends word that he has taken ill and can’t make it to the hoedown.  His forces can no longer be counted upon to match the king’s rapidly gathering horde.

This is as big a psychological blow as a tactical one, since Northumberland’s poorly-timed medical defection, whether honest or no, will surely have a ripple effect on the tenuous rebels who will now be badly outnumbered and overmatched.  Hotspur himself has no way of knowing whether his father has seriously taken ill, or has merely soured on the venture.  But to his credit, he does not allow this bad news to dampen the mood. (“It’s just a flesh wound.”)

Then, more bad news: Glendower has been set back two weeks by a foreboding astrological forecast and refuses to join them in the ranks.  That makes two vital allies now missing in action.  Anybody with half a brain would slow the parade, if not cancel it altogether.  But not Hotspur.  He’s just raring to get this party started.

His position is not completely without merit. He believes the advantage lies in striking quickly and early, before the king’s men have fully assembled.  He also contends that his horses are better rested.  On a more personal note, having heard of Prince Hal’s gallantry (being compared to Mercury astride Pegasus – high praise, indeed), he becomes all-the-more fired up for a head-on confrontation.

Although Henry IV is no Darth Vader and the insurgents no Jedis, Hotspur’s brazen courage in the face of insurmountable odds reminds me a lot of this guy:

Which leads me to believe that our story will suffer greatly if/when he ultimately gets rubbed out [see: Empire Strikes Back].  So as much as I’ve been looking forward to a mano-y-mano brawl between Achilles and Hector (Hello, St. John’s.  Yes, I was paying attention.), I’m deeply troubled that without our little engine of bravery, the play as a whole will crash and burn.

There’s still Falstaff, of course.  But after his soliloquy in Act IV, I’m not sure I even like the guy anymore.  Flush with over 300 pounds from the crown’s kitty, a purse to raise 150 able troops on the king’s behalf, he has instead recruited fops and dandies with the knowledge that they would bribe their way out of the draft (Hmm…).  He has fielded a cast of downtrodden misfits and losers, an emaciated bunch of ragtag bums who will never survive the confrontations awaiting them.

In a speech that turns my stomach, Falstaff says about his men:

PRINCE HENRY: I have never seen such rascals.

FALSTAFF: Tut, tut, good enough to toss; food for powder, food for powder. They’ll fill a pit as well as better.  Tush, man, mortal men, mortal men.

This doesn’t sit well with me.  In fact, give me a dozen Hotspurs in his stead!  At least that man is fighting on principle, in defense of honor.  He’s brazen, he’s feisty, he’s lacking in a certain civil decorum.  But he knows what he stands up and is willing to die for, to the extent that he can say:

HOTSPUR: What may the King’s whole battle reach unto?

VERNON: To thirty thousand.

HOTSPUR: Forty let it be.

My father and Glendower being both away,

The powers of us may serve so great a day.

Come, let us take a muster speedily.

Doomsday is near.  Die all, die merrily.

Chilling stuff.  And the stuff of which unforgettable characters are made.

The Devil Understands Welsh

Posted in Henry IV Part 1 with tags on 2014/04/11 by mattermind

Anything you can do, I can do better…

Henry IV: Part I, Act III

You can bet that whoever thinks Shakespeare is boring never read Henry IV. As good as the dialogue in this scene from Avengers is, Shakespeare does it that much better. As talented a writer as Joss Whedon happens to be, I’m sure he would agree.

With so much going on in Henry IV, the last thing I expect is to laugh out loud at the outlandish chutzpah of irascible Hotspur. The comic infighting between legion of doom all-star members is downright hysterical – none more so than the digs Hotspur takes at the elder self-styled warlock, Glendower.

Or at least Glendower presents himself as a sort of warlock, a brazen alchemist in the Merlin mold. Only Hotspur doesn’t buy his schtick whatsoever – and tells him so to his face.

As I’m reading the lines, I’m ducking under the table. I can’t imagine what Hotspur can possibly gain by challenging the otherworldly claims of this fearsome rebel, a man he needs in order to help take down the standing king. Whatever else he may be, Glendower is a powerful solider with a fearsome reputation for having demonic powers at his command. His achievements on the battlefield precede him. Just about anybody would cower in his presence, simply to avoid the possible consequences from crossing him.

Not Hotspur. For absolutely no rational reason save youthful candor, he throws caution to the wind and the gauntlet at Glendower’s feet, daring him to conjure the devils allegedly at his beck and call.

GLENDOWER: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
HOTSPUR: Why, so can I; or so can any man,
But will they come when you do call for them?
GLENDOWER: Why, I can teach you, cousin, to command the devil.
HOTSPUR: And I can teach thee, coz, to shame the devil —
By telling truth! Tell truth and shame the devil.
If thou have power to raise him, bring him hither,
And I’ll be sworn I have power to shame him hence.
O, while you live, tell truth and shame the devil!
MORTIMER: Come, come, no more of this unprofitable chat.

Mortimer tries to calm down the hotheaded Hotspur before Glendower unleashes his fury. Luckily, Glendower has great respect for Hotspur’s tempestuous courage, otherwise who knows what would happen.

Shakespeare creates this marvelous tension below what would otherwise be a static scene (“Bad Guys Hatch Their Evil Scheme to Take Over the World”), showcasing yet again the unpredictable, emotional and even idealistic undercurrent Hotspur harbors barely beneath the surface, liable to go off at any moment.

Another funny scene follows on the heels of this one, when the wives are brought in to say goodbye to their men during a lull when contracts are being drawn up for the post-rebellion division of the kingdom. Funny, because Mortimer’s wife is Welsh and cannot speak English — and Mortimer can’t speak a lick of Welsh. She also happens to be the daughter of Glendower, who translates for Mortimer while lamenting his daughter’s obsession with the Englishman.

Contrast the lovey-dovey cooing of this pair with the bawdy, tongue-in-cheek waggishness of Hotspur with his wife, trading sexual barbs while poking fun at the inscrutability of the Welsh dialect. Since Glendower understands it, the devil must therefore too.

As if the zingers between Falstaff and Hal were not flying fast enough, we now get hit from both sides: Hotspur and his ballsy chivalric chiding… and the loving verbal volleys served between oafish-but-good-hearted Falstaff and the slumming-but-marginally-still-virtuous young Hal.

And all the while, the forces of epic conflict are drawing nigh. With his back against the wall, Henry calls Hal in for a fatherly upbraiding. The situation reminds him too much of when he seized power from Richard, only it’s Hotspur who plays Bolingbroke and Hal cast as poor Richard.

This insult causes Hal to rise up and swear that he will regain his honor by taking out Hotspur in battle. But with the rebellion now in full flush, in the open and on the march, how will Hal reform himself in time to present a match for the legendary forces gathered against him?

Stay tuned, folks. This play is gloriously good…and just getting revved up.

Shall We Be Merry?

Posted in Henry IV Part 1 with tags , , , , , , , on 2014/04/10 by mattermind


Henry IV: Part I, Act II

Stepping into Henry IV is like entering a whole new story universe. I’ve never been quite so dazzled by anything this quickly; after much deliberation, I think I know why.

Writers often speak in terms of either “plot-driven” or “character-driven” narrative, with the conclusion inevitably being that they must be a fusion of both.  But at the end of the day, we can usually tell when what we’re reading or watching is plot-heavy (Dan Brown, The Expendables), or character-dense (anything by Aaron Sorkin, Edward Albee or Tennessee Williams).  Every once in awhile, your peanut butter gets mixed up in my chocolate, and everybody leaves satisfied (Joss Whedon’s Avengers).

And then there’s Shakespeare.  Most of his plays register high in all aspects of the Prichard scale, with some like Romeo & Juliet (which we’ll get to shortly) being both long on adventure and romance as well as interweaving a suspenseful, complex plot.

Henry IV takes this to a whole new level.  I say that because of the sheer quantity of character voices and personalities, each with a different tangy slang to their accent and outlook.  Stable boys, scoundrels, tax collectors, bar maids, chambermaids, kings, rebels, upstarts, barons, wives – they’re all here in spades and we’re only in Act II!  Not only are they here, but Shakespeare seems to revel in their boisterous individual speech and bluster.  They tell off-color jokes, insult one another with abandon.  Dialogue is saturated in subtext in the context of a festering civil war, lingering disappointment between father and son, the disillusionment of a big-hearted, petty thief, a regal heir sowing oats before inheriting the heavy responsibilities of the throne.  This is three-dimensional chess on a moving chessboard.  And a patient, deliberate artist willing to take his sweet time in delivering a corker of an action climax.

We can see it brewing in the background, a showdown between playful Prince Hal and hotheaded Hotspur.  It’s as though Hal were Luke Skywalker, passing his time on far-off Tatooine while Darth slowly strangled the rebel alliance.  You know they are headed for an epic clash.  So why not sit back and enjoy the ride?

This has all the elements of a Sergio Leone spaghetti western.  Henry IV is beset by a legion of rapidly uniting forces intent on overthrowing his rule.  These aren’t just any old cantankerous dissidents, but a collection of legendary and profoundly powerful forces.  Henry IV has grown old and weary, yet he will attempt to rise to the challenge.  But it’s going to take somebody younger, a son with great, untapped potential to complete the task.

Here are my favorite lines:

FALSTAFF: But tell me, Hal, are not thou horrible afeard? Thou being heir apparent, could the world pick thee out three such enemies again as that fiend Douglas, that spirit Percy, and that devil Glendower? Art thou not horribly afraid? Doth thy blood not thrill at it?

PRINCE HENRY: Not a whit, i’faith; I lack some of thy instinct.

Marvel comic books wish they had tales this gripping.

When Thou Art A King

Posted in Henry IV Part 1 on 2014/04/08 by mattermind

Henry IV Part I, Act I

I’m not exactly sure why it has taken me so long to wrap my head around this particular play.  Now that I have a reasonable handle on it and have begun to make inroads, there is nothing drastic going on besides a lengthy and convoluted backstory that takes Twister-like maneuvers to follow.  Especially when what most stands out about the first act is the less-than-stunning revelation how perilous it is to be king.

UPDATE: The depth of the play lies in its rich characters and dense plot.  Prince Hal and Falstaff transcend the confines of the story to achieve literary universality.  Not to mention the tragic built-in ironies confounding Henry. So yes, there is much to appreciate (and navigate) herein. It’s a chewy cookie (but so moist and flavorful).

When we left Richard II, he had been deposed by Henry and murdered by an overeager acolyte, casting a shadow of impending gloom over the dawning sequel.  It only takes the opening lines of Henry IV Part One to reveal that this has indeed happened.

KING: So shaken are we, so wan with care,
Find we a time for frighted peace to pant
And breathe short-winded accents of new broils
To be commenced in stronds afar remote.

Boom! Henry is besotted from the get-go with woes virtually identical to those that plagued Richard.  Sweet irony! For we are reminded again and again how obsessive (fussy, overbearing, insufferable?) the English can be about legitimate succession.  These sorts of issues are the mandatory blowback, apparently, of trying to preserve a monarchy while accommodating a burgeoning parliament filled with ambitious barons and expanding the tenuous rule of law.  A fussiness quotient gets added to an already incendiary mix, trying to balance partisan barons, a rowdy public, a dominant clergy and rival rulers.  Constant warfare created the need for what could become unbearable taxation.  Even without the modern trappings of 24/7 media and opinion polls every news cycle, the king battled incessantly with competing factions.

He may not have suffered from the same extensive overreach as Richard (failures at war, excessive taxation to fund failed campaigns, insistence upon liberties with court wives), but he wasn’t the first to be felled by the yawning gap between running an upstart campaign and the complications of having to actually rule a country.

Why in the world would anybody wish to be king under those circumstances? There were (and still are) many perks, of course.  The position paid handsomely and marriage posed no barrier to dalliances.  Like a mob boss or CEO of an international conglomerate, the living is good but the term may be short and the fall steep.

Henry is besieged both personally and politically. Personally in the form of his wayward son, Prince Hal, a kid more fond of hanging around miscreants like Falstaff than grooming himself for eventual succession.  He is contrasted with Hotspur (great name!), a feisty, enterprising, talented idealist who stands in opposition to Henry but embodies similar values and characteristics to the young Bolingbroke (the future Henry) we met back in Richard II.

Wheels within wheels…what goes around, comes around.  And now a plot is hatched to unseat Henry the same way that Henry deposed Richard.  Will the young Prince Hal mature in time to inherit the kingdom? Or will Hotspur’s crew avenge the “betrayal” they’ve suffered since supporting Henry’s rise to the top?

Getcha popcorn.  This is gonna be good!

You Can’t Handle the Truth

Posted in Context, Henry IV Part 1 with tags , , , on 2014/04/07 by mattermind

In trying to make sense of Henry IV, I’m forced to confront larger issues that drive much deeper but are merely tangential to the play.  For instance, how much should the truth matter, especially when these works in particular are called the histories?

I have touched on this subject while reading Richard III.  But now it rears its ugly head again in a big way and I’m not sure what to make of it.  Isaac Asimov, for instance, points out that Prince Hal and Hotspur enjoyed more of a father-son relationship than that of rival brothers.  In fact, Hotspur was two years older than King Edward himself.

It seems Shakespeare couldn’t resist making changes that any modern screenwriter would nod and sympathize with.  These are the very points of contention that critics and fans of the novel (or historical accuracy) will inevitably bring up while slamming the said work with such comments as, “This isn’t anything like the book,” or, “That’s not how it happened.”

Well, Edward IV is another example of this, only by now so much time has passed that the actual history serves almost as a footnote, a marginal amendment applicable to scholars and wonks only.  For the rest of the civilized world, what Shakespeare dramatized has become the gold standard, interchangeable for truth.  But should we be concerned about that?

One could argue that, in making the changes, Shakespeare aspired for dramatic truth – a different form of truth, naturally, but the one nearest to his heart and talents as a playwright.  Why should he concern himself with getting all the niggling details correct?  Especially when that would mean the sacrifice of a good metaphor, irony or parallel construction.  Fudge here, compress there.  That’s how the game works.  And any reasonably literate audience ought to know that.

So why bother calling them the histories then?  Why not fictionalize them entirely, invent characters wholecloth or “based on a true story” instead of trying to have it both ways by capitalizing on the general public’s vague understanding of real events and then distorting them with hyperstylized dialogue and action?

Ultimately, I cannot escape the gravity of this rhetorical black hole.  Shakespeare wrote the plays that we call the histories which historians know are based on errors of source and errors of choice.  But then there are the plays, masterpieces unto themselves.  Why rail at Shakespeare when we can benefit from both with a little education or insight?

Scheduling Update

Posted in Henry IV Part 1, Syllabi with tags , on 2014/04/05 by mattermind

Something Orson Welles said about Falstaff (see yesterday’s blog post) slapped me in the face and caused me to completely revise my schedule for the month of April.

Late in the clip, while discussing the bloody battle scene, he remarks that this moment divides the middle ages and the modern (or something to that effect). Neither war nor human psychology would ever be the same.

His thoughts deserve revisiting, and this cycle of plays cries out for in-depth study and analysis. I’ve reached one of those places on my Eurail tour when I must put down roots or risk turning the entire journey into a farce.

You can’t rush ancient Rome or Prague or Vienna or Budapest. I haven’t embarked on studying Shakespeare merely to rubberstamp my passport with a few colorful entry visas.

I have vowed that when I encounter a mountain I shall climb it. Here is such an Everest and Kilimanjaro. The extra effort required to ascend its peak will be worth it. [Peter Matthiessen died today. R.I.P., dear remarkable soul.]

Therefore I have shoved Henry VI until later, bookending it with Henry VIII. Thematically this actually makes sense because it juxtaposes one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays with one of his last. I look forward to a side-by-side comparison.

April now transforms into the “Henriad” or my own personal Hollow Crown adventure. In keeping with that spirit, I have ordered the complete DVD series.

Yup. I’m excited. I love when my assumptions are challenged, my thinking expanded by new doorways that demand venturing through.

April has taken on a whole new meaning.

The Enormity of Falstaff

Posted in Henry IV Part 1 on 2014/04/04 by mattermind


In attempting to wrap my mind around Shakespeare’s titanic Henry IV, I have encountered a profound detour that I never expected. Turning to my dear Sir Isaac Asimov, my guide throughout this project, I discover over one hundred pages of a tome encompassing all the plays has been dedicated to Henry IV, Parts I & II alone.

Dissertations have been written on the character of Falstaff, so I will leave it to Mr. Orson Welles to provide our introduction:

I mentioned previously, rather tongue-in-cheekily, that the pattern of Shakespeare’s history plays had become all-too predictable.  Succession issues dominate, with the result that we come to understand that the crown sits precariously on the head of any man (or woman) who wears it.

Yet were these intended to be moral fables? Are we meant to draw lessons from them that can be applied to the present?  Shakespeare’s present? Ours?  In pouring through Shakespeare biographies, I have learned that the art of playwriting itself has had a moralistic evolution, being shaped by the pedagogical impulses of the Church.  That is, after the end of the classical period, of course, and the rise of the middle ages. It was expected, leading up to Shakespeare’s age, that staged fables would portray virtue and vice, sin and redemption, impart aspects of dogma to the large swaths of the population which could not read or write (and who may have avoided quasi-mandatory church service).

That was all radically changing, especially in cosmopolitan centers such as London.  But Shakespeare elevates his aim to a whole new level.  His plays don’t just summarize life or render it in homilies or pave it into pat clichés. No…somehow, rather, through his genius for the invention of characters, he holds a mirror to life and projects it onto the stage in three dimensions.  He presents us with complete beings such as Falstaff and Prince Hal, men (and women) who are burdened with mighty faults as well as gifted with soaring abilities, multi-layered, multivalent beings driven by complex motivations.  We cannot flatly state whether they are either good or bad, wearing a white hat or black.  They don’t represent a type.  In Shakespeare’s hands they become a type unto themselves.

Thus, we can drop the names Lear, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, Romeo, Falstaff and they mean something, stand for a unique person as well as idiosyncratic way of being.  There is no other writer in any language for whom it can be stated so unequivocally and triumphantly that he invented an entire spectrum of characters who have become as real to us through time as anybody who ever lived.

Henry IV or Bust

Posted in Henry IV Part 1 on 2014/04/02 by mattermind

Henry IV, an Introduction

I have entered strange, new territory with Henry IV – and clearly I’m not prepared. I read and reread Act I trying to make sense of it, but there are simply too many moving parts to comprehend the whole at first go.

I’m wondering what happened, how the heck Shakespeare pulled the rug out from beneath me so suddenly. I expected such an easy transition from Richard II…after all, King John and Richard had proven relatively straightforward, even a tad staid and underwhelming (if ever Shakespeare can be that). Now, as if to remind me what an overwhelming force the Bard can be, I face complexity within complexity, like a schoolboy encountering him for the first time. I’m scrambling for a roadmap, a map to the stars, a way to contextualize the plot, the characters, the motivation…everything!

How in the world did this happen? I’m going to have to retrench my approach to this set of plays, hunker down as if studying for college midterms. This may very well be the dreaded downside to having chosen to read the histories in chronological rather than written order. I haven’t encountered a multi-part plot before this (Henry VI being the first that Shakespeare wrote, which I’ll only get to later).

Clearly Shakespeare has upped the ante and deepened the game. This, kids, is a warning against the decision I made. For it’s almost as though I were dealing with a completely new author; his craft is now engaged at full tilt. I feel as though I’ve been ambushed, caught in a heavy intellectual crossfire, overwhelmed and outmatched by superior linguistic and substantive forces. Or, shorter: I have literally no idea what’s happening – or why.

To be honest, I knew I had ventured in over my head the moment I got a gander of the cast of characters. Everyone with a smattering of Shakespeare knows that Falstaff is one of his greatest creations. I had been so looking forward to meeting him that I forgot that he came wrapped in a two-part history, assuming – rather arrogantly and falsely – that our introduction would be a breeze, more like running into Romeo for the first time than, say, Hamlet.

Boy was I wrong! As a result, I am caught with my britches slung around my ankles, undressed by the boldness, complexity and uniqueness of the individual voices assaulting my comprehension. Somewhere Harold Bloom is laughing.

Call this then my complete whiff at Shakespeare, a brush (not the first, and certainly not the last) with abject humility.

I am left utterly speechless…breathless…gasping…lacking anything substantive to say. (Though wags may argue this awareness should have dawned long ago – and that I just missed it.) I feel it now though – oof. This one hurts. My kingdom for a credible metaphor.

I will rise to this challenge. But first I must find a way into the play…and fast!