Archive for Joss Whedon

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.


I Wasted Time, and Now Doth Time Waste Me

Posted in Richard II with tags , , on 2014/03/30 by mattermind

Richard II, Act V


Modern audiences have become so accustomed to sequels that many of us now wait until the end of the closing credits just for a tacked-on bonus scene to tease us for the next installment. While this may seem a decadent byproduct of a Hollywood movie industry in steep decline, it will probably surprise you to encounter the same sort of shenanigans at the end of a Shakespeare history, laying pipe (as screenwriter’s call it) for the sequel by foreshadowing hard times in Henry IV’s near future.

I still find Richard II baffling at the end of the play – both the story and the character. it feels like the middle volume in a trilogy, the tweener neither introducing nor wrapping up the plot’s central conflict. Succession sagas by now have jumped the shark. Richard II is neither heroic nor despicable and definitely not leading-man material. The actions and their consequences are hardly edge-of-the-seat exciting. Even NBC might have to pull the plug. This is not your Blockbuster Event Thrill-Ride of the Summer.

I believe the fault (if indeed it’s a fault) lies with character and not the action. Richard for my money is too wishy-washy for audiences either to fear or sympathize with. His greed and ego prove his undoing, failing to endear him with his subjects…or us. In Act V he gets murdered by a couple of Henry’s lackeys and I confess to not getting worked up about it. Even the play’s central tragic plotpoint turns on an accidental misunderstanding. Yawn.

Must not have been sweeps week at the Globe.

Not knowing the history behind Henry IV’s reign, I can only guess that things will not go so well moving forward. When the inevitable happens, I’ll surely experience an epiphany tracing back to Richard II when I shout out – hopefully not in a crowded theater – how now I understand why, alas, poor Henry was fated to the horrors that befall him.

For now, I’m left with few fond memories of Richard, but certainly with a great deal of exciting dread for the new guy on the throne, Henry. Richard II may ultimately have been a bit of a letdown, but I have high hopes for Richard II: II.

Coming this April to a blog near you. Rated PG13. Viewer discretion advised.