Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Forswear thin potations


Lots of hits from US crossword solvers today 10 Jan 15. The answer, folks, is 'themselves'.

Roger Allam here as Falstaff in Henry IV part II delivering Falstaff's praise of sherris sack with wonderful clarity and wit.

Below is an excellent performance by the same actors of Hal and Falstaff's play-within-a-play from Henry IV part I. For anyone unfamiliar with the story, Prince Hal, the future King Henry V, is misspending his youth among the whores and drunks of Eastcheap, whose society he plans to abjure in due course, because then:

My reformation, glittering o'er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.

This reminds me somewhat of the Evangelical scam-artist's salvation testimony: 'I was a sinner, I was a drunk, I went a-thievin an a-whorin, but Jee-sus come into my life and now I'm the father of an entire Gospel choir and CEO of twenty zillion companies, please give generously.'

In this scene, a messenger from the King has been sent to the tavern-cum-brothel where Hal hangs out to summon the prince to a bollocking from his father the following day. Hal and Falstaff both know that the King is going to require Hal to abandon his dissolute friends and shape up for kingship. After Falstaff has got rid of the messenger ('What doth Gravity out of his bed at midnight? ... I'll send him packing') he proposes that Hal rehearse his responses to his father in a role-play, or play extempore as it was so much better called back then. This provides Falstaff with an opportunity to plead his case that the future King Hal should maintain their friendship, much to the aging soak's benefit. But Hal knows even now that this will not happen.

If sack and sugar be a fault, God help the wicked. If to be old and merry be a sin, then many an old host that I know is damned. If to be fat be to be hated, then Pharaoh’s lean kine are to be loved. No, my good lord, banish Peto, banish Bardolph, banish Poins, but for sweet Jack Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack Falstaff, valiant Jack Falstaff, and therefore more valiant being, as he is old Jack Falstaff, banish not him thy Harry’s company, banish not him thy Harry’s company. Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.

'All the world' indeed. Falstaff is wit, camaraderie, irony, disrespect for poker-faced authority. He's amoral, manipulative and irresponsible. He's immensely likeable. But Hal replies chillingly:

I do. I will.

This foreshadows Hal's repudiation of Falstaff at the end of Henry IV part II:

I know thee not, old man: fall to thy prayers;
How ill white hairs become a fool and jester!
I have long dream'd of such a kind of man,
So surfeit-swell'd, so old and so profane;
But, being awaked, I do despise my dream.
Make less thy body hence, and more thy grace;
Leave gormandizing; know the grave doth gape
For thee thrice wider than for other men.
Reply not to me with a fool-born jest:

Presume not that I am the thing I was;
For God doth know, so shall the world perceive,
That I have turn'd away my former self;
So will I those that kept me company.



Yeah, well, you can really go off people, can't you? We later learn that Hal will provide for his former friends on the condition that they reform. What an insufferable prig.

  .

And here, on the following day, Hal meets his father. His contrition is rather casual and unconvincing until Henry roars 'God pardon thee!' and Hal finally starts to sober up.

 

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