Your Humble Blogger has been meaning to write about The Hollow Crown, the BBC production of Shakespeare’s Henriad that has recently aired on PBS. Alas, I haven’t yet finished watching it. I watched the Richard II and didn’t like it much, and then I watched the Henry IV, Part One and liked it quite a bit.
I disliked the R2 in large part because of how heavy-handed it was. For Richard to think of himself in terms of Christ imagery, well, that’s in the text. For the whole production to buy in to that, well, I think that’s not likely to be a very interesting production. But for—this example is at the end, so, er, spoiler, but also I was all cross about the heavy-handedness throughout, and it kinda built up to this—but for the dead king to be arranged in his coffin specifically to look like the Brunelleschi crucifixion, and then to have the camera actually pan from his body up the wall of the cathedral to the crucifixion fresco… well, it felt to me as if the director was saying Hey assholes! He’s a Christ figure! Get it?
Which I kinda resented.
The H4i, on the other hand, I quite liked. And the scene that has really stuck with me is IV,ii (a public road near Coventry), the one where Falstaff is tramping along with his troop and Hal meets him on the road. So here’s what I liked: it’s a movie, right? So of course Hal is on a horse, and the Earl of Westmoreland by his side is on horse, and of course Jack Falstaff is on foot. He wouldn’t have a horse, would he? If he did have the money, he wouldn’t spend it on a horse, and he wouldn’t keep it if he did, and besides, his job is to march with his men. So, there he is, on foot, and there Hal is, on horse. And Hal is in a hurry, Westmoreland is pressing him and he is himself (at last?) eager to go and prove himself on the field. A moment to bandy words with Old Jack is pleasant enough, he isn’t going to stop. And Jack is showing a brave face on it all, but he is old and fat and out of shape. So while he jogs alongside the horses for a couple of minutes, increasingly out of breath (“food for powder, food for powder”) and desperate, there’s no way he can keep up with Hal now, and soon enough he is left behind.
Which wasn’t heavy-handed at all.
Why not? The H4i scene sounds every bit as heavy-handed as the R2; they are both essentially literalizing the metaphor (or theme) of the text. Surely Hal literally leaving Falstaff behind, the old fat man unable to keep up with his erstwhile protégé who is now up on a high horse, presumably any Gentle Readers who haven’t seen the thing will think it’s as terribly clunky as the crucifixion of R2. And yet, it wasn’t. Not to me.
Can I justify that? Sure, I can justify it. But still.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,