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William C. Altreuter
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Wednesday, July 07, 2004

To Henry IV Part One at Shakespeare in the Park last night. I am fond of this play, which I first studied with Professor Smith at Geneseo. It is a tricky play to do, I think, because the characters that are set in opposition to the protagonists are, in many ways, characters that we prefer. The King is a usurper, who has actually committed the wrongs that he is accused of, but Falstaff, while reprehensible, is likeable and sympathetic. Hotspur has a fiery temperament, but he is faithful, and bold, and is plainly a better man than Hal. When the Prince has his conversion moment, in the tavern, he comes off as cruel rather than noble, and when he and his father reconcile it is hard not to feel that he is, once again, merely being expedient. This production compensates for some of this by underlining Falstaff's disreputable charactor a little more than is usually done. The reason to do the play is usually to give someone a shot at Falstaff, and I have a feeling that this is why it was put on this year: Saul Elkin is a legend around here, and if he feels like playing Falstaff, then they are going to find a way to let him do it.

The structure of the play is somewhat misshapen, but in this production they make up for it by having a lot of good sword fights.

Everyone knows a lot of Shakespeare, but Henry IV is less familiar: it says a lot that even through the archaic language and the unfamiliar politics the story comes sailing through, and is thoroughly engaging. I wish Shakespeare in the Park was going to do Part Two and Henry V, either this season or next, but we don't get that lucky. We are lucky enough to have this, though, and I expect I'll go again.

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