Shakespeare’s Henry IV, a Tale for Modern Times

photo of black ceramic male profile statue under grey sky during daytime

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A few weeks ago the universe gifted me something I’ve wanted for a long time — the Complete Works of William Shakespeare, in two volumes. I’m pretty sure I’ve read all of his freestanding poems over the years. But I must admit to familiarity with only a small handful of his plays. I decided to make a project of reading and then watching all of the plays, which I can do thanks to my public library’s DVD collection.

So, let’s talk about Henry IV, parts 1 and 2, and how the more things change, the more they stay the same. Though the story follows conflicts between royalty rather than elected officials, many elements seemed all too familiar to me, with parallels to current events. I suppose this is why Shakespeare’s works endure. He captures the universals of the human experience.

King Henry IV, in his efforts to have things 100% his way, ends up stoking rebellion instead. He is free with insults for those who incur his displeasure. Transactional behaviors and relationships abound — characters all trying to use each other. See what I mean? Sound familiar? Throughout the two plays, alliances shift among several factions, and nobody knows whom to trust. Covert help is sought from foreign sources. Each side has its mix of hot-heads (one even nicknamed Hotspur), schemers, sincere believers, and rascals.

This even holds true within the King’s own immediate family. Prince Hal spends his time getting into trouble with a group of wastrels, deliberately keeping expectations for himself low so he can easily exceed them. Meanwhile his younger brother, John (a character who might strike a chord if you’ve ever known an adult child of an alcoholic) just wants to make all of his kin happy through his hard work and rule following.

The Earl of Worcester foreshadows Fox News as a source of disinformation to gin up the case for war for his own purposes. The spirit of Falstaff lives on today in profiteers who seek their own fortunes and comfort above duties to others. Treachery and double dealing are rampant throughout the course of the two plays.

At the very end of part 2, Prince Hal ascends the throne as King Henry V. And suddenly his scandalous former associates are disavowed as no more than coffee boys he only met a time or two. He doesn’t really even know them. (Sorry if that was a spoiler for anyone.)

I guess there are patterns to human affairs.

Notable quote:
Pride defeats its own end, by bringing the man who seeks esteem and reverence into contempt.

On Today’s Walk 12-9-18

On today’s walk, it was sunny but brrr c-c-c-old. On the one-mile lap around my immediate neighborhood, I engaged in not a single spoken conversation. Yet a fair amount of communication happened.

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I ignored the caution sign and went close to peek under the rock, because I’m a rebel without a clue. All I saw was a hole in the ground.

On Today’s Walk 11-24-18

I strolled my neighborhood in unseasonably temperate weather, perfect for a walk — the last few warm hours before a predicted winter storm.

I heard leaf blowers, but never saw them. I saw people raking the brown, drying remnants of autumn, and running them over with mulching mowers. I saw a family taking photos of their toddlers playing in a leaf pile. At one house, a determined man used a front-loading Bobcat to push the masses of leaves from his lawn into one big stack near the edge.

Maybe I should have been have been doing yard work instead of playing tourist to all of the neighbors doing theirs. I still have undone weeding, left over from the summer. On the other hand, the mess of my yard might not be visible under the snow by this time tomorrow.

The bodies of the leaves are gone, but their spirits have not yet crossed over:

 

 

 

On Today’s Walk, 11-16-18

I walk a fair amount. I usually commute to work on foot. I also walk recreationally. It occurred to me to share what I encountered. I know I’m not winning any awards with my photos. I’m as amateur as they come. But here’s life as I see it.

On today’s walk, carpets of leaves:

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My own elongated shadow:

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A large deer in someone’s yard. Some kids off-camera called to him, “Here Bucky. Bucky, Bucky.” Until he turned to face them. Then one of them yelled, “Run, before he stabs us with his horns!” Spoiler: there was no horn stabbing.

 

I perambulated 1.75 miles, just around the neighborhood.

 

 

Armistice Day Resolution

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Interesting fact: you don’t have wait for New Year’s Day to start working on a goal. This November 11 marks the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that silenced the guns of World War I, or the Great War as it was called at the time. It had been one of the largest and bloodiest conflicts in the history of humankind, resulting in millions of deaths and immeasurable pain and suffering.

By the time it ended, the world was hungry for peace. It was supposed to be the “war to end all wars” yet many of the wars that have followed had roots in that conflict. It turns out peace isn’t something you get once, set on a shelf to admire and there it stays forever. Peace requires an active, sustained effort, always. We will never have to stop working for it.

Robert F. Kennedy said, “Each time a man(sic) stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

And Desmond Tutu has said, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

So my Armistice Day resolution is to do my little bit, starting with internal work, to create a ripple. To actively look for little bits of good I can do where I am each day.

A friend of mine recently passed away after a six-year struggle with cancer. She was truly a light in the world — one of those individuals who inspires the best in others. After the last presidential election, when many of us were on social media discussing what we could do, or what we would do to try to save the world, she posted that she was in the middle of chemo treatments and much too weak to go to meetings or phone bank or march. But she would spend some time each day on loving kindness meditations. That was her ripple.

I have decided, though it won’t be the whole of my action, I will try to help that ripple spread by focusing on the same thing as my main goal. My first concrete step is peace within myself, so I can then work on the world. In that spirit, and to honor my friend’s memory, I have the goal to engage in a loving kindness meditation at least four mornings a week. From there, my actions can build.

A Word About Redemption Stories

I love a redemption story as much as anyone. But there are certain necessary elements — remorse, concern for people who may have been hurt, an attempt to make amends, a change in behavior going forward. If those pieces are missing, it’s not a redemption arc. It’s a story of a stunted character trying to shirk responsibility.

Patricia Highsmith is the only author that immediately comes to mind who successfully made a character like this the main focus of her stories. Usually, a character of this nature would have a starring role only as an antagonist to the hero. And if said character gains power, that’s not evidence of redemption. That’s just upping the stakes.

Yes, these thoughts were prompted by current events.