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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: October ::
Re: Hotspur
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0824. Wednesday, 19 October 1994.
 
From:           Edward Gero <
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Date:           Tuesday, 18 Oct 1994 10:43:46 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 5.0813; Hotspur
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0813; Hotspur
 
I have the pleasure of playing Hotspur nightly here in Washington in Michael
Kahn's conflation of the two parts of Henry IV (alternately known by the cast
as Henry IV Ever, Henry IV Hours and Henry IV Shortened) until November 6.  It
has been very well received by the critics and audiences alike, despite the
four hour running time.  I invite you to take advantage of seeing this
production if you are in the DC area. (Hardy Cook has already done so!).
 
In reference to the question about the rhyming couplets at the end of the
rebels scene in 1HIV, IV.1 ll 121-122; 131-36, may I offer a few comments. The
use of rhyming couplets in an otherwise blank verse scene indicates some shift
in emotional tenour: an 'upping of the stakes' as it were. In the first speech,
Vernon has just related the *vision* of Hal in full battle regalia "gallantly
arm'd,/ Rise from the ground like feather'd Mercury,/ And vaulted with such
ease into his seat/ As if an angel dropp'd down from the clouds/ To turn an
wind a fiery Pegasus".  This apotheosis of Hal told to an incredulous Hotspur,
makes him sick (Worse than the sun in March/ This praise doth nourish agues".
Hotspur chides Vernon and expresses his exhilaration at the approach of his
victim and in an expression of utmost eagerness and bloodlust bursts into the
proclamation and vow: "Harry to Harry (in opposition to Vernon's 'Prince of
Wales') shall, hot horse to horse,/ Meet and ne'er part till one drop down a
corse."  Blank verse simply won't suffice to express the emotional charge of
the moment.
 
Similarly, the heroics of the final lines come when the "worst tidings" of
Glendower's failure to come prompts the bravado of Hotspur's glossing of the
King's strength in arms and proclaiming their (the rebels) current strength to
be sufficient for the day.  To me, this use of rhyme provides a sharp contrast
to the previous speech.  Here, in my view, Hotspur forces himself to rise to
the occasion, goes into rhyme and makes that ironic and less satisfying couplet
"muster speedily/ die merrily." Again, the use of rhyme indicates a significant
shift in emotional quality, albeit more forced in this case.
 
I have an observation to add:  I heard something curious one evening as I lie
"dead" after the Shrewsbury battle.  Falstaff's counterfeit speech struck me in
a peculiar way.  His reasoning of "to counterfeit dying, when a man thereby
liveth, is to be no counterfeit, but the true and perfect image of life
indeed", sounded all too familiar being in the same process of counterfeiting
dying at the precise moment.  Further, his lines "I am afraid if this gunpowder
Percy though he be dead; (he isn't) how if he counterfeit too and rise? (he
does and will) By my faith, I am afraid he would prove the better
counterfeit...Why may not he rise as well as I?" all get laughs.  Here is
another example of Shakespeare using the theatrical reality and metaphor of an
actor playing dead to illustrate the duplicitous nature of Falstaff and a whole
host of others in the story.  After all, doesn't Hal counterfeit? Henry?  I
wonder if Burbage (or however it was that played Falstaff) got a big laugh when
he said to Hal, "I was out of breath and so was he", in full view of an
exhausted Hotspur gasping for air.  Had this actor not been doing the same some
400 years later, it would never had occurred to me.  It's amazing what a
performance perspective can yield!
 
Any thoughts?
 
With apologies for the length of my widow's mite,
 
I remain,
Edward Gero
Shakespeare Theatre
Washington, DC

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