Henry IV

Shakespeare: the funny bits

Part 1, Act 4, Scene II. Another part of the forest

Enter, from one side, MOWBRAY, the ARCHBISHOP, HASTINGS, and others, in rebellion: from the other, PRINCE JOHN OF LANCASTER, WESTMORELAND and others, being rebelled against.

Prince John: My lords, these griefs shall be with speed redressed;
Upon my soul, they shall. If this may please you,
Discharge your powers unto their several counties,
As we will ours; and here, between the armies,
Let’s drink together friendly and embrace,
That all their eyes may bear these tokens home
Of our restored love and amity.

The rebels look at each other nervously.

Arch. O-kaaay.
West. Health to my lord and gentle cousin, Mowbray.
Mowb. You wish me health in very happy season,
For I am on a sudden something ill.
P. John [aside] You got that right.
Mowb. You said something, my Lord?
P. John [airily] Oh, nothing, nothing…

Of the plays I didn’t already know, Henry IV is the first which is so good that I don’t want to poke fun at it. For one thing, it has Falstaff. For another, it’s the first of the history plays in which there are real soldiers, instead of a handful of Dukes, Archbishops and Bastards sliding around like chess pieces. Both of these are aspects of the play’s deep black comedy, as in this blood-curdling exchange between the Prince and Falstaff:

Prince. I never did see such pitiful rascals.
Falstaff. Tut, tut; good enough to toss; food for powder, food for powder; they’ll fill a pit as well as better: tush, man, mortal men, mortal men.


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