Comments by Bob Corbett
General Note: In January 2009 I decided that I’d like to go back and read all the plays of William Shakespeare, perhaps one a month if that works out. I hadn’t read a Shakespeare play since 1959, 50 years ago! But I had read nearly all of them in college. I wanted to go back, start with something not too serious or challenging, and work my way through the whole corpus. Thus I began with The Two Gentlemen of Verona. At this time I have no idea how the project will go, nor if it will actually lead me through the entire corpus of Shakespeare’s plays. However, I will keep a separate page listing each play I’ve read with links to any comments I would make of that particular play. See: List of Shakespeare’s play’s I’ve read and commented on
This was the least rewarding play of the 9 I have read in this “return” to Shakespeare. In King Henry IV, part 1, the discussions of Hal and Falstaff and their ground of reprobates were in the main at least humorous if inane. In this play they were simply boring and took up probably half the play or more. It seemed a play in which Shakespeare played to the most unsophisticated of his audiences. Nonetheless, in the parts of the play which dealt with the attempted revolt against Henry IV, Shakespeare created some memorable writing. The followers of the dead King Richard have decided to take the throne back from Henry and restore Richard’s line. King Henry is struggling with his health and the burden of his responsibility. His speech containing the famous line “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown” is brilliant, both as poetry and insight into human existence. It applies not only to a king, but to anyone who has burdensome responsibilities and is facing difficulties.
How many thousand of my poorest subjects
Are at this hour asleep! O sleep, O gentle sleep,
Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frighted thee,
That thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down
And steep my senses in forgetfulness?
Why rather, sleep, liest thou in smoky cribs,
Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee
And hushed with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber,
Than in the perfumed chambers of the great,
Under the canopies of costly state,
And lulled with sound of sweetest melody?
O thou dull god, why liest thou with the vile
In loathsome beds, and leavest the kingly couch
A watch-case or a common ‘larum-bell?
Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast
Seal up the ship-boy’s eyes, and rock his brains
In cradle of the rude imperious surge
And in the visitation of the winds,
Who take the ruffian billows by the top,
Curling their monstrous heads and hanging them
With deafening clamor in the slippery clouds,
That, with the hurly, death itself awakes?
Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose
To the wet sea son in an hour so rude,
And in the calmest and most stillest night,
With all appliances and means to boot,
Deny it to a king? Then happy low, lie down!
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.
Since I wasn’t finding the play of much interest in the story-line I just focused in on some parts I thought were interesting poetry and human insight. One of these was Warwick’s attempt to comfort the worried King Henry by convincing him that much of the bad news is only rumor, but rumor tends to increase one’s uncertainty.
[Warwick regarding the recent news of the marshalling of enemies]
It cannot be, my lord.
Rumor doth double, like the voice and echo,
The numbers of the feared. Please it your grace
To go to bed. Upon my soul, my lord,
The powers that you already have sent forth
Shall bring this prize in very easily.
To comfort you the more, I have received
A certain instance that Glendower is dead.
Your majesty hath been this fortnight ill,
And these unseasoned hours perforce must add
Unto your sickness.
At one part Henry chastises his enemy the archbishop for entering the war when he, as a man of God, should be a man of peace. The archbishop’s reply was a delightful excuse for his entering the war.
“A peace is of the nature of a conquest For then both parties nobly are subdued
And neither party loser.”
The ending, driven by history, thus not Shakespeare’s fault, comes when Henry’s forces negotiate a settlement to which the enemy agrees. However, as soon as the opposition dismisses its armies all the key leaders of the revolt are taken into custody, most to be put to death. My, what devious and disgusting folks!!! I didn’t find this to be a great, not even a good, play. But I still enjoyed some of Shakespeare’s writing and his insight into human nature.Bob Corbett firstname.lastname@example.org
Bob Corbett email@example.com