Henry IV, Part II

The closing images of Terry Hands's 1975 Royal Shakespeare Company 2 Henry IV condense the spectacle of rule into a carefully controlled emblematic design in which, as in the close of his I Henry IV, a series of replacements articulates the play's re-formed social and class distinctions. Stagehands drew a huge white carpet over the bare boards of the stage to frame Falstaff's rejection within an abstract "snowscape" further coded by a cluster of bare branches suspended upstage centre and golden rushes, strewn on the white groundcloth at downstage centre, to juxtapose Falstaff's barren beggary against Hal's new royalty. As the patterned shadows of Shallow's inn give way to hard, brilliant light, a tone picked up in the bright trumpets announcing Henry V's entrance, a travel-stained tavern crew enters first, Falstaff in a carpetbag cloak, red leggings, and baggy boots, and forms a ragged line, stage left, with Falstaff furthest downstage. Wearing pure white cloaks blazoned with scarlet Crosses of St. George, Westmoreland, Clarence, Gloucester, and John enter with the Lord Chief Justice, in scarlet robes and a golden chain of office, to stand in a rigidly ordered column, stage right, with the Chief Justice opposite Falstaff across an empty central aisle. Even before Henry V enters, Hands's choices of mise-en-scene, costume, and blocking separate institutionalized power from its parodic counterparts to predict that the cost of idealizing a king depends on such hierarchical division within the kingdom.

When the new King enters, the nobles kneel, and Falstaff crosses the boundary between nobles and commons to confront a "Jove" dressed and masked in golden armour, an emblematic figure of hedged divinity - unapproachable, austere, wearing the glittering symbols of his power like a shield. Image: RSC January 1976 Ignoring Falstaff, he continues to move downstage; in place of his request that the Lord Chief Justice speak to "that vain man" and the Chief Justice's warning to Falstaff, both of which are cut, the Chief Justice and Henry's brothers rise to form a barrier that encloses Falstaff's followers and so further isolates and intensifies the exchange between between Henry V and Falstaff. Image: RSC January 1976 When he at last replies to Falstaff's appeals, Henry removes his golden mask, and Falstaff, falling to his knees at Henry's command, remains there until the King exits, followed by the Chief Justice and his brothers. (Image: RST June 1975) Rising slowly, he stands at centre, replacing the deus ex machina-like Hal, isolated even from his companions, who encircle his figure briefly before they are herded offstage by officers at the Chief Justice's silent command. Then, in an echo of Henry's ceremonial entrance, Falstaff walks slowly up the central aisle between the impassive figures of Prince John and the Lord Chief Justice, pausing to stand under the bare branches as a raven croaks: relegated to the past's upstage space, he watches his lawful opposite take over his own central position. By cutting Prince John's comments on the King's "fair proceeding" as well as the Lord Chief Justice's reply, Hands silences any spoken judgment on Falstaff's future; as though unwilling to exclude him, this staging suspends his figure, poised for the exit that will, as Prince John talks of the coming war in France, deny him a place in the next play, except as others remember him.

Gold sequinned jacket, trousers, cloak, belt and helmet worn by Alan Howard in the last scene of Henry IV Part II (1975)

Extract from Barbara Hodgdon, The End Crowns All: Closure and Contradiction in Shakespeare's History (Princeton UP: Princeton NJ, 1991) pages 175-6

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Playing Shakespeare/Henry IV Part II