Shakespeare Uncovered Teacher Viewing Guide

Henry IV & V with Jeremy Irons

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HENRY IV and HENRY V with Jeremy Irons

The Gist: Jeremy Irons plays King Henry IV in two recently-produced films of Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2and his fascination with all aspects of these plays, as well as with Henry V, is powerful. He is deeply curious about Henry IV and his son, Prince Hal, the wild youth who grows up to become Henry V, the greatest warrior king in English history. There’s a lot to these plays: they were the big box office hits of the 1590’s, jam-packed with big stories, as Irons points out, “ . . . of fathers and sons, friendship and betrayal, rebellion, insurgency, and war. And of a king who stole the crown and was tormented by guilt ever after.”

He takes us through the lives of these kings and their plays simultaneously, beginning on the Thames rowing us across to the Globe on the South Bank, where audiences saw early productions to the battlefield at Agincourt, site of Henry V’s greatest victory, and finally to the cemetery at Normandy. Along the way, he asks compelling questions about leadership, kingship, war, and consequences, looking for answers in scenes from a range of stage and film productions, in discussions with literary scholars, historians, actors, and directors, and even in a copy of Holinshed’s Chronicles (1587), Shakespeare’s chief source for these plays. We learn as he learnsan entirely powerful and pleasurable experience.

Not To Miss:

  • Irons’ handy summary of the rise and fall of three kings Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry V
  • Our trip across the Thames with Jeremy Irons. He rows and we listen as he tells us how the Globe Theatre got to the South Bank in the first place.
  • Many and splendid clips from three different Henry V films: Laurence Olivier (1944), Kenneth Branagh (1989), and the new film starring Tom Hiddleston and directed by Thea Sharrock (2012)
  • Gail Paster (former director, Folger Shakespeare Library) on why Henry IV, Part 1 is perhaps Shakespeare’s greatest play
  • Sneak peeks of the 2012 films in production:
    • Preparation for and filming of Henry IV, Part 1, Act 2, scene 4 (“Do thou stand for my father”)a scene that many believe is one of the best in all of Shakespeare
    • Henry IV, Part 2, Act 5, scene 5 (Hal banishes Falstaff)
  • Jonathan Bate (Oxford) and Stephen Greenblatt (Harvard) on the centrality of the father-son relationships, and on the substitutes: King Henry’s alternative son Hotspur, and Prince Hal’s alternative father Falstaff
  • Jeremy Irons’ commentary on the depth of King Henry’s guilt, and Iron’s intimate reading of Henry’s soliloquy about his inability to sleep. He starts, “How many thousand of my poorest subjects are at this hour asleep?” and goes through until the end, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

After Watching, Keep On Talking (with your colleagues and students)

  • Does Prince Hal have a master plan misbehaving intentionally to keep expectations low, and therefore his leadership a dramatic surprise or is he a more typical adolescent, living in the moment and growing up when he needs to?
  • What might be good reasons to teach these plays? Why don’t more of us teach them?
  • At the episode’s end, Jeremy Irons stands in the cemetery in Normandy, burial place of so many killed in World War II, reflecting on the consequences of war. “Have we learned anything?” he asks. Have we? If so, what? If not, what should we have learned?