Our local repertory theater, hight Playmakers, ran Henry IV and Henry V in rotating rep this winter. They were juicy productions, the moreso since I (and half the audience) had recently seen Henry V on trapeze [sic] at Burning Coal. Despite the great resources that this UNC-based production brought to bear, I was really disappointed in the first play, a mariage de force of I Henry IV and II Henry IV. I suppose that’s been done before, but the rhythm seemed all wrong, not just because of missing transitions and subplots but because of missing breathing places, the ebb of flow of comic and dramatic interludes. It’s not the first time Falstaff has stolen a show, but he didn’t have to do it so thoroughly.
A minor but important bit of Shakespeare’s genius is precisely this sense of rhythm, something like iambic pentameter writ large: the “red” world and the “green” world hold each other in check; high and low, public and private, intimate and quotidian form a kind of moral matrix to sustain our belief and pleasure in the world of the play. I came to appreciate what I thought of as the systole and diastole of a good yarn back in my executive speechwriting days, but here it was in a more vivid, irresistible medium. I won’t say all the bard’s plays are perfectly balanced, but surely these two histories number among his greatest. And once you start hacking away at a playwright’s script, chaos is come again.
Well, this playwright anyway. Directors often act boldly, and should–but in this matter they ought to use a lighter hand.