I’ve been working my way through Shakespeare’s English Histories, which provide a dramatic sense of the political turbulence of the times they depict.
One of the main themes of Henry IV Part 1 is the transformation of the young Prince Hal, the future Henry V, from a frivolous playboy to a chivalrous warrior and serious successor to the throne. The long scenes in which he cavorts and banters with John Falstaff, the delightfully comic, overweight scoundrel, set the stage for this transformation. In a conversation with his father, King Henry IV, the King bewails Hal’s misspent youth and expresses the fear that he might join the rebels, led by Henry Percy (Hotspur), who aim to depose him. The Prince replies:
Do not think so. You shall not find it so;
And God forgive them that so much have swayed
Your majesty’s good thoughts away from me.
I will redeem all this on Percy’s head
And in the closing of some glorious day
Be bold to tell you that I am your son,
When I will wear a garment all of blood
And stain my favors in a bloody mask,
Which, washed away, shall scour my shame with it.
And that shall be the day, whene’er it lights,
That this same child of honor and renown,
This gallant Hotspur, this all-praised knight,
And your unthought-of Harry chance to meet.
For every honor sitting on his helm,
Would they were multitudes, and on my head
My shames redoubled; for the time will come
That I shall make this northern youth exchange
His glorious deeds for my indignities.
Percy is but my factor, good my lord,
To engross up glorious deeds on my behalf;
And I will call him to so strict account
That he shall render every glory up,
Yea, even the slightest worship of his time,
Or I will tear the reckoning from his heart.
This, in the name of God, I promise here,
The which, if He be pleased I shall perform,
I do beseech your majesty may salve
The long-grown wounds of my intemperance;
If not, the end of life cancels all bonds,
And I will die a hundred thousand deaths
Ere break the smallest parcel of this vow.
To which the king responds:
A hundred thousand rebels die in this.
Thou shalt have charge and sovereign trust herein.
Go, Prince Henry! Do you think he will live up to his vow?
Speaking of dissolution, when I was reading the Wikipedia biography of the Louvin Brothers – an act I must admit I had never heard of – after reading at Vanishing American that the surviving brother, Charlie Louvin, had passed away – I noted that the older brother, Ira, had considerable problems with alcohol. This set me to thinking of Hank Williams and other great entertainers who destroyed themselves with drinking and drugs. I said to my wife, “We may disapprove of their lifestyles, but we have to forgive them, because whatever pleasures they may have enjoyed from their wealth and fame were paid for by sacrificing their bodies.” Or as George Harrison said, “[The fans] gave their money and their screams. But we gave our nervous systems, which is a more difficult thing to give.”
Look at the Louvin Brothers giving their nervous systems on “I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby.” Well, they do seem to be having a fine time.
I imagine few readers of this blog are expecting regular posts these days, but for those who are kind enough to check in regularly, I’d like to announce my intent to publish the weekly essays on Mondays (i.e., at the end of the weekend), rather than Fridays, which was the plan once upon a time. That is more or less when they’ve been coming out anyway.