Sunday, May 10, 2009
Henry VI Part I
I finally started in on Shakespeare on Saturday and read Henry VI Part 1. I've decided to read in the order in which Shakespeare wrote them, which is why I'm starting with the Henry VI tetralogy even though it's later historically. It also works out nice because I'm not technically to Shakespeare yet in my history reading, but I am almost finished reading The Wars of the Roses which is about the time frame of the Henry VI plays. Of course, we don't actually know for sure the order of the plays, and there's debate from the start over whether Henry VI Part 1 was actually written first or if it was written after Henry VI Parts 2 and 3. There's also uncertainty about if Shakespeare really wrote this play or if he just revised it or wrote parts of it. That's uncertainty on top of the general uncertainty if Shakespeare actually wrote any of the plays or if someone else did. Anyway, I'm reading from the Riverside Shakespeare and am using their timeline as my guide for reading order.
Back to the actual play. You can definitely tell it's either one of his earliest works or was written at least partly by someone else. It lacks the poetry and beauty of most of his other plays. For example, it's primarily written in rhyming couplets instead of blank verse so it doesn't sound as natural for a history, and he also doesn't break lines between different speakers. The intro of the Riverside points that out and notes that he rarely breaks lines in his early works and does so frequently in his later works. When I read that in the intro I didn't really think that would make much of a difference, but it definitely makes things sound stilted and not conversational. He's also not as good at character building as in the later works. The characters all sound the same, which makes it harder to realize what's going on. It's very different from the second tetralogy featuring Henry IV/V where all of the characters are very distinctive. It's especially interesting to see Falstaff in both series and how undeveloped he is in the Henry VI plays when he's larger than life in the Henry IV plays. I am glad I'm reading The Wars of the Roses also or I think it would be a lot harder to follow along. That's also helping to make Richard III more understandable, so it will be interesting when I get to that play to see how my perception of it has changed over time. I still enjoyed Richard III when I read the first time, I just think I will view it differently this time and have an even greater appreciation for it now.