“H” is for “Hal.”
Prince Hal, that is.
My guess is that if you were to try to figure out which character was the most popular that Ol’ Will Shakespeare ever created in his plays, you’d probably come up with Sir John Falstaff.
Falstaff is fascinating. In the first place, he was, shall we say, large – some might even go so far as to use the word “fat.” He was also totally disreputable, boastful, almost never able to tell the truth, and he spent most daylight hours with a buzz on, except for the times when he was pretty well totally hammered.
But he was also very entertaining and a helluva lot of fun. He was always joking and goofing off, occasionally coming up with some truly witty remarks along the way.
What did he have to do with Prince Hal? Thought you’d never ask. :-) Turns out, just about everything.
You see, young Hal, heir to the throne, believed his father the King was too cold, too strict, and the boy felt the life of a young, respectable royal wasn’t for him. He became a wild teenager, a type that I am led to believe may well exist in our time too.
What Hal really enjoyed was hangin’ with his pal Falstaff.
He felt the Disreputable One knew how to live. Carousing at the Boar’s Head Tavern, surrounded by the sexy wenches, in a way Falstaff was a kind of overwhelming life force. Hal knew he was slumming when he was with him, but he loved it. He even took part in a few of the older guy’s not-entirely-legal activities – something that would have created even more headaches for his dad if he had known about it.
Scholars believe the Old Fat Guy became a kind of second father to the boy. In this picture, Falstaff is played by Orson Welles.
But Shakespeare adds an interesting touch: the young Prince, it turns out, was careful at all times about what he was doing. Yes, he was screwing around and raising hell, but he believed he’d be able to change. He was just sowing his wild oats and he felt he would later be able to mature: when the time came he’d be ready for the job of monarch.
And in fact Hal did later become King Henry V, quite possibly the most beloved sovereign in the entire history of England.
There have been many films and theatrical presentations of his story. One of the best was the movie “Henry V” made by Laurence Olivier during World War II, intended as a morale-booster during the dark days when Britain very much needed its morale boosted.
1 year ago