Forensic Friday #018: 1HIV II.iv

Play Extempore

If all the year were playing holidays,

To sport would be as tedious as to work (I.ii)

Erm … no!

Prince Hal is one of those annoying, frankly very boring people who simply don’t have sufficient imagination to have hobbies. The ones who pine away six months into hard-earned retirement, or keep coming into work after you thought you’d finally got rid of them, to ‘keep their hand in, and check the youngsters haven’t stuffed it up yet.’ AND they no longer contribute towards the coffee fund!

I can imagine our wayward Prince continuing to work if he won the lottery; his repeated adventures in France are as much about ennui as anything. The man needs a distraction. Me? Between reading, writing here and elsewhere, and my nascent career as the under-gardener’s trowel-cleaner at my new house, I don’t even have time for retirement, let alone a full-time job.

But back to reality – I’m almost but not yet 50, I’ve just got a mortgage, and the government has raised (and probably will again) my retirement age. I hate to be a Cassandra (actually, I don’t) but teachers who can’t escape the classroom are going to die in front of their pupils – mark my words. Retirements are very much going to be for the lucky few in the future, not de rigeur as they are for my parents’ generation. Anyway, the real point is that good things inevitably come to an end. Yes, even a teacher’s summer holidays: although that end is thankfully a few weeks off yet, early August sees me suffering from my annual bout of work-related nightmares. Don’t become a teacher unless you have a vocation for your subject, and/or education. Preferably both, of course.

Setting the scene: it’s about 2am, and the hard partying at the Boar’s Head shows little sign of abating. Hal and Falstaff engage in some merry role-play, anticipating the almighty bollocking the prince is going to receive from his father when he is inevitably summoned.  ‘Inevitably‘ because England is abuzz with speculation about what Hotspur and his rebellious family are up to. In this section, the fun takes on an unsettling undercurrent: the players have swapped places, and Hal is pretending to be his frustrated, critical father, with Falstaff playing the good-for-nothing prince, defending Hal’s behaviour and through this, himself.

Let’s take ‘the red pill’ on the end of the exchange (see above), just before it is interrupted by a prissy do-gooder. As ever, this is designed to be useful to A level students even if they aren’t studying the play and 250 words, maximum.

Q: how does Shakespeare use language for dramatic effect in this extract?

In this exchange, Shakespeare poignantly reveals the uneasy underbelly of the play extempore, beyond the superficial hilarity that the patrons of the Boar’s Head are revelling in. Several techniques suggest that Falstaff is not merely role-playing.

Firstly, the dialogue, supposedly between King and Prince, stubbornly remains in prose rather than the blank verse we might expect. And whilst Falstaff conventionally addresses Hal (‘the king his father’) with a respectful ‘my good lord’, the mask slips as he reverts to repeatedly using ‘thy’.

Repetition is key to this extract: Falstaff names himself seven times, with informality (using the sobriquet, ‘Jack’) and embellishing the self-references with a semantic field of positive (or sympathy-inducing) adjectives such as ‘kind’ and ‘old’; these are notably lacking from his references to his ‘competition’ for Hal’s patronage, Peto, Bardolph and Poins. Also repeated seven times is ‘banish’, with its unsettling connotations of permanent exile. At one point, Falstaff appears lost for words, repeating ‘banish not him thy Harry’s company’ as if pleading, in unusually plain language, for his life.

Hal’s response is frightening. The unadorned simple sentences permit no argument or mercy. Notably, Hal too steps out of role. Changing tense, he moves from the entertainment to foreshadow his devastating abandonment of the fat knight.

Whilst the tavern regulars are entertained, Shakespeare presents us with the incipient break-up of this superficially close relationship. The break-up is one-sided, leading us to feel sympathy for Falstaff and awe, perhaps dread, at Hal’s Machiavellian ruthlessness.

[250 words]


All play quotations taken from

Author: Boar's Head, Eastcheap

Hyperactive English Teacher and Tutor; Shakespeare-obsessed 'Villainous abominable misleader of youth'; 'old white-bearded Satan'; Friend of the Orangutan

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