Thursday, February 24, 2011

Here's a King Henry post IV you!

    Henry IV. Seems like a much simpler time doesn't it? We read that book all the way back in September. September! People still talked about jersey shore back then! Boy, things really are different.
     Anywhos, there's a pretty big disconnect between the September 18th date of my last post on this blog and the February 24th date of present. This is due, largely, to inconsitant usefulness on the part of my computer, new television episodes, senioritis and general procrastination. Probably some other stuff too. Anywhos, here we are.
     Four posts in and already I'm starting to have an issue with my "big question", as it were. So let's make like the yoga class, and make this post a bit of a stretch.
     Undoubtably, art can be classically identified as art. Incidently, so can novels, and films and photographs and theatre productions. In recent years though, dramatic television has also been making the transition from pop culture garbage to a legitimate form of expressing stories and ideas. Shows like The Wire, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad have been at the forefront of this shift, paving the way for a genuine respect for the medium.
     But television can't all be epic interpersonal sagas about the struggles of a city battling with drug dealers and corruption. Also, quite frequently even, it's funny. Comedies tend to get no respect, often regulated the to the role of disrespected class clown to the drama's intellectual teacher's pet.
     Though it's written as a history, King Henry the IV has just as much in common with the manically plotted episodes of the sadly- neigh, tragically- cancelled comedic opus Arrested Development as it might with say, War and Peace.
     Look at it from the perspective of a few select scenes-
     (1). Innuendos and Double Entendres- Hotspur and Lady Percy's belligerent, quasi fight scene, which has enough sexual innuendos to fill a porkhouse, manages to advance and develop the main foil without sacrificing the enjoyment of the reader. It's a funny scene, even if the jokes lay slightly beneath the surface.
     (2). Hilariously Intricate, Arguably Stupid Plans- In the context of the play, Hal's plan is taken mostly seriously. Hal is a prince. His father is the king. Naturally, by the genial progression, people WILL think highly of him. But that's not enough somehow. So as to make sure that people will think even more highly of him though, he pretends to be a party animal. This way, when he rises to the occasion, people will go "wow, look how much he improved and look how fast he grew up! That's like 10 times better than if he had just ruled us honorably." Without the context of the play, this plan is messed up to the near point of hilarity, so neuorotic that George Costanza and Homer Simpson would attempt similar ploys of self grandeur centuries later.
     (3). Faking Death = Hilarity. Falstaff, arguably the play's breakout character, is almost out of a sitcom himself. Whilst the rest of the cast is concerned with public appearance and revolt and war, he's mostly concerned with making a few bucks, staying alive and cracking as many jokes as subtily as he can and as quickly as he can. Briefly, just after the climax, the audience is led to believe that Falstaff has perished. Instead though, he merely faked his death so as to avoid the possiblity of being killed in battle. This trope is a familiar one to any fan of television, as pretending to be dead frequently weilds hilarious (and wacky) results.
     At it's heart, Henry IV is a genuinly funny play that incorporates the tropes and story types of modern day sitcoms into a historic and dramatic retelling of Prince Hal's rise to power. My conclusion, in the best way I might be able to make it at such late an hour, is that supposedly low brow sitcoms and tv comedies might not qualify as art, but all can (and many do) transcend to that level. The difference between the two is in the execution. Henry IV crafts its jokes with subtilty and ambiguity, using the insane conceits to both draw and laugh AND further the plot, filling in character details along the way.

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