Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Two Wrongs and Some Ass-Kicking

When I was 10 I was in A Christmas Carol at the Lakeside Players in Kenosha Wisconsin, playing the pivotal role of Boy 2. There was this other kid who played a character named Dick. One day Andy Becker, who played Young Ebenezer, overheard the kid who played Dick calling me gay because my name is Gabe and it sounds like gay which ten year-old boys think is funny.

So I said to Andy, "I guess you are what your name is in the play." Which didn't seem like a very good comeback to me, I mean I wanted to just call the kid a dick, but that was one of those words that if my dad heard me say he would get inexplicably mad and exhale impatiently.

Anyway, I guess the kid who played Dick heard what I'd said and I always felt really bad. Especially on the day when I found out that once our scenes were over he was playing GI Joe's in the old theater and I loved GI Joe's. We could have hung out and become friends, but instead he never auditioned for any of the other Christmas plays at Lakeside again and who knows what the hell happened to him. Maybe he died.

My point is that two wrongs don't make a right.

Take Henry IV for instance. Henry IV became king by rebelling against Richard II in the play that came before this one, Richard II. Now his old allies, the Percy's, want to overthrow him to restore order and justice to England. Do two treasons make a right?

Meanwhile, Prince Harry/Hal/Henry is gallivanting about Eastcheap with thieves and ruffians, the foremost of whom is Sir John Falstaff. Harry is convinced to partake in a robbery when his buddy Ned tells him that they're going to play a trick on Falstaff. They're going to let Falstaff commit the robbery, and then they'll put on disguises and rob Falstaff. Do two robberies make a right? What does Prince Harry think? Let's take a closer look, shall we?

Harry’s speech in act 1 scene 2 is open to some interpretation. The text has Harry claiming that he associates with Falstaff and these rapscallions because he wants to lower people's expectations for him and then he is going to make a grand entrance onto the political scene and be praised because of his previously perceived lack of kingly acumen.

Yet herein will I imitate the sun,

Who doth permit the base contagious clouds

To smother up his beauty from the world,

That, when he please again to be himself,

Being wanted, he may be more wondered at

By breaking through the foul and ugly mists

Of vapours that did seem to strangle him. (1:2)

This lowering of expectations is a political move a son of America recently executed to disturbing presidential effect. But Shakespeare is a master of human nature, and I don’t buy this for a second. I think The Prince is just rationalizing.

We all do it. I can't tell you how many times I claimed that working as a concessionist at the Har Mar movie theater after graduating college was me "researching" life in order to be a better writer. Really I was just getting free movies and hanging out with high school students, who were pretty easy to fool into thinking that I was cool.

If I were Prince Harry and my father had overthrown the King and had him killed, I would hate him for making me heir apparent to a treasonous villain. I would be the target of vengeance as much as him. Who do you side with in this scenario? You can’t undermine your father and king, and you can’t stand with him since his claim to the throne is hardly just.

So you do nothing. You drink. You hang out with Falstaff. And you make excuses for yourself. You pretend to be better than them, when you're actually worse, because you're hiding from your true responsibilities. Just like Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings. Rangering around when you should be leading men. Luckily for Aragorn a great event happened that thrust him into battle.

Prince Harry has a similar stroke of fortune. The rebellion against his father begins. And Harry knows it’s his chance. Instantly, he begins his high-fallutin' moralistic ways and decides that two wrongs don't make a right. He says that he's going to return the money that he and Falstaff stole. ("The money shall be paid back again with advantage." [2:4]) And he puts down Falstaff something fierce when they do a little roleplay: "That villainous, abominable misleader of youth, Falstaff, that old white-bearded Satan." (2:4) In context, these insults are somewhat playful, since Falstaff puts down himself in the same scene, but they're still pretty harsh things to say about a friend.

But what if the call from his father never came? What if Hotspur (Percy) never grew upset with the King and decided to rebel, but rather was all valor and loyalty? Then the King would have accepted him in his son’s place as he wishes he could in the first scene:

O, that it could be proved

That some night-tripping fairy had exchanged

In cradle clothes our children where they lay,

And called mine ‘Percy’, his ‘Plantagenet’;

Then would I have his Harry, and he mine. (1:1)

(Plantagenet is the King's surname.)

This would leave Prince Harry in the taverns of Eastcheap, drinking, and socializing. Waiting for the call from his father. Waiting for the crisis, the opportunity to prove his heroism and put his so-called brilliant political plot into action. Waiting forever.

But Harry does get the call from his old man. And he sees that two treasons won't make a right, and two robberies won't either. It's the new act -- returning the money -- that makes a right. Only right makes right. And in the case of the rebellion coming in the next few acts of this play, I'm pretty sure right is gonna be some serious ass-kicking.

No comments:

Post a Comment