Thursday, September 23, 2010

PEG Lecture 9/10/10

Today Dr. Ralph and his three assistants examined power in four scenes from II Henry IV. He also told them a little about the play, it’s plot, and Sir John Falstaff. Shakespeare originally called him Oldcastle, but the Oldcastle family demanded that he change it to Falstaff. Censoring art is a great example of power. Here are the four scenes:

Falstaff before the Chief Justice: Gower enters with a message for the justice, and Falstaff keeps trying to involve himself, asking questions. The justice ignores him completely. Ralph pointed out it’s much like high school, when the unpopular kid asks the popular group what’s up and the popular group drifts away without responding. I remember some experiences like that in high school, but it more reminded me of how people in power don’t have to respond to phone calls or letters. Ever tried to talk to a celebrity, or the head of a large company, or a prospective employer? They have the power, and they don’t have to reply when you contact them. Falstaff does keep some measure of power by repeatedly inviting Gower to dinner when the justice is trying to leave, annoying them and making it clear he knows how the justice is taking his power.

Falstaff in conscription mode: Ralph showed how relevant the scene was by telling us about when he was a young man and could have been drafted for Vietnam. I wouldn’t know about drafts—being blind has its perks! Of the six soldiers Falstaff can draft four of, two of them have their own power: money. They bribe Falstaff through Bardolph to pick poor soldiers less fit for the job than them. One tries to gain power through sympathy, but it’s the two pound bribe that carries the weight. There’s never truly an even playing field, explained Ralph.

Falstaff vs. Colaville of the Dale: Ralph had always envisioned this as a comic scene featuring a fight in which the cowardly Falstaff gains the upper hand over the bold rebel. His brilliant assistant, Brent, convinced him that it should be a serious scene. Colaville yields to Falstaff because he has heard so much of Falstaff’s (completely undeserved) valorous reputation. Although they both have swords, a base level of military power, the man with the power of reputation wins over the one with more military power. When Prince John enters, Falstaff tries to increase his power by making a big deal of his prisoner. John has no respect for him and uses his higher power to nullify Falstaff’s, sentencing Colaville to execution. Falstaff does pull out the power of the poet, saying that if John does not acknowledge he captured a noted rebel then he will have a ballad written in which he exceeds John. That was my favorite part. I have made use of that writer’s power before, mainly when I wrote an Aristophanic comedy about my college! Most people find subtle ballads and songs preferable.

We only looked briefly at the banishment of Falstaff. Now Hal is in absolute power and strips Falstaff of his. Powers higher still, however, Hal’s obligation to the kingdom and the law, force him to do so. Ralph notes that after Hal leaves, Falstaff acknowledges a debt for the first time in his life.

The day ended with Sarah assigning groups of students scenes to study from Love’s Labours Lost. I wonder if they’ll be performing those at the end? That play has some hilarious power scenes. Now I’m remembering the great production I saw this summer in the first session of YCTC.

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