Folger Theatre’s 2019/20 season begins with Shakespeare’s vibrant history, 1 Henry IV. Featuring one of his most beloved characters, the jolly knight Falstaff, it follows a young Prince Henry as he navigates his transition into adulthood—a transition made all the more complicated by his royal status and the rebellion threatening his father’s crown. Acclaimed director Rosa Joshi, known for her dynamic stagings of Shakespeare’s histories on the West Coast, shares what excites her about bringing 1 Henry IV to life on the Folger stage.
The nature of leadership is deeply embedded into Shakespeare’s histories and is something that has always fascinated me. What drew me specifically to 1 Henry IV from the start was the coming-of-age story of a young leader. At the heart of the play for me is a young man, torn between passion and duty, id and superego on a journey towards becoming a leader. I love that Shakespeare gives us a window into a young Henry V, the legendary King who conquers France and unites England. We get to see him when he was still Hal: a flawed, imperfect, reckless young version of that mythical icon. We get to experience the duality of who he is, the temptations and the challenges he faces on his winding path towards growing up and assuming responsibility.
1 Henry IV is also a story of fathers and sons—particularly of a young man torn between two fathers. On the one hand, his distant, authoritarian, real father, Henry IV. And then the polar opposite: his ebullient, irrepressible, surrogate father, Falstaff. The relationship between Hal and Falstaff is for me the great love story of this play: it delights and dismays me in equal measure. It’s the special seductive genius of Shakespeare that he has created this dynamic couple that I know ultimately may not be good for each other, but for whom I just can’t help rooting.
This intensely personal story about growing up plays out against a political backdrop of civil discord and questions of rightful rule, reminding us that Shakespeare’s histories are the ultimate examination of how the personal and the political are intertwined. They are stories about powerful families in conflict, making political decisions that affect ordinary people: decisions that are driven by deeply personal ambitions, loyalties and vendettas. It’s that resonance for me that makes these plays about medieval English history startlingly relevant to a contemporary American audience and that makes 1 Henry IV a compelling story for us today.
Don’t miss Folger Theatre’s 1 Henry IV when it begins performances on September 3. For tickets and more information, visit us online or call the Folger Box Office at 202.544.7077.