Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Shakespeare in the Great Books List

These are the works of Shakespeare that are on the ten year reading plan for the Great Books:

Julius Caesar
Antony and Cleopatra
King Lear

Richard II
Henry IV (part one)
Henry IV (part two)
Henry V

The Comedy of Errors
Taming of the Shrew
As You Like It
Twelfth Night

That's seven tragedies, four histories and four comedies.  This past weekend, Google had a doodle that celebrated Shakespeare with his eight best known plays.  Three of those plays didn't make the Great Books list.  Those plays are 'Romeo and Juliet', 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' and 'The Tempest'.  Should those three have been included here?
It depends on what the reasoning behind the list is.  If the idea is to be exposed to the greatest ideas in Western Thought, then you probably have to throw 'Romeo and Juliet' and 'The Tempest' in.  If the idea is to have the most enjoyable experience for lay-people, then you throw in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'.  If the idea is to have a well-rounded education in culture, then you need to include all three.
But if the idea is to avoid things that they've probably already encountered?  Then maybe you go with the Great Books list as designed.  The obvious flaw with this approach is that the popularity of many of Shakespeare's plays has changed for better or worse throughout history and no doubt will continue to do so.
In honesty, I'm not sure what the approach was.

And in fairness, I don't know what approach I would take.  Shakespeare is given quite a bit of territory in the reading plan.  The fifteen plays are divided into six pieces (with Hamlet and Macbeth each being given their own place and not sharing with any other plays).  If I was picking fifteen plays, I don't think that these are the fifteen I would have ended up with.
I would probably have bumped Coriolanus for the Tempest.  And I definitely would have bumped Comedy of Errors for Midsummer Night's Dream.  And while I'm at it, I'd get rid of Taming of the Shrew in favor of Much Ado About Nothing.  And I'd find a way to include Romeo and Juliet.
Although that might all be my biases showing...  I'm certainly not sorry to have read the plays that I would have thrown out here.  And while fifteen plays is a lot, I could make the argument to up that number to twenty.  At some point, there is a limit to what you can really include.
For better or worse, these are the plays that were selected.  I can think of worse things than to have read them.  

Monday, April 25, 2016


Next up is selections from Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales'.  The suggested readings are:

Knight's Tale
Miller's Prologue and Tale
Reeve's Prologue and Tale
Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale
Friar's Prologue and Tale
Summoner's Prologue and Tale
Pardoner's Prologue and Tale

I think that I read a bit of the Canterbury Tales back in high school, but if so I don't remember any of it.  This will all be new to me.  I'll be reading a translation.  (Feel free to use the comments to tell me why I shouldn't.  I'd rather enjoy the story rather than puzzle out the meanings.)

I meant to have a post up this weekend that would have gathered the various Shakespeare things I read for the Great Books program, but that didn't happen.  Look for it later.  After that, I'm only one play behind in actually writing about what I've read.  (For the first time in 2016, I took last week off from reading a new one.) 
I also need to write about Epictetus and St Augustine.  Expect those later in the week or in the next few weeks.  Short review, I found them both worthwhile but with caveats on each.

More to come!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Links to the Past

Science Shows How Moby Dick could have Sunk a Ship link

Shakespeare still Teaching us About Good and Evil link

Is it fair for Shakespeare to overshadow Cervantes? link

Flow Chart to Help Determine Which Shakespeare to See link

Reactions to the women in Shakespeare, from Actresses link

Ancient Greek Office (Existential Comics) link

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Othello - Shakespeare

The legend goes that one night the famous actor Richard Burbage was talking with William Shakespeare and he said something like, "Bill, I'm the best actor there is.  You cannot write a part that I cannot must naturally play."  So Shakespeare went out and wrote 'Othello'. 

The plot is simple enough.  Othello is a Moorish (i.e. black) general in the service of Venice.  He has chosen for his lieutenant a man named Cassio.  This (along with other reasons) has greatly upset the man who thought he should be the lieutenant, a man named Iago.  Iago is also friends with a man named Roderigo, who also has reason to hate Othello; he wants the woman that loves Othello, Desdemona.  Iago promises Roderigo that if he helps, Othello will be undone.
Othello marries Desdemona in secret and, after some conflict, her father consents to the marriage.  However, war is declared and all of the principles are off to Cyprus to fight the Turks.  Iago looks for a way to cause havoc and he soon finds it in a friendship sprung up between Cassio and Desdemona. 
This is the truly brilliant part of the play.  Iago slowly seduces Othello to the prospect that Cassio is fooling around with Desdemona behind his back.  He quietly puts a piece of information out there, then loudly declares that there must be no truth in it.  Othello is quickly convinced that something is happening.  He then sees all events as confirmation of his fears.
In the end, Othello calmly goes to Desdemona while she is asleep on their wedding sheets.  He asks her if she has prayed before dying.  She is shocked and afraid but she can't stop him.  He kills her.  The murder is immediately found out.  Iago's role is discovered shortly thereafter.  Othello knows that he has become a monster and he commits suicide.

I don't really know how color divisions were in England at the time Shakespeare wrote this.  Othello is clearly despised in part because of his color, but this is all from Iago and Roderigo.  Otherwise Othello is treated well by soldiers and nobility.  Likewise, I don't know how the marriage between a white woman and a black man played in front of audiences then, or even how the portrayal of a black man on the stage went.
I can say that Othello, as a character, is completely sympathetic.  His love for Desdemona is very clear and so is hers for him.  When Shylock is punished in 'Merchant of Venice', there is little doubt that the punishment is deserved in large part because he is Jewish.  There is not quite the same sense that Othello is deservingly betrayed by Iago because he isn't white.
You can add 'Othello' to the (growing) list of plays that I wish we had the original audience reaction to.

Iago is almost perfectly evil.  He has motivations, but his revenge seems to go beyond them.  He was passed over for promotion, true.  And he thinks that Othello may have been in his marriage bed.  But he doesn't know and it's hard to credit these for his entire plot.  Iago is too controlled and controlling.  I mentioned above that he seduces Othello into believing that Desdemona was unfaithful.  He also seduces Roderigo into being his accomplice and henchman.  And when Roderigo no longer is useful, he calmly dispatches him.  Perfectly evil.  (What a tasty role!)

When I'm done with the tragedies, I may compile a list of the tragic heroines and rank them according to sympathy.  I suspect Desdemona will be at the top of that list.

Monday, April 18, 2016

King Lear - Shakespeare

King Lear is an old king and he wishes to semi-retire.  He will still enjoy the title and prestige of being king, and even have a cohort of knights at his beck and call, but he will leave the nuts and bolts of running the kingdom to others.  To this end, he has called his three daughters together so that he can divide the kingdom among them.  Before the division occurs, he asks them each to tell them how much they love him.  The first two, older and married, both give fawning answers while the third one, Cordelia, squirms.  To add to her stress, she has two suitors present, and her hand will be given to one of them.  King Lear asks her what she has to say and she simply answers 'nothing'.  He tells her that 'nothing will come of nothing' but she still can't bring herself to flatter him.  In a fit of pique, the king disinherits her and casts her away.  The king of France still sees value in her so he decides to wed.
One of the king's men, Kent, quickly tries to tell the king he is making a mistake.  The king exiles him too.  The rest of the kingdom will be split between the two older daughters.  Kent quickly returns in disguise and still tries to help the poor king.
As all of this is happening, another noble, Gloucester, is at the mercy of a plot.  He has two sons, one of whom is a bastard.  The bastard has a plan to put his half-brother in the wrong and become the full heir.  He also has plans to seduce both of Lear's daughters and take over their property as well.
King Lear decides to split time between his daughters but they no longer treat him with respect.  They want to pare down his knights or have them removed completely.  The king, enraged at this discrespect, leaves into the night and storm.  While in the storm on the blasted heath, he begins to understand what an awful person he has become.  He ends up sheltered with his fool, the disguised Kent and the disguised rightful son of Gloucester.
Meanwhile plots are afoot everywhere.  Gloucester is taken as a traitor and horribly blinded.  There is confusion and fighting.  The king and Cordelia are taken prisoner together.  An order goes out to have her killed.  Kent is finally able to put things right and unmask the plot but it's too late.  Lear enters carrying his dear, dead daughter.  He huddles over her and then his heart gives out and he too dies.

This was my first experience with King Lear.  I had read a bit about the play, but never seen or read it until now.  The story has an inescapable awfulness to it.  From the time that Lear gives up his power and falls prey to the uncertainty of plots, everything simply goes downhill.  The kingdom is wildly vulnerable and there is no good person in authority to put things right.
The two wicked (as it turns out) older sisters try to take advantage, but they don't realize that they are also pawns of the bastard.  Gloucester is unaware of what's happening until it's too late.  Kent tries his best, but there is little he can do.  Lear's fool gives vague warnings but they come to nothing.  Everything is awful.
There is a faint bit of hope at the very end.  Lear might think that Cordelia is still alive right before he dies.  The text isn't clear and I'm sure it could be played either way.  Even that though, is a very faint keyhole of hope.

King Lear himself is fascinating.  He is powerful and always has been.  He is also old, very old.  He wants to have the benefits of being king without any of the actual responsibility.  And if he is crossed, his reaction is extreme.  If he had simply had a calm talk with his daughter Cordelia, all of his personal tragedy would have been averted. 
From a modern perspective, I'm amazed that not all kings are like this.  To be born with such power...  Shakespeare, of course, contrasts different approaches to this power.  Richard II, for instance, is much different than Henry IV or Henry V.  In some ways, King Lear is the danger that Henry V presented to the English people.

Oh, poor Gloucester!  I can't imagine what a scene that must have been for the first audience that saw it.  Truly terrible.

I suspect that 'King Lear' is a play that one must come to at different times of life.  (Several of the other tragedies fall into this category too.)  After this, my first time, I'm somewhat stunned.  I wonder what I'll think in ten years time.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Merry Wives of Windsor - Shakespeare

This play was entirely new to me.  It involves certain members of the Henry IV books, specifically Falstaff and his gang, so I wanted to wait until I was done with the 'Henriad' to read it.  The only thing I knew about it was that it was very lightly regarded.  I was curious if it deserved that ranking.

The plot is fairly straightforward.  Falstaff (and his motley crew) go to the small town of Windsor.  While there, Falstaff decides that he would like to have an affair with one of two married women, either Mistress Ford or Mistress Page.  He kicks things off by sending each of them an identical letter proposing a fling.  This backfires as they immediately compare notes.  Mistress Ford will have nothing to do with him, but Mistress Page decides to pull a trick on him.  She will invite him over secretly but then have him abused in various ways.
Meanwhile, her husband, Mr Page, gets wind of the letters.  He distrusts his wife and so tries to catch the two of them in the act.  He does this by approaching Falstaff under a false name and offering him money if he can cuckold Ford (i.e. himself).  Falstaff lets him in on the plans and continually gets caught (and abused).
Meanwhile, there is a subplot about the Ford daughter and who she should marry.  The father and mother want different men and the daughter has her own choice.  It's very straightforward and easy to see what will happen.

Yes, the comedy is slight and somewhat baffling.  This may be a performance that you really have to watch to get.  There is a Welsh parson and a French doctor that bicker in strange accents.  Bardolph, Pistol and Nym are there but none of them seem to make sense.  Worst of all, Falstaff seems to have lost all of his cleverness from the Henry IV plays.
There are some interesting bones to the play though.  It's easy enough to imagine a modern remake in which some romancer sends identical emails to two women in the same yoga class.  The conspire to make an ass of him and teach him better respect of women.  The details are simple enough, but even that doesn't sound like enough of a plot, does it?

About a month ago, I looked a series of lectures that W.H. Auden gave on Shakespeare.  For 'Merry Wives of Windsor' he simply played the Verdi opera, 'Falstaff'.  He said that the opera was the only good thing to come of this play.  He may be right.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Merchant of Venice - Shakespeare

There are two basic plots in Shakespeare's 'Merchant of Venice'.  The main plot has to do with a Jewish moneylender, Shylock, and the titular merchant, Antonio.  Antonio needs a loan and he goes to Shylock to get the money.  The merchant has been an incredible jerk to Shylock in the past, because he is Jewish, and continues to be a jerk even while asking for the loan.  Shylock agrees to the loan, but if it isn't paid off, he will take as debt a 'pound of flesh' closest to Antonio's heart (i.e. cut him up and kill him).
Antonio has several vessels out and if any of them come home in the next few months, he can easily pay the debt.  Unfortunately, none do and he has bad news all around.  The debt comes due and Shylock insists on the full terms.  He refuses to take payment from others, even if that payment amounts to several times the loaned amount.
They go to court and Shylock insists on the following the letter of the law.  A visiting judge (though not really) holds him to this and then points out that he is entitled to flesh, but not blood.  And he must take exactly one pound, no more, no less.  Also, it is against Venetian law to conspire to kill someone and if that's what Shylock really wants, he is in great trouble. 
Shylock is allowed out trouble only if he gives away his wealth.  He also must convert from Judaism to Christianity.  He agrees to this and exits the story.

The other main plot has to do with the marriage of Portia, a rich heiress.  Her father's will has stipulated that her suitor must pass a contest.  The suitor must open up the correct one of three caskets (gold, silver and lead).  If the suitor chooses wrongly, he must a) keep his choice secret, b) give up his suit and c) not marry again in the future.
A handful of wealthy men try this game and fail.  The suitor that Portia really wants to win is a man named Bassanio, a friend of Antonio.  He wins (natch), and Portia then helps him get Antonio out of trouble.  She is the disguised judge that I mentioned earlier.  There is then an act about a ring that was given away even though Bassanio had promised not to do so.  It amounts to another contest and the men fail but are forgiven.

The Shylock story is a difficult one.  He has obviously been badly treated before.  It's understandable that he'd want to get his 'pound of flesh' in return.  The question of whether he should be able to get that penalty is different though.  If someone calls you names and spits on you, should you be able to kill them?  What if the behavior is done over a period of time, does that make it ok?
Shylock loses in court and is tricked, really.  He loses the money that he loaned and maybe that's justice.  He then loses his own wealth and that seems excessive.  On top of that, he must give up his religion and that simply goes too far.  He becomes a sympathetic character.  (At least today.  I doubt that Shakespeare's actual audiences found him so.)

I simply love the game with the caskets, though I'm not sure why.  I doubt that I'll be able to convince my daughter to use that technique when she picks a husband...

The most quoted speech in the play is almost certainly Shylock's 'If you prick us, do we not bleed?' speech.  And rightfully so.  The idea that people are people and all have some innate dignity was just beginning to gain some steam around Shakespeare's time.  This speech probably gave some pause in the stands.  (In our current identity obsessed times, this speech is still relevant, though for slightly different reasons than before.)
My favorite speech was a different one, though.  I think it is fairly well known, though I didn't know it before this reread.  It comes from Portia when she is acting as a judge.  Shylock has been asked to be merciful and he wants to know why he should.  Portia responds:

The quality of mercy is not strain'd
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

The speech goes on to praise mercy in kings and queens but also points out that we don't know when we'll want to be on the receiving end of that mercy.  Shylock scoffs at this and then quickly finds himself on the other end of the punishment.  The lesson is plain to us all.

I think I read this play back in high school but I'm not completely certain.  I have a dim memory of not liking Jessica, Shylock's daughter, and in truth, I didn't like her this time either.  There aren't a ton of characters here to sympathize with.  I did like the play itself, however.  There is humor and wonder and it says some fairly important things.  What more can you ask for?

Monday, April 11, 2016

Upcoming (Updated)

I've finished up Epictetus.  Next up will be a largish section of St Augustine, books XV - XVIII of 'The City of God'.  I enjoyed Augustine's 'Confessions' (the first half at least) and I'm looking forward to this.  I believe this section is a detailed difference between a city of man and the city of God.

Update: I had the wrong piece by St Augustine.  The work I'll be doing is 'On Christian Doctrine'.  Please update your scorecards accordingly. 

The Shakespeare writing will continue, of course.  Now that I'm done with the 'Henriad' and the Hollow Crown, I'll catch up on writing about the various comedies that I've read but not written about yet.  I think I'm only three behind, but I'll have to check that out.  I've also finished 'King Lear' but I'm still digesting that.  (Poor Gloucester!)  The next tragedy will be 'Othello' and then I'll have finished all of the Shakespeare that is in the Great Books reading plan.
I'm also half way through my personal goal of reading all of Shakespeare's plays this year.  I've currently read 11 of the 13 comedies, 4 of the ten tragedies, 4 of the ten histories and exactly zero of the five romances.  At this pace, I should have them all completed by the end of the summer.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Links to the Past

Filling the Gaps: Expanding the Philosophical Canon link

Shakespeare and Cervantes Wrote the Modern Literary Rulebook link

Why I Teach Plato to Plumbers link

Vatican to host conference on Just War Theory link

Philosophers Playing Dungeons and Dragons VI (Existential Comics) link

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Hollow Crown - Shakespeare

I was able to watch the 'Henriad' (Richard II, both Henry IVs and Henry V) through the British television series 'The Hollow Crown'.  The series came out in 2012, though I never heard of it until earlier this year.  Overall, I thought that the series was very good.  Each play got its own treatment, each about 2-2.5 hours long.  There was some editing and a small amount of juggling of scenes but everything made sense and the story was well told.  I would recommend the series to watch or buy.  (I've seen it on sale for less than $20.) 
I did want to go through some of the good and bad stuff.
  • The story telling is very well done throughout.  In some small ways, Shakespearean language is foreign to modern English and we are best served when some effort is made to bridge the gap.  The Hollow Crown did this admirably.  (Plus, the DVDs offer closed captioning, so the viewer can read as well as listen.) 
  • The last three all use the same cast in the same parts.  When Prince Hal becomes Henry V, the viewer has no problem following along.  Hal's roguish companions are also constant, so we get to know them well over hours of viewing.
  • There should be some prize for simply putting the two Henry IVs together.  Neither one works as well on its own.  Having them (and Henry V) in one place makes the story more like that of a min-series than a set of stand alones.
  • The settings all look good to the period involved.  Big, stone castles and wooded countryside.  The Boar's Head tavern looks right, as does the costuming.
  • There are flashes of brilliance in the acting.  Patrick Stewart gets the wonderful 'sceptered isle' speech in Richard II.  Benjamin Whishaw is simply phenomenal as Richard II.  I got literal goose bumps.
What doesn't work as well?  These are smaller complaints than the praises.
  • I wasn't really taken by Simon Russell Beale as Falstaff.  This was a very rare case of the lines reading funnier to me from the book than they did while acted.  Falstaff is a difficult target, as a likeable man who does some awful things but the audience should nevertheless feel for him.  He came across as a bit dark here and I don't think it worked.
  • Jeremy Irons is the older Henry IV and he does the best he can with a fairly thankless role.  Tom Hiddleston is Prince Hal/Henry V and he does well with the ton of material given him.  Not great, but well.  There were spots, like the St Crispins Day speech, that underwhelmed a tad.
  • Most of the Hollow Crown looks good but it falls down in the battle scenes.  The English expedition to France looks like about 50 men in total.  The French force opposing them looks like about 100.  I'm sure this was simply a budget limitation but I found the very small armies to be distracting.  (This was true of each of the battles.  The battle that ended Henry IV part 1 looked like a fight between a few dozen men.)  I wish they had found a way to finesse this somehow.
All in all, I liked it a lot.  The history plays are not easy, in part because of the twisty plots and different names for each person.  The Hollow Crown made these four much easier to follow.
Later this year, there will be a sequel of sorts, which will cover the Henry VI plays and Richard III.  It sounds like they will condense the three Henrys to two plays, but I may have that wrong.  I look forward to seeing them.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Henry V - Shakespeare

After two plays of Prince Hal, we finally get to Henry V.  When Henry IV Part 2 ended, the prince had just been crowned.  There was worry throughout the kingdom that he would keep up his evil ways and wicked companions, but he quickly worked to reassure the people that this was not the case.  He had exiled his previous companions and even jailed poor Falstaff.
Henry V begins by showing that the reputation has not died off.  The nobles and churches of England are working to show the king that he has legitimate claim to territories in France.  The Dauphin of France (think prince) has responded to these claims by asking Henry V to give them up in exchange for a box of tennis balls.  Henry is not amused and sends the messenger away with much heat.  The Dauphin is not worried though, because he believes that he is dealing with a useless playboy.
The battle call goes out and soldiers from all over England get ready to fight.  We are reintroduced to some of the scoundrels of Prince Hal's early days, including Bardolph and Pistol.  They will be fighting in France.  We also find out that Falstaff has died, offstage.
The English cross the channel and have early success at Harfleur.  There are no casualties but they did catch an English soldier looting a church.  He is hung.  It is Bardolph and King Henry approves, even through this was one of his earlier friends.  They then march further into France but sickness thins their ranks.  The king decides to march to Calais, where they can return to England, but the French have mustered forces and are in their way.  There will be battle.
Henry V spends the night before the battle in disguise.  He wanders through the camp to get the mood of the soldiers.  It is grim, but he does his best to give them courage.  The next morning, as the French forces are arrayed, he overhears one of the nobles wish that they had more men.  The king responds with the 'St Crispin's Day Speech' (excerpt):
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition

The English go on to win a stunning victory against overwhelming odds.  During the battle, there is a moment when Henry V believes that he is surrounded and orders the execution of everyone that the English held prisoner.  This included a large of number of French nobles.  France asks to negotiate for peace with England and one of the bargaining items is that the daughter of the French king will marry Henry and their issue will rule both thrones.  One of the final scenes is that of Henry 'wooing' the daughter, Katherine.  After nothing but bombast and war, the scene is touching.

The highlight of the play is certainly the St Crispin's Day Speech.  It's one of the best 'rally the troops' speech in dramatic history.  During WWII, Laurence Olivier read it over the radio and, on the weight of that speech, Winston Churchill asked him to produce a movie of 'Henry V'.  I may set up clips to compare between Olivier's version and some later ones.

One striking thing about 'Henry V' is just how much it is pure propaganda.  King Henry is pious and cautious.  He tells the church that they must not lead him into any position where he would cause unnecessary deaths.  The French, on the other hand, are haughty and rude.  They practically beg the English to attack them. 
Meanwhile, Henry V is something a warrior/saint.  He goes to great lengths to give credit for victory to God, refusing any for himself.  From what I've read, this accords with the chroniclers of the day.  This piety is at great odds of the Prince Hal that we've come to know.

I didn't talk much about the few scenes with Katherine of France and they do bear mentioning.  In the midst of battle scenes, Shakespeare has given us a very nice domestic scene where Katherine tries to learn some English from her lady in waiting.  The other scene, where Henry V is wooing her is also very well done.  The king is rough and not given to poetry, but he lets her know that he can love her and he hopes she can love him too.

This concludes the 'Henryiad'.  Taken as a whole, it's an interesting piece of work, but some of the questions seem rather distant to us now.  We don't really need to worry about 'how the Prince has been raised' in the U.S.  I was able to watch all of it through the 'Hollow Crown' series.  I'll review that, as a series, separately. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Henry IV, Part 2 - Shakespeare

When last we left our heroes, Prince Hal had just killed Hotspur in battle.  His father, King Henry IV was proud of him and had begun to hope that maybe, just maybe, the prince wasn't as worthless as the friends that that prince had gathered to him.  Falstaff had claimed to have killed Hotspur and was hoping that his friendship with Prince Hal would protect him from (true) charges that he had robbed some men of a thousand pounds.
As part 2 opens, we find that the king is sick and everyone is worried about what kind of king Prince Hal will be.  Falstaff is being sought by the Chief Justice about the theft and there is a not subtle hint in the air that the Justice may be in trouble if he doesn't drop the matter.  Threatening the new king's friends is a terrible career move. 
The revolt that killed Hotspur is also still afoot.  This time it is stopped not by battle but by treachery.  The leaders of the revolt are tricked into dispersing their men.  Then they are taken captive.  This plotline is then closed.
Meanwhile, the king is close to death.  He lays down and asks that the crown be put near him.  Prince Hal comes in and after a short time, thinks that his father is dead.  Hal takes the crown and speaks about what an awful burden and challenge awaits him.  King Henry IV wakes and finds the crown missing.  He accuses his son of wishing his death.  Hal convinces him that this is not so.  The king understands and then dies.
Prince Hal is crowned Henry V and he works very hard to assure the kingdom that he is up to the task.  He specifically tells the Chief Justice that he must continue to do his job.  He tells him that he respects what he is doing.
Falstaff learns that the crown has changed hands and he rushes to the coronation with his cronies.  He breaks in to speak to the king and Henry V tells him that Falstaff and his men must never come near him again.  The Chief Justice throws them in prison. 

The main theme of the 'Henry IV' plays is that of the upbringing of Henry V.  I don't know how much of a concern this really was at the time, but Shakespeare brings it to the fore.  A wild, wastrel prince is a thing to be feared and how lucky is England to have avoided such an awful fate. 
Meanwhile, the titular king is given fairly short shrift.  He worries and worries.  He has some nice speeches and a couple of notable lines.  "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown" being one of them.  But these aren't his stories.

We get the full action of Prince Hal becoming Henry V and throwing off his former, disreputable companions.  In most cases this is no big deal.  Poins, Bardolph and Pistol are clearly trash.  In the case of Mistress Quickly and Doll Tearsheet, they are good women (in some ways) but clearly on the lower rungs of society.
The shocking case is that of Sir John Falstaff.  His exile and imprisonment at the end feel like a betrayal.  True, he is not an honest man and it's best for all involved for him to not have the king's ear.  But the turn is brutal.  I can't help but wonder if Shakespeare himself thought so.  The play ends with an epilogue that literally tells the audience that the story of Falstaff is not done yet.

I can't imagine reading/seeing either of the Henry IV's without the other.  Neither one would work.  The first part would feel wildly unfinished while the second part would feel too much like it begins in the middle.  Shakespeare had already written a trilogy of Henry VI plays.  I bet he planned on several plays here.  From what scholars can tell, the continuing story of Falstaff, 'Merry Wives of Windsor' was made between Henry IV part 2 and Henry V.  The only break from this set of characters and stories was (probably) 'Much Ado About Nothing'. 
I can't tell if I liked the Henry IV plays or not.  They are quite difficult to stage (I'm sure).  But I'd like to see them done by someone else, in a different way.  (I almost wonder if they'd be better done as a group reading!)  Worth going over, of course, just not certain what the best way to communicate this type of story.