GUEST BLOG—The Changing Fortunes of Shakespeare’s Kings by Gary Schoepfel

Wheel of FortuneThe wheel of Fortune turns;
I go down, demeaned;
another is carried to the height;
far too high up
sits the king at the summit –
let him beware ruin!

lyrics from “O Fortuna”
in the Carmina Burana

 Beware “lovely rose” King Richard. Beware “Judas” Bolingbroke. Beware wayward “heir-apparent” Prince Hal. Beware “abominable misleader of youth” Sir fat Jack Falstaff. Your wheel turns!

It is a publishing and academic “habit” to call Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1 & 2, and Henry V “history” plays. Shakespeare, not history, breathes life into Richard and the Henrys. Without Shakespeare’s plays few would care to know them. On the stage they only vaguely resemble the historical persons.

Like Falstaff, Shakespeare is an “abominable misleader.” He lies, he steals, he distorts, he fabricates. Those are his tools. He is an artist.

For my money, Shakespeare’s three kings are far more interesting as works of the mind. And that “old white-bearded” fiction, Falstaff, surely lives and breathes. They are all well-crafted lies that tell the truth about our human nature.

This year’s Toronto Pursuits theme is Metamorphosis. Webster’s dictionary tells me this is a change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one. A striking alteration in appearance, character, or circumstance.

In The Hollow Crown: The Unmaking and Making of Kings, we will thoughtfully consider the changes, the metamorphosis, of Shakespeare’s life-filled characters.


“I’ll give my jewels for a set of beads, …
And my large kingdom for a little grave,
A little, little grave, an obscure grave …

— King Richard II

O partial sleep, give thy repose
To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude … And
Deny it to a king? Then, happy low, lie down,
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

— King Henry IV

“Presume not that I am the thing I was.”

— Prince Hal

Falstaff: No, my good lord, banish Peto, banish Bardolph,
banish Poins, but for sweet Jack Falstaff, kind Jack
Falstaff, true Jack Falstaff, valiant Jack Falstaff … banish not
him thy Harry’s company, banish not him thy Harry’s
company. Banish plump Jack and banish all the world.

Prince Hal: I do, I will.


The plays and The Hollow Crown, a made-for-TV series based on the four scripts, will be the subject of our discussions. If you’ve not tasted the sweetness of Shakespeare’s plays, this will be a safe and friendly environment in which to do so. If you’re a Shakespeare veteran, there will be plenty to engage your interest. I invite you to try on The Hollow Crown. You can click on the link to learn more about my seminar, The Hollow Crown: The Unmaking and Making of Kings. I’ll look forward to meeting you at Toronto Pursuits 2016!

– Gary

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