Upon an initial reading of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, and having watched the video lectures in regards to the character analysis of both Hal and Hotspur, it was at first difficult for me to assign modern-day actors to play these classic and historical roles. As I watched the PBS version of Act III, Scene II, while contemplating the matter, I could not help but notice that Tom Hiddleston was a fitting part for the role of Hal; Tim Hiddleston, of course, being the same actor to play the part of Loki, the clever shape-shifting trickster god, to which both attributes can be associated with Hal, as is proven in both his wits, and his capacity for change or reformation, which was brilliantly designed by himself. It was as I was contemplating these two characteristics, that the two actors that I would choose for my own modern-day adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry IV leaped to mind. In the case of Hal, I think that the actor best suited for this role as of current is that of Benedict Cumberbatch from the BBC series Sherlock Holmes, and Hugh Laurie from House for the role of Hotspur; both actors being English natives themselves.
In his entirety, Prince Harry is a highly complicated character, and as such, it would prove to be fairly difficult to try and imitate his persona. He almost carelessly amuses himself with the people and behaviors typified by the rude society, as his father King Henry would call it, of Eastcheap, while at the same time, meticulously and almost manipulatively, calculating, strategizing, plotting, and scheming an apparent reformation; a reformation that includes familiarizing himself with the people of the lower classes in order to gain the respect of and perhaps better understand a specific demographic or minority group that will be his soon to be loyal subject in the case that he becomes King. In addition to his prowess to design tactics of grand design to the likes of both Truman and Eisenhower, Prince Harry also has developed a firm mastery over language, that even the best of speakers would be envious of, as is demonstrated I many different contexts throughout the play; all of which provide the frameworks for the overarching theme inherent within the play of low and high language, and its association with the lower and upper social classes. In this way, Hal serves as a link between the lower and upper classes. Even though at times he can appear to be an alcoholic and a thief, albeit all a part of an elaborate hoax played upon his friends such as Falstaff, Hal also demonstrates an extraordinary capacity to be a sort of Jack of all trades; the chameleon of society that can hold himself amongst the common man, the town drunk, in his father’s court or council, and even on the battlefield, all the while demonstrating how painstakingly aware of the many roles he is to play as both Prince and as potential King, all of which he did not ask for, but in the end, all of which he rises up to the occasion in order to meet. In the end, he proves to be a far better soldier and leader than Hotspur, to whom his father so horribly asked him to be more like, a fact that has its own comedic irony in a sense when latter in Henry V, he proves to be a far better leader than his own father, and in which we will see the true extent of his Machiavellian studies and his unquestionable brilliance.
Complex as he is, Benedict Cumberbatch has all the faculties necessary to portray Hal. The most painstakingly obvious exemplification of which is demonstrated in the countless times he has played characters of extraordinary brilliance, both good and bad. In his career, he has given mystery a new meaning in the BBC’s rendering of Sherlock Holmes. He imitated with flawless precision the man who defeated Enigma with what could be hailed as the first computer in The Imitation Game; this common theme carrying into his performances in hits like Hawking, Dr. Strange, Star Trek Into Darkness, and many others. In my reflection on the matter, it was his performance in Sherlock Holmes that had me most convinced of this decision. The way he was willing to stake his own life to know that he had reached the right deduction, and thus exert his genius. Or how he almost paradoxically came to profound insights, despite being on a week-long drug bender, in a sort of self-coke induced coma, which to me seemingly paralleled the way in which Hal carried himself as he concocted schemes on a grand scale, all the whilst parading around town as a drunk in what was merely a facade. That aside, Cumberbatch also carries with him a knowledge and familiarity to Shakespeare renditions, and works of this caliber; namely that of Shakespearian Historical Plays. In the second cycle of the 2012-2016 T.V. series entitled The Hollow Crown, Cumberbatch played none other than Richard III. As such, like Hal, Cumberbatch has demonstrated the ability to adapt to his environment in order to play the role required of him. That being said, just as Cumberbatch shows all the skills necessary to capture the very essence of Prince Harry, so too is Hugh Laurie a seemingly perfect fit as a suitable actor in the case of Hotspur.
As Hal’s archenemy, or rival, Hotspur is, in many ways, Hal’s equal. One may go so far as to say that he is a better man than Hal; We all know that Hal’s father King Henry thought this was the case as he compared his son to the god of war in men’s clothing, and Hal even admits it to himself as he defeated him on the battlefield. That aside, this equality is demonstrated in a great number of different instances. As Hal’s father points out, his accolades on the battlefront are many, distinguishing him as a worthy or true leader. He embodies everything that King Henry believes that an heir to the throne should possess; qualities such as leadership qualities, pride, masculinity, a rather fixated obsession with honor, which brings about the theme or importance of honor within the play, courageousness, as is depicted in the rebellion that he leads against King Henry, a King to whom Percy shares many similar characteristics. He is more honest than the seemingly conniving Hal and certainly doesn’t have the serious character faults that Hal’s father so shamelessly points out, such as drinking, hanging out with the wrong sorts, thievery, and all other such instances of debauchery associated with Hal. That being said, like any other human, Percy has his own imperfections, and unfortunately for him, they are the very causation for his own undoing. While Hal has this persona of almost carelessness or perhaps merriment to him on certain occasions, Percy is known for being rather hot-headed, as well as both inpatient and impulsive, and as such, although he, being of the upper class, is every bit as educated as Hal, it becomes more than evident that he does not capacity to strategize, at least to the extent in which Hal can. It is through an in-depth cross analysis between these two characters, and especially that of their character flaws, that a sense of poetic justice begins to emerge. On the one side, the activities that Hal gets any real sense of entertainment from as previously mentioned give him this appearance of a degenerate, delinquent, or imbecile, at the very least in his father’s eyes. Conversely, Percy, with all his leadership qualities in mind, his shortcomings are the very thing that prevents him from being an exemplary leader, and of course leading to his own demise. His lack of patience, and tenacity to take a course of action based on a rash whim, reinforce the characteristics necessary to be an outstanding leader, such as patience, military tactics or strategy not to mention a fluid and proficient understanding of language, all of which are the cards in Hal’s hand.
When taking this all in Hugh Laurie immediately popped into mind for a number of reasons. House came to mind because he is every bit as capable of portraying brilliant characters just as Cumberbatch is, especially in the case of House. In some cases, you could say more so, just as is the case in saying that Hotspur is the better man to Hal. Bearing that in mind, Laurie does so in this egotistical, know-it-all, and of course, temperamental fashion, that in many ways mirrors and is very reminiscent of what you would think of in Hotspur’s proud, masculine, and honor thirty ways. As a result, Laurie, at least in his portrayal of House, is known for avoiding the hospital and isolating himself in his own home, just as Percy similarly through his own shortcomings is known to divide or distance himself from others.