On why he framed the story around Shakespeare's Henry IV, a play he performed in 2003
I started trying to do King Lear, but I've never performed King Lear, and I realized that I just wasn't intimate enough with the play and that the play's themes didn't speak to my themes that I wanted to write about. You know, Henry IV probably explores fathers and sons and masculinity and the attempt to arrive at some kind of, quote unquote, manhood or adulthood about as well as literature can do. And that was what my story was.
So I kept kind of coming back to Hotspur. One of my favorite things about acting is seeing yourself as your character's lawyer and defending his position. And in the novel, I have this sense that William is trying to prove to himself — that he's the good guy and he's trying to do the same thing for his character and there's something kind of wonderful about that realization.
On revisiting a difficult time in his life – he was performing in Henry IV around the time his marriage to Uma Thurman ended
I had a lot of growing up to do, and one of the things that I really love about writing is it forces you to think through things, and think through situations, and create a fictional universe where you can see things that maybe you can't see inside your own life. That's what the title is about, you know, "a bright ray of darkness" is the unity of opposites, so to speak, that we learn by suffering.
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Kate Percy: underrated? or just over hyped by the girls that discover her and ditch their love for Lady Macbeth?
It’s nice to see Kate Percy in my inbox! She’s a great character. The teasing comedic nature of the interaction between Kate and Hotspur is quite an endearing representation of one kind of married relationship. ‘Out, you mad-headed ape!’ (2.3.74) to the person who is too distracted to listen to you and who replies to your serious concern ‘What is it carries you away?’ with a literal ‘Why, my horse, my love, my horse’ (2.3.72-73), is both amusing and kind of realistic. It’s quite easy to imagine them as the kind of couple that will slap each other playfully when the other says something ridiculous. And, the sweet thing is that they obviously do care about each other, even if Hotspur does mockingly phrase his reply so that it’s not clear whether he’s calling her or his horse his love... Although they don’t appear together very much, the way they have all these pet names (mostly animals) for one another and keep riffing off one another paints a pretty vivid picture of their relationship.
But even if it’s said jokingly, there is something to Hotspur’s way of denigrating Kate’s worry and her love that’s revealing. He tells her, in response to her saying that if he loved her, he’d tell her what’s on his mind with, ‘Love! I love thee not; / I care not for thee, Kate. This is no world / To play with mammets and tilt with lips’ (2.3.86-88). He’s saying, essentially, that he has no time for love, and the feminine, which he characterises as things like playing with dolls or kissing. Hotspur considers the female sphere of life as frivolous and thinks that’s where his wife belongs. He loves her, but only has time for her when he has time for kissing. Of course, it’s important to recognise that this is partly a joke still, as is evident from Kate’s response, which is half hurt, and half amused:
Do you not love me? Do you not indeed?
Well, do not then, for since you love me not
I will not love myself. Do you not love me?
Nay, tell me if you speak in jest or no. (2.3.92-95)
Kate herself isn’t sure if Hotspur is joking, so she’s not taking it entirely seriously, and in asking whether he jests, shows that he is the kind of person who would say such things mockingly. Still, she’s certainly a little shocked that he’d say he doesn’t love her, even as a joke (she repeats ‘Do you not love me?’ twice).
The thing is, Hotspur is speaking something of what he actually thinks in his joking manner. He never answers her straight: ‘When I am a-horseback, I will swear/ I love thee infinitely’ (2.3.97-98). And though he does love her as much as a man like him is capable of, he’s still fundamentally misogynistic, and doesn’t consider her his equal:
I know you wise, but yet no farther wise
Than Harry Percy’s wife; constant you are,
But yet a woman; and for secrecy
No lady closer, for I well believe
Thou wilt not utter what thou dost know,
And so far will I trust thee, gentle Kate (2.3.103-108)
In Hotspur’s mind, Kate is always defined in relation to him. She’s wise for a wife of his, she’s secretive, but only because she knows nothing. He thinks Kate is the best woman, but only as good as a woman can be, which is always less than a man. It’s to Kate’s credit that she’s not particularly happy with his idea of her. When asked 'Will this content you?’ she answers ‘It must of force’ (2.3.113), which is to say she has no choice but to be contented with her lot, and how her husband treats her. It’s rather brilliant that Shakespeare shows in her being able to tell that ‘I fear my brother Mortimer doth stir / About his title, and hath sent for you / To line his enterprise’ (2.3.78-79), showing very concisely that whatever Hotspur thinks of her, she’s perfectly politically savvy. And of course, in the only other scene she appears in she shows again that she can give as good as she gets from Hotspur, and refuse to do what he says, even as he continues in his light-hearted(?) misogyny. She’s great because she maintains character and strength even though she’s in a weak position, and because, whatever his weaknesses, she loves her husband, as is obvious from her eulogy of Hotspur in Part 2, Act 2, scene 3.
I personally don’t see why one need choose between Lady Percy and Lady Macbeth. Why not like both? They’re both interesting in different ways. And since their respective roles in the plays they appear in are not really equivalent (Kate only appears three times in two plays), it’s difficult to compare them in any significant way. Kate is not as important to her play or as fully realised as Lady Macbeth, nor as powerful, in some ways. Though she will get back at Hotspur in words, and play around, ask questions, Lady Percy ultimately seems to accept that she has no choice but to obey if her husband chooses not to tell her something. Lady Macbeth, for good or for bad, won’t take no as an answer, and if the female realm allotted to her is not what’s needed for the task she wants to undertake, she’s willing to abandon it, to be unsexed. Of course, Lady Macbeth has the benefit of a husband who listens to her, confides in her, and considers her his ‘dearest partner of greatness’ (1.5.10), so her situation is different too. I wouldn’t say Kate’s underrated, only rated according to her general importance. Which is to say, she’s well appreciated for the kind of support character she is, in a play that’s not as famous as Macbeth (for good reason). But I think Shakespeare’s strength is partly in creating two such different women and two such pictures of married life; I’m happy they both exist, and that we don’t have one at the expense of the other.
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