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Shakespeare’s Henry IV

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  • Pages: 16
  • Word count: 3833
  • Category: Play

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Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part One explores the various and contrasting interpretations of the three main protagonists’ attitudes concerning honour, duty and the struggle between being responsible or living a life of self-indulgence. The play extempore is set in the Boar’s Head Tavern, which is the frequent meeting place for Hal, Falstaff and the rest of the delinquents who follow them. In this act Hal and Falstaff both play the parts of the Prince and King as a jest to show how the confrontation between Hal and his father, though Falstaff has ulterior motives by wanting to make his final plea to Hal before he meets with his father.

However, the play which began as a joke gains a more serious theme in which it becomes a turning point in the relationship between Hal and Falstaff. The play extempore marks the close of the comical, quick-witted characteristics in Hal and Falstaff’s relationship and even marks a conclusion to the overall relationship shared between them. The structure of the play is fundamentally changed after the play extempore, because the comical subplot, ‘the world of riot and dishonour’ in the taverns, which previously was running parallel to the serious core plot, the heart of the play, is lost, and one of the three main personas, Hal, leaves the tavern world and enters into the world of duty and ‘chivalry’.

The play extempore is essentially the fulfilment of Hal’s promises made in his soliloquy in Act One, Scene Two. Hal’s soliloquy is foreboding and this scheming side of his character which he shows could possibly make him a successful king, because he realises that he doesn’t want to be surrounded by sycophants like Falstaff, who only follow him for what it can bring them. Hal is revealing to the audience that in fact he is tricking everyone into believing that he is misbehaving when he is only putting on a very good fa�ade of his true self, the play extempore is giving Hal the freedom to reveal his true nature to only the audience. In Act One, Scene Two Hal promised to the audience that he would change his wicked ways and seek redeem his honour when the time is right.

I know you all, and will awhile uphold

The unyoked humour of your idleness:

Yet herein will I imitate the sun,

Who doth permit the base contagious clouds

To smother up his beauty from the world,

These lines from Hal’s soliloquy suggest that Hal does understand that the people who he keeps in his company are worthless and allows them to be seen with him to damage his image intentionally. Hal has read Falstaff’s personality because he is a true judge of character, I know you all. In this part of Hal’s soliloquy he states that he will imitate the sun, which is seen as the royal emblem emphasised by Vernon’s description of Hal later in the play, Act IV related with royalty: sun, eagle, gold additionally he compared to Mercury, the Greek god of messengers. Additionally, Vernon’s description further relates to Hal’s soliloquy because he uses the word ‘glittering’ to describe Hal leading his men, suggesting that Hal is fulfilling his promises later in the play and his ‘reformation’ can even be seen by the enemy. This statement is used in union with the base contagious clouds, which suggests that he smothering his brightness from the world until the time comes that he deems it politically shrewd enough that he can shine through the clouds and seek redemption. Hal seeks to do this because he understands the effects his actions have on people. In this way he is very much like his father, Henry IV, who also knew how to manipulate his public image to his advantage to gain the crown in Richard II’s reign and is politically perceptive.

Hal realizes that by misbehaving people will think very little of him and overlook him by not expecting him to accomplish anything Redeeming time when men think least I will, Hal showing that he shares some of the characteristics of his father because he is calculating the affects of his actions, Henry IV during Richard II’s reign also used his calculating qualities to win favour and become the king. This would allow Hal to prove them wrong by emerging in an even brighter light than previously attract more eyes

than that which hath no foil to set it off, because no one ever expected him to change his bad behaviour and stop forsaking his duties. In starting out as rebellious Hal is showing that he carefully calculated that he has more to gain than being dutiful in the beginning because, he will seem to be more honourable and respectful for overcoming his problems, furthermore, all his previous mistakes would be forgiven and would have been seen as the Prodigal Son who returned to his father after sinning then repenting.

By so much shall I falsify men’s hopes;

And like bright metal on a sullen ground,

My reformation, glittering o’er my fault,

Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes

Than that which hath no foil to set it off.

In addition to this Hal claims ‘that I’ll so offend, to make offence a skill; Redeeming time when men think least I will.’ Hal is suggesting that by keeping company with the likes of Falstaff he will be able to learn skills and knowledge from this part of society which he could then use when he joins the world of duty and ‘chivalry’ to his advantage.

The play extempore also marks the breakdown of the comical relationship shared between Hal and Falstaff moreover from this point onward they converse with each other less. However, their relationship was only threatened to end by Hal, this is clarified by the following:

Falstaff: being, as he is, old Jack Falstaff, banish not him thy Harry’s company, banish not him thy Harry’s company: banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.

Hal: I do, I will.

This illustrates that Hal is revealing his intentions to Falstaff and giving him notice that he will banish him from his company eventually, although, Falstaff is not sure whether Hal is still joking or if he has becomes serious because they are still performing a mock play. Even though Hal offers Falstaff forewarning to the conclusion of their relationship, he continues to indulge Falstaff throughout the play, perhaps to see if he is willing to change his dishonourable behaviour. Hal doesn’t immediately dispose of Falstaff because he sees him as a fun father-figure and enjoys his company more than his own father who would only want him to perform his duty. Hal maintains an emotional connection with Falstaff through out Henry IV Part One, this proved later on in Act Five, Scene Four where Hal mourns over Falstaff’s counterfeited death. At the conclusion of Henry IV Part One Hal allows Falstaff to take the spoils and credit for Hotspur’s death, this suggests that he is still tolerating Falstaff’s dishonourable behaviour and still indulges his him.

Hal and Falstaff began their relationship for different reasons. Although Falstaff does genuinely like Hal, he has ulterior motives, which Hal was aware of, for their relationship. Primarily, Falstaff became involved with Hal because he realised that there would opportunities for preferment and protection from his past and future crimes. In Act 1 Scene 2 Hal and Falstaff have a conversation in which then Falstaff jumps at the chance to become a judge.

Falstaff: Do not thou, when thou art king, hang a thief.

Hal: No; thou shalt

Falstaff: Shall I? O rare! By the Lord, I’ll be a brave judge.

Hal: Thou judgest false already: I mean, thou shalt have the hanging of the thieves and so become a rare hangman.

From this extract it suggests that Hal is wary of Falstaff’s suggestions and manipulations to give him power because he realises that he is a despicable person and he cannot simply be trusted. Hal understands Falstaff’s character to extend that he knows that Falstaff will not change. This is proved further into the play during Falstaff’s soliloquy ,Act IV, Scene II, when he admits that I have misused the king’s press damnably, implying that he had abused Hal’s trust. However, Hal has his own reasons for desiring Falstaff’s company. Hal feels that Falstaff is somewhat like a father figure that is good company, rather than his father who criticizes him and expects him to be like him. Likewise, Hal in his soliloquy states that he will keep bad company like Falstaff so that when he changes opinion of him will flourish because no one would have expected him to change. Previously before the play extempore, Hal and Falstaff gave and received physical insults, ye fat-kidneyed rascal, ye fat-guts how long is’t ago Jack, since you sawest your own knee? This suggests that they previously had an informal comical relationship.

Moreover, Hal enjoyed being Falstaff’s friend because he was interested in observing different kinds of human behaviour. Evidence of this is shown during the conversation between Hal and Francis. In this scene Hal keeps Francis busy talking whilst Francis is being called to do his duty. Hal is intrigued how someone as simple minded as Francis will react when torn between their duty or choosing the more pleasurable option. Hal sees some of Hotspur’s character in Francis because they both are narrow minded and can only do one thing; Francis can only talk about serving people, whilst Hotspur’s mind is preoccupied with the pursuit of war.

The play extempore is part of a larger pattern used in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part One introducing the beginning of key change in the attitudes and characters of the three main protagonists, Hal, Falstaff and Hotspur. In the three juxtaposed scenes we see the other characters reveal to the protagonists their flaws, however, only Hal uses the advice whilst Falstaff and Hotspur, until the play is drawing to a close, remain ignorant. In the play extempore we see Hal criticizing Falstaff, who is the senior of the two. In following scenes the King rebukes Hal and the Earl of Worcester scolds his nephew, Hotspur. The difference between these scenes is that whilst the King and Worcester are scolding their juniors, Hal is scolding Falstaff who is much older than him. This suggests that Hal is demonstrating mental maturity because he not overwhelmed by Falstaff’s age and realises that only he can tell Falstaff his flaws since he is the only one who sees through Falstaff’s jovial faade.

In the play extempore Hal demonstrates his self control by allowing Falstaff to act as the King first, enabling Falstaff to tell his pathetic pleas to Hal and so that Hal doesn’t have to reveal his intentions immediately. Whilst Falstaff is playing the King he tries to manipulate Hal and beg Hal to not banish him for his previous crimes once Hal eventually becomes King, because Falstaff probably feels that something not in his favour may occur when Hal meets the King and tries to obtain Hal’s favour. This illustrates that Falstaff has not undergone any change since Act I when tried to persuade Hal to make him a judge once Hal becomes King. But, because Hal is sufficiently self aware and a true judge of character, he instinctively knows what Falstaff is trying to accomplish and does not fall for his ploy.

Nevertheless, Hal decides to switch their roles once he becomes angered of Falstaff’s continuous attempts to manipulate him, there is virtue in that Falstaff: him keep with, the rest banish. Once it is Hal’s turn to play the role of the King he immediately sets out to viciously expose Falstaff and reveal his evil qualities. Hal states several scathing and withering insults to Falstaff, which include;

That villainous abominable misleader of youth,

Falstaff, that old white-bearded Satan. there is a devil haunts thee in the likeness of an old fat man; that Reverend Vice, that grey Iniquity, that father Ruffian, that Vanity in years?

Hal identifies Falstaff as a villainous abominable misleader of youth because he attempted to manipulate Hal for his benefit. In addition to this, Falstaff tried to delude Hal through his evil behaviour but in reality fails because Hal is not swayed by Falstaff nor does he fall for his jovial fa�ade of his true self, he would have if he was not mature enough. Hal describes Falstaff as that Reverend Vice who in morality plays was the evil character. The Vice of morality plays attempted to corrupt the character of Mankind or Youth to world of riot and dishonour, in Henry VI it is Hal, who stood for the human race. Nonetheless, the Vice in this play is unable to deceive Youth, who in turn is deceiving Vice into believing that he is deceiving Youth. Falstaff is generally seen as acceptable by those around him and is hard to be though as the Vice for various reasons. Falstaff attempts to make himself appear to be harmless to others, being, as he is, old Jack Falstaff, but Hal also sees through this disguise. Falstaff is good company and quick-witted attracting people to his company; an example of Falstaff’s sharpness is given during a conversation between Hal and Falstaff.

Hal: What, a coward, Sir John Paunch?

Falstaff: Indeed, I am not John of Gaunt, your grandfather; but yet no coward, Hal.

This quick retort by Falstaff to the word ‘Paunch’ and relating it to John of Gaunt, who was known for his bravery, shows that Falstaff is sharp minded and uses this trait to wriggle out of uncomfortable situations.

Later in the play Falstaff continues to prove that he is unable to change because he continues to misbehave and does not heed Hal’s warning. The scene after the play extempore shows Falstaff again lying about the contents of his pocket and tries to swindle money from the hostess; this suggests that he did not think carefully about Hal’s words. Falstaff, even though he enters the world of duty and ‘chivalry’ alongside Hal, continues to behave as he did in the world of ‘riot and dishonour’. Falstaff tells the audience during his soliloquy, Act IV, Scene II I have misused the king’s press damnably. Falstaff admits to gang pressing people into his platoon on the orders of the King and letting the ones who were rich enough to bribe him go free. Falstaff proves that he is still self-indulgent and indifferent to everyone around him because he doesn’t care whether his men die or not and only considers them only useful to die just like other soldiers they’ll fill a pit as well as better; tush man, mortal man, mortal man.

Falstaff’s cynical views on honour during the build of battle shows that he is still a coward on instinct, who is afraid of dying. Falstaff proves that he lacks honour, and more importantly, feels that honour is an intangible inspiration which men fight for which is pointless because, it cannot heal your wounds and people speak ill of the dead who died for honour. In the last stages of battle Falstaff is pitied against Douglas and counterfeits his death. Falstaff then rises once Hal has left Hotspur’s dead body and stabs him to make it seem as if he killed Hotspur. This is Falstaff’s biggest lie in the play, completely overshadowing the Gadhill robbery incident. The audience is not surprised by these revelations because Falstaff progressively gets worse in the play and does not change from his self-indulgent ways.

Falstaff, although a coward, shares a few similarities with the honourable Hotspur. Both of these protagonists are extremely deluded with their own sense of self importance. Hotspur doesn’t like it when he doesn’t get his way with the King, who refused to give the ransom to free Mortimer. Hotspur feels strongly that his argument is always right, an example of this occurred in Act Two, Scene Two when he negatively reacted to the letter and called the nobleman, who didn’t agree with him and join the plot a coward. Similarly, Falstaff appears to be self important because he tries to make himself the hero of his tales. Falstaff tells Hal his version of the Gadhill robbery and claimed that he alone bravely fought against daunting numbers, also in the final scene he lies about his fight with Hotspur which lasted for an hour comparing to Mortimer’s fight with Glendower in Wales. Falstaff and Hotspur have a false sense of reality and apprehend a world of figures. Falstaff’s stories do not make sense whilst Hotspur has an over imaginative view on honour, believing it to be easy to obtain.

By heaven, methinks it were an easy leap,

To pluck bright honor from the pale-faced moon,

Moreover, a more important characteristic placed by Shakespeare shared by Hotspur and Falstaff is that they both can and try to establish anarchy into both sided of society. Falstaff whilst he is in the world of ‘riot and dishonour’ schemes to steal purses from pilgrims with his fellow delinquents. This can be put into contrast with Hotspur who is inciting rebellion and plans to divide the kingdom up with his companions. Hotspur is willing to create problems in the world of duty and honour for the sake of power and money, like Falstaff. Shakespeare’s theory is trying to suggest that titles are worthless and that the Percy’s are no different to the thieves on the lower rungs of society, the comical and serious plot are just a reflection of each other, except one is at a larger scale. Both of these characters could become a disruptive threat to society, but the other protagonist Hal deals with them, Hal kills Hotspur in Henry IV Part One and banishes Falstaff in Henry IV Part Two.

Juxtaposed to the play extempore is the Worcester/Hotspur scene, in which both Northumberland and Worcester criticise Hotspur’s qualities. The position of this scene is vital to changing the audience’s understanding of Hotspur and Hal. This scene places Hotspur under increasing criticism and his faults no longer can be glossed over, whilst Hal in the play extempore emerges in a stronger light and in the following scene reconciles with his father and promises to redeem his honour. Before this scene Hotspur had been portrayed as the theme of honour’s tongue and sweet Fortune’s minion and her pride by the other characters. Hotspur was seen as an honourable warrior Mars in swaddling clothes and an unparalleled leader lead ancient lords and reverend bishops on to bloody battles and to bruising arms. The king in his own confrontation with Hal says that he believes that Hotspur has more of the claim to the throne than Hal, like himself to Richard II because Hotspur is an accomplished, young warrior who is well renowned across the country. However, with all these good qualities he still falls short of being a good leader, as pointed out by Worcester.

Additionally, Worcester feels that Hotspur has the following faults; he is lacking disrespectful, has a defect in mannerisms, has a want of government, lacks maturity, is highly argument and is tactless. This is proved when Hotspur even quarrels with his own allies for the sake of participating in an argument. Evidence of these is seen earlier in Act One Scene Three when Hotspur become easily riled by the King and his father states that What drunk with choler?, showing that his father realises how easily angered his son can become. His father also states in that scene,

Why, what a wasp-stung and impatient fool

Art thou to break into this woman’s mood,

Tying thine ear to no tongue but thine own!

This explains that Hotspur can become overexcited and too obsessed when he voicing his own opinion. It also demonstrates that Hotspur only cares for his own opinion and doesn’t want the advice of his wiser father and uncle. Worcester earlier explained to Hotspur that these traits attributed to his good qualities, but only on the battlefield where it shows that he is a fearless warrior who inspires his men. Nevertheless, Worcester also states that theses qualities could become Hotspur’s downfall and lead to the failure of the rebellion. These qualities could cause men to respect Hotspur less despite him being a courageous leader.

The least of which haunting a nobleman

Loseth men’s hearts and leaves behind a stain

Upon the beauty of all parts besides,

Hotspur has not been confronted with these scathing insults before because he has been spoilt by the other characters, because they respect his bravery in battle. When Hotspur is insulted he simply brushes of his uncle and states Well, I am school’d, this suggest that he has ignored his uncle’s truthful criticisms and brushed it off as unimportant. This scene serves to diminish Hotspur’s reputation and leave him in an unfavourable light because he quarrels with his father and uncle; causing their relationship to weaken and makes the audience feel that the plot is destined to fail. This greatly contrasts with how Hal deals with his father’s own criticisms.

In Act Three, Scene Three the King and the Prince finally meet and Hal is confronted with the criticisms of his father, which he had prepared himself for in the play extempore. The King compares Hal to Richard II, who had become a common site amongst the people. The King then explains he became the king because he calculated the affect of his rarity amongst the common people, the King doesn’t realise that Hal also is cunning like his father because Hal only told the audience in his soliloquy of his intentions. The King compares himself to Hotspur who he sees as a fearless leader and has more of a claim to the crown than Hal.

The King is showing to Hal how he would have prepared to have Hotspur as his son rather than Hal with these praises, this relates to Act One, Scene One when the King wished that his son had accidentally swapped with Hotspur. Hal shows great maturity because he doesn’t react to his father’s criticisms and acts humbly as he did in the play extempore. Hal promises to change his ways and accept his responsibility, this is further emphasising the point of his soliloquy in which he promises to change. From this point onwards Hal will emerge as a ‘chivalrous’ man in golden armour, as told in Vernon’s description of Hal. Hal has conquered the world of ‘riot and dishonour’ and from the play extempore will enter the world of ‘duty and chivalry’ where he will become the most prominent figure and leave Hotspur in his wake.

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