Henry IV Part 1
Why Falstaff Falls: A Sad Twist by Henry the Fifth
The world of Shakespeare has many beloved heros and loathed villains, but never so beloved a villain as Sir John Falstaff. Through his comic appearance and endless witticisms, this incorrigible rouge has won the affection of audiences for centuries. Falstaff first appears as the intimate of Prince Hal in Henry IV Part 1, but is brutally rejected by his friend at the end of Part 2. As a character who expresses so much clever comedy, and who so delightfully captures the world’s adversity in parody, why does Shakespeare suffer Falstaff so undesirable a fate? The answer lies in the historic and histrionic role of Prince Hal. In Henry IV, the rejection of Falstaff is the necessary result of Hal’s finding his place among the three worlds pressing in around him. King Henry IV, Falstaff, and Hotspur represent these worlds2E Examining the roles of these three characters, as well as Prince Hal himself, illuminates the nature of Hal’s choice to banish his friend.Influences on HalThe tetralogy of plays that concludes with Henry IV is permeated with political commentary on kingship. In Part 1 of this group of plays, Henry IV represents the world of politics and faces the brunt of this commentary. In Richard II, King Henry (then Bollingbroke) returns from banishment to usurp the crown from the fairly inept monarch, Richard II. Henry’s actions are not only slightly irreligious, but also resulted in much anger from a number of his subjects. It turns out that the brave and ambitious Bollingbroke evolves into a politically ineffective ruler who has split his kingdom in two.The play opens with Henry relating that “so shaken we are, so wan with care,/ Find we time for frightened peace to pant/ And breath short-winded accents of new broils/ To be commenced” (I,i, 1-4). Henry’s worry over his crumbling kingdom, guilt over his uprising against Richard II, and the vagaries of his son’s behavior, have diluted his earlier energy and strength. The legitimacy of Henry’s rule is uncertain, even to himself and it seems that Prince Hal holds the key to validating Henry’s position through successful succession. To Hal, his father represents a world of responsibility and politics. Hal intends to claim the crown and begin a legitimate reign such as his father was never able to enjoy. The problem is that Hal seems unwilling to conform to the duties required of him by the State. This may be due to the influences of two other worldsOne of these conflicting realms comes in the form of Henry Percy, or Hotspur, as nicknamed in battle. Hotspur is quick-tempered, impatient, and has decided to go to war against the king as Henry failed to repay a debt to his family. Hotspur is obsessed with the idea of honor and glory and represents rebellion, distinction, and war to Prince Hal. Hal and Hotspur are around the same age and become archrivals. This may be aided by the fact that Henry wishes that “Some night-tripping fairy had exchanged/ In cradle-clothes our children where they lay,/ And called mine Percy, his Plantagenet!/ Then would I have his Harry, and he mine” (I,ii,86-89). Hal must feel hurt that his father would prefer an enemy to his own son. As a result, Hal is much pressured to distinguish himself as a war hero, with Hotspur as his obvious archenemy. While the two worlds of war and politics have much to do with one another, there is yet another influence on Hal’s life that is quite opposite the first two.An irresponsible world and deplorable lifestyle of drink, petty theft, and witticisms is chaperoned by Sir Falstaff himself. Falstaff seems to represent a shapelessness that is personified by his own swollen body. If Falstaff’s girdle were to break, Hal speculates “how [his] guts would fall about [his] knees” (III,iii,161-162). Falstaff also serves as a axiomatic king to the tavern world of Eastcheap. Eastcheap is a world of parody, inversion, and simple people who seem to represent the real England, going about it’s business, that is yet untouched by the upheaval of the governing class. Within this world of shapeless parody, Falstaff also seems characterizes as Vice. He is constantly made to speak using a dagger of lath, or a wooden dagger, which is associated with Vice. This characterization is proven accurate by his unruly behavior and the effect it has on Hal.For Hal, Falstaff serves as a sort of mentor who shows him a good time, and helps to plot a future where Hal is King and Falstaff is still his trusty side-kick. Together, the two engage in a travesty of a future conversation between Henry and Hal that serves to comment on the kingship of Hal’s father. Falstaff points out that, though he himself may be a thief of purses, Henry stole an throne and is, therefore, no better. After Falstaff imitates the king, Hal asks him, “Doest thou speak like a king?” and then removes him from the throne. By using the words “a king” and not “the kind” Hal implies that Falstaff’s impression of the King confirms that Henry is not kingly at all and ought not to have the throne. Though both Hal and Falstaff know that the prince will eventually become king, Falstaff would very much like to claim Hal for the realm of Eastcheap, which will serve his own interests. The world of Falstaff is quite critical of and in opposition to that of the political king and pursuit of glory in war. What role does Hal play within these conflicting interests?Hal is a bridge which unites the two major plotlines, the three different worlds, and, eventually, England. Hal is complex, devious, and cunning, but demonstrates that he is capable of making the difficult personal choices that a king must in order to rule a nation well. Hal has the strength of character and skill that will make him the king that his father could never be. As king, Hal will redeem England by creating peace. He confirms this in Part 1 when he pardons Douglas in Act V. This act shows that he not only possesses great statesmanship, but also confidence in his own abilities to win Douglas’ support in the future. Hal will become the leader that England so desperately needs, but how does such a leader emerge from the pressures of these conflicting worlds, and why must this accomplishment result in the rejection of Falstaff?Hal’s InfluenceHenry IV Part 1 is the story of a prince, who knows what he needs to become, but isn’t sure how to get there. He starts out as a madcap brat who shirks his royal responsibilities, but divulges much of his true identity when he tells the people of Eastcheap that “I know you all, and will a while uphold/ The unyoked humor of your idleness” (I.ii.173-174). The prince demonstrates that he will only temporarily be a common criminal, but will eventually rise to the royal occasion. He is using his current position to act the prodigal son, so that he may shine even brighter later on. Hal eventually moves smoothly between the worlds of politics, war, and the pleasure of the common man, and the prince seems able to do this because of an uncanny ability to assume the best characteristics of each. As result of this skill in manipulation, he will eventually rule them all.Hal has long pushed his luck in the world of politics. He was banished from the council after striking the lord chief justice and is constantly disappointing his father by entertaining himself with “barren pleasures” in a “rude society.” Still, despite his reckless behavior, Hal is able to redeem himself in one brief interview with the King. He tells the king exactly what he wants to hear when he promises to slay Hotspur. He also calls forth an uncharacteristic display of his father’s emotion: “Not an eye/ But is aweary of the common sight, / Save mine, which hath desired to see thee more, / Which now doth that I would not have it do, / Make blind itself with foolish tenderness” (III, ii, 89-93). It is not clear if these tearful emotions are genuine, but they do the trick. Henry and the prince become reconciled and, in the next scene, Hal announces that the two are good friends. Hal is very much his father’s son and seems to understand his father far better than Henry understands Hal.Hal comes away from the experience practiced in the political art of making peace and telling people what they want to hear. Hal has promised that he will “redeem all on Percy’s head,/…When I will wear a garment all of blood” (III,ii,132,136). This statement, derived from Revelations 19:13, refers to the time when the King of Kings will wear a garment dipped in blood. Hal is intent upon becoming a King, as well as a redeemer, and has taken what he needs from the political world of his father in order to accomplish this. Still, there are the two others forces that stand in his way.Prince Hal sees that Hotspur and his world of war can further solidify his political position. Hal uses the battle at Shrewsbury to shed his former self and claim his new identity as a heroic prince. Once again Hal proves that he understands everyone a little better than they understand him. Not only is Hal able to best Hotspur in battle, he also captures Hotspur’s last words as well. As Hotspur lies mortally wounded, he says “No Percy, though art dust,/ And food for-…” As he trails off, Hal picks the words out of his mouth, saying “For worms, brave Percy” (V,iv,85-86). The victory over Hotspur serves as a rejection of the world of war and of his opposition. Hal has proven his abilities in war but chooses to reject it (which he establishes by pardoning Douglas). The political world is the one Hal desires, but there is an alternate influence that plagues his ability to rule.Though in the end Falstaff’s influence is terminated, this jolly man is the most significant world for Hal in a number of ways. Not only does Hal spend most of his time with Falstaff, but the world of Eastcheap enables Hal to try out different roles and scenarios, which helps him to evolve into the person he feels he must become. In the famous “mock kingship” scene in Act 2, Falstaff helps Hal to practice his upcoming interview with the King. Not only does the prince get to experiment with both the roles of himself and as the king, the scene leads Hal to realize and vocalize the fact that he will eventually have to make a choice between Falstaff and political success2E Though Falstaff and the prince seem to be good friends, Hal knows that he will eventually have to reject the world of Eastcheap if he wants to succeed. The interactions between Falstaff and Hal lead to several moments of intense foreshadowing. Falstaff tells Hal that “By the lord, I’ll be a traitor then, when thou art a king” (I, ii, 130) but later begs him to “Banish not him thy Harry’s company, Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world” (II, v, 437-438). Hal only answers him “I do; I will” (II,v,439). Hal is obviously practicing for the banishment that he intends to impose in Part 2.Of all the characters Hal uses to perfect his own identity, Falstaff seems to understand Hal a little better than the rest. Falstaff almost appears to know his fate as he jokingly, but desperately, promotes himself to Hal. Despite this possible knowledge, he can do nothing to stop it. The fact is, Falstaff is doomed to be banished by history long before Shakespeare estranges him. Still, though the rejection if Falstaff is necessary in the transformation of Prince Hal to King Henry V, Hal seems to have a hard time with it. He tries out the rejection in jest, but then gives Falstaff charge over part of the army. He becomes furious with the lazy man when Falstaff refuses to take the battle seriously, but then gives him credit for vanquishing Hotspur (when Hal had promised his father that he would do the job himself). Hal continues to vacillate in his approval of Falstaff and this can be read as Hal’s final struggle.As it turns out, Hal’s transformation is not as easy as the prince may have calculated. Hal cannot easily give up his ties to Falstaff and when Falstaff takes the credit for Hotspur, it can be seen as a victory for Eastcheap. In the end, though, Hal makes the decision that politics and history demand. While Hal is happy to drift in and out of the world of Eastcheap, gleaning what benefit he could, he is not willing to let Eastcheap have power over him. Falstaff demonstrates this sort of power in Part 2 when he assures a friend that he “will make/ The King do you grace” (V,v,1-2). As king, Hal can no longer tolerate these two worlds bleeding together, as Falstaff attempts to manipulate the king’s power. Hal makes his final decision to “turn away from my former self;/ So will I those that kept me company” (V,v,56-57). It is at this moment that Hal fully chooses the political realm and banishes all others to death.The rejection of Falstaff is not only warranted, but is necessary, in the transition of Hal, and according to history. Hal takes what he needs from all the influences in his life and eventually chooses one with which to take up permanent residence. Once Hal becomes King, he can no longer travel easily between the different worlds and has to make a permanent decision. Though Hal has a hard time with it, he is able to do the right thing and becomes the King that England so desperately needs. By including the rejection of Falstaff in Henry IV Part 2, even Shakespeare seems to recognize that what a nation needs more than good entertainment is good leadership.
“I want to be invisible…I paint my face and travel at night.” Ralph Reed, as quoted in The Virginian Pilot and Ledger Star, 11/9/91Attaining “invisibility,” or privacy from the glaring eye of the public, remains a distinct desire of modern society. This goal has spawned the creation of “high-tech” home security systems, pseudonyms for anyone from famous authors to the average person purchasing “indecent” material off the Internet, and safeguards on computers’ hard drives. Moreover, the book market has been inundated by works that teach how to protect personal information from the prying eyes of telemarketers, con artists, or vengeful former lovers. J.J. Luna, author of How to Be Invisible, a guide to “protecting you assets, your identity, and your life,” aptly describes the situation: “Privacy is now poised to become the most sought-after luxury of the twenty-first century” (Luna 1). But why do people go to such great lengths to keep their public and private lives separate? Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part One seems to offer the answer. Henry IV presents us with a rich medley of characters who, not surprisingly, have “erotic, fiscal” and “self-deceptive” “impulses” (Steiner) that drive their private actions. However, as the play’s political situation becomes increasingly convoluted, the characters’ private desires become intertwined with politics and “matters of state” (Steiner). The Prince of Wales, Hal, clearly shows the positive impact of politics on one’s private life; when the lazy and immature Hal is thrown into war, he rises to the occasion and proves himself honorable. His friend, Sir John Falstaff, however, fails to understand the larger significance of the war and instead of fighting valiantly, he chooses to remain dominated by his private fiscal desires. It is thus through politics, through the meshing of public and private life, that the characters of Henry IV are forced to reevaluate their private “impulses” in light of their public consequences; successful political action, then, depends on balancing private desires with political needs.Erotic impulses constitute our most private desires. It thus comes as no surprise that popular celebrities often try to hide their relationships from the press. Moreover, when President Bill Clinton’s own private life was thrust into the limelight, he was also loath to dole out details of his affair with Monica Lewinsky and ended up perjuring himself. Similarly, the warriors of Henry IV conclude that erotic impulses have no place in political dealings and they consequently try to suppress their wives’ desires. However, Shakespeare clearly suggests that there is a “right” way and a “wrong” way to do this. Lord Mortimer listens carefully to his wife’s Welsh pleas and to Owen Glendower’s translation. He assures her that, “I understand thy kisses, and thou mine / And that’s a feeling disputation [dialogue by the feelings]” (3.1.204-205). He tells her that although she cannot “be a soldier too” (3.1.193), she can soon join Glendower on his march to battle.In sharp contrast to Mortimer’s loving speech to his wife and attempts to understand her frustrations, Harry Percy or Hotspur is rude and impatient with his wife. Initially, Lady Percy asks Hotspur very nicely why he has been snubbing her:For what offense have I this fortnight beenA banished woman from my Harry’s bed?Tell me, sweet lord, what is’t that takes from theeThy stomach, pleasure, and thy golden sleep? (2.3.39-42)In this speech, Lady Percy shows genuine concern for her husband and his strange behavior. She is worried about his developing insomnia and preoccupation over battle at the expense of their marriage. However, instead of allaying her concern, Hotspur merely ignores her pleas and demands that his horse be brought to him. By obsessing over the war and overly suppressing his natural erotic impulses, Hotspur is not only spurning his wife, but is also setting himself up for a deafening political defeat.In our money-driven society, many people allow their fiscal desires to dominate their lives. In addition to the standard “workaholic,” there are people who are willing to risk their safety or even their lives for a financial reward. There have been many cases of wives or husbands murdering their spouses to collect their life insurance policies. Moreover, fiscal desires provide the basis for some strange and disturbing television shows and movies. One such television show, Fear Factor, features people who willingly eat insects, jump out of airplanes, and crawl through sewage drains to reap some financial reward. On a more serious note, a recent movie, The Glass House, depicts an egocentric business mogul who murders his best friend so that he can have custody of his friend’s children and of their four million dollar inheritance. The old saying, “You can’t buy happiness” appears to be lost on some of these people.In Henry IV, Falstaff’s private life is consumed by financial desires; he is hedonist to the core who needs extensive funds to buy an “intolerable deal of sack [wine]” (2.4.543). At the play’s opening, Falstaff is just an isolated drunk whose actions have no real significance on the larger world. However, when Hal puts him in charge of a band of foot soldiers, he is given the opportunity to change. And Falstaff does consider the merits and pitfalls of acting honorably:Honor pricks [spurs] me on. Yes, but how if honor prick me off [kills me] when I come on? How then? Can honor set to a [replace a lost] leg? No. Or an arm? No. Or take away the grief of a wound? No. Honor hath no skill in surgery then? No. What is honor? A word. What is in that word honor? What is that honor? Air a trim [fine] reckoning! Who hath it? He that died a Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No. Doth he hear it? No. ‘Tis insensible then? Yea, to the dead. But will it not live with the living? No. Why? Detraction [slander] will not suffer [allow] it. Therefore I’ll none of it. (5.1.129-140)Instead of allowing his feelings of public duty to penetrate his private fiscal impulses, Falstaff selfishly concludes that since honor is of no use to the living man, he will not die trying to attain it. He ends his speech by again linking honor with death and calling honor “a mere scutcheon” (52E1.140-141), which is a painted decoration for the coffins of the dead.Additionally, Falstaff goes beyond merely attacking the abstract idea of honor; he undermines its principles to achieve his fiscal goals. We are first introduced to him as a somewhat ruthless and covetous man who jumps at the opportunity to steal money from innocent travelers. Moreover, he insists that if Hal does not join him on this little venture, then Hal has “neither honesty, manhood, nor good fellowship in thee, nor thou cam’st not of the blood royal if thou darest not stand for [rob someone of] ten shillings” (1.2.143-145). Falstaff’s dishonorable deeds to further his own fiscal desires at the expense of the royal family do not stop there, however. When Hal puts him in charge of a brigade of foot soldiers, Falstaff impresses only the wealthiest, “toasts-and-butter” (4.2.21) men who can afford to pay their way out of service. While Falstaff acknowledges that he has “misused the King’s press [power of conscription] damnably” (4.2.12-13), he is delighted to have received, “in exchange of a hundred and fifty soldiers, three hundred and odd pounds” (4.2.13-14). Falstaff’s actions in this situation are unique in that they could have a direct effect on the war and, by extension, on the English realm. By choosing a bunch of “dishonorable” (4.2.31) and “discarded unjust serving-men” (4.2.28) to be his soldiers, Falstaff is single-handedly weakening the English forces. However, Falstaff does not consider the larger consequences of his selfish actions; he merely marvels at his own cleverness and ability to fulfill his private fiscal desires at the expense of the English public.With Owen Glendower, Shakespeare presents somewhat of a “fiscal” foil for Falstaff; Glendower recognizes the significance of the war and consequently reevaluates his own fiscal impulses in light of their political ramifications. Glendower, the leader of Wales, is a wise and powerful warrior who is accustomed to getting his way and not tolerating insolence. However, when the fiery Hotspur insists that his share of the land under the rebels’ proposed land division “in quantity equals not one of yours” (3.1.96), Glendower agrees that Hotspur may straighten out the Trent River so that his holdings include a fertile valley: “Come, you shall have Trent turned [straightened]” (3.1.135). Glendower gives in to Hotspur at his own fiscal expense because he recognizes the potentially disastrous results that internal division among the rebels could have on their war effort.Several characters in Henry IV also exhibit self-deceptive impulses that hinder their political action. People often act in a self-deceptive manner because they want to hide from reality and feel better about themselves. In Jane Austen’s Emma, the protagonist, Emma Woodhouse, is the perfect example of self-deception. Emma is the town matchmaker, yet she has convinced herself that she does not want a spouse and is content to be single. It is only after Emma is able to get past her self-deceptive barriers that she can recognize, and act on, her love for Robert Knightley. Similarly, alcoholics’ and drug-abusers’ refusal to admit that they have a problem often slows down the process of recovery.At the play’s beginning, Prince Hal appears to be living in self-deception. He spends his days frolicking in various taverns and hatching immature plots to embarrass Falstaff. We initially see Hal as being extremely egocentric; he does not seem to care that his callow behavior is disgracing the royal family. In fact, Hal mocks the young warrior, Hotspur, whom his father most admires: “I am not yet of Percy’s mind, the Hotspur of the North: he that kills me some six or seven Scots at a breakfast, washes his hands, and says to his wife, ‘Fie upon this quiet life! I want work'” (2.4.112-116). However, as testament for Hal’s self-deception about his own warrior aspirations, we see him embody Hotspur’s fighting spirit as he enters the battle. Sir Richard Vernon, a relative of the Percys, describes the approaching Hal as follows:I saw young Harry with his beaver [helmet] on,His cushes [thigh armor] on his thighs, gallantly armed,Rise from the ground like feathered Mercury,And vaulted with such ease into his seatAs if an angel dropped down from the cloudsTo turn and wind [wheel about] a fiery PegasusAnd witch the world with noble horsemanship. (4.1.103-109)Hal goes on to fight valiantly in the war and ultimately reject the callow pursuits of his youth when he meets Falstaff on the battlefield. When the “idle” (5.3.39) Falstaff, too concerned for his own well-being to draw his sword and fight for his country, refuses to lend Hal his sword, Hal furiously remarks: “What, is it a time to jest and dally now?” (5.4.55). With this indignant retort, Hal recognizes Falstaff’s pathetic rejection of his public duty and realizes his own desire to fight for his country and father.While Hal is able to shake off his self-deception and fight bravely, other characters are not as lucky. Hal enters a war in which his side has a clear military advantage; although Douglas and Hotspur do fight bravely, their self-deceptive impulses lead them to wage a war which they have little chance of winning. Additionally, Douglas and Hotspur do not consider the larger effect that their personal military failure could have on the other rebels. Hotspur’s self-deception can be traced back to the play’s beginning, when he receives a letter from a noble who refuses to join Hotspur’s forces because “the purpose you undertake is dangerous, the friends you have named uncertain, the time itself unsorted [unsuitable], and your whole plot too light for the counterpoise of so great an opposition” (2.3.10-14). Instead of seriously considering this accurate analysis of his situation, Hotspur merely scoffs at the “lack-brain” (2.3.16) noble and reassures himself that his plan is fool-proof: “By the Lord, our plot is a good plot as ever was laid; our friends true and constant: a good plot, good friends, and full of expectation; an excellent plot, very good friends” (2.3.16-19). However, when Hotspur learns that his father is ill and that his father’s forces will not fight in the war, he begins to clearly see the true weakness of his side: “This sickness doth infect / The very lifeblood of our enterprise” (4.12E27-28). But his self-deception immediately returns and he quickly notes that by winning the war without his father’s army, the small band of rebels will enjoy greater “opinion [prestige]” (4.1.76). This self-deception ultimately culminates when Hotspur, faced with the fiery Hal, notes that Hal lacks his military status and implies that this battle will be the “end” (5.42E68) of Hal: ” [I] would [wish] to God / Thy name in arms were now as great as mine!” (5.4.68-69). It thus comes as no surprise, after witnessing Hal’s public failures when he was dominated by self-deception, that Hotspur and his over-confident ally Douglas are decisively defeated in the war.While Henry IV is clearly chock-full of characters who miserably fail to balance their private impulses with their political needs, King Henry IV himself does understand political mechanics. Thoroughly disappointed with his son’s behavior, he warns Hal that by being such a public figure, “So common-hackneyed in the eyes of men / So stale and cheap to vulgar company” (3.2.40-41), he is losing the respect and mysterious air that is essential to a successful king. Moreover, he compares Hal’s frivolous behavior to that of Richard II, the former king whose crown Henry usurped: “The skipping King, he ambled up and down / With shallow jesters and rash bavin [burnt out] wits” (3.2.60-61). This is one of the few speeches that the very private King Henry makes to his son, and it exemplifies his understanding of what it means to be king. While Henry’s successful usurpation of Richard’s throne has traditionally been attributed to his powerful army of angry nobles and to his stellar planning, Shakespeare seems to suggest, as one of the unifying themes of Henry IV, that his successful rule partially depended on his ability to balance his private and public impulses.Works CitedLuna, J.J. How To Be Invisible. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000.Steiner, George. “The Writer and the State.” New York Times. January 1986.
A Game of Winning the Crown: Shakespeare’s Henries
In his histories from Richard II through Henry V to Richard III, Shakespeare depicts the English monarchy as a game between family and friends of vying for a gold ring — the crown. Shakespeare gives his reader a central metaphor through which to see this equation in King Henry IV part one. The prank Prince Hal, later King Henry V, and his friend, Poins, play on their friends, particularly Falstaff, parallels the plot’s focal passing of the crown.In the first act, Poins outlines his plan to play a prank on Falstaff and their other friends to Prince Hal, “They [Falstaff and others] will adventure upon the exploit [of stealing money from travelers] themselves, which they shall have no sooner achieved but we’ll set upon them” (I.ii.169-71). This exactly represents the larger action that takes place in this same piece. King Henry IV, previously Bolingbroke, usurped the crown from King Richard II in Shakespeare’s play of that title, and now, in this King Henry Hotspur is trying to take from “Bolingbroke,” the name he contemptuously insists on using for the king, the crown which the king ‘rightfully’ stole already. Hal’s prank can, in fact, be seen as the summarizing play within the play so popular in Elizabethan drama. Not only does Hal’s light-hearted game sum up the events of this history, it also works as a microcosm of the events in King Richard III, a tragedy wherein Richard steals the throne from his brothers, Edward and George, who, in turn, stole it from Henry VI. The metaphor becomes even more obviously applicable when we hear Falstaff’s self-defense for giving up the stolen money so easily, “Was it for me to kill the heir apparent?” he trickily states, “Should I turn upon the true prince?… The lion will not touch the true prince” (II.iv.262-5). The justification Falstaff gives for allowing his appropriated prize to be appropriated from him without a fight is that he “instinctively” knew that his thief’s identity was one with a divine connection. This is exactly the story all kings, especially new ones like to pawn off on their new subjects in order to win them over. That is, that God is on their side, otherwise they would not have achieved the crown. It would be to Falstaff’s advantage, having just lost the metaphoric crown (the money), to give its new possessor a story which overtly flatters and supports him. Furthermore, though Prince Hal initially re-admits his victim, Falstaff, into his group of friends after tricking him, ultimately Hal denies him, saying, “I know thee not, old man” (Henry IV part two V.v.50). This is identical to the behaviors of Bolingbroke toward Richard II in Richard II, and Prince John toward the rebels (lead by the Archbishop of York and Lord Mowbray) in Henry IV part two. Both pretend to be friendly to their opposition at first, but really only do so to maintain their own positioning. As soon as it is maintained, they turn.Shakespeare’s representation of the coming and going of monarchs as a game manifests itself in his choice of words as well. In all three of the consecutive Henry plays the concept of “winning” is applied to the acquisition of the throne, a word which equally applies to beating everyone else in a game. For the last, and therefore important, couplet of Henry IV part one, King Henry says, “And since this business so fair is done / Let us not leave til our own be won” (V.v.44). The word “won” is doubly stressed — because of its place as the last word, and its position of completing the rhyme. In Henry IV part two, some of Prince Hal’s last words to his dying father are, “You won it [the crown], wore it, kept it, gave it to me” (IV.v.220). In this phrase the Prince tries to alleviate his father’s fear that the way he “came by the crown” was sinful by implying the intrinsic nature of the monarchy — a mere game — as a justification for his father’s partaking in getting it. If the crown can be “won” then it isn’t wrong to win it. In Henry V, when this prince becomes king, he repeats this sentiment by essentially calling the monarchy, through use of preterition and substitution, a game of leapfrog when wooing his soon-to-be-wife. “If I could win a lady at leapfrog… I should quickly leap into a wife,” he tells her. He does “quickly leap” into her, kissing her before he ought because “nice customs curtsy to great kings,” and becoming engaged to her in a brief conversation in which neither understands the other. Therefore, we might infer back that winning a lady is indeed done as leapfrog for him. He also tells her, “I will have it [France] all mine: and Kate, when France is mine, and I am yours, then yours is France, and you are mine” (V.ii.136-9,173-5). Here, King Henry describes his coming into possession of France as equivalent to his marrying the Princess Kate. By substitution then we see that becoming king (at least in power) itself is a game of leapfrog. This is an appropriate game to choose, not only because of the sexual pun present in “leap[ing] into a wife,” but also because it illustrates the monarchy. Kings take turns standing, and when they are on top they trample on everyone else’s backs, most notably those backs of previous and future monarchs.In addition, Shakespeare repeatedly has his characters compare the fights for kingship to childish or trivial games. The Dauphin’s opening ‘present’ to the King of England in Henry V, “tennis balls, my liege” (I.ii.259), acquires the King’s venomous response, “When we have matched our rackets to these balls, we will in France… play a set shall strike his father’s [the King’s] crown into the hagard” (I.ii.162-4). Likewise, Hotspur refers to fighting war as a “sport” in King Henry IV part one (I.iii.296). In part two, Hastings of the rebels’ side announces, “Our army is dispersed already… like a school broke up” (IV.ii.104). Thereby he compares real grown soldiers ready to sacrifice their lives to mere schoolchildren. He trivializes the war to the level of a play fight that might take place in a schoolyard. When Prince Henry kills Hotspur in a swordfight, Falstaff sharply states, “You [Hotspur] shall find no boy’s play here, I can tell you” (Henry IV part one V.iv.74-5). Although Falstaff makes the activity adult in this biting line, he still sticks to the fact that it is “play,” albeit men’s play. Falstaff himself is also responsible more directly for turning the battlefield into a place of men’s play. Rather than taking his role as a soldier seriously, he proudly admits, “If it be a hot day and I brandish anything but a bottle — I would I might never spit white again” (Henry IV part two I.ii.212). He shows this to be a true claim in the previous play when Prince Henry, looking for a pistol in Falstaff’s holster “finds it to be a bottle of sack” (V.iii.55). And, even if there were a “pistol” in his holster, it wouldn’t necessarily be any more serious as Falstaff’s friend named “Pistol” is a harmless jokester (see Henry IV part one II.iv.190). For Falstaff, the battlefield is the same as any tavern. When King Henry V is put into the unnerving position of hanging his old friend Bardolph, he justifies and explains his so doing with the line, “When lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom the gentler gamester is the soonest winner” (Henry V III.vi.109-10, italics mine). Here, the younger King Henry draws a sustained metaphor comparing different types of ruling to different ways of playing a game. The analogy between ruling a country and playing a game extends beyond the fight and to more mundane kingly practices. For instance, at the end of Henry IV part two, Justice Silence sings, “Do me right, / And dub me knight” (V.iii.72-3). P. H. Davison’s footnote on the lines explain that “Do me right” was an Elizabethan drinking challenge, while “Dub me knight” refers to the contemporary practice of ‘knighting’ whoever drank the most alcohol or drank urine. Here, the regal ceremony of knighting people is put on par with, and mocked as, an adult game.The Henry plays continually make self-conscious gestures towards revealing the inherent acting-nature of the kingship. Not only are the kings shown within the context of plays (even in this word is another potential parallel), the kings themselves are also expected to play — to play games, and to act. Shakespeare’s content and medium come together to blur the line between being king in reality and being so just fictionally. Shakespeare depicts the play-acting element of being king by having scenes in all three plays where either a king pretends not to be one or visa versa. In Henry IV part one, a quite comic scene occurs between Falstaff and Prince Hal wherein Hal plays his father, the King, and Falstaff plays Hal, the Prince. The last act of Henry IV part two undermines this comedy however, for when Hal is crowned “King Henry V,” he, as P. H. Davison’s note says, “Adopts a new style of speaking… he speaks with a new authority, taking on the judicial accent of the Lord Chief Justice.” It is actually not quite “new,” it is simply a fully affected act, which he performs in the beginning of part one in the comic scene nearly as well. When, in the first of the two scenes, Hal pretends to be the king, he calls Falstaff “white-bearded,” “swollen,” and “old.” Almost identically, he ‘genuinely’ shuns Falstaff when he truly becomes king, calling him, “so… swelled, so old,” and covered with “white hairs” (Henry IV part two V.v.50-5). Later in this same play, many of King Henry IV’s close followers dress as him on the battlefield so as to protect him from so-aimed attacks. In part two, Hal dresses down, “a prince to a prentice” (II.ii.169), to spy on Falstaff. He does this again in the first scene of act IV in Henry V so as to find out the true minds of his troops.Playing King of England is an act, attaining the position and participating in its ceremonies is a game. However, I don’t think this means that the role is an impossible one to actually possess, that it’s always simply an unreachable construct that everyone pretends at. I think it just means that Shakespeare sees the crown as not being as serious a thing to possess as is commonly thought. It’s a joke, a gag, a prank, always a gold ring made of cardboard. Where there’s “a kingdom for a stage,” so too can there be ‘a stage for a kingdom’ (Henry V, prologue line 3). Being King means playing.Works CitedShakespeare, William. Henry IV: part one. Ed. P. H. Davison, New York: Penguin Books, 1996.Shakespeare, William. Henry IV: part two. Ed. P. H. Davison, New York: Penguin Books, 1997.Shakespeare, William. Henry V. Ed. A. R. Humphreys, New York: Penguin Books, 1996.
Father/Son Relationships in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part One
The relationship between a father and his son is an important theme in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part One, as it relates to the two main characters of the play, Prince Hal and Hotspur. These two characters, considered as youths and future rulers to the reader, are exposed to father-figures whose actions will influence their actions in later years. Both characters have two such father-figures; Henry IV and Falstaff for Prince Hal, and the Earl of Northumberland and the Earl of Worcester for Hotspur. Both father-figures for Hal and Hotspur have obvious good and bad connotations in their influence on the character. For example, Falstaff, in his drinking and reveling, is clearly a poor influence for a future ruler such as Prince Hal, and Worcester, who shares Hotspur’s temper, encourages Hotspur to make rash decisions. The entire plot of the play is based on which father-figure these characters choose to follow: had they chosen the other, the outcome would have been wholly different.At the start of the play, the reader sees that Prince Hal has been acting in a manner which has disappointed his father. The King compares Hotspur to Hal, saying that Hotspur is ìA son who is the theme of honour’s tongue,î and that ìriot and dishonour stain the brow of [Hal] (I.i.3).î He even wishes that the two were switched: ìThen would I have his Harry, and he mine (I.i.3).î The King obviously does not approve of Hal’s actions, and believes that, if Hal does not change his ways, he will be a poor successor to the throne.This is quite true, as Hal spends the majority of his time in seedy taverns, associating with what his father calls ìrude societyî (III.ii.50), rather than in his father’s court learning the ways of a true ruler. This is due to the influence of Sir John Falstaff, the stereotypical jolly, fat man who is the antithesis of the chivalrous knight ideal. Falstaff is a tavern haunter, who partakes in the ìdrinking of old sackî (I.ii.4), lying, stealing, and thinks of honor as merely ìa wordî (V.ii.74). Although Hal enjoys the company of Falstaff, it is clear by his soliloquy in Act I, scene ii, that he intends to reform himself and act as a true prince: ìreformation, glittering o’er my fault, Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes, Than that which hath no foil to set it off, I’ll so offend to make offence a skill, redeeming time when men least think I will (I.ii.9).î This shift in character is exemplified in the final battle, where Hal makes the chivalrous gesture of offering to ìTry fortune with [Hotspur] in a single fight (V.i.74).îHotspur on the other hand, begins the play in his father’s good graces, and seems to represent the chivalry that eludes Hal. Indeed, Hotspur, being in charge of repelling the Scots to the North, has shown his fierceness in battle and has proven to be an accomplished military man, which are the qualities that the King wishes Hal possessed. Hotspur, however, has a temper which worries his father, Northumberland. In Act 1, Scene 3, he urges his son to be calmer: ìWhat, drunk with choler? stay and pause a while (I.iii.13),î and calls his son ìa wasp-stung and impatient foolî (I.iii.16). Northumberland is much more cautious than Hotspur, or Worcester, and when they begin planning to depose King Henry, he warns them to be careful: ìBefore the game is a-foot, thou still let’st slipî (I.iii.17).Hotspur, being apart in temperament from his father, looks to Worcester for support, and due to their similar personalities, Worcester becomes Hotspur’s father-figure. He shares Hotspur’s desire to regain the Percys’ honour from ìthis ingrate and canker’d Bolingbrokeî (I.iii.13), and also shares Hotspur’s hastiness when he suggests an overthrow of the king, a plan that Hotspur quickly sees as ìa noble plotî (I.iii.17). It is Worcester who arranges for the other conspirators to join them, and who sets the wheels of the revolution in motion.The consequences of the Hal and Hotspur’s choice in father-figures are indeed what leads the play to its final outcome. Hal, who sides with his father and not Falstaff, becomes a noble prince and redeems himself in the eyes of his father. Hotspur, on the other hand, sides with Worcester, and their collective tempers lead them to make the rash decision to revolt. Their tempers are also responsible for other poor decisions that evade the chance of truce, resulting in the inevitable failure of the rebellion. Indeed, all could have been prevented if Hotspur sided with his father, rather than his uncle, and Hal would have become a desolate criminal had he followed Falstaff.
The Inseparability of Acting and Ruling: An Analysis of Hamlet and The First Part of Henry the Fourth
Within Hamlet and 1 Henry the Fourth are examples of Shakespeare including the trade of acting within the text as a central theme. Hamlet certainly shows us his skill as an actor throughout the play, but there is a more blatant preference to acting in the scene where Hamlet stages the death of his father in front of King Claudius. In 1 Henry the Fourth, the signs of Shakespeare’s opinion of acting and ruling as inseparable things is more ordinary and yet more substantial. The signs are more ordinary because Hal doesn’t go so far as to put on a play within the play. But the signs are more substantial because each and every scene that Hal appears in demonstrates the skill of acting applied to everyday situations. Hamlet and Hal both share two common traits: they are both princes and they both employ acting as a means to achieving their desires. I think that Shakespeare makes a profound statement about rulers and players. Both rulers and players have the difficult task of convincing their observers that they are other than they are. Because of this relationship between players and rulers the roles are often intermingled, for instance, rulers often perform like players and players often portray the part of rulers. Convincingly, Shakespeare demonstrates how the skill of ruling and the skill of playing are integrally related and completely inseparable.Hamlet’s reliance on the theatre substantiates the connection between playing and ruling. Hamlet says, “… the play’s the thing” (Ham. 2.2.604) when he thinks of the best way expose Claudius as guilty of Hamlet Senior’s murder. Hamlet, the prince of Denmark, has many political and militaristic tools at his disposal. With these tools, Hamlet could plan to expose Claudius in any number of different ways. But Hamlet chooses to rely on the gifts of the theatre and those who live within it – the players. Using the players, Hamlet gains the subtle probe that he needs to show the assembly a perfectly normal tragedy and, simultaneously, a perfectly real crime. It is little wonder that Hamlet chooses the theatre as his means of showing Claudius that he knows about the crime. To the assembled nobility, the play that Hamlet stages reflects a stereotypical tragedy of the day, but to those few people who recognize the deeper meanings in the actions of the players, the play functions as a warning. King Claudius certainly sees the deeper meanings as Hamlet intends him to and openly walks out during the performance. No other tactic, whether political or militaristic, could achieve the reaction that Hamlet desires from Claudius. Hamlet knows “the play’s the thing” because Claudius gives the precise reaction that Hamlet wants. So a prince, having at his disposal all of the tools of government, relies instead on a tool as ambiguous as playing in order to achieve his purpose. The tools of drama are ambiguous because drama has no singular definition; Hamlet clearly makes use of the ambiguity of drama. By using the play within the play, Shakespeare demonstrates that the skills of kings and players are exceptionally similar.Hamlet relies on acting in order to create deception, but Hal’s skill at acting allows him to create a mythic structure as the reformed prince returning to save England from Civil War. Falstaff teaches Hal the importance of language and timing. Because of the valuable lessons that Falstaff teaches Hal, Hal is able to manipulate everyone in the country until he effectively sets himself up for one great moment of return in which to feign maturity: “I have a truant been to chivalry, … And will … Try fortune with him in a single fight” (1 Henry IV 5.1.94-100). Hal understands the importance of “revealing” his regal nature at the proper place and time. All of the assembly believes Hal’s words despite his previous behavior because Hal picks an extremely dramatic moment to stand up like a true prince. In the same way, players deliver the most profound soliloquies and monologues during moments of intense drama on stage. Kings and players understand the importance of timing a speech correctly in order to obtain the maximum effect for better or for worse.Hal understands this idea of timing, so he delivers his “maturity speech” at a precise moment – much like the actor knows by feel the moment he should deliver his lines. Hal shows the assembly that he is no longer an adolescent thief; the assembly accepts Hal’s words because he picks the perfect moment to say them. Acting is essential to ruling because the training involved with acting allows a monarch (or prince in this case) to gain a feel for the crowd. The mythic structure that Hal creates for himself amounts to no more than a well-timed moment on stage. Fortunately for Hal, the assembly, and the audience, accept without question Hal’s divine right to challenge Hotspur. Hal commands the respect of the English army through perfect timing.Hal knows that his true nature is not that of a thief, and, similarly, even though the character of Hamlet is real within the play, the actor-Hamlet plays to an audience. Hamlet greets his mother in scene 2 in a dreary mood: “Together will all forms, moods, shapes of grief, That can denote me truly” (Ham. 1.2.82-83). Hamlet’s adolescent tendency to mourn his father for an extremely long period of time presents a problem within the text. A 30-year-old man should be able to deal emotionally with the loss of his father. Although Hamlet cannot inwardly overcome his father’s death, he performs in such a way that his mother’s suspicions are not aroused: “I shall in all my best obey you, madam” (1.2.120). Hamlet dismisses his mother’s worries by playing the part of the obedient son. Gertrude functions as an audience within herself at this point in the play. Ruling and acting demand a person constantly perform in front of an audience. The performance that Hamlet gives to his mother holds double meaning: Gertrude believes that Hamlet is telling the truth about obeying her, but the real audience knows Hamlet simply says he will obey Gertrude in order to stop her from troubling him further. Hamlet has a firm feel of what it means to put on a show for the sake of onlookers, and, whether he learned it from being a prince or elsewhere, Hamlet performs as both actor and prince in order to convince Gertrude that his highest wish is to obey her.An interesting difference between Hamlet and Gertrude shows up in the previously mentioned interchange. Hamlet does not allow himself to take anything at face value; on the other hand, Gertrude accepts what she sees as true. “So excellent a king, that was to this Hyperion to a satyr…” (1.2.139-40). Hamlet cannot stop mourning his father, yet Gertrude has already taken a new husband before the play begins. Hamlet suspects that his father did not die of natural causes while Gertrude never mentions that she has ever questioned Hamlet Senior’s death. Hamlet can act for his mother so convincingly because Gertrude accepts the things that she hears and sees without question. A king understands that he cannot accept everything he hears or sees for truth; similarly, an actor endeavors to dissect a play in order to understand a deeper meaning. Hamlet is obviously the actor and the ruler in this scene. Gertrude acts like an audience would act; an audience simply exists to absorb the drama while it unfolds.Both Hamlet and Hal need to be able to convince other people their appearance is other than their true identity, and they are able to achieve this deceit through language manipulation. Hamlet seems to understand intrinsically how to manipulate language; Hal, on the other hand, needs a teacher, so he spends time with Falstaff in order to learn everything he can about the manipulation of language. Hal spends most of 1 Henry the Fourth goofing off with his companion Falstaff. Falstaff teaches Hal many valuable lessons about the manipulation of language; Language manipulation lies at the center of every drama. Nothing in life is completely straightforward, so nothing on stage is completely straightforward either. Falstaff teaches Hal how to perform for an audience with his language. Every actor learns how to create emotional reactions through language. Hal realizes during Act 2 that he no longer needs Falstaff and dismisses him thusly: “That villainous abominable misleader of youth, Falstaff, that old white-bearded Sahtan” (1H4 2.4.262-264). Hal no longer needs Falstaff to teach him how to speak. Hal uses the lessons that Falstaff taught him in order to finally dismiss Falstaff from his presence. In almost the same way that a ruler would cover up his true intentions, Hal uses the lessons Falstaff teaches him in order to obfuscate his intentions. Hal refers to Falstaff as a “misleader of youth” and calls him “Sahtan” quite obviously, but Falstaff does not perceive how skilled Hal really is and simply inquires, “Whom means your Grace?” (2.4.261). King’s manipulate treaties and alliances with language; actors manipulate audiences and other characters with language. When Hal feels that he has learned everything he can from Falstaff, he dismisses him like an actor dismisses the watching audience or a king dismisses his court.Hal’s dismissal differs greatly from the way that Hamlet decides to dismiss Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, but Hamlet depends on his position as prince and on his skill at acting in order to free himself from the problem the presence of his friends presents. “How dost thou, Guildenstern? Ah, Rosencrantz! Good lads, how do you both?” (Hamlet 2.2.225-226). Hamlet performs for his friends as though he is very happy to see them. Hamlet knows that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are come to Denmark only at the request of the King. Even though Hamlet calls Rosencrantz and Guildenstern “good lads” he doesn’t care in the least about their deaths: “They are not near my conscience. Their defeat Does by their own insinuation grow” (5.2.58-59). The method behind all of this madness lies in Hamlet’s skill as an actor. Without Hamlet’s reliance on playing he would have a harder time tricking Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. There are moments in the play where Hamlet manipulates people almost as skillfully as Hal. Hamlet manipulates nearly all of the characters in the play into believing that he suffers from nothing more than a bout of depression and a bit of stress-induced madness. But from the episodes with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet demonstrates that he can use the persuasive powers of playing to trick people into believing his outward appearance instead of seeing through the façade into Hamlet’s true feelings.At the end of both Hamlet and 1 Henry IV the true motives of the lead characters are revealed in much the same way that a play reveals its true meaning at the end. Hal steps into his role as the prodigal son returned on the battlefield. “As if he mast’red there a double spirit Of teaching and of learning instantly” (1H4 5.2.64-65). Hal convinces Vernon that he has indeed turned from his childish ways and “mast’red” all of the mannerisms of a true prince. Hal’s mythic structure completes when Vernon praises him so highly. Hal has brought himself to this point in the play through his skillful manipulation of language. Even the officers in the opposing camp appreciate the way Hal speaks to them; it is the way a king, or a rehearsed actor, speaks. Hamlet makes speeches like a king in order to mask his desire for revenge. “Give me your pardon, sir. I have done you wrong” (Ham. 5.2.236-237). Hamlet performs for the Danish court exactly like an actor performs on stage. In front of the entire court of Denmark Hamlet begs the King’s pardon and all of the events within the play would seem resolved except the audience knows that Hamlet plays the King for a fool. Hamlet’s technique in front of the King comes directly out of the theatre. Hamlet simply lies to the King so convincingly that the King fears no harm. In some ways the theatre is simply one elaborate lie performed on stage. In the same way Hal comes back as a prince of princes without challenge. There are two levels in which the action unfolds itself and Shakespeare plays on both of them: the drama as it is presented on stage, and the drama within the story. These two levels parallel perfectly with the separate identities within Hal and Hamlet: that of appearance and that of reality. Hal and Hamlet end their respective dramas just like actors end their plays.Hal and Hamlet rely on the tricks of the theatre because Shakespeare wants to explore the fundamental problems within drama. Everything on stage is appearance. Hal and Hamlet employ all the skills of a trained performer in order to demonstrate the relationship between appearance and reality. Before the moment on the battlefield where Hal speaks so eloquently to Vernon and Worcestershire, Hal does not act like a great prince. But Hal manipulates the audience with his language and timing in order to place himself firmly in the seat of rulership. On some level, the skills of acting actually precede the skills of a monarch. Hamlet is able to make it all the way to Act 5 without arousing too much suspicion that he plans to kill the King because of his abilities as an actor. For all intensive purposes Hamlet satisfies the court with his explanation that he has fully recovered from whatever he was suffering from in Act 1. In fact, if not for Laertes, Hamlet might be able to kill Claudius without anyone suspecting him. Hamlet’s position is so secure because he manipulates those around him through his words. Hamlet might have been a very successful king because of his superb skills as an actor. Shakespeare understands the problem of identity within drama and even though the characters would believe otherwise, the audience knows that Hal and Hamlet are not changed men.It becomes clear towards the end of both plays that Hamlet and Hal, through mastery of the stage, are responsible for directing the action and thoughts of the other characters. Hamlet and Hal skillfully guide their respective courts until they have positioned themselves in such a manner as to achieve their goals. This skillful manipulation can be broken down into the simple stage directions that a director gives to his or her cast, or the leadership by which a king rules his country. Hamlet and Hal are directors within the dramas that they create while they are creating it. Hamlet and Hal achieve their goals by the end of the play like a director achieves his or her purpose, or like a king achieves his goals. Shakespeare suggests that Hal and Hamlet are not the only examples of people who manipulate others in order to complete a task; Shakespeare simply suggests that one method task-completion comes from the trade of the theatre. Everything on stage is appearance, but if a person is part of the drama, who can tell whether or not they are being subconsciously directed as part of a larger picture? There are many characters, but there can be only one director, one king. Shakespeare shows us that one of the fundamental problems within drama is that most of the characters do not realize they are part of a drama at all.Works CitedShakespeare, William. “The First Part of Henry the Fourth.” The Riverside Shakespeare,Second Edition. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. 889-923.Shakespeare, William. “Hamlet.” The Riverside Shakespeare, Second Edition. Ed. G.Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. 1189-1234.
Though Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part One is ostensibly about the titular character and his son, the future King Henry V, both Henry’s are constantly upstaged by Sir John Falstaff. Falstaff is one of Shakespeare’s most beloved and enduring characters for a reason; his character contains pieces of multiple archetypal personalities and stock characters including the Vice, the Picaro, the Fool, the Miles Gloriosus, and the Plautine Parasite. Each of these character types contributes its best, or worst, parts to create an unforgettable whole. Frye points out that, “We know very little about the contemporary reception of Shakespeare’s plays, but one of the things we do know is that Falstaff was exactly the same kind of popular favorite that he is now, and for exactly the same reasons” (271). Shakespeare has used some of these character types in the past, most notably the Vice. In Richard III Shakespeare uses the Vice to great extent in creating his fictional composite of the historical King. The same skill in grafting fictional qualities onto historical characters comes into play again with Falstaff and is the main reason why Falstaff remains such an enduring icon of drama. The medieval vice character is the descendant of The Vice, an archetypal villain who represented the seven deadly sins in the allegorical English morality plays. Though the Vice spreads dissent and disdain for law and order he is usually portrayed as a comic trickster rather than a purely evil force. The Vice is distinguishable from other villains in that he uses his skill with words to achieve his goals through trickery and confusion. Oftentimes the Vice appeals to the audience even as he is upsetting the natural order of any situation in which he meddles. Falstaff, long a fan favorite character from all of Shakespeare’s plays, clearly fits the description of amusing, witty, and sinful. His fat figure attests to his gluttony and sloth, his frequenting the tavern proves his weakness for lust, and his thievery and bragging stem from his avarice and pride. Critics like Withington have long taken note of this saying, “Beneath the individuality which makes Falstaff such a lovable figure, critics have found gluttony, lechery, and other deadly sins, together with traces of the parasite” (743). Indeed the Prince himself, role-playing his father the King, accuses Falstaff of being the Vice: “Why dost though converse with that trunk of humors…that reverend Vice, that gray Iniquity” (2.4.443-448). Falstaff also subverts those around him, dragging down Prince Hal from his royal pedestal and further corrupting Bardolph and Nym. Though Hal has the good sense and keen wit to escape Falstaff’s influence, Bardolph and Nym are not so bright and end up hanged for looting. Sir John’s corrupting influence, barbed tongue, and sympathy with the audience all tie into the traditional role of the Vice character. The picaro is a type of renaissance rouge, a believer in counter culture who has no personal or societal ties. The picaro is often depicted as a nomad, moving often and following a shifting trail of opportunity. What he finds he quickly consumes before moving on, never focusing on the future or by extension the accumulation of wealth or power. The picaro is a survivalist. Falstaff easily fits this description as well. Having no career, no ambition, and no home but the tavern he survives by riding the coattails of Prince Hal. Rothschild notes that, “Falstaff’s life on this social fringe is marked by a chronic impecuniosity, which he relieves mainly with his wit” (18). When war comes he adjusts and takes advantage of the situation to squander the army’s money. With the possible exception of the Prince and his drinking companions Falstaff has no sympathy for the plights of men and sees others solely as exploitable resources. He audibly voices his disdain for ideals and values in his “what is honor” soliloquy. The attitude he expresses in this speech lends further credence to the argument that at least part of his personality is rooted in the renaissance picaresque tradition. The Miles Gloriosus, or braggart soldier, is a classical Roman and Greek stock character of drama whose main trait is his overreaching braggadocio — which contrasts with his underperformance or cowardice in battle to much comic effect. Grady summarizes this aspect of Falstaff’s nature by writing: “Falstaff is also an embodiment of the destructive egoism that is one of modern subjectivity’s most prominent potential outcomes” (613). Falstaff plays this role in a plethora of situations throughout the play. When he tells Prince Hal about the robbers he fought off the number steadily increases each time he opens his mouth. The same thing happens later in the battle scenes, when Falstaff boasts of his conquest over Hotspur, despite having played dead on the battlefield to avoid risking his life in combat. This act in particular shows characteristics of not only the braggart but the picaro and the parasite as well. Falstaff does no fighting, claims he fought valiantly, saps off Prince Hal’s valor by claiming he killed Hotspur, and uses the unearned honor to further his own survival. The Plautine Parasite is a character based on the idle poor of republican Rome who eked out a living by attaching themselves to the idle rich. They led lives of frivolous amusement and degenerate luxuriate through flattery, oftentimes suffering the butt end of a joke with nary but a smile. Similarly, Falstaff leeches off of not only Prince Hal but the hostess of the Tavern as well, suffering rebukes and insults and responding only with witticisms and smiles. An entire scene is devoted to Prince Hal’s participation in a robbery for the sole purpose of humiliating Falstaff by catching him in a lie. Falstaff waxes increasingly lyrical on food and wine, the only interests of the parasite. Draper argues that “Falstaff, indeed, is no respecter of his social inferiors, his equals, or his betters: he seems to respect only those who may provide his dinner and only when they do it” (396-397). The fool, finally, is a kind of court jester or wise idiot who, though seemingly crazy, helps other characters realize the truth behind the actions or events that occur around them. Royalty often employed professional fools for both amusement and advice giving, with the main requirement being a razor sharp wit and the tenacity to use it. Falstaff can be seen as Prince Hal’s fool, as Hal derives amusement and companionship from him and sustains him in his erratic behavior in return. Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho portrays the Falstaff character as a wandering homeless man who dispenses advice and wisdom to the children of the streets. Sir John possesses an epic wit and is not afraid to use it. Falstaff’s battlefield speech about the nature and worthlessness of honor cuts to the heart of the matter in a way that only a fool can. Shakespeare’s use of stock characters and archetypal personalities advances in leaps and bounds when comparing Richard III to Sir John Falstaff. Richard III was a Vice character through and through. Though Shakespeare was very effective in creating Richard in the form of the Vice he pulls off an even more impressive feat with Falstaff. In Sir John he successfully integrates the Vice and at least four other characters into one stunning amalgamation of personality. Falstaff is a much more nuanced and rounded character than Richard. The more light shone on Falstaff the more facets of his character are revealed. In the approximately five years between the composition of Richard III and Henry IV Part One Shakespeare clearly gained more confidence in his skill with characterization and his willingness to expand on the format of the history play that he himself invented. Possessing both the techniques to create and complex character like Falstaff and the tenacity to insert him into a historical account, Shakespeare gave birth to one of the most celebrated characters of all time.Works Cited1. Draper, John W. “Falstaff and the Plauntine Parasite.” The Classic Journal 33 (1938): 390-401.2. Frye, Northrop. “Characterization in Shakespearean Comedy.” Shakespeare Quarterly 4 (1953): 271-277.3. Grady, Hygh. “Falstaff: Subjectivity between the Carnival and the Aesthetic.” The Modern Language Review 96 (2001): 609-623.4. My Own Private Idaho. Dir. Gus Van Sant. New Line Cinema, 1991.5. Rothschild, Herbert B. “Falstaff and the Picaresque Tradition.” The Modern Language Review 68 (1973): 14-21.6. Withington, Robert. “Vice and Parasite. A Note on the Evolution of the Elizabethan Villain.” PMLA 49 (1934): 743-751.
Like Glistening Phaeton: The Image of the Sun in Richard II and Henry IV
Shakespeare’s history plays tend to focus on the drama of the rise and fall of kings, as we see in both Richard II and Henry IV Part 1. While the outcome of these stories was known to the theatergoers of his time, Shakespeare retold these stories not only to dramatize the historic events, but to draw and present themes that emerge from them as well. Throughout these plays, Shakespeare use the image of the sun to represent the glory of kingship, and moreover, to represent the frequent pattern of rise and fall that is inevitable in the lives of each king—Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry V. Just as the sun rises in the east every morning and sets in the west every evening, we can see that the rise and fall of these kings is unavoidable. Comparing the kingship to the sun is significant in that it emphasizes how quickly and suddenly one’s luck can change, a theme that is evident in many Shakespeare plays including Richard II and 1 Henry IV, and which is examined in this string of rising and falling kings. In Richard II sun imagery is used mostly to depict King Richard’s sudden yet inevitable downfall, which the play is centered around. The play opens with King Richard’s throne seeming secure, but by Act II we as readers see that the tides have quickly turned and that his kingship is in danger, and by Act III, so does King Richard realize this. When Lord Salisbury visits Richard to give him the news that his army has left him, he says to King Richard, One day too late, I fear me, noble lord, Hath clouded all thy happy days on earth. O, call back yesterday, bid time return, And thou shalt have twelve thousand fighting men! To-day, to-day, unhappy day, too late, Overthrows thy joys, friends, fortune and thy state… (III. ii. 67-72).Lord Salisbury tells Richard here that just the day before, his army of twelve thousand men fled and now it is too late because Bollingbrook has gained the support of the people. The imagery that Lord Salisbury uses is interesting when he says that just the one day “hath clouded all thy happy days on earth,” those happy days being those of his reign, of course (III. ii. 68). This unhappy day on which Richard’s men abandoned him is described as the cloud, then, because it holds him back from shining like the sun as king. Lord Salisbury realizes the magnitude of this all when he says that this day “overthrows thy joys, friends, family, and state” which exemplifies the theme of how quickly life can change—as quickly as the sun rises and falls (III. ii. 72). This is a crucial turning point both in Richard II’s life and in the play, as it marks the beginning of his deposition (or the rise of the house of Lancaster) and Richard’s transformation from a vain king to a mournful poet. The sun imagery subtly used in these lines highlights the theme of sudden transformation: in this one pivotal day, Richard’s luck has turned around as Bollingbrook nears the kingship and the sun is beginning to set on Richard II’s reign. Richard II reminds us that just as soon as one king falls, another rises. In their first meeting since Bollingbrook’s return, Bollingbrook uses the sun metaphor to describe Richard in a new light: “See, see, King Richard doth himself appear, / As doth the blushing discontented sun / From out the fiery portal of the East, / When he perceives the envious clouds are bent / To dim his glory…” (III. iii. 62-66). Unlike Richard’s earlier prediction in Act III scene ii, in which Bollingbrook would be the one blushing when his “sun” rose due to his treasonous acts, Bollingbrook is defiant and challenging toward Richard, expecting to usurp the throne and “dim” Richard’s glory. Shortly thereafter, during their encounter, Richard realizes that it is too late and his cousin will soon seize the throne, and says to an inattentive Bollingbroke, “Down, down I come, like glist’ring Phaeton” (III. iii. 178). In this single line, Richard captures the metaphor of the sun as ever rising and falling like kings, and simultaneously accepts responsibility for his downfall by alluding to Phaeton, the sun-god, who brought about his own death. Quickly this glistening sun image is transferred, along with the glory of kingship, to Henry. We first see the sun language refer to Henry IV in Act IV, scene i, when Richard bitterly laments to Henry during the deposition, accordingly: “God save King Henry, unking’d Richard says,/ And send him many years of sunshine days!” (IV. i. 220-221). Richard II wishes King Henry a long and glorious reign when he sends “many years of sunshine days.” No longer is Bollingbrook depicted as a “cloud,” but as he now essentially possesses the throne, he is compared to the sun. From the beginning of Henry IV, the sun metaphor is quite apparently used to describe Prince Harry in his transformation and rise to being heir to the throne. In Henry IV, both Harry and King Henry use the ubiquitous image of the sun being blocked by clouds to describe themselves. Harry uses the sun metaphor quite explicitly in his first soliloquy to indicate his intended rise to power and glorious, dramatic transformation that he sets up for himself by hanging around in the taverns with a group of lowly thieves: Yet herein will I imitate the sun, Who doth permit the base contagious clouds To smother up his beauty from the world, That when he please again to be himself, Being wanted, he may be more wondered at By breaking through the foul and ugly mists Of vapours that did seem to strangle him (I.ii.173–)In this monologue Hal reveals only to the audience that he is using these lower-class people and deceiving them for his own benefit, creating great dramatic irony and anticipation. Harry compares himself to the sun being blocked by the clouds (these tavern-going men) but nonetheless can “break through” these lower-class “friends” of his and rise to power when need be. It is interesting to note the difference in Harry’s use of the sun metaphor—Harry, unlike Richard II, believes that as the metaphorical sun, he has control over the actions of the sun and clouds. Rather than the clouds undesirably blocking his light, Harry says that he purposefully lets those clouds do so when he says that he “doth permit the base contagious clouds/ To smother up his beauty from the world” (Act I. ii. 75). Just as the sun allows itself to be covered by clouds so that the people who miss its light will be all the happier when it reappears, Harry too plans to eventually emerge from the clouds of his lower-class friends. Although King Henry believes that he is an immature party-boy, wasting his time in the taverns, Harry sees a great opportunity in spending his time with the lower-class people. Henry is simply waiting for his moment to right all the wrongs of his father’s reign with a perfectly timed return to glory, which occurs as planned when he defeats Hotspur in battle. The usurpation of the throne from Richard II did not leave much room for his father’s success, therefore Hal realizes he must create a way to win over the hearts and minds of the English people and create peace under one ruler. Having proven that he accepts his royal duties during the course of this battle in which he defends his father, Harry can shine through these clouds and radiate his full regal glory by the end of the play. Prince Harry is not the only character with “clouds” in Henry IV; for King Henry, the clouds that loom over his kingship are a result of doubts regarding the legitimacy of his reign. To King Henry, Harry’s succession to the throne will banish these doubts of legitimacy, so the clouds clear and give way to their sunlight by the end of the play. Harry’s win in battle therefore clears the sky of not just Harry’s clouds, but also those of King Henry, and is monumental in legitimizing their hold upon the throne. King Henry conveys this to Harry in their first meeting during Act III, scene ii, when he tells Harry that he has been seen, but with such eyes As, sick and blunted with community, Afford no extraordinary gaze Such as is bent on sunlike majesty When it shines seldom in admiring eyes… For thou has lost thy princely privilege With vile participation. Not an eye But is aweary of thy common sight, Save mine, which hath desired to see thee more (III.ii.77-87).These lines echo those of Harrry in Act I, and remind the audience of Harry’s aspiration to soon shine as king. The audience knows that Harry purposefully as not been “sunlike” in order to further heighten his glorification when he does clear his clouds of “vile participation” (III. ii. 85). As anticipated throughout the play, Harry does live up to his soliloquy in Act I, and in defeating Hotspur, clears his clouds and supposedly his father’s as well. King Henry believes that through Harry’s eventual succession the clouds of illegitimacy will clear, but it is not necessarily true that this is the case. Regardless, Henry IV primarily focuses on the sudden “transformation” of Harry, which is complete by Act V, in which he defeats Hotspur. Now Harry can shine in “sunlike majesty” like his father does with the glory of kingship. In both Richard II and Henry IV the metaphor of the sun is frequently used to denote the glory and height of the kingship itself. More importantly, though, the stories of Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry V show that the nature of the kingship and the sunny days that go along with it is fleeting. Shakespeare’s use of the sun imagery in this way makes these themes of changing fortunes and overthrown kings even more poignant and evident to the audience, as surely everyone understands the nature of the sun. Kings rise and fall as quickly as does the sun, and each king’s eventual fall is as inevitable as nightfall.
Several of Shakespeare’s plays, including historical and tragedy, involve the political intrigue which results in the killing of a king. While the action revolving around this event may involve many more obvious themes, it is interesting to note the common idea which Shakespeare invariably includes when his play addresses the killing of a king. Each character who murders, or is the instigator of the murder of, a king and takes his place faces the consequences for his actions. Often, Shakespeare makes these consequences more or less severe according to how involved the character is in the murder and how “pure” his motives may have been. However, regicide is never taken lightly in these dramas and no matter how good the motive. There are three noteworthy plays involving the killing of kings in which the murderer takes over the office. In Richard II, Henry Bolingbroke first deposes King Richard II and then implies that it would be easier if he was dead. He is the least involved in the killing of the former king and his punishment is the least severe, as is seen in Henry IV Part One and Henry IV Part Two. In Macbeth, King Duncan of Scotland is murdered by Macbeth. Macbeth does not even have the excuse of deposing an evil king, only the promise of three witches that he will rule. His triumph is extremely short lived. Finally, the tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark begins after Hamlet’s royal father has died and it is only later that his unhappy ghost makes it clear that King Claudius, brother to the dead king and uncle to Hamlet, is the murderer. Ironically, this play also ends with the killing of a king, although Hamlet dies immediately and is unable to take up his rightful throne. The murder of Claudius is closer to revenge than anything else. Shakespeare takes a very serious view of the role of kings in all of these plays. It is a station not to be abused, but this works on both sides of royalty. A king is not to misuse his power, but those serving beneath him are supposed to defend him even if they do not entirely like his decisions. What becomes less clear is whether or not he approves of supplanting an evil or dangerous king. When Macduff speaks to Malcolm, the rightful heir to Duncan, about being king, Malcolm tests Macduff’s loyalty by pretending to be unimaginably vicious and evil. When Malcolm asks if “such a one be fit to govern” (Macbeth 4.3.101), he approves of Macduff’s answer: “Fit to govern? / No, not to live!” (4.3.103-104). However, Macduff does not go so far as to wish the death of Scotland’s rightful heir. He merely declares: “These evils thou repeat’st upon thyself / Hath banished me from Scotland” (4.3.111-112). He would rather leave than stay in a country so corrupted by a wicked king, but he does not go so far as to wish the king removed or killed.Such is not the case for Henry Bolingbroke, future Henry IV. Bolingbroke has just cause to be angry at the king. King Richard has exiled him from his home and then proceeds to steal his rightful inheritance after his father dies. Bolingbroke returns, however, breaking his vow to remain in exile, but still planning to restore his own honor which has been besmirched by the thoughtless king. He tries to justify his return: “As I was banished, I was banished Hereford, / But as I come, I come for Lancaster” (R2 2.3.113-114), but the defense rings hollow. He is clearly ignoring his vow to seek retribution for an unconscionable wrong. Perhaps it is a fair trade, and as he moves through England, he is hailed the conquering hero whereas Richard is the bitter, tragic, failed king. However, it is worth taking notice when such august figures as the Duke of York bemoan the state of affairs. York is not happy with the actions of King Richard, but he does not believe he should be deposed: “Alack the heavy day / When such a sacred king should hide his head!” (R2 3.3. 8-9). It is the young, ambitious crowd that flocks behind Bolingbroke. He allows himself to dream of royalty. Closely related as he is to the king, he is not Richard’s heir. But that does not deter him. King Richard II has lost his former arrogance almost entirely. He bows before superior forces, despite his previous declarations that “Not all the water in the rough rude sea / Can wash the balm off from an anointed king” (R2 3.2.54 – 55). Richard is not as arrogant when faced with Bolingbroke’s army, but he tells Henry: “No hand of blood and bone / Can gripe the sacred handle of our sceptre, / Unless he do profane, steal, or usurp” (R2 3.3.79-81). Bolingbroke goes forward despite this implication of profanity on his part. When Richard is deposed, he goes into exile and Exton, acting on a perceived word from Bolingbroke, now King Henry IV, kills him. Whether Bolingbroke wanted Richard to be outright murdered is somewhat questionable. It can be seen that he wants him dead: “I hate the murderer, love him murdered” (R2 5.6.40), but he does not play an active enough role in Richard’s death to dub him murderer. Many years later, Bolingbroke makes it very clear that he feels himself entirely responsible for Richard’s death and he is repentant: “How I came by the crown, O God forgive” (2H4 4.5 218). He has paid his dues for his crime. He spends almost the entirety of his reign fighting for his crown and he passes it off to his son to enjoy the fruits of his hard work. Shakespeare seems to think that this was fair enough retribution for supplanting a king. Richard is, admittedly, a terrible king in many respects and Henry does not have a direct hand in his murder. But the fact remains that warnings and portents are constantly supplied all throughout Richard II, implying the dangers of taking the throne, and the life, of God’s ordained king, evil though he may be: “But ere the crown he looks for live in peace / Ten thousand bloody crowns of mothers’ sons / Shall ill become the flower of England’s face” (R2 3.3.95-97). These are prophetic words. Shakespeare makes painfully clear what the price will be. Bolingbroke seems willing to pay it, and pay it he does. The murder of King Duncan in Machbeth is a much more clear picture of foul treason against a just king and the penalty paid by the murderer. Macbeth is an ambitious character from the beginning, but has nothing to complain about under the rule of King Duncan. He has just been given Cawdor’s title at the beginning of the play for his valiant deeds, speaking of Duncan’s faith in him as a worthy subject. However, Macbeth has loftier goals than gaining more titles under Duncan’s rule. The three weird sisters indicate that Macbeth “shalt be King hereafter” (Macbeth 1.3.50), and he is “rapt withal” (1.3.57). The idea takes hold instantly. However, it takes Macbeth more than the witches’ words to push him towards action: “If chance will have me King why chance may crown me / Without my stir” (1.3.143-144). He is enthralled with the idea, but only when his wife pushes him to act on the perfect chance given him, the arrival of the king at his house, does he finally commit the murder of the king. Macbeth is unique in that he does not even try to justify his deeds. Perhaps this is because there is no justification. Duncan is, by all indications, a good king. Shakespeare gives a progression of indications as to the clear wickedness of this regicide. The fact that Macbeth’s prophecy is given to him by three witches ought to have been warning enough. Banquo sees the danger: “Oftentimes, to win us to our harm, / The instruments of darkness tell us truths” (1.3.123-124). Macbeth ignores this warning entirely. After speaking with his noble and trusting king, Macbeth admits immediately to having nefarious plans: “Stars, hide your fires; / Let not light see my black and deep desires” (1.4.50-51). Before the king is murdered, Macbeth sees a spectral dagger and as the deed is done, Lady Macbeth hears the ominous cry of an owl. Everything done here is dark and there is the sense of black magic surrounding the act: “wicked dreams abuse / The curtained sleep. Witchcraft celebrates / Pale Hecate’s offerings (2.1.50-52), reminiscent of the three witches whose hands are in this deed. There is a stark difference between this and the killing of Richard II. Henry Bolingbroke is still guilty of killing a king and suffers for it, but he does everything openly with an army of supporters at his back. He proudly declares his right to depose the king. He believes he is doing what is good for himself, but also what is right for England: “necessity so bowed the state / That I and greatness were compelled to kiss” (2H4 73-74). There is little shame and no compelling need to hide everything in darkness.Macbeth gains his crown when both sons of Duncan flee in fear of their lives. However, unlike Bolingbroke, he fails to keep it, Shakespeare’s indication that Macbeth has no right to it. His support dwindles quickly as the forces rally around Malcolm, the rightful heir. Whereas Bolingbroke’s opponent, the supposed heir Mortimer, is vanquished and he is able to hand his throne to his son and continue his line, Macbeth has no heir. His entire, brief reign is, in effect, sterile. It ends in a battle where he loses his life to Macduff. Ironically, both his rise to the throne and his death are inspired by the prophesies of the malicious weird sisters. Their final words tell him to fear no man born of woman. Macbeth does not remember Banquo’s words and trusts the manipulative witches. Macduff, who was “from his mother’s womb / Untimely ripped” (Macbeth 5.7.15-16), defeats the unworthy king . Macbeth is dead and Malcolm ascends to the throne. Macbeth is remembered as nothing more than a “usurper” (5.8.55). In this case, the murder of the king ends with the supplanter being killed and the rightful heir taking his place as king. This is as just an ending as can be created.In the case of Hamlet, the situation changes yet again. The murdered king does not appear during the play alive. His only words are given as a ghost after he is dead. Hamlet is mourning not only the death of his father, but the unnaturally quick marriage of his mother to his uncle and his uncle’s ascension as king. Shakespeare lays out a situation in which the act of murder is already completed and the usurper is in place on the throne. Also, in this instance, the murderer and supplanter, King Claudius, is not the main character of the story. Hamlet takes that role. He discovers the murder by way of the dead king who cannot rest because his death goes unresolved: “Murder most foul, as in the best it is, / But this most foul, strange, and unnatural” (Hamlet 1.5.25-26). Hamlet, who is the rightful heir to the throne, now has the duty to avenge his father’s murder. In many ways, this seems similar to Macbeth. The murdered king’s son must do battle with the murderer, who now sits on the throne: “The serpent that did sting thy father’s life / Now wears his crown” (1.5.39-40). However, Hamlet does not prove himself as worthy a character as Malcolm. He does more planning and scheming than acting: “O, from this time forth, / My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!” (4.4.65-66). Hamlet truly deserves to be named a tragedy. Shakespeare once again lays out a progression of actions, but it does not end with the sense of justice and satisfaction that Macbeth has. The beginning establishes the murdered king, the villain, and the would-be heroic prince who must avenge his father’s death. But the ending does not seem quite fitting. The wicked King Claudius seems to move toward his just reward for his actions. Hamlet has a play put on in which a king is murdered in like situation to his uncle’s and Claudius is distraught. However, this might be as much because the evil king’s nephew proceeds to kill the newly crowned king as because of the likeness to his own deeds. Claudius knows something is wrong.But again, Hamlet does not fit the character of a noble hero. He kills Polonius without knowing who it is and seems to regret it very little. He sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their deaths in England with little qualm. He is constantly planning toward the murder of his uncle: “I have cause, and will, and strength, and means / To do’t” (4.4.45-46). Claudius is also planning Hamlet’s death. He makes use of Polonius’s grieved son Laertes. Ironically, Laertes parallels Hamlet in many ways. He returns home to the resounding “Laertes shall be king! Laertes king!” (4.5.108), a parody in that it ought to be Hamlet storming the gates and taking the throne. His father is murdered, once again ironic because it is Hamlet who has murdered him. Now he seeks revenge on the murderer.In the end, the duel is between Laertes and Hamlet rather than between Claudius and Hamlet. Things have become tangled. Hamlet’s mother mistakenly drinks poison. Laertes and Hamlet both manage to cut one another with a poisoned blade, ensuring each other’s death. Hamlet does kill Claudius, but there is little sense of righteous judgment on the dying king and murderer. It is almost an afterthought, another bout of impulsive anger on the part of Hamlet: “The point envenomed too? / Then venom, to thy work” (5.2.310-311). The rightful heir does not ascend the throne. Hamlet dies and the country is, at least by Hamlet’s word, handed over to a foreign power. Horatio sums up the entire play: Of carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts, Of accidental judgments, casual slaughters, Of deaths put on by cunning and forced cause, And, in this upshot, purposes mistook Fall’n on th’inventors’ heads. (5.2.370-373)Shakespeare does not want this to be seen as natural or good. The story of Hamlet is a tragedy in that retribution, rather than swift and noble, is slow, convoluted, and eventually an almost unhappy accident. Hamlet murders a king who murdered a king, but no one is entirely sure where the good is in the situation. Regicide is strikingly recurrent in Shakespeare. Its repercussions and intrigues deserve some attention. Shakespeare’s intricate drama allows for not only different situations in which to play out the murder of a king, but also gives multiple facets to the characters of the murdered rulers, their killers, and the relevant characters around them. It is never simple with Shakespeare. Each character’s motivation is inspired and driven by different circumstances. However, one underlying theme emerges in each of these three plays. Killing a king is a heavy and dangerous deed and the consequences will match the motive and the fairness of the act.Works CitedShakespeare, William. “Hamlet Prince of Denmark.” William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Ed. Alfred Harbage. New York: Viking Press, 1969. 933-974.Shakespeare, William. “Macbeth.” William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Ed. Alfred Harbage. New York: Viking Press, 1969. 1110-1135.Shakespeare, William. “The Tragedy of King Richard the Second.” William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Ed. Alfred Harbage. New York: Viking Press, 1969. 637-667.Shakespeare, William. “The Second Part of King Henry The Fourth.” William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Ed. Alfred Harbage. New York: Viking Press, 1969. 707-740.
A Machiavellian Analysis of Henry IV, Part 1
It can be difficult for the modern reader to appreciate the power struggle underlying HENRY IV, Part 1 (1H4). As causes of the War of the Roses and the struggles of the House of Lancaster recede from memory, it is useful to have a lens through which to examine the political and military machinations of Henry, Harry and Hotspur as they struggle to define both the future of England and their personal claims to leadership. The Prince provides such a lens. Written in 1513, just 83 years before the play, Machiavelli’s tract on foreign policy and leadership provides a deeper understanding of the actions of these three characters. As the play opens, Westmorland informs Henry IV that he has received a post from Wales that is …loaden with heavy news, Whose worst was that the noble Mortimer, Leading the men of Herefordshire to fightAgainst the irregular and wild Glendower, Was by the rude hands of that Welshman taken, A thousand of his people butcherÃ¨d, Upon whose dead corpse there was such misuse, Such beastly shameless transformationBy those Welshwomen done, as may not beWithout much shame retold or spoken of (1H4 1.1.37-46).This missive was followed by even “more uneven and unwelcome news” that Percy has followed “his uncle’s teaching” and “to his own use he keeps” all the prisoners except the Earl of Fife (1H4 1.1.70-75). In this way, Henry’s enemies are introduced and Hotspur’s loyalty called into question.The first step in applying a Machiavellian analysis to this situation is to determine whether the struggle pertains to a hereditary principate or a mixed principality. Given that the Welsh and Scottish forces remain distinct and separate groups over which the English retain limited control, one is inclined to characterize this as a “mixed principality”, an entity that is “not entirely new but like a graft freshly joined to an old kingdom” (Machiavelli 5). Following this analysis, the loyalties of the combatants appear conflicted at best because the problems associated with such a state are derived from “a natural difficulty … which is that all men are ready to change masters in the hope of bettering themselves” (Machiavelli 5). As the play opens, Hotspur and Worcester appear as exemplars of combatants who are struggling to change masters. Their loyalty to Henry conflicts with their loyalty to the Percy family.Under these circumstances, Machiavelli advises “one of the best and most effective policies would be for the new possessor to go there and live” (Machiavelli 6). While Henry remains firmly ensconced on the throne in London, both Hotspur and Harry venture forth in the world and engage in interactions that could conceivably achieve the benefit that Machiavelli says results from such relocation – namely “when you are on the spot, you can see troubles getting started and can take care of them right away” (Machiavelli 7). Hotspur takes Worcester’s advice to return to Scotland with the prisoners and “Deliver them up without their ransom straight” (1H4 1.3.257). Moreover, while he is in Scotland, he should enter negotiations and “make the Douglas’ son your only mean / for powers in Scotland, which /… will be easily granted” (1H4 1.3.258-261).While not exactly the same as “going and living there”, these travels could serve much the same purpose as that imagined by Machiavelli in that they provide first-hand information. Unfortunately, Hotspur’s temperament prevents him from making the most of such travels. Although the reader is not witness to Hotspur’s negotiations with Douglas, the negotiations with Owen Glendower show that Hotspur is incapable of “going and living there” – either literally or in the more metaphorical sense of being able to silence his own impulses long enough to learn first-hand Glendower’s strengths as an ally. Instead of taking the opportunity to get a sense of the Welsh terrain and size up Glendower, Hotspur senselessly antagonizes him, insulting everything from his ability to speak English (1H4 3.1.114-117), his history of repelling Henry IV (1H4 3.1.65-67) and his magical powers (1H4 3.1.24-34). Curiously, although Harry neither relocates nor travels the distances traversed by Hotspur, his behavior seems to achieve more of the ends sought by the Machiavellian advice to “go there and live there”. We see him traveling a different kind of distance from the seat of power and playing an altogether different role with his companions at the Boar’s Head Tavern. Although only a “temporary inhabitant of Eastcheap” (1H4 39), his ability to step outside his customary role and observe life outside the palace makes him a more effective ruler in the long run. This is consistent with the Machiavellian adage that prince devote attention to learning because “what he learns will be doubly useful; first he will become acquainted with his own land, and understand better how to defend it” (Machiavelli 41). A Machiavellian analysis also sheds light upon the behavior of Henry, Harry and Hotspur during the Battle of Shrewsbury. Hotspur’s allies betray him and leave him on the battlefield with little support. He continues to voice enthusiasm for battle despite Douglas’ characterization of the loss of Glendower’s support as “the worst tidings that I hear of yet” (1H4 4.1.126). However, as he prepares for battle, Hotspur begins to vacillate. When Blount comes with “gracious offers from the King” (1H4 4.3.30), Hotspur explodes with his list of grievances against the king. However, at the end of this scene, he raises the possibility of accepting the king’s offer, saying “And maybe so we shall” (4.3.112). Such vacillation opens him to the “contempt and hatred” warned against by Machiavelli who noted that “what makes a prince contemptible is being considered changeable… He should be sure that his judgment once passed is irrevocable” (Machiavelli 50). In this time of crisis, Hotspur has not been able to win a popular base or exercise consistent judgment; had he survived, this vacillation (and his lack of reasoned responses) would hold him up to contempt and hatred. In holding out this opportunity for peace, Henry appreciates the Machiavellian maxim that military might is the poorest way to retain or win a mixed principality. Machiavelli notes that “the whole state is harmed when the prince drags his army about with him from place to place. Everyone feels the inconveniences, every man becomes an enemy” (Machiavelli 7). Blount tries to dissuade Hotspur, saying, “you conjure from the breast of civil peace / such bold hostility, teaching his duteous land / audacious cruelty (1H4 4.3.43-45) and promises that “you shall have your desires with interest / and pardon absolute for yourself” (1H4 4.3.49-50). Henry’s unexpected offer at reconciliation shows he understands that in the long run, “defense by armies is useless” with respect to mixed principalities (Machiavelli 7). While Hotspur and Henry weigh strategies and prospects for war, Harry goes into battle. His crisp, decisive actions are consistent with Machiavelli’s description of the “military duties of the prince” (Machiavelli 40). His victory over Hotspur shows that despite his questionable behavior earlier in the play, he has not fallen prey to the risk that “being defenseless makes you contemptible” (Machiavelli 41) or charges of “mismanaging his clemency” (Machiavelli 45). The Prince, therefore, provides an effective lens through which view the actions of Henry, Hotspur and Harry. Beginning with the characterization of the border skirmishes as a mixed principality, the relative strengths and weaknesses of these characters can be evaluated in Machiavellian terms. Only Harry appears to have metaphorically heeded the advice to “go and live there”. Despite his initial military successes, Hotspur’s failure to heed this advice leaves him stranded without sufficient support at Shrewsbury. While Henry has the support of characters he spent time slumming with, Hotspur has shown himself to be worthy of hatred and contempt. In conclusion, The Prince provides a penetrating analytic tool to analyze the behavior of these characters, particularly with regard to their actions in Shrewsbury and its ultimate outcome.
Henry IV and Honorable Rebellion
In Henry IV, Part One, Shakespeare tackles the subject of honorable rebellion, primarily through the duality of the two characters of Prince Hal and Hotspur. Hal is the offspring of King Henry IV, who attained the throne of England through a rebellion against King Richard II. Hotspur played a minor role in the rebellion, but has now stepped to the forefront to consider a counter-rebellion in light of what he views as the King’s inability to deliver on the promises that gained him the support he needed to usurp the crown. Although generally considered a more attractive character, the consensus remains that Hotspur and the counter-rebellion are less honorable because this conception of honor eschews compromise, ideals, and loyalty. The issue of Hotspur’s unwillingness to compromise is brought to bear early in the play in the scene in which he struggles with turning his prisoners over to King Henry. Hotspur invokes the law of arms, which suggests that he is completely in the right in countering the demand since he is required only to hand over prisoners of noble blood such as Mordake. Except that he was fighting at the time in the name of the King and simple chivalric issues involving the royal right of the liege commands Hotspur to either turn over all his prisoners or effectively announce he is in open rebellion. Hotspur, of course, is not the only stubborn partner in the rebellion, unwilling to bend to compromise. Before the battle at Shrewsbury, King Henry extends an offer to pardon the rebels in exchange for merely laying down their arms. Worcester makes the unilateral decision not to relay the “liberal and kind offer of the King” (5.2.2). Curiously enough, this is one compromise that Hotspur announces he would have accepted. Worcester is not through, however; following the defeat of the rebels, King Henry challenges Worcester on the battlefield on the issue of the offer, and is forced to kill Worcester when he receives no response. While the King is presented as a man willing to make the truly grand gesture of accepting the surrender of the rebels with honor, the rebels come off as uniformly uncompromising or ready to yield. It is as though they feel they have been forced into a position whereby their openly aggressive response must necessarily be retained at all times, even in the surmounting face of ignominious defeat. Hotspur himself, though proud and undeniably attractive when he rides his steed and announces “That roan shall be my throne” is nonetheless almost voracious in his unwillingness to accept victory or defeat on anything but his own terms (II, iii, l.70). Hotspur also manages to be charismatic even when he is being petty and on the defensive, whereas Prince Hal in particular maintains a steady confidence even during his darkest times. To return to the central episode contained Hotspur’s speech on returning his prisoners, his long, often comedic monologue exists primarily to detail his utter exasperation with the conduct of the foppish courier sent by King Henry. It is his uniquely metaphorical description of a pompous court butterfly and the way he contrasts the man’s effeminate qualities with a lack for bloodlust by using such terms as “neat and trimly dress’d, / Fresh as a bride-groom”, “perfumed like a milliner,” “With many holiday and lady terms,” “a popinjay,” “talk so like a waiting gentlewoman” (1.3.32-54) that sticks in the mind, rather than the content of the envoy’s message and Hotspur’s response. The apparently unintended irony of Hotspur’s admittedly poetic speech is that he is hardly less fastidious than that which he is condemning. His rhetorical dressing down of the foppish envoy that caused him such consternation while on the bloody fields of fire for some reason sticks like a burr in his consciousness. Compare Hotspur’s really quite maddening pettiness with the cool heads that Henry IV keeps while he is on the verge of losing crown and that Hal keeps while retaining his eyes on the prize of that crown in the midst of the far more irritating extravagances of Falstaff and his motley crew. Hal compares more favorably to Hotspur despite his lack of eloquence and fire because unlike Percy, the heir apparent keeps a steady focus on the long term goal. When one considers the company that each keeps, it is clear that Hal’s discipline is what separates him from the hotheaded Hotspur; the Prince is alone in staving off self-destruction. One of the themes of the drama is relationship between father and son and how if the son is to rise to the occasion he must attempt a certain level of emulation; Hal does this quite nicely while maintaining his own identity and establishing his own autonomy. It may just be that Hotspur’s father, who was merely a pawn in King Henry’s grasp for power, does not command the respect due. At any rate, King Henry expresses the desire that Hotspur were his son and there is little reason to think the emotion is one-sided. This idea is expressed in the intensity with which Hotspur desperately hopes his father and uncle will bring about their own redemption by dethroning the very man they helped to make king. Treason it may be, but at least Hotspur redeems himself on the battlefield as even Prince Hal deems him to be “valiant.” (V, i.) There can be little denying that Hotspur’s charisma is the focal point of the entire rebellion and he possesses a dramatic flourish that leads one to overlook some of his less admirable qualities, but aside from him the rebellion seems to be fall apart in great deal to the utter lack of loyalty and honor among its members. Worcester is patently out of control once the rebellion transforms from the political phase to the military phase. The incapacity of this ragtag group to rise to the level of their precursors who successfully deposed Richard II is best exemplified the scene in which they all gather to map out their strategy, a scene which inevitably ends as they quarrel over how to divide the spoils of a victory that is far-off instead of coming up with a plan to determine the divisions within the kingdom. When Prince Hal agrees to barter for the honors that Hotspur has won on the battlefield, it is the first moment when he seems to see any honor in the actions that Percy commits. Despite this acceptance and willingness, however, Prince Hal is certainly not ready to take on all of the warrior code to which Hotspur gleefully subscribes. He lacks a certain bloodthirstiness, but in place of that he has something that is sorely lacking on the side of the rebels: loyalty. As an example, it is beyond the pale to even consider the possibility of Hotspur allowing Falstaff to take credit for a battlefield kill as important as that to which Prince Hal allows Falstaff to lay claim. The loyalty that Prince Hal continues to express toward not only his father who has come perilously close to wanting to disinherit him, but Falstaff who continues to be a thorn in his side is remarkably mature. Yet all of that pales in comparison to the fact that by play’s end Hal is even showing a kind of deeply felt kinship toward Hotspur that makes Percy’s loyalties seem almost clannish in comparison, such as the descriptive phrase that is used, “this Northern youth” (3.2.145). Hal’s loyalty encompasses much larger concerns, such as his entire country. By this point, it is clear that Prince Hal’s earlier dismissal of Hotspur’s bloodthirsty qualities were just another part of the layers of unreality with which Hal is constructing his character so as to unveil himself as the truly deserving heir apparent. In fact, Hal holds a deep admiration for the Hotspur’s valor and heroism, which he honors with the placement of “favors” upon his corpse. By contrast Falstaff-ever the comic foil-walks away from this scene looking all the worse for the disloyalty he shows toward the great warrior by debasing Hotspur’s dead body with his misguided and misplaced bravado. This play is structured as a dual narrative that juxtaposes two very different conceptions of an ideal warrior-king while taking on many time-honored components of leadership such honor, courage, and loyalty. To counterpoint those ideals, the story introduces the opposite by showing how failed ideals such as dishonor and cowardice are often found right alongside the nobler ones. These themes are explored in the language of Henry IV: Part I, but they are even more fully expressed within the main characters of the play. A rebellion is attempted in both Richard II and King Henry IV, Part I and many of the same characters have parts in each, though the roles have change significantly for a select few. The rebellion against Richard II goes rather smoothly, at least far more smoothly than the rebellion against Richard’s usurper. This may be explained in part because Richard was a weak king and the rebellion against him was borne from the desire to undertake a great cause. By contrast, the rebellion launched against Henry IV seems at time to be engendered by less than valorous reasons. In place of loyalty and confidence in a just cause, the rebels against King Henry are concerned only with developing strategies that will result in individual spoils. This deadly combination leads to an unwillingness to compromise not only with the enemy, but even among each other. Ultimately, the entire rebellion collapses under the weight of the fractious disunity that marks the rebellious traitors to the crown.