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.
From Hal to Harry: The Callousness of the Crown in Shakespeare’s Henry V
Between the events of Shakespeare’s Henry IV and Henry V, King Harry evolves from a playful and wayward son into a celebrated political adept. He forfeits a life of tavern-hopping and petty larceny in favor of becoming one of the most revered kings and military tacticians in English (literary) history. Throughout Henry V, Shakespeare paints Harry as an affable king whose loyalty rests with the people of England; however, in his quest for redemption through the universal appeasement of his people—be they religious syndicates at the royal castle, squadrons of troops in the fields of Agincourt, or the common masses waiting at home—the emotions of individual characters are often abandoned in the wake of King Harry’s enterprise. Previous to and during the Battle of Agincourt, Harry is constantly at war with his own sensibilities, often choosing to neglect showing his emotions outwardly in fear that such a display might negatively impact the well being of his people.
Using both high rhetoric and hollow sensationalism, Harry consistently elevates the esteem of his soldiers while shielding his own emotions. The majority of Henry V takes places in France, where common soldiers are fighting a war that they don’t quite understand, so before the siege of Harfleur, King Harry delivers his “Cry, ‘God for Harry! England and Saint George!’” speech to elevate the morale and solidarity of his army. He urges them to continue pressing forward, even through death, and to “dishonour not [their] mothers” (3.1.22)—that is, to overcome any lack of courage they may face during the siege. He insists that “there is none of [them] so mean and base / that hath not noble lustre in [their] eyes” (III.I.29-30), once again encouraging a familial solidarity among his many battalions. In spite of Harry’s universal rhetorical placations, the reception of his speech is mixed, particularly among Bardolph, Nim, and Pistol, three of Harry’s former companions in I Henry IV and II Henry IV. Bardolph appears eager to join the troops, echoing Harry’s decrees to march forward “to the breach, to the breach!” (III.II.I), but Nim and Pistol are much more hesitant to risk their lives for an unknown cause. Nim declares that if he had more lives to give, it would be a noble fight, but Pistol simply breaks out in song. He acknowledges the chivalry and valor of battle by singing, “And sword and shield / In bloody field / Doth win immortal fame” (III.II.7-9), but he soon delves into the precariousness of his own position when he continues singing, “And I. / If wishes would prevail with me / My purpose should not Fail with me / But thither would I hie” (III.II.12-15). In his song of fame and despair, there is a sharp end stop—a period—after the word “I,” indicating an emphasis on the personal nature of Pistol’s concerns. The brevity of the sentence “And I.” and its subsequent line break further contrast the universality of King Harry’s speech to the individual plight of common soldiers. Pistol’s fears are, of course, unknown to Harry, for Harry is too preoccupied securing his army’s morale to worry about the fears of one simple soldier. Pistol’s romantic musings are quickly broken by the entrance of Fluellen, a scholarly Captain in whom Harry believes to be “much care and valour” (4.1.83). Fluellen’s staunch adherence to the success of the war, regardless of an individual soldier’s concerns, places him as a worthy surrogate for the mindset of Harry, who is also incapable of acknowledging individual complaints in fear that the oneness of the army and of his people might lose its footing.
To elevate his army to a level of moral consistency, Harry issues harsh restrictions on individual actions. After the siege of Harfleur, Bardolph is hanged for stealing a Pax, a small religious symbol. When Fluellen gives Harry the news of the former friend’s crime, Harry callously states that the army “should have all such offenders so cut off” (3.4.98). The lack of emotion in his words is echoed during the Battle of Agincourt, when the Boy, the former page of Falstaff, states that Nim has faced the same fate as Bardolph (4.4.62-64). Though Harry’s reprimands are unsympathetic, he justifies the punishments by telling Fluellen that “when lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom, the gentler gamester is the soonest winner” (3.3.102-103). In this speech, Harry incites his soldiers to become beacons of morality, for gentleness and civility, in the king’s mind, are paramount in all aspects of victory and in upholding the justness of his cause. Although Harry appears to be genuine in expressing concern for the moral well being of his soldiers, he is also erecting a stoic veil behind which he may hide from the callousness of his actions and the hollowness of his decrees. Harry does not have the patience or time necessary to worry about the fates of individual soldiers. By anthropomorphizing himself into the figure of “lenity and cruelty,” he is able to distance himself from the emotional and psychological repercussions of his actions while also deflecting responsibility for the hanging of Bardolph.
As the king of England, Harry must continually present the semblance of morality and certitude in front of his subjects regardless of emotional ties to the individual character. Because he is the leader of the army, his every move is visible and documented by those under his command, causing him to issue a level of calculability and prefigurement to all of his actions and emotions so as not to disrupt the image of his position or the morale of the community. The extent of his authority is a scathing burden that he must bear alone. With the eyes of his army always upon him, it is not possible for Harry to express his disconcertment outwardly, so he creates an elaborate pretense in which he exchanges his royal garb for the common cloak of Sir Thomas Erpingham. Rather than using this opportunity to discover on an individual basis the concerns and anxieties of those under his command, Harry’s true intention is to momentarily relieve his royal temperament by mingling with the common soldiers.
While garbed in Erpingham’s cloak, Harry takes a respite from the quotidian responsibilities of the king by pretending to be a common soldier. His rhetoric, however, still maintains a level of distance from connecting to the individual soldier. Harry sits in the darkness, waiting to meet a passerby, and Pistol approaches Harry as though he were an intruder. Pistol says to Harry, “Discuss unto me: art thou officer, / Or art thou base, common, and popular?” (4.1.38-39) to which Harry responds, “I am a gentleman of a company” (4.1.40). When asked if he is common, Harry deflects the question, instead situating himself on an elevated tier of morality. Even while dressed as an average soldier, it is impossible for Harry to admit he is ordinary. He understands that it is disadvantageous to give in to his emotions; however, he later says to Bates that “the King is but a man, as [he] is” (4.1.99) and that all the king’s “senses have but human conditions” (4.1.101), an indication that the emotions are and have always been present, but also that they have been intentionally shielded from the public eye. Harry is unable to placate the common soldier, for he is unable to be as explicitly emotionally sensitive as the common man. Later in Act IV Scene I, Harry is talking with Williams and Bates, two soldiers who are voicing their concerns on the legitimacy of the war and their own involvement in such grand political affairs. Williams says to Harry that “if the cause be not good, the King himself hath a heavy reckoning to make” (4.1.138-139). Williams rightly lays the responsibility for the impending English deaths on the King, but Harry refuses to acknowledge individual deaths. To Harry, the death toll is worthy of consideration, but the individual “legs and arms and heads chopped off” (4.1.139-140) are not his concern. Harry’s response to Williams’s indictment is that “the King is not bound to answer the particular endings of his soldiers” (4.1.146-147), for such sensitivity is preclusive to the “watch the King keeps to maintain the peace” (4.1.246). The King’s watch is on all of England, limiting his ability to appropriately dally in the affairs of individual soldiers. The callousness of Harry’s justification is without blame, however, for the King cannot afford to take the liberty to develop individual emotional ties without risking the welfare of the entire nation.
Though Harry continually asserts that the fates of individual soldiers are not his concern, the deaths of Suffolk and York, two of his closest companions, bring about a brief stint of sensationalism in the King. Just before the end of the Battle of Agincourt, Harry commends his followers, saying, “Well have we done, thrice-valiant countrymen” (4.6.I). He seeks the counsel of the Duke of York, but, much to his chagrin, he learns from his uncle Exeter that both York and Suffolk have died in battle. Exeter romanticizes York and Suffolk’s final moments by conjuring images of two soldiers, one fallen and one “all haggled over” (4.6.11), each clung together as though they were lovers. The depiction of their deaths gives Harry “mistful eyes” (4.6.34), and as a response to the belligerence of the French and the affection demonstrated by the fallen English nobles, Harry orders each soldier to “kill his prisoners” (4.6.37). The brevity of Act IV Scene VI emphasizes the character development of Harry and also acts as a structural metaphor for the rashness of Harry’s actions. Whereas Harry is accustomed to doling out eloquent and enduring speeches that appeal to mass audiences, he is unaccustomed to facing grief on an individual basis. The scene ends curtly with Pistol crying aloud, “Coup’ la gorge!” (4.6.39), issuing a stark contrast to the “gentleness” that Harry once applauded his soldiers for having. Harry’s habit of calculation has been replaced by barbarism and irrational decisions. The scene ends with the superfluous and uncivilized deaths of countless French prisoners, demonstrating not only Harry’s newfound brutality, but also the inherent repercussions of acting upon personal emotions when in a position of authority.
Though Shakespeare paints Harry as an admirable King, one whose faithfulness to both England and the crown has gone unparalleled in English (literary) history to that point, there are moments in the play when the audience sees the callousness of Harry’s royal position. Shakespeare does not make an attempt to condemn Harry’s broken emotional ties, nor does he applaud them; rather, Shakespeare indicates that Harry’s callousness is a virtuous trait for anyone in authority. To Harry, the “infinite heartsease / [that] kings neglect” (4.1.218-219) is paramount to the preservation of a people.
Shakespeare, William. “Henry V.” Trans. Array The Norton Shakespeare. . 2nd. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2008. 1471-1548. Print.
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.
A Portrait of Henry V As The Amalgamation of Hotspur and Falstaff
Though Henry V can be read and appreciated as a stand alone piece, it is most valuable when considered as part of a tetralogy. The two parts of Henry IV depict the characters and present the initial stages of the conflict in a way that pushes one to reconsider Henry V as a continuation of the previous two plays. The dynamic evolution in the portrayal of Prince Hal can clearly be seen from the study of Henry V. In particular, Henry IV Part 1 sets up two of the main characters, Hotspur and Falstaff, who are only mentioned in Henry V. These two individuals are essential to better understanding how Prince Hal becomes the king that he is and why he makes the decisions that he does. Through his interactions with them and through their deaths, Hal gains their qualities — boldness and determination from Hotspur and wit and wordplay from Falstaff — and adds them to his own charisma. The two parts, in association with V, help us see the two-part process by which this happens: the death of Hotspur allows Hal to acquire qualities that will lie in him until Falstaff’s death. That death serves as a catalyst, thereby allowing the acquired qualities to translate into noble actions on the field.
Shakespeare subtly sets up two critical characters who later play a decisive role in the making of Henry V. The young nobleman Harry Percy, known as Hotspur and only present in Part 1, is the son of the Earl of Northumberland. His family, the Percy family of the North, is essential to the plot, as the Percys are critical in helping Henry IV gain the throne. Feeling that King Henry IV no longer respects his debt towards them, they lead a revolt, thus forming the narrative for Part 1. Hotspur is immediately portrayed as a valiant soldier, his nickname originating from his “hot” and fierce attitude in battle. It is in this context that he is first mentioned in the play by Westmorland, who narrates that Hotspur has won back Holmedon and taken multiple prisoners (1.1. 52-5). He is then referred to by the King himself, who envies Northumberland for having “so blest a son”, “A son who is the theme of honour’s tongue” (1.1. 80). Unlike many of Shakespeare’s antagonists, Hotspur is never portrayed as evil, but rather shown in a complimentary light. The weaker qualities of Hotspur’s character are a consequence of his very strengths: he is stubborn and impulsive. As an example, Hotspur tries to bargain with the King for his prisoners against a ransom to get back his brother-in-law, Mowbray (1.3). In this scene, Hotspur lets his temper act out, as he does not take time to consider that the requests are coming from the King directly and that Mowbray is considered a traitor in the royal court. Along with those weaknesses, Hotspur is a rash and boastful young adult. In 5.2, Worcester lies to him by telling him that Hal has insulted the Percys. In response, and in a reaction disproportional to the present situation, Hotspur calls for a duel with the Prince. Though Shakespeare takes time at the beginning of the play to set Hotspur up as a strong and central figure, he is quick to show that Hotspur’s priorities make him fall short of his goals.
Shakespeare wants the audience to make a clear comparison between Prince Hal and Hotspur. Beyond their shared first name, he gives them the same age and gives their wives the same name (Kate). Against his rebellious but noble Prince, he paints Hotspur as the driven antagonist. Next to Hotspur, Hal appears as an irresponsible young man, who does not deserve the crown. The two never actually interact until the very end, when they meet in a duel, but they are constantly considered together in the audience’s and in the King’s mind. For him, Hotspur is the epitome of the perfect son, with only some minor qualifications. When Hal finally expresses his opinion about Hotspur, it is only with the positive terms with which he challenges Hotspur to a duel. Hal prefaces his request with the following lines: “I do not think a braver gentleman, // More active-valiant or more valiant-young, // More daring, or more bold, is now alive” (5.1. 89-91). The challenge presented is combat and Hal needs to prove his worth by defeating Hotspur. For his part, Hotspur even recognizes that Hal is taking away his honor in his last speech: “I better brook the loss of brittle life // Than those proud titles thou hast won of me. They wound me my thoughts worse than thy sword my flesh.” (5.4. 77-9). The Prince wins the duel and, as he kills Hotspur, takes on the very qualities that he so admired in him.
While Hotspur represents the noble court world, Falstaff is the main comedian of Hal’s preferred world, that of the commoners. Falstaff, present in both parts of Henry IV, is depicted as a fat, old, and disorderly man. He is the personification of their world’s central location: a cheap pub in Eastcheap, London. Falstaff spends his time drinking, making poor sexual references and desperately looking everywhere for money. One of his particular vices is a greed that leads to corruption. As the Percy-led revolt intensifies, Hal asks Falstaff to join him on the battle with soldiers from various towns (4.2). Falstaff only succeeds in bringing “pitiful rascals” (4.2. 57) because he let go of the more able men in return for sums of money. As opposed to Hotspur, Falstaff is constantly portrayed in terms of his faults, but there are passages where Shakespeare lets through glimpses of wit and wordplay. The most poignant instance of this is at the end of 5.1 in Part 1. Falstaff speaks about honor and brings up the problem of the living men having to suffer on its behalf. In a strongly delivered speech, Falstaff reduces honor seamlessly to just a word: “What is honour? A word.” (5.1. 133). Though these characters are essential in themselves, it is most interesting to see how they interact with Prince Hal.
Falstaff and Hal are connected from the very start. The first time both characters are presented is in 1.2, in which one can see their familiar attitude towards each other. Hal does not hesitate to jokingly and affectionately insult his friend: “Thou art so fat-witted with drinking of old sack, and unbuttoning thee after supper, and sleeping upon benches after noon” (1.2. 2-4). The two are constantly shown as being very close to each other, Falstaff feeling almost a paternal link to Hal. This is most apparent when it is announced that Hal is going to become King and Falstaff seems to be worried for him. On the other side, Hal enjoys playing tricks on Falstaff, as he is easily fooled and always has an inclination to exaggerate stories. However, Hal protects Falstaff and is there for him when needed. For example, there are multiple occasions when the police come looking for Falstaff in the pub, but Hal is quick in finding an excuse for him. Falstaff relies on Hal in multiple instances and seems to be growing from his presence; in fact, Falstaff explicitly expresses this by saying that “Before I knew thee, Hal, I knew nothing” (1.2. 82-3). However, Hal’s feelings towards Falstaff, and all the commoners in general, are more confusing. Hal seems to be comfortable within their world as he spends almost of his time with them and finds humor in it. This is contrasted with passages when Hal admits that he is putting on a front so that his father, and England in general, do not expect anything from him — so that he can better impress them when he becomes King (1.2. 173-95). His relationship with Falstaff is completely ended when he is crowned in Part 2 and asks that Falstaff is “not to come near our person by ten mile” (5.5. 63). Hal realizes that in order to become the King that he desires to be, he cannot afford to keep his intimate relations with low commoners. Falstaff does not understand this and ends his days consumed by the sadness resulting from Hal, now the King, not talking to him anymore.
Hotspur and Falstaff both have important qualities and faults, but their power lies in their influence over Hal. Through their respective deaths, Hotspur and Falstaff pass along their best traits to Hal. The Hal shown in Henry IV Part 1 is a young and intelligent man, but he lacks the appropriate priorities and family values. Indeed, King Henry IV wishes that his son were more princely. However, through saving his father from being hurt and from killing Hotspur, Hal is able to demonstrate his ability to be the soldier that he is required to be. Following the death of Hotspur, Hal appears to be a true leader, directing troops towards Wales. What separates the two characters is Hal’s ability to take on Hotspur’s best qualities, while leaving aside his impulsiveness. An example of this can be seen through Henry V’s pleading words to God “Not today, O Lord, // O not today, think not upon the fault // My father made in compassing the crown.” (4.1. 274-6). Henry there admits the fault in his father of having usurped the throne of its rightful owner, but never does he make the mistake of pronouncing it aloud or of showing a shred of disloyalty. In contrast with Hotspur, Hal is willing to recognize his mistakes and accept blame. When asked to calm down by his uncle and his father in the first scenes of Part 1, Hotspur ignores them and continues to assert that his actions are rightful. The contrasting scene can be found in Part 2 (5.2), when the Lord Chief Justice tries to justify himself for his actions against the young Hal. Hal, now King, responds by thanking him for having rightfully imprisoned him. As such, Hal takes on the qualities of a family-oriented man who weeps by his dying father’s bed, and of a soldier who is invincible, and adds them to his own temperament and introspection.
However, these qualities are not enough to make Hal the king that he is capable of being, until the middle of Henry V. The start of Henry V shows a king who relies on others to make decisions and who shies away from responsibility. The King announces war with France in part because the money-seeking Canterbury and Exeter advise him to do so. He lays the the guilt of the war on them when he announces that “Therefore let every man now task his thought, That this fair action may on foot be brought” (1.2. 309-10). However, scenes towards the middle of the play, like 3.3 or the famous St Crispian’s day speech, show a King that has a powerful command of language and a will that inspires all his soldiers to want to fight. Without having read Henry IV, it is hard to think about this, mistakenly attributing these qualities to his growth. However, the two previous parts allow us to reconsider this. As stated above, Henry has many fine qualities, but there seems to be something holding him down. Studying Falstaff allows for a better understanding of this behavior. Though Henry cuts the tie between the two worlds at the end of Part 2, he still has very strong links to it as the characters desperately try to get involved in his life. Thus, indirectly, these two forces tug at him and he is unable to fully assume leadership. In 2.3 of Henry V, it is stated that Falstaff is dying because of Henry. This is due to the fact that Henry no longer considers their friendship worthy, although Falstaff is still very dependent on him. By pushing Falstaff to his last breath, Henry is able to let go of his young and rebellious old self and completely assume his new character as the King. Falstaff’s death enables him to really display his aforementioned qualities. Similarly, Henry needs to make his friends Nim and Bardoff face justice, as he cannot have any remaining connections with his previous world. Perhaps most importantly, Henry also acquires Falstaff’s great wordplay, allowing him to motivate and energize his soldiers.
At the outset, Prince Hal is intelligent and funny, but lacks certain, highly necessary kingly qualities. The reading of Henry IV serves as a potential way to understand how Henry V acquires these qualities. Hal kills Hotspur and gets his good traits, but they lie somewhat dormant in him until Henry indirectly kills Falstaff. Not only do these two characters help to explain how Hal becomes the King he does in Henry V, they also justify the actions he takes as a King, actions that might have seemed questionable and rash without the context of Henry IV.
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.
Rebellion and its Consequences in Richard II, 1 Henry IV and 2 Henry IV
In William Shakespeare’s Richard II, 1 Henry IV and 2 Henry IV, the idea of kingship undergoes radical transformation produced by Bolingbroke’s rebellion. Before this rebellion, the king is regarded as sacred, inviolable and divinely ordained. Despite the grievous misdeeds committed by King Richard, many leading noblemen continued to defer themselves to this divine image of kingship and condemn the idea of rebellion. However, Richard’s blatant abuses of his kingly authority caused several noblemen to abandon this divine image of kingship and embrace open rebellion. This act of rebellion produces several dramatic and radical consequences. It legitimizes the act of rebellion as a reaction against the abuses of the king, and turns rebellion into the natural and inevitable consequence of monarchial tyranny. It destroys the divine image of kingship, introducing the idea that kings are made by men rather than by God and thereby removing the most powerful source of protection for the king’s authority. It establishes the dangerous precedent that any man could become king, so long as he obtains enough physical support. As a result, King Henry IV’s reign is filled with fresh rebellion and civil unrest. In these plays, rebellion is depicted as the natural and understandable consequence of tyranny and power abuses. It shows that a king can’t safeguard his reign against rebellion by solely relying on the concept of the divine right of king; he must instead act in a just and responsible manner by winning respect from his subjects. Rebellion is depicted as an extremely dangerous activity because it could destroy the order and stability of a kingdom and fills the realm with quarrels, slaughter and bloodshed. The act of open rebellion towards the monarch is initially condemned by most of the characters in Richard II. Despite the fact that several people, such as John of Gaunt and the Duke of York, are outraged by Richard’s unwise policies and reckless behavior, they do not support the very act of open rebellion towards him. This is because that the concept of the divine right of kings is the dominant political ideology of this era. The divine right of king preaches the philosophy that king’s authority derives solely from god. The king’s power is therefore divinely sanctioned. No matter how grievous his earthly offenses may be, no earthly mortal could stage a rebellion against his divine authority. This ideology is endorsed even by the people who hold the most bitter grievances against Richard, indicating that it is a widely accepted ideology which is firmly entrenched in people’s consciousness. John of Gaunt is someone who is obviously outraged towards Richard’s blatant abuses of his kingly power. He accuses Richard for besmirching England’s glorious reputation with his disastrous policies. Gaunt is acutely conscious that Richard is directly complicit in his brother Gloucester’s murder. He is also painfully aware of the fact that Richard is “leas[ing] out” (Shakespeare, 998) England’s sacred sovereignty through his questionable economic policies. Even though Gaunt is not afraid to openly condemn Richard’s misconduct, he refuses to stage an open rebellion against him; while Gaunt believes that kings must act in a responsible manner, he still believes in the divine right of kings. He tells the Duchess of Gloucester that he can’t avenge her husband’s death through rebellion because he believes Richard to be the God’s “substitute” (989), his “minister” (989) and his “deputy anointed” (989). By which he means that the king is God’s representative on earth. Therefore, no earthly mortal could disobey Richard’s authority and punish his crimes, and only God has the responsibility and the power to punish the king’s trespasses. Similarly, the Duke of York is also deeply conscious of Richard’s misdeed, he nevertheless frowns upon the act of rebellion and accuses Bolingbroke for being a traitor who disturbs civil peace with his “despised arms” (1009) against the rightful “anointed king” (1009). York even raises a small army to defend Richard’s kingship against Bolingbroke’s rebel armies, and who only unwillingly yields himself to the rebel armies under their duress. Even though both York and Gaunt are conscious to the fact that Richard is unfit to rule, neither of them questions his legitimacy to rule. Their faith in Richard’s legitimacy as king compels them to swallow down their many grievances and to remain as Richard’s obedient subjects. By highlighting the doctrine of the divine right of kings, Richard II shows that outright rebellion is no easy matter, because the rebels are challenging a legitimate sovereign who is generally viewed as being divinely appointed. In addition, the very act of rebellion in Richard II seeks to overthrow the long established ideology on the divine right of king and to replace it with a new-fangled idea which claims that a king must be accountable to his subjects by behaving in a responsible manner. Therefore, rebellion in Richard II entails revolutionary ideological change which seeks to undermine the very foundations of divine kingship. Henry IV’s turbulent reign indicates that such a drastic ideological change introduced by rebellion cannot happen without bringing about further chaos and upheaval. Although the divine right of king is generally accepted in this play, Richard II shows kings cannot safeguard their reign entirely on this principle. This play shows that even in a society which accepts the divine right of kings, rebellion can become the natural and inevitable consequence when its monarch abuses his absolutist power. The divine right of kings can be used to legitimize and strengthen a monarch’s reign against possible acts of rebellion, but Richard II indicates that the sole reliance upon this principle is an ineffectual way to ward off civil disobedience. King Richard is a blind pursuer of the divine right of kings by believing that his “divinely sanctioned” authority possesses some magical power which can protect his crown against any attempts of rebellion. He naively believes that “not all the water in the rough rude sea can wash the balm from an anointed king, [and that] the breath of worldly men cannot depose the deputy elected by the Lord” (1013). Even when he learns the desertion of his troops, he continues to believe that his divinely ordained name is worth “forty thousand names” (1014), and that he can easily defeats Bolingbroke’s rebellion through the divine power of his name. Richard’s repeated appeals to the nonexistent divine protection become increasingly ludicrous and pathetic when it becomes clear that he has lost all physical support in his kingdom. This play shows that it is the earthly physical support that truly protects a king from rebellion, rather than any mystical heavenly forces. As king Richard’s medieval society is about to be replaced by the upcoming Renaissance world, which displaces the divine absolutism of kings with worldly pragmatism and political virtues; Bolingbroke’s rebellion indicates that the doctrines on the divine right of kings and monarchial absolutism have become increasingly impractical and are in of need modification in order to adapt themselves to a changing world. In Richard II, the king himself is the true instigator of the rebellion. The reason that rebellion occurs is because Richard fails to realize that in order to safeguard his reign against possible revolts, he does not only need to be a legitimate king, he also needs to be a just king. This play shows that when a king loses all forms of popular support through his persistent misconduct, rebellion becomes the natural outcome even in a society that values the divine right of kings. Although a king possesses the divine political title, he also possesses an earthly body, which means that he can be prone to earthly imperfection and failings that prevent him from living up to his divine image. King Richard illustrates this point perfectly. Although he outwardly assumes the title of the divinely anointed king, his private self is characterized by earthly greed, corruption and moral irresponsibility. In Richard II, King Richard himself is entirely the source of rebellion. Although this play is centered on Bolingbroke’s rebellion, the play actually highlights the king’s misdeed rather than Bolingbroke’s rebellion. Bolingbroke is not portrayed as the unscrupulous and ruthless traitor who is determined to rebel against the king’s authority. His rebellion is portrayed as a grim necessity which is instigated by the king’s gross injustice towards him. In Richard’s deposition scene, Bolingbroke remains mostly silent, which betrays his guilty conscience and moral uneasiness. He is only a reluctant traitor who is propelled onto the path of rebellion by the king’s mistreatment towards him. Therefore, the king is the cause and the origin of Bolingbroke’s rebellion. Although Richard is deposed through rebellion, he is brought down more by self-destruction rather than by rebellion. Richard himself confirms his self-destruction by saying that he finds “[him]self a traitor with the rest, for [he has] undeck[ed] the pompous body of a king” (1029) through his his misconduct. Because Richard has destroyed himself through his blatant misuse, he literally undid himself in his deposition scene as he “wash[ed] away [his] balm” (1028) with his “own tears” (1028) and “gave away [his] crown” (1028) with his “own hands” (1028). In Richard II, rebellion is depicted as a reaction towards Richard’s behaviour rather than an act of Bolingbroke’s ambition. This act of rebellion is the result of Richard’s greed rather than Bolingbroke’s ambition. Bolingbroke’s rebellion indicates the flaws and the limitations of a political system which preaches the doctrines of monarchial absolutism. Since the king is perceived divine, he cannot be held accountable to the people. In such a case, the only way to punish his misdeed is through open rebellion. Bolingbroke’s rebellion produces several short term and long term effects. In the short term, it destroys civil peace in England. The rebellion destroys the tranquil harmony within England and produces hostile factions between Bolingbroke and Richard’s supporters. Immediately after Bolingbroke mounted the throne, this factionalism within England nearly erupted into bloody violence as a group of Richard’s supporters seeks to assassinate the new king. This violent plan is a foretaste of a series of violent conflicts which will unfold in 1 Henry IV and 2 Henry IV. As Carlishe correctly prophesies, this act of rebellion will destroy peace and stability in England, it will unleash “disorder, horror, fear and mutiny” (1027) and shall make “kin with kin and kind with kind confound” (1027). Civil peace “shall go sleep with Turks and infidels” (1027) , and that future generations with “groan for this foul act” (1027) and “cry against your woe” (1027). In 1 Henry IV and 2 Henry IV, King Henry IV becomes truly embattled. His reign is characterized by a series of domestic rebellion and civil unrest. The noble house of Northumberland, his cousin Mortimer, the Welsh nobleman Glyndwr, and the Archbishop of York all rose up against him. In the long term, this rebellion produces a radical ideological change with regard to kingship. It completely destroys the king’s association with divine forces. It shows that as long as one has sufficient physical support, virtually anyone can become king, with or without the useless seal of divine approval. By destroying the divine right of king, Bolingbroke’s rebellion destroys a king’s greatest source of protection. This is the most important long-term effect of his rebellion. Once he shatters the divine image of king through rebellion, all kings from this moment can be subjected to revolt and deposition. The moment Bolingbroke ascends the throne, he is immediately placed in a very untenable and perilous position, because the old doctrine that safeguards kings from revolts has been destroyed. The opening lines of 1 Henry IV confirms this, which depicts that the newly crowned king is immediately besieged by fresh civil unrest. Henry IV no longer enjoys the self-assured nonchalance of King Richard; instead, he finds himself “shaken” (1188) and “wan with care” (1188) by fresh “civil butchery” (1189). Bolingbroke’s rebellion has opened the floodgate of revolts. In Henry IV’s time, kings are no longer regarded as sacred and inviolable. Henry IV is no longer protected by the magical aura of kingly divinity. He can no longer afford the luxury of taking his subjects’ obedience for granted in the manner of King Richard. Instead, he has to use every trick and strategy to win people’s respect and affection by “plucking allegiance from their hearts” (1228). In the short term, the rebellion shatters civil peace and introduces a series of fresh rebellion. In the long term, Bolingbroke’s rebellion completely reshapes the manners and the style of kingship. Since the divine image of kings is destroyed, a king from this moment has to act more as an earthly politician rather than a divine minister of God. Unlike the irresponsible Richard who has no concerns over his public image, Bolingbroke summons up all his tact and skills to construct and perform an attractive public image to make his person “fresh and new” (1228) and “wondered at” (1228). Since his rebellion has destroyed the inviolability of kingship, Bolingbroke is always in need to pamper to public opinions, because a king unprotected by a divine image will easily lose the crown when he fells out of favour with his subjects. Throughout 1 Henry IV and 2 Henry IV, the newly crowned Bolingbroke has to cope with the long term effects of his rebellion. Since he is a usurper king who has attained power through “by-paths and indirect crook’d ways (1392), he suffers the consequences of his tainted image and compromised reputation throughout his entire reign, which greatly weakens his power. His noblemen, such as Worcester and Hotspur, speak to him with little reverence and often hold him in great disdain. No one worships him as the sacred anointed king. Hotspur simply calls him as Bolingbroke, which signifies his unwillingness to acknowledge Henry as king. As a king, Bolingbroke has great difficulties to find any constant and loyal supporters. Since his kingship is built on very shaky grounds, very people are willing to pledge unconditional support to him. Once Bolingbroke deposes a king, all kings can be subjected to deposition. In addition, it sets a dangerous example of civil disobedience to the people and tempts the others to perform the same act of disobedience. In King Richard’s time, most of the noblemen condemn the act of rebellion; in Henry IV’s time, the noblemen contemplate the idea of rebellion with little dread and moral scruple, since kings are no longer regarded as sacred and divine. King Henry knows that he has stripped the divine protection factor from kingship; therefore, he is under no illusion over the instability of his reign. Throughout his reign, King Henry has to suffer the long-term consequences of his rebellion by battling a series of new rebellion. As a result of the untenability of his kingship, King Henry is subjected to great psychological distress, and becomes obsessed with the idea of visiting the holy land to atone and purify his sins. He becomes increasingly troubled, restless and unable to find peace through sleep. Henry IV has never been able to shake off the unpleasant consequences of his rebellion, and is compelled to endure his untenable kingship and his tainted personal image throughout this entire reign. For King Henry, only death can eliminate some of the unpleasant consequences of his rebellion and that only “[his] death can changes the mood” (1392) of his tainted kingship. However, even though Henry IV believes that his son who inherits the throne through natural succession will enjoy more legitimacy as a king, he is still full of apprehension and uncertainty for his son’s rule. Since his rebellion has stripped a king of his divine shield, Henry IV has to advise his son to resort to extreme measures in order to safeguard his kingship; which is to seek “foreign quarrels” (1392) and to unite the inner division of his kingdom through a common foreign enemy. Henry IV’s dying advice is a perfect indication of the extent in which his rebellion has weakened the idea of kingship. In Richard’s days, the king does not have to do anything to safeguard his reign; but after the rebellion and the collapse of the kingly divinity, a king is made extremely vulnerable and has to use every form of strategy, trick and device to secure and preserve his crown. These three plays of Shakespeare show that rebellion can produce radical effects. Bolingbroke’s rebellion not only destroys the peace and order in England, it also forever changes the very definition of kingship. When Bolingbroke removes one king through rebellion, all kings from this moment onward can be subjected to deposition. The security and stability of kingship is destroyed beyond repair by this act of rebellion. The rebellion also alters the style and manners of kingship. It compels the once unapproachable king to adopt the manners of a shrewd politician who courts favours with the public in order to secure public support. The rebellion modernizes the concept of kingship by compelling future monarchs to behave in a just and responsible way or risk facing the fate of Richard II. Works Cited Shakespeare, William. The Norton Shakespeare. Ed. Greenblatt, Stephen. New York: Norton & Company, 2008.