Close Reading Essay: Henry IV Part 1

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

William Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1 is set during a period of rebellion and political instability, resulting in a constant emphasis on rulership and the qualities that accompany a nobel King. One of the novel’s central figures, Prince Henry, embodies the central theme seen throughout the story, the right to rule, and it is expressed by the struggle of power between the Royal Family and the rebellious attitude of their subjects. This can be seen through his soliloquy in the last two pages of act 1, scene 2 when he reveals that he will continue his rebellious nature until it’s time to take the mantle of king, and his dark background will make his presence something that is looked forward to because the unexpected is something precious.

This alludes to the decision Prince Henry will soon have to make about the type of person he wants to be. Is he going to continue his narcissistic and childish ways? Or will he finally begin to mature and act like the Prince that he was supposed to have been, who is destined to have a glorious rule. In Prince Henry’s soliloquy, Shakespeare employs juxtaposition and figurative language such as personification and imagery to convey the outlook the Prince has on his future as King and how he envisions others will view him despite his past.

In Prince Henry’s fervent soliloquy, he continuously juxtaposes his future as a proper and rightful King, and his current rebellious nature which is not suitable for a King. Towards the end of his soliloquy, the Prince compares himself to a “bright metal on a sullen ground” (1.2.182) to express how he will look once he becomes King. Since he is acting so rebellious now, when he decides to act how a King should act, noble and just, these good characteristics will be highlighted even more. His reasoning behind this is because since his subjects will be so used to the bad side of him, once he accepts the responsibilities of being King he will seem like a better man than he truly is. He also goes on to state “By how much better than my word I am, By so much shall I falsify men’s hopes”, what the Prince means by this is that by setting such low expectations for himself, once he transcends them he will be seen as the noble King people have desperately been waiting for. Once he becomes King, his new glorious character will shine against his cynical past, and it will be as if he has been reborn as a new person, the King he was meant to be all along.

Shakespeare also utilizes figurative language throughout the soliloquy to create a vivid image in the reader’s head of how Prince Henry views himself and his potential to be king. He begins the soliloquy by having Prince Henry compare himself to the sun who “ doth permit the base contagious clouds To smother up his beauty from the world” (1.2.168-169). Here he is exercising the use of personification by giving the sun characteristics typically attributed to humans, but it serves to represent how Prince Henry is currently acting. He knows that deep down he has the makings of a great King, but right now he is letting his darker side cloud all of that up and hide it from the world. The Prince then goes on to mention how when the sun (in this case he is the sun) wants to finally get rid of what is hiding his greatness, he will be seen “breaking through the foul and ugly mist Of vapors that did seem to strangle him” (1.2.172-173). This use of vivid imagery allows us to see how the Prince feels about his ability to change for the better. He acknowledges that his current nature is harmful and insubordinate, but he doesn’t really care because he believes he can change that whenever he wants to. He knows that this is what is holding him back from reaching his true potential, and once he finally does break through these hypothetical mists his people will be extremely impressed since they have been waiting so long for that version of Prince Henry. Towards the end he says “My reformation, glitt’ring o’er my fault” (1.2.183) to emphasize his reasoning behind acting as wicked as he has been, which is that it will make him look better in the long run. Shakespeare’s word choice here allows us to see how Prince Henry truly believes that this new version of him will shine brilliantly when set against his iniquitous past.

In Prince Henry’s soliloquy at the end of act 1 scene 2 of Henry IV Part 1, Shakespeare has the Prince compare his current state and how it will affect his potential future as King. Prince Henry attempts to justify his behavior by saying that in the end his dark past will only make him look greater once he is king. He does this with the help of juxtaposition and figurative language throughout his reflective soliloquy, which aids him in clearly describing his thought process and reasoning for why he believes he is fit to eventually be King. This constant back and forth allows us to begin to form an idea of the type of person Prince Henry is and whether or not he has the necessary characteristics to have the right to rule.


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