Father/Son Relationships in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part One

May 22, 2019 by Essay Writer

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.

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