“Henry IV Part One” a Play by William Shakespeare Essay

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: May 14th, 2020

Henry IV Part One is a history play of the most prominent and outstanding writer of the English literature — William Shakespeare. This play is part of the four-part historical series or tetralogy devoted to the history of the rise of the House of Lancaster — a famous English royal family. Henry IV Part One is a play about to the story of the heir of King Henry IV — Prince Hal. The young Prince is depicted as a controversial character whose actions and behavior seem to be inappropriate for the future king.

Prince’s father, Kind Henry IV is deeply disappointed in his son’s behavior. Henry IV is worried about the future of the throne as far as he believes that the Prince, who revels with criminals and wastes his treasures and time in dingy taverns, cannot become a good king. However, it turns out that Hal behaves in such a way on purpose, and his true intentions are to become a good kind. Although Hal’s type behavior is not expected from future king, his involvement in the life of ordinary people gives him significant opportunities to become a good leader. I answer to the essay question because I want to introduce and support my opinion about the controversial nature of Prince Hal’s character and behavior.

The character of Prince Harry is central in the play Henry IV Part One. Actions of play are depicted in several dimensions including the serious world of the King and the comical and entertaining like of Falstaff, Hal’s friend. The play starts with the presentation of the world of King Henry IV. From this part, readers become familiar with the fact that King is not satisfied with the behavior of his son:

Yes, there thou makest me sad and makest me sin
In envy that my Lord Northumberland
Should be the father to so blest a son,
A son who is the theme of honour’s toungue…
Whilst I, by looking on the praise of him,
See riot and dishonor stain the bow
Of my young Harry. (1.1.80-86)

These words of Kind Henry demonstrate not only the disappointment because of son’s actions but also a worry about him being appropriate to become the next king of the country. The next scene of the play starts with the conversation between Prince Harry and his friend, Falstaff. William Shakespeare uses antithesis to describe a sharp difference between two worlds.

The controversial and complex character of Prince Hal is vividly portrayed in Scene 2 of Act I. Harry carouses with lazy, fat, thieving, and lecherous knight Falstaff. The first words of Hardy hardly can be perceived as utterances of King’s heir:

Thou art so fat-witted, with drinking of old sack
And unbuttoning thee after supper and sleeping upon
benches after noon, that thou hast forgotten to
demand that truly which thou wouldst truly know.
What a devil hast thou to do with the time of the day? (1.2.113-18)

Prince Hal uses law colloquial words to express his opinion. Such vocabulary is typical for representatives of common people and villains. Also, Harry feels free to employ a strong language to express his thoughts. Later, it turns out that it is not only words that make him behave improperly too. Harry is ready to participate in criminal activity to make fun of Falstaff. After this scene, one may believe that Hal is a done man who will never be able to become a King. However, at the end of Scene 1, the main character reveals his true intentions:

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 wonder’d at,
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists. (1.2.300-305)

Such words prove the fact that Harry lowers expectations of others on purpose. He realizes that he may impress everyone with his courage later. Such an impression will be substantial if take into account his previous behavior. One may conclude that Harry is aware of psychological ways to attract the required attention. He knows how to manipulate others and predetermine the flow of their thoughts.

There is another reason for Harry to associate with criminals and ordinary people. In such a way, the future king is involved in the everyday life of masses. Knowing the life of people is an asset of every ruler. Thus, Prince Hal gets to know motives and reasons for their behavior. While being accepted as a part of this society, Harry has the opportunity to examine the way masses behave and methods of their control. It may be regarded as the technique to establish the efficient ruling that does not seem oppressive.

One may argue that having such friends as Falstaff may be only harmful to the future king. Even more, anybody may become a villain when being involved in such community and the environment. However, Shakespeare demonstrates that Prince Harry knows his actions and that he is a strong individual who cannot be easily influenced by other people. His friendship with Falstaff may serve as an example. In the play, Falstaff is depicted as a selfish person who prefers boasting and lying about his accomplishments. Still, Harry cannot be fooled by such behavior. In the play, Harry does not miss the opportunity to humiliate and torment Falstaff.

Falstaff sweats to death,
And lards the lean as he walks along:
Were ‘t not for laughing, I should pity him. (2.2.852-54)

These words demonstrate that Harry comprehends the true nature of Falstaff. In such a way, Shakespeare provides hints that Prince Harry has chosen his way on purpose.

One more example may serve as proof that friendship with Falstaff does not ruin Hal’s personality. Falstaff and Henry V rehearse Prince’s behavior in front of his father, King Henry IV. Initially, Falstaff plays the role of the king. When they switch roles, it turns out that Harry knows how to be a king perfectly. His choice of words, the complexion of his speech and versatile vocabulary serve as another proof that he is pretending.

Swearest thou, ungracious boy? Henceforth ne’er look
On me. Thou art violently carried away from grace:
There is a devil haunts thee in the likeness of an
Old fat man; a tun of man is thy companion. (2.4.1428-32)

In the play Henry IV Part One, one may observe the development of Prince Hal’s character. While everyone around questions Harry’s capability to become a true king, the Prince knows the benefits of being involved in the life of common people and criminals. Finally, he proves his readiness to become a king in the battle when he saves the life of his father. Prince Harry executes Hotspur — his opponent who has been ruining Hal’s reputation. In such a way, the Prince demonstrates his readiness to become a ruler.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. History of Henry IV, Part I (1597). n.d. Web.

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