King Henry IV Part 4 Character Relationship Analysis

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

The relationships formed between characters and their environment remain a powerful lens through which different aspects of leadership are explored. Set during the political and social unrest of early 15th century England, William Shakespeare’s historical play King Henry IV Part 4 acts as a commentary on the qualities that are most important to a successful leader. The play consists of several key character who all display features of a leader in their own realm; King Henry as the ruler of England, Sir Jack Falstaff a self-invented leader, Hotspur the leader of the rebellion and Prince Hal the leader of his own reformation. Shakespeare endeavours to portray the qualities of a successful leader through the contrasts and conflicts between character relationships, and by doing so he highlights how varying aspects of leadership are revealed when individuals are thrust into challenging circumstances.

Prince Hal’s anarchic experiences at the tavern undermine the moral righteousness that he must exhibit as a prince; therefore highlighting how he must purge himself from bad influences in order to behave regally. Due to Hal’s roguish interactions at the tavern, his influence as a leader is seen by Hotspur as a ‘nimble-footed madcap’ and the ‘same sword-and-buckler Prince of Wales’. The image of poverty in Hotspur’s lines debases Hal’s perceived capacity as a leader as he is associated with the lawless underworld of the tavern. The unruly relationship with the tavern insinuates Hal’s descent into ethical depravity as Falstaff questions Hal’s capacity to be an effective leader in his lines ‘the true prince may -for recreation’s sake – prove a false thief’. Here, Shakespeare highlights how our identity and interests are shaped by the people we befriend further reiterating how in order to be a good leader we must build rapport with the right individuals otherwise even the most aristocratic individuals may succumb to ‘lewd’ acts such as robbery. King Henry further denigrates Hal’s image as a leader by implying that he does not live up to his ancestors honourable ‘flight’. Henry’s constant reference to chivalric practices and his personal image of falconry provide a traditional view of leadership conveying the strict moral code which royals must abide. Shakespeare juxtaposes Hal with the ‘beauty’ of the ‘sun’, which is smothered up by the ‘foul and ugly mists’ of the ‘contagious cloud’ in the tavern. The image of disease signifies how the tavern’s moral corruption is feeding on Hal ultimately restricting his emergence as a good leader. As Hal develops his emotionally maturity and leadership required for a king, he seeks to eliminate his past associates illustrating how such relationships are lethal to one’s capacity to be a leader. Consequently, Shakespeare by revealing the impact the tavern has had on Hal’s image, highlights how he must abandon heinous relationships in order to become a good leader and ultimately redeem his role as the next king.

Unlike the anarchic relationship between Prince Hal and the tavern, the interactions between King Henry and The Percy Family highlights how a good leader can never be developed when the methods to reach such a role is achieved through an immoral and guilty way. Henry’s paranoia towards the Percy family arises by him usurping Richard’s throne followed by the subsequent murder of Richard. While not directly responsible for Richard’s murder, Henry’s stance on the throne is seen by the Percy family as ‘too indirect for long continuance’, suggesting that a leader will not be acknowledged as a leader if it seems that they are in possession of a borrowed title. Hotspur refers to Henry as an ‘ingrate and cankered Bolingbroke’ to illustrate that Henry has not rightfully earned his kingship and therefore should not be regarded as a leader. Shakespeare further illustrates how a leader cannot effectively control a nation when they have a constant sense of guilt. This is shown through Henry’s complicated image as he breaks ‘oath on oath’ and commits ‘wrong on wrong’ by imprisoning ‘revolted’ Mortimer igniting Hotspur’s want for revenge which ultimately leads to the declination of King Henry’s leadership. Worcester further compares Henry to a treacherous ‘cuckoo’, dehumanising him as a weak tyrant, intent on executing the ‘first and dearest of friends’ for his own benefits. By juxtaposing the Percy families impressions with Henry’s myriad of personal flaws, Shakespeare effectively conveys how leadership is not effective when one’s methods are immoral or surrounded by guilt.

While immorality and guilt may lead to an irrational leader, Shakespeare’s characterisation of the dynamic relationship between Prince Hal and Falstaff shines a light on how a leader is able to make the right decisions in order to achieve the best outcomes. Falstaff and Hal’s initial affectionate relationship is highlighted through Falstaff as he compliments Hal as ‘ a good man, and fun to be around’. However as Hal is faced with pressures from the king, Hotspur and his own reformation as a worthy leader, Falstaff’s rapport with Hal begins to deteriorate as he calls Hal ‘a cup of sack with lime in it’. Through the use of symbolism, Shakespeare foreshadows how Hal’s decision to detach from Falstaff is the right decisions that aids his reformation as an effective leader. Furthermore, Hal’s complete change in attitude towards Falstaff is made evident in the middle of the Battle of Shrewsbury, as he visibly expresses his frustration towards Falstaff’s cowardice.

While he had maintained strong amity with Falstaff at the tavern, Hal’s transformation into a leader cannot further tolerate Falstaff’s low behaviour, exclaiming that it is not the ‘time to jest and dally’. Hal by detaching himself from Falstaff earns the respect of Henry, who instead of referring to Hal as his ‘nearest and dearest enemy’, affectionately calls him ‘son Harry’. In addition, Vernon paints a dazzling picture of Hal, ‘glittering in gold coasts’ and ‘gallantly armed’ which through imagery reiterates Hal’s development of leadership, as we witness him depart from his pervious life of ‘such barren pleasures’ to the prince who ‘England did never owe so sweet a hope’. Moreover, the relationship between Hal and Falstaff acts as a lens through which Hals reformation is explored as he transforms from a disorientated individual to a worthy leader of England.

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