BBL 3208WEEK 13 ANALYSIS OF KING'S CHARACTER
Henry (King Henry IV of England, formerly knownas Bullingbrook): • He is the king of England, the father of Hal, and the title character of the play. Henryrules as a result of the deposition and murder of his predecessor, Richard II, but seemsneither secure nor contented in his role. • At the beginning of the play, he describeshimself as "shaken" and "wan with care" (I.i.l): his reign so far has been clouded byillness, apparent guilt over his responsibility for Richard's death, and rebellions against his rule. In I.i, he renews his intention to go on a long-promised pilgrimage to atonefor his sins against Richard, but his plans are stopped by news of Glendower's incursion into England and Hotspur's defiance.
Critical assessment of King Henry's role in the play varies. • Although he is the titlecharacter, much of the play revolves around his son Prince Hal as well as the actionsof the rebel Hotspur. • Nevertheless, it has been argued that Henry is the play'sprotagonist, and that his main goal is to preserve the health and stability of England.
The major obstacle to accomplishing this goal is the fact that Henry is a usurper who is plagued not only by claims against his leadership but also by his own conscience. Atthe start of his lecture to Hal in III.ii.4-11, the king reveals his feelings of guilt in his worried observation that his son may have been sent by God to punish him:
"I know not whether God will have it so For some displeasing service I have done, That in his secret doom, out of my blood He'll breed revengement and ascourge for me; But thou dost in thy passages of life Make me believe that thou art only mark'd For the hot vengeance, and the rod of heaven, To punish my mistreadings.
Some critics argue that as a usurper, Henry is in an impossible position no matter howearnestly he tries to rule well. • Because he overturned order and the ritual of successionwhen he deposed Richard, he is finding it difficult to maintain order and the ritual ofsuccession now that he is king. • The Percys—the family that helped him to thethrone—have begun treating him with disrespect. • Young Henry Percy or Hotspur haswithheld prisoners from the king, and in I.iii.10-13, Thomas Percy, earl of Worcester,complains that his family is being mistreated and reminds Henry that his "greatness"depends upon the Percys. • King Henry retorts that he is "majesty" or king, and thatWorcester should remember that he is merely Henry's "servant" or subject:
Worcester, get thee gone, for I do see Danger and disobedience in thine eye. O, sir, your presence is too bold and peremptory, And majesty might never yet endure The moody frontier of a servant brow. (I.iii.15-19)
Meanwhile the king worries that his oldest son and heir, Prince Hal, is not acting as asuccessor to the throne should, but is instead behaving irresponsibly, much as RichardII had been shortly before he was thrown out of power (III.ii.93-95). • In his role as afather, Henry has been described as inflexible and somewhat peevish, and inII.iv.378-481, his son Hal mocks his strictness in his "practice" interview withFalstaff. • In I.i.78-90, the king longs for a son like Hotspur, "who is the theme ofhonor's tongue," and deplores the "riot and dishonor" which "stain the brow" of hisown son, and by extension, stain Henry's rule.
In an effort to define Henry's role as king, critics have compared his priorities to thoseof his son Hal. • It has been argued that while Hal (as a result of his association with thecommon populace of England) stresses justice and mercy, King Henry IV in hisattempt to legitimize his rule focuses on authority and power. • An example of hiscommanding exercise of power occurs in I.iii. 118-22, where he angrily ordersHotspur to obey, then exits without waiting for an answer:
Sirrah, henceforth Let me not hear you speak of Mortimer. Send me your prisoners with the speediest means, Or you shall hear in such a kind from me As will displease you. • King Henry's authoritativeness, however, does not prevent rebellion.
Henry V of England): • He is the son and heir of King Henry IV. • Much of his time is spent away from hisresponsibilities at court, plotting pranks and robberies in the company of "rudesociety" at the Boar's Head Tavern (III.ii.14). • Prince Hal is described by his rival,Hotspur, as "the nimble-footed madcap Prince of Wales, /.. . that daff'd the world aside/ And bid it pass" (IV.i.95-97). • His father accuses him of having "inordinate and lowdesires" unsuitable for a future king (III.ii.12). • Sir John Falstaff calls him "sweet wag"and looks forward to the day when Hal will rule England (I.ii.23).
In his soliloquy in I.ii, Hal asserts that his misconduct is strategic: he is behaving irresponsibly now so that he will seem that much more impressive and honorable when he reforms. What is more, his sudden reformation will catch his detractors offguard:
My reformation, glitt'ring o'er my fault, Shall show more goodly and attract moreeyes Than that which hath no foil to set it off. I'll so offend, to make offense a skill, Redeeming time when men think least I will. (I.ii.213-17)
There has been much critical discussion regarding Prince Hal's behavior. • It has beenpointed out that as the son of a usurper, Hal is burdened with the task of legitimizinghis family's rule and with uniting the country around that rule two things that hisfather has been unable to do. • How the prince undertakes this task has been a source of debate. • Some critics refer to his soliloquy in I.ii as proof that Hal needs neither education nor reformation to fulfill his duties as prince, but that he is a pragmatist whois simply waiting for the right moment to shine.
Others argue that the time Hal spends in "riotous" living is in fact an opportunity for him to learn how to be a more effective ruler than King Henry is. In this case, Falstaff functions as a second father to Hal,educating him in the ways of the world, while King Henry's court can only teach himpolitics and protocol. Further, Hal's irreverent treatment by such shady characters asFalstaff, Bardolph, and Gadshill teaches him humility.
It has also been observed that Hal learns from Hotspur to appreciate honor. • Eventhough he pokes fun in II.iv.101-12 at Hotspur's thirst for glory, Hal acknowledges hisrival's worth. • In V.i, he praises Hotspur, calling him "valiant," "daring," and "bold,"commending him for his "noble deeds," and criticizing himself for having been "atruant.. . to chivalry" (V.i.90, 91, 92, 94).
Hal's apparent love of acting has also been mentioned with regard to his education. • InII.ii. 102- 111, for instance, he and Poins disguise themselves as robbers in order to setupon Gadshill, Falstaff, Peto, and Bardolph and steal their loot. • In II.iv.l-79, Halenlists Poins's help in arranging a scene where the two of them confuse the drawerFrancis with questions and requests. • Shortly afterward, the prince suggests acting out Hotspur's enthusiasm for glory, with himself in the role of Hotspur, and Falstaff(whom Hal refers to as "that damn'd brawn" or pig) to portray Hotspur's wife(II.iv.108-12).
Finally, Hal and Falstaff rehearse a conversation between Hal and his father by actingout the interview that will occur when Hal returns to court (II.iv.373-481). • Asmocking and sometimes cruel as these performances are, critics observe that they nevertheless work as learning experiences for the prince increasing his knowledge ofhimself or teaching him what it feels like to live or think in a certain way and thusfunction as useful background for his actual role as king.
Another observation that has been made about Hal is that despite his wild living, he believes in paying debts. • After the robbery and escapade at Gadshill, for example, Halannounces that the money stolen from the travellers will "be paid back again withadvantage [interest]" (II.iv.547-48). • Critics have remarked that toward the end of theplay, Prince Hal demonstrates his loyalty to his father by saving him from Douglas (V.iv.39-43).
. Shortly afterward, he reveals his courage by battling with and defeatingHotspur, then shows his sense of honor by covering the dead Hotspur's face(V.iv.59-101). • He displays mercy at the close of the play by declaring that thecaptured Douglas should be set free (V.v.27-31). • He has, in other words, begun tocombine the best of what he has learned from his father, from Falstaff, and fromHotspur on his way toward becoming king.
John (Prince John of Lancaster): • He is King Henry's son and Prince Hal's younger brother. His appearance in the play isbrief; he initially serves as a contrast to his older brother. • In Li, for example he is atcourt, while his brother is at the Boar's Head Tavern. • In III.ii.32-33, the kingcomplains that John has had to fill in for his reckless brother in affairs of state. John'sfirst, few words occur in V.iv.1-24, when he is impatient to rejoin the fight against therebels. • Both the king and Prince Hal are inspired by John's courage in this, his firstbattle; indeed, the prince exclaims of him: "O, this boy / Lends mettle to us all!"(V.iv.23-24). • Prince John has a larger role in Henry IV, Part Two.