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Intro. to ShakespeareKing Henry IV, Part I question #2


Education of the Elite

When King Henry IV, Part I begins, Prince Hal is shown as an inconsistent slob, keeping company with peasants and thieves. In fact, the first word of him comes from the King, who says that “riot and dishonour stain the brow / Of my young Harry” (I.i). Yet somehow Hal manages to rise from the riot and dishonour, to his rightful place as the next King, carrying the honor of England at the end of the play. However, Harry?s ascension to the throne was not wholly of his own doing. To learn the qualities he needs to be the true King of England, he must have teachers. His two teachers, Falstaff and Hotspur, both teach him qualities which would serve a king well when balanced, but which would ruin the kingdom when separated. To truly understand why Hal?s education is complete, several things are of notable importance; the education he receives from Falstaff, the education he receives from Hotspur, and how each learned quality will serve him.

Falstaff, the comic character of the play, teaches Hal something which every ruler needs: humanity. Shakespeare characterizes Falstaff as a man who would do anything for a drink or some food, a glutton beyond measure of reason. He is also a coward and a liar, shown by the scene where Hal and Poins rob him, and then ask him what happened, that such a “mighty” warrior as Falstaff might be overcome. Falstaff replies:

I am a rogue, if I were not at half- sword with a dozen of them two hours together. I have ?scaped by miracle. I am eight times thrust through the double, four through the hose; my buckler cut through and through; my sword hacked like a hand-saw ? ecce

signum! I never dealt better since I was a man: all would not do.


Although all of the principles Falstaff exemplifies are human and natural, they all lack something which the King of England must have. This part which Falstaff does not possess is honor, which must be taught by Hotspur.

Hotspur, the foil of Falstaff, picks up what Falstaff started and teaches Hal honor. When Hotspur is introduced, he is the pride of England; a victorious general, and chivalrous beyond imaginable bounds. He represents all that is noble and good, God and country with pride and charisma which almost exactly opposes Falstaff?s social standpoint: failed thief, glutton and drunkard. However, Hotspur is not destined to be the true King, because he is lacking what Falstaff has already taught Prince Hal: humanity.

Honor and humanity are the two traits which Shakespeare claims are necessary to be King, yet neither could survive without the other. If Hal had only learned humanity from Falstaff, England would deteriorate into chaos. People would feel no need to work, they would indulge in the trait which Falstaff comes to symbolize: gluttony. Yet if honor was the only factor, it would be just as bad. England would be in a constant state of war, with the treasury drained and the people of England completely forgotten about. When balanced, humanity and honor complement each other perfectly. Humanity means that Hal will remember the needs of the people, and rule them fairly. Honor means that Hal will be the upstanding citizen that Hotspur represents, while using his humanity to keep the horrible devotion to war which Hotspur felt at bay.

In conclusion, the education of Hal was two-sided. He learned humanity without honor from Falstaff, and honor without humanity from Hotspur. Combining what he had learned from both, he became the true King of England, by right of God. At the end of the play, we see the meeting of these two qualities, signifying the completion of Hal?s education, and his readiness to be King. This is shown in the last battle scene, with Falstaff carrying Hotspur?s corpse to Hal:

The better part of valour is discretion; in which better part I have saved my live. ?Zounds, I am afraid of this gunpowder Percy, though he be dead: how, if he should counterfeit too, and rise? By my faith, I am afraid he would prove the better counterfeit. Therefore I?ll make him sure; yea, and I?ll swear I killed him. Why may he not rise as well as I? Nothing confutes me but eyes, and nobody sees me. Therefore sirrah, with a new wound in your thigh, come you along with me.



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