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Henry Iv Essay, Research Paper


1 Henry IV is a play that concerns itself with political power and kingship in English history. References to kingship are prevalent throughout the play, especially in the depiction of the characters. Although most of the characters in this play could teach us about kingship, I would like to focus my attention to Prince Henry. I think that this character helps us to best understand what kingship meant at this particular time in history.

First, it is important to get a background on Prince Henry and his lifestyle. He is not what you would consider a typical prince. Instead of making appearances as the royalty that he was, he would frequently be seen at the local bar drinking with the common folk. Due to his unacceptable behavior, he has acquired a bad reputation throughout the land, and even with his father, King Henry IV. His character is even further discredited because of the low-life drunks that are his friends. As you can see, Prince Henry is not as proper and well behaved as you would expect with nobility.

King Henry was not very proud or accepting of his son. This is shown very early in the play when he speaks about him to Westmoreland. The king states:

Yea, there thous mak?st me sad, and mak?st me sin

In envy that my Lord Norhtumberland

Should be the father to so blest a son;

A son who is the theme of honour?s tongue,

Amongst a grove the very straightest plant,

Who is sweet Fortune?s minion and her pride;

Whilst I by looking on the praise of him

See riot and dishonour stain the brow

Of my you Harry. O that it could be proved

That some night-tripping fairy had exchanged

In cradle-clothes our children where they lay,

And called mine Percy, his Plantangent (EL 486)!

Basically, the King is saying that he is very envious of Lord Northumberland?s son (Hotspur), because he is so honorable and praiseworthy. He wishes it could be proved that a fairy exchanged their children because Hotspur was a well-noted warrior, while his son was disreputable low-life.

We see Prince Henry being compared to Hotspur many times in this play. I think that it is trying to show how Hotspur is the true example of royalty, not Hal. When King Henry talks to his son in Act 3, Scene 2, he lets him know how he feels that Hotspur is more worthy of the throne then he is. He describes how Hotspur leads armies into battle and fights courageously against renowned opponents. Prince Henry does nothing in the battlefield to earn honor and respect from the King. However, at the end of the play, Hal defeats Hotspur in battle, and acquires an honorable reputation. This shows us how battle played a crucial part in earning respect.

Another important aspect of royalty that King Henry mentioned to Prince Henry was to reduce public appearances. In Act 3, Scene 2, the King was upset with Hal because he associates with commoners who are not worthy of his presence. He scolds Hal on his friends, his desires, and his pursuits. But most importantly, King Henry tries to enforce the point that occasional public appearances will bring much more positive attention to him. King Henry said to Hal:

Thy place in Council thou hast rudely lost,

Which by thy younger brother is supplied,

And art almost an alien to the hearts

Of all the court and prices of my blood:

The hope and expectation of thy time

Is ruined, and the soul of every man

Prophetically do forethink thy fall.

Had I so lavish of my presence been,

So common-hackneyed in the eyes of men.

By being seldom seen, I could not stir

But like a comet I was wondered at (EL 522).

The King was trying to explain to Hal that if he are always seen in public there is nothing majestic about him, and people won?t be excited about his presence. King Henry said that he rarely showed himself in public, so every time he appeared people made a big deal about it. He is trying to say that Prince Henry is over-exposed and accessible to everybody, when he should be hidden from the public.

King Henry wants Hal to be like the Pope is to us today. We had a class discussion on this topic, and we showed how the Pope draws a crowd when he appears because it is so rare. It gives curious attention to the Pope that he would not otherwise have if he regularly appeared in public.

We have just seen how King Henry feels about kingship and about his son, but now lets look at how Prince Henry and his friends look at themselves and kingship.

Both Falstaff and Hal know that they are not the most respected people, but they do nothing to change in the beginning of the play. Both of them are bad influences on each other, especially Hal on Falstaff. Falstaff constantly reminded Prince Henry how he corrupted him. Falstaff said to Hal:

O, thou hast damnable iteration, and art indeed able to corrupt a saint: thou hast done much harm upon me, Hal, God forgive thee for it (EL 488-489).

At the beginning of this play, Prince Henry and Falstaff talk about how they are going to change their ways, but we see no proof. We see many different times in the play where Prince Henry believes that he will have the commoners support because he acts just like them. At this point in the play, he doesn?t see how his current lifestyle will prevent him from becoming king. Wisely however, Prince Henry claims that he will redeem himself and be praised for his reformed lifestyle. It doesn?t appear that this is going to happen until the end when Prince Henry defeats Hotspur in the battle. It seems that his predictions have come true. There were many different references to changes in Hal?s life at the end of the play. For instance, Falstaff tries to give him wine on the battlefield, but Prince Henry rejects it angrily. Also we see how Hal begins to seriously belittle Falstaff for his cowardice and fatness. Prince Henry begins to become the kind of honorable, praiseworthy son that he expects.

Throughout this play, Prince Henry played a major part in describing the expectations of kingship in the 1400?s. He was a good example because he showed us the right way and the wrong way to become a honorable king. From him, we learned that you couldn?t be a common site, hang out with low-lifers, or be a drunk. We see that it wasn?t until he defeated Hotspur that he was looked favorably upon.

I think that this goes to show that strength in the battlefield and courage are the main characteristics that were expected of royalty.

And even though Prince Henry led an unacceptable life, once he defeated Hotspur, all was forgiven and he was now a successful example of kingship.


Shakespear. “Henry IV.”

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