1. Why was Shakespeare so fascinated by Henry IV and his son, Prince Hal? The father has already appeared in Richard II, where he stole the crown from his cousin Richard in a masterful display of political deceit, misdirection, and manipulation. Father and son are brilliantly intuitive and charismatic politicians, although the King thinks his son a mere wastrel. As Shakespeare's audience knew, however, Hal would become Henry V, one of the mythic English kings. Between them, they appear in more scenes than any other Shakeapearian characters.

2. Shakespeare's portraits show a deep fascination with and understanding of politicians and their strategems. Henry IV is a deeply cloaked figure, revealing himself only in brief glimpses even on his deathbed. His son must completely alter his image in the public eye and in the eyes of his father. Each has a burden to carry: Henry IV carries the taint of forcing Richard II to abdicate and then having him murdered, while Hal is stained by his time in the taverns of Eastcheap. Both need to sell themselves to the world in order to reign successfully.

3. As we saw in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare can create different symbolic worlds in a single play, and here three worlds hold the action in a regular sequence: the royal court, Hal's dissolute tavern world, and the rebel camp. Perhaps the most memorable character is Falstaff, Hal's tavern father. He embodies all the freedom and individuality of the Dionysian world, but in this history play we must see that the ideal balance tends towards the Apollonian world of order and peace, not the comic or political anarchy of tavern or rebels.

Interpretation: performance and the text.

4. The King is acting a part in the beginning of the play, since his proclamation of peace and a pilgrimage to "the Holy Land" is part of public relations campaign to distract the world from the deposition and murder of his cousin, Richard II. The smoking sword cannot be traced directly back to the King, but he lured a follower to kill Richard:

Exton. From your own mouth, my lord, did I this deed.

Bolingbroke. They love not poison that do poison need,
Nor do I thee; though I did wish him dead,
I hate the murderer, love him murderèd.
The guilt of conscience take thou for thy labor,
But neither my good word, nor princely favor.
With Cain go wander thorough shades of night,
And never show thy head by day nor light. [Exit Exton.]
Lords, I protest, my soul is full of woe,
That blood should sprinkle me to make me grow.
Come, mourn with me for that I do lament,
And put on sullen black incontinent.
I'll make a voyage to the Holy Land,
To wash this blood off from my guilty hand.
March sadly after; grace my mournings here,
In weeping after this untimely bier. (Richard II, 5.6.37-52)

In Part Two, Poins calls Hal "a most princely hypocrite," and it seems to be a family trait. As Henry speaks, notice his nervous habit of rubbing his hands:

H4 BBC 1.1

5. In the second part of the clip you have just seen, Henry turns his thoughts to his dissolute son, Hal, who is cavorting in the tavern instead of fighting for his father. Shakespeare builds a rivalry between Hal and Hotspur (Harry Percy), soon to be a leader of the rebel world. The King concentrates on Hal's disregard for honor, a key concept in the play. We shall see that honor is many things to many different people.

6. The play turns to the tavern world in the second scene, the Dionysian symbol of excess and frivolity, and sometimes crime. As he had done in Richard II, Romeo and Juliet, and A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare uses images of day and the sun to mark the Apollonian world, and night and the moon to mark the Dionysian:

H4 BBC 1.2

It's clear that Falstaff is an odd surrogate father for Hal, one he can both befriend and control. As the scene unfolds, we should examine their mutual expectations. Would Hal take Falstaff with him to the Court? Does Falstaff really expect to go?

...shall there be gallows standing in England when thou art king? and resolution thus fubbed as it is with the rusty curb of old father Antic the law? Do not thou, when thou art king, hang a thief.

Prince. No; thou shalt.

Falstaff. Shall I? O rare! By the Lord, I'll be a brave judge.

Prince. Thou judgest false already. I mean, thou shalt have the hanging of the thieves and so become a rare hangman. (1.2.61-70)

7. In Hal's soliloquy at the end of 1.2, which you just watched, he promises to transform the opinion of his father and amaze the world:

So when this loose behavior I throw off
And pay the debt I never promisèd,
By how much better than my word I am,
By so much shall I falsify men's hopes;
And, like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation, glittering o'er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
I'll so offend, to make offence a skill,
Redeeming time when men think least I will. (1.2.212-221)

Hal will redeem time, by which he means he will embrace the values of the public world, the Court of his father. He has a keen awareness that his life so far is private, and indeed the suddenness of his father's ascent to the throne must have shocked him, because as heir apparent to the throne, the Prince of Wales, his life will not be his own. (Think of the private lives of the "royals" in England in the last few years.) Hal has essentially no choice in the matter; as one of the blood royal, he cannot escape his destiny to succeed his father as King.

8. To highlight this conflict, Shakespeare alters history to make Hotspur (Henry Percy) Hal's age and his chief public rival. The historical Percy was closer to the King in age, but Shakespeare gives us a rival to Hal who is a war hero, married, committed to the pursuit of honor. In fact, Hotspur's concept of family honor drives him to challenge the King by withholding Scottish prisoners he took while fighting the rebels:

H4 BBC 1.3

The Percy family helped put Henry IV on the throne, allying themselves against Richard II. So Hotspur's father, Northumberland, and his uncle Worcester here form the center of a new alliance against the King. Their cause is centered around Mortimer, Hotspur's brother-in-law, who does have a claim to the throne, and a man who presumably will be more generous to them than Henry IV.

Here is a link to Hotspur, and one to the Mortimer family. The whole dynastic story begins with Lionel of Antwerp and his father Edward III. (Notice that we're working backwards in time.) These pages are from Wikipedia, a free encyclopedia with volunteer writers. You could spend a long time following all the links. Revisit Richard III and try tracing some of his family connections.

9. While Hotspur is a great warrior, his home life seems less successful. Here his wife Kate (Shakespeare's error for the historical Elizabeth) complains of neglect:

H4 BBC 2.3

Like Theseus in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Hotspur rigidly separates his public life from his private one. His obsession with the world of honor, which for him seems to mean military glory, ultimately blinds him and leads him to defeat. Shakespeare has shaped a foil for Hal, whose loose living and avoidance of duty leaves him far from any battlefield. How could the Prince hope to overshadow the gallant warrior?

10. Readers, audiences, and critics are divided about Hal. Some find him, charming, boyish, and eventually an inspiring success story. Others see him as manipulative, cold, Machiavellian. The details of Shakespeare's portrait can support both sides, perhaps at different moments. Consider this chart of his key moments in the play. He ascends from the tavern world to the Court when summonmed by his father. By the end of the play he has emerged fully into the public world. Our reactions to these stages are inevitably colored by the tone of the scenes, which can be quite complex. The soliloquy which we saw at the end of 1.2 is earnestly spoken by the likable actor in the BBC version, but it does begin with an image of iron control:

I know you all, and will awhile uphold
The unyoked humor of your idleness. (1.2.199-200)

11. One rich and complicated scene is 2.4. On the chart just linked above, it is a rung on the ladder to the public world. Hal is joking with Poins about how the bartenders all love him:

They take it already upon their salvation that, though I be but prince of Wales, yet I am the king of courtesy, and tell me flatly I am no proud Jack like Falstaff, but a Corinthian, a lad of mettle, a good boy (by the Lord, so they call me!), and when I am king of England I shall command all the good lads in Eastcheap. (2.4.8-15)

In the traditional phrase, Hal has "the common touch" and people will always love him for it. He also has a keen sense of humor which expresses itself in self-mockery and satire of others, like Hotspur and Falstaff:

H4 BBC 2.4

In the second half of the scene, which you'll see in a moment, Hal and Falstaff act out a parody of the critical interview to come between Hal and his father:

But tell me, Hal, art not thou horrible afeard? Thou being heir apparent, could the world pick thee out three such enemies again as that fiend Douglas, that spirit Percy, and that devil Glendower? Art thou
not horribly afraid? Doth not thy blood thrill at it?

Prince. Not a whit, i' faith. I lack some of thy instinct.

Falstaff. Well, thou wilt be horribly chid tomorrow when thou comest to thy father. If thou love me, practice an answer.

Prince. Do thou stand for my father and examine me upon the particulars of my life.

Falstaff. Shall I? Content. This chair shall be my state, this dagger my scepter, and this cushion my crown.

Prince. Thy state is taken for a joined-stool, thy golden scepter for a leaden dagger, and thy precious rich crown for a pitiful bald crown. (2.4.366-382)

As usual, Hal comically pulls the rug out from under Falstaff's pretensions and hopes.

12. In the exchange that follows, however, the comedy may be too pointed for Falstaff. After he plays the King, Hal demands that they reverse roles. Falstaff will play Hal, and Hal will play his father. "Depose me?", Falstaff asks. And Hal does, not only pushing him off his tavern throne, but putting himself in the place of that other father in his life, Henry IV. What will become of Falstaff when that happens?

H4 BBC 2.4.329

In this version of the scene, Falstaff is stunned and confused by Hal's directness. There are surely other ways to play it: Hal could say "I do, I will" softly, to himself. Or he could proclaim it with a loud comic flair, so no one would take it seriously. But the tide has shifted, and as Falstaff falls asleep and Hal protects him from the sheriff, Hal is thinking of the wars.

13. Even as Hal is moving towards the public world, we are reminded that Hotspur has a private life which he usually neglects, as his wife reminds him. In 3.1 Hotspur, his brother-in-law Mortimer, and Glendower meet to plan the future. After a clash of giant egos between Hotspur and Glendower, the Welsh host calls in his daughter, who is Mortimer's new wife, and Kate, who has followed Hotspur to the meeting. As the men spend a short moment before going to war, in this BBC video clip their wives seem to intuit that they will never see their husbands alive again:

H4 BBC 3.1

14. Hal sets foot in the Court when he responds to King Henry's summons and promises to reform:

H4 BBC 3.2

His father is visibly moved, and embraces Hal as his true son. He promises him "charge and sovereign trust" (line 161), a share of the battle. Now Hal has a foot in the public world, and the rest is history to Shakespeare's audience. King Henry V, the mature Hal, was a national hero on a par with George Washington in the United States, a mythic figure who defeated a legendary enemy. Shakespeare tells that story in Henry V, and I recommend Kenneth Branagh's movie.

15. We're going to look ahead to the end of the Hal/Falstaff story in the next play, Part Two, in a moment, but first I've spliced together parts of scenes from Act 5 which show the military crisis, Hal's place next to both his father and Falstaff, and the victory over Hotspur:

H4 BBC 5.1

Falstaff's performance is of course outrageous, and Hal is by turns angry, sorrowful, and comically amazed at his old friend. He even supports his fraud:

There is Percy. If your father will do me any honor, so; if not, let him kill the next Percy himself. I look to be either earl or duke, I can assure you.

Prince. Why, Percy I killed myself, and saw thee dead!

Falstaff. Didst thou? Lord, Lord, how this world is given to lying! I grant you I was down and out of breath, and so was he; but we rose both at an instant and fought a long hour by Shrewsbury clock. If I may be believed, so; if not, let them that should reward valor bear the sin upon their own heads. I'll take it upon my death, I gave him this wound in the thigh: if the man were alive and would deny it, zounds, I would make him eat a piece of my sword.

John. This is the strangest tale that ever I heard.

Prince. This is the strangest fellow, brother John.
Come, bring your luggage nobly on your back.
For my part, if a lie may do thee grace,
I'll gild it with the happiest terms I have. (5.4.138-156)

16. But Hal's break with the tavern world is nearly complete. In Part Two, the King separates Hal and Falstaff with various assignments, and the tavern world grows darker, more dangerous, and diseased. I recommend that you watch Part Two in the BBC version, but here are two versions of the final scene between Falstaff and Hal (5.2). In the Orson Welles film Chimes at Midnight (later retitled Falstaff), the sequence ends with material from Henry V, where Falstaff dies offstage without ever appearing:


Contrast that with the BBC version of the last scene of Part Two:

H4 BBC rejection

Where is Hal more sympathetic? Where is Falstaff more genuinely surprised and hurt? What, finally, did they really expect of one another?

In the end, the public side of Hal endures. In this clip, from 5.2, we see his emergence into the court as he astonishes his new surrogate father, the Lord Chief Justice, and reassures his brothers that he is not a barbarian, but a loving monarch who will care deeply for all England.


Perhaps the fully mature Hal emerges as the result of this scene, 4.5, at his father's deathbed:




One topic you might consider in writing a response to this play is Hal's personality. Is he the young hero, beloved of the people? Is he a selfish manipulator? Shakespeare will go on to show his rise to the throne (Part Two) and his mythic victory over the French army (Henry V). How many sides can a political personality have?

King Henry is also complex, hard to see clearly beneath his political disguises. (He even had other nobleman dressed like him on the battlefield in Act 5, leading one enemy to call him a "counterfeit" [5.4.34].) He is Hal's father, but Hal has adopted a tavern father too in Falstaff. These are constantly evolving relationships.

Hal and Hotspur are another interesting contrast. Whichever approach you take, there are good articles in the Signet edition by Wilson, Ornstein, Goldman, Kahn, and Wharton, in addition to the websites on our course page. And here's a simple refresher on the political dynasties.

The balance between Apollonian and Dionysian values is shifted towareds the Apollonian in the history play.

Remember to quote your sources, and give the page number or web address. Here's a section from the bottom of my home page:

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