One of the most important aspects of 1 Henry IV is the development and
transgressions of Hal who is the Prince of Wales and heir to the throne. The
play’s focus on the family reminds us that the struggles England endured through
its growth were largely struggles inside the royal family. Hal’s character is at
a point where he is unable to define who he will be; a responsible part of the
monarch, as his father would like to see, or a rogue as is John Falstaff.

Throughout the play the prince keeps company with Falstaff, who is indeed a
knight but hardly acts as one would hope. He lies, robs travellers and frequents
the bar and whorehouse owned by Mistress Quickly. By scene iv of the fifth act
it is clear that the Prince will fulfil his role and embrace his noble birth by
standing with his father to fight against the rebels. At the end of the battle
Hal makes it clear to himself but also to Falstaff that he will no longer be
amongst his clan of rabble rousers. Undoubtedly Prince Hal is a noble character
on a small scale and as early on as the second scene in the first act he is
hinting at his uncertainties about his role in the state. He states: “So
when this loose behavior I throw off / and pay the debt I never
promised” In this “loose behavior” refers to his dealing with
Falstaff and the low life of the tavern and the “debt” he “never
promised” is upholding the lineage of the monarchy. However, it is not
until the battle when Hal puts his selfish, albeit true, loyalty behind him and
defends his father who is being attacked by Douglas. Although he does not kill
Douglas, Hal shows that he has become a man of honour and dignity. His father
recognises this: “In this fair rescue thou hast brought to mesome tender
of my life.” This shows that Hal’s decision to change is outwardly apparent
to others, but most importantly, to his father. Another aspect of Hal’s
commitment to change can be seen in the lines that Shakespeare has given him.

Most of the audience members would already be well acquainted with the story of
Henry IV so it was especially important that the language be varied and colorful
enough to keep the audience interested. In Act V, scene iv Hal is given lines
that seem extraordinarily defiant but masking an internal struggle. Hotspur If I
mistake not, thou art Harry Monmouth. Prince Thou speak’st as if I would deny my
name. Hotspur My name is Harry Percy. Prince Why, then I see A very valiant
rebel of the name. I am the Prince of Wales; and think not, Percy, To share with
me in glory any more. Two stars keep not their motion in one sphere; The Prince,
rather than hastily disregarding his former ways, still holds respect for
Hotspur even though it is apparent by this time that he will defeat the rebel as
he promised his father. Hal speaks respectfully towards Hotspur but proclaims
that he will no more “deny his name” as he has done up until this
point in regards to his duty. This shows the audience that he has come to terms
with his identity. Hals use of language throughout the scene further
expresses his acceptance of rank. Until this scene, Hal has spoken in verse only
in the company of other nobility and in prose when with his friends in the
tavern. The shift in his method of speech reveals to the audience that Hal felt
he could move between the two spheres of society, between his father and
Falstaff without having to have a static identity. His acceptance of his place
in society can be seen in that he decides, for the first time, to speak in verse
when addressing Falstaff: “I prithee, speak; we will not trust our eyes
Without our ears: thou art not what thou seemst. . Shakespeare makes Hal’s
transgressions all the more important because it takes place during the first
time that all the characters, from both the palace and the tavern, are in the
same scene. In a sense, Hal is forced to choose a side. There is such a dynamic
social contrast that the “royalty” and “low life” seem all
the more on the fringes. In addition, there is the added presense of a climate
that fosters nobility and morality. The true nature of the individual characters
are bound to show themselves. When put in this predicament, the princes
gravitation toward maturity and acceptance of his place comes a forth and his
fathers distinction from the other characters becomes clear. For the first
time Hal recognizes that there is a rift between himself and Falstaff, and their
last interaction can be interpreted as a slightly disdained farewell. Towards
the end of the scene, there can be no doubt to the audience that the Prince will
not turn kindly to Falstaff and his gang again. Hal’s decision to speak in verse
indicates that he has moved beyond the tavern-dwellers and found himself in a
new caste. Shakespeare has put Hal through a rite of passage on the stage in
order that the audience be more familiar with his character. Whether or not Hal
in 1 Henry IV is to be seen in isolation of the second part of the history or as
merely a major development within the two parts is still up for interpretation.

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The different type of speech exemplifies that Hal has moved on from needing
Falstaffs friendship as a reflection of his identity, and has accepted his
place as the future King. The last thing that the Prince says to Falstaff is,
Come, bring your luggage nobly on your back: For my part, if a lie may do
thee grace, Ill gild it with the happiest terms I have. For the Audience
as well as Prince Hal, this declaration reinforces that Hal is acting in
accordance with his title and his father’s wishes and that he has moved beyond
feeling a bond with Falstaff. Earlier on in the play, he might have tried to
expose Falstaffs lie but this line shows that the prince accepts Falstaff as
a liar and feels no need to challenge him or to deal with him on Falstaff’s
level. Not only does he accept Falstaff as a liar, and thus expect no better of
him, he is also aware that because of the difference in character and status
between them, Falstaff needs the recognition for having killed Hotspur. For Hal,
performing the deed was enough; he does not need the outward appearance of
honour that comes with glory in battle. For Hal to accept that Falstaff relies
on lying to promote the outward appearance of a noble character is for him to
accept that the friendship between them is over, that they no longer have
anything in common and no longer need one another. With his fathers
recognition and a feeling of self-assurance, Hal does not need Falstaff and this
scene represents his realization that he has learned what he can from him. The
farewell between Hal and Falstaff though unspoken and subtle is by no means
hostile. Hals agreement to lie on Falstaffs behalf is almost a token of
gratitude toward him for the benefit he has gained from their friendship. The
end of the relationship does not come out of unfriendly feelings for one another
but rather from the fact that Hal has undergone a transition that Falstaff will
never undergo. Though the last we see of Falstaff in the first part of King
Henry IV is a series of empty promises to make what he interprets to be the same
transition that Hal has made. The change that takes place within Henry, Prince
of Wales is exemplified through his language and his actions. This change is
finalised in the second to last scene, leaving only one brief interaction with
his Father, the King, between his break away from his previous lifestyle and the
end of the play. Hals acceptance of his role within his family as well as
kingdom is indicative of finding the reality of honour within himself. The fact
that this epiphany comes so near the end of the play brings Hals journey to
an end, giving the play a sense of closure and resolve. Hals decision also
serves to give his character psychological depth, and thus further differentiate
him from the tavern characters. Hals discovery of princely honour functions
to fulfil the concept of honour as an inherent trait of nobility and thus makes
his separation from Falstaff an inevitability.


Shakespeare

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