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William Shakespeare’s Henry IV is about the reign of Henry IV, formerly known as Henry Bolingbroke. Here, King Henry is planning a crusade however, his kingship is experiencing a turmoil because of the rebellions against his leadership. It is a historical play that generally creates studies regarding its deals with socio-political issues. Several themes were tackled such as honor. Though it is an undisputed fact that honor is something equivocal, several attempts were still done in order to delineate it.
Several characters on the play mentioned the word honor.
As you read the play, you will get the various notions and actions of different characters about it. However, having all those different notions and actions were part of Shakespeare’s intention of revealing the irony of honor. In Shakespeare’s Henry IV, it shows that honor depends greatly on the individual’s personal aspirations and morals. It was significantly emphasized as he juxtaposed the characters of Harry, King Henry IV’s son, and Hotspur, the Earl of Northumberland’s son, both of whom are potential successors to the King.
Harry’s character is commendable with his wit by concealing his true nature and identity. On his first soliloquy he expresses that though he spends most of his time with bad companions like the robbers, etc. , he is silently working on a political agenda. He has true values were in a way reflected as he reimbursed what his friends stole. He is just doing that in order to lower the people’s expectations from him so that when the right time arrives, he would astonish everyone as he unveils his true self.
With that, he will be able to gain King Henry’s affection and the people’s admiration. According to Mabillard, Amanda, “ Hal’s first soliloquy that this is merely an act, he is acutely aware of the bad company he keeps, but prefers to show his true colors when necessary, wisely concluding that because expectations of him are so low, his accomplishments when shown will shine that much brighter. ” Harry also wished to be appraised due to his own efforts and principles and not because of the crown on his head. For him, a noble deed goes along with honor.
However, his concept of honor was dubious when he deemed that he can budge Hotspur’s honor by killing him. His concept of honor was also probed because of the way he treats and put down his friend Falstaff. Mabillard also added that, “Hal’s envy of Hotspur suggests he is not completely confident, since Hal needs to compare himself to others. When called to fight the rebellion, Hal comes of age, shedding his apathetic ways, even enlisting Falstaff his thieving friend to fight, symbolic of Hal finally accepting and assuming responsibility for himself and others. ”
For the case of Hotspur, a military man with impulsive actions, honor connotes winning in battles and defending one’s reputation against all odds. Fallstaff, the character Harlittz regards as, a person who “…is represented as a liar, a braggart, a coward, a glutton, etc and yet we are not offended but delighted with him; for he is all these as much to amuse others as to gratify himself,” regarded Honor as something useless and wasted that does no one any good. Falstaff also juxtaposes honor with violence. For Henry IV however, honor means the good of his people and kingdom.
He also believes that honor belonged to the rightful leader of the kingdom. This caused him the dilemma because of the way he was able to gain his current crown, usurping Richard II’s throne and plotting his death. Besides the essence of honor, the play also juxtaposes the society’s class differences and the play’s north- south theme. As Stuart Hampton- Reeves stated, “The York scenes are particularly significant, as they give a regional focus to the play in the north, in much the same way that, in 2 Henry VI, the Kentish rebellion of Jack Cade gives a southern regional focus.
There is, in fact, a subtle north/south theme running through 3 Henry VI: the second line of the play pursues “the horseman of the north” and there are repeated references to north/south divisions. Here, the ESC got it wrong; the ESC portrayed the Yorkists as bluff northerners, and the Lancastrians as haughty southerners, but the play makes it clear several times that York’s power base is actually in the south, in Kent and London, whilst Henry, with the Duchy of Lancaster and the might of Northumberland, holds the North. Henry is defeated at St.
Albans, in the south; York loses the next battle because he is isolated in the northern city of York. Battles take place around York, there are scenes in its castle, the Duke of York’s head is mounted on its walls,…” For the society’s class, the play also shows the upper class and the royalties as the story revolves on the palace. And the same time, it also shows the low class citizens such as the robbers, towns’ people, etc. at Boar’s Tavern. It also juxtaposes the characters of Henry IV and Falstaff as they act as mentor and father to Harry.
Two men who are different in class, upbringing, virtue and principles are both playing the same role to Harry. Besides juxtaposition on the theme and characters, there were also several juxtapositions in terms of the scene. Just like in the ending of the play Richard II and the beginning of Henry IV’s part 1. Wherein, on Richard II’s ending, Henry is already proclaimed as the king and he is about to start his kinship. However, in the beginning of Henry IV, there is still the plan of Henry of having a crusade.
As Mabillard noted, “While it is true that these men all have personal reasons for rebelling, we cannot help but think that there is divine guidance at work, fulfilling Richard’s prophesy, causing Henry’s reign to be tumultuous. The structure of the plays certainly supports this theory. Richard II died in 1400, and Shakespeare ends Richard II with Henry just beginning his reign. But at the start of Henry IV, Part I, it seems that no time has passed since the death of Richard. The excursion to the Holy Land is still in Henry’s mind, and the action seems to take up right where it left off in Richard II. ”
The scene wherein Harry and Hotspur will have their combat is take place next to the similar encounter between Douglas and Falstaff. However, the encounter between Harry and Hotspur is embellished with heroic talks and brave action and intense emotion while the encounter between Douglas and Fallstaff is embellished with talks about cowardice and full comic lines. Being a play that was written several years ago, and being based on a story that happened on the years 1402-1403, some might have the idea that using the same juxtaposition would cause the audience to feel alienated due to the huge time span.
However, the political issues narrated on the play are still very much applicable at the present period. Just the like the different views on honor, usurping of power, and war among political leaders. That is why I consider Shakespeare’s works as timeless.
Hampton-Reeves, Stuart. “Alarums and Defeats: Henry VI on Tour. ” http://www. chass. utoronto. ca/emls/05-2/hampalar. htm Mabillard, Amanda. “Analysis of Shakespeare’s Sources for 1 Henry IV. ” Shakespeare Online. 18 Aug. 2006. Hazlitt, William. Characters of Shakespeare’s Plays. London 1817.
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