Henry IV


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