The Theme of Anarchy Versus Order in Henry IV, Part I
In Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I the theme of anarchy versus order runs through the action of the play from beginning to end. On a purely political level, of course, the notion of monarchy, or order, personified by Henry IV and his son Hal, is seen in opposition to the rapidly declining feudal ideal, of which Hotspur and his family are prime examples. Quite clearly the anarchy of feudal divisions of land and power had brought England to the point of disaster more than once. On the level of characterization, however, it is somewhat more difficult to trace the relationship of anarchy and order to individuals; it really depends upon the point of view which one chooses to adopt.
As the play opens we find Prince Hal living a wild and riotous life, under the influence of Falstaff. King Henry, who consistently stands for order in this play (if we ignore the disorderly way in which he seized the crown for himself), is quite obviously displeased with the turn his son's life has taken, and indeed considers the idea that Hotspur might be a more appropriate successor than Hal. Initially, then, from the point of view of characterization, we might think that the anarchy of Hal and Falstaff was to be opposed to the order represented by the King and Hotspur. But upon closer examination we find that in the first place there is method to Hal’s behavior, and in the second place Hotspur is again and again referred to as a "rebel". If we read the play carefully we realize that from the beginning it has been Hal's intention to reform, and indeed to dazzle the world with his honor, his stability, and his dedication to the order of the kingdom. Thus, the embodiment of irresponsibility and anarchy in the play is to be Falstaff alone. We must distinguish carefully between the philosophical anarchy of Falstaff and the political anarchy of Hotspur.
John Falstaff, the delightful comic hero of the play, is indeed irresponsible; he is free. He refuses to follow other people's ideas on how he should act, and thus he is liable to do almost anything at any time. He will not be bound by "honor", if that means being killed for a cause which isn't all that important anyway. He is spiritually an anarchist, and his humor and joke playing create a delightful chaos around him. Hotspur, on the other hand, is an honorable and brave man, who fights and dies for his cause, never quite realizing that defeat is possible. Ironically, the spiritual anarchist...
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"Honor" in Henry IV, Part I
The purpose of this essay is to analyze several important words in Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part I, to follow their use throughout the play, and to indicate their various meanings, the ways in which they define characters, and the ways in which they relate to the major themes of the play.
The central concept surrounding Falstaff as he moves through the first Henry to the second is that of honor. Is he the endearing, uproariously funny scoundrel we first believe him to be, or is he a cowardly liar? As we trace the use of "honor” we find that Shakespeare uses the word to illuminate not only the character of Falstaff, but to shed light upon the concept of honor as it is interpreted by Hal and others in the play. The most famous use of the word in this play occurs in Falstaff's speech:
Can honor set-to a leg? no: or an arm? no: or take away the grief of a wound? no. Honour hath no skill in surgery then? no. What is honor? a word. What is that word, honor? air. A trim reckoning!—Who hath it? he that died o' Wednesday. Doth he feel it? no. Doth be hear it? no. Is it insensible, then? yea, to the dead. But will it not live with the living? no. Why? detraction will not suffer it. Therefore I'll none of it: honor is a mere scutcheon:—and so ends my catechism. (V,i)
While we know quite well that Falstaff is not a brave man, yet he is clearly more honorable than anyone else in the play. Thus this speech indicates not the man's subjective estimate of honor, but rather the extent to which the word and the concept have become meaningless to the majority of men. Falstaff is articulating in essence that in the fiercely competitive and bloody world of war, of the rapid crowning and dethroning of kings, the man who has "honor" will not live long. From this last act perspective, then, we should return to the beginning of the play and see the ways in which Shakespeare has used this word with the above concept as the underlying meaning.
The King is the first in the play to employ the word, which has its own irony considering the methods he used to obtain the crown. He is heard to complain as he compares his son Hal with the son of Northumberland, Hotspur; whom he calls "A son who is the theme of Honor’s a tongue". (I,i) The next time the word appears it is on the lips of Hotspur himself, who is damning the King and urging his father and Worcester to "redeem/ Your banish’d...
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Political Satire in Shakespeare's Histories
When we examine selected history plays of Shakespeare we find that the playwright made extensive and varied use of political satire within them. Richard III, Henry IV, Part I, Henry IV, Part II, and Henry VIII all evince strains of political satire, although history, not satire, was the playwright's focus in each work. Moreover, political satire is handled differently by Shakespeare in Richard III, Henry IV, Parts I and II, and Henry VIII. In Richard III we find that political satire revolves around the character and machinations of Richard. In Henry IV, Parts I and II, we find political satire to be more pervasively present as it extends from the throne to the taverns of Eastcheap. As we are informed in the Prologue to Henry VIII, Shakespeare's purpose in this play is not to entertain, but, nevertheless, an extremely subtle form of satire is presented within this work. In this paper we shall provide a detailed analysis of political satire in each of the above-mentioned plays, making points of comparison and contrast among the plays in the course of our discussion.
In Richard III the figure of Richard dominates the narrative line and political satire is centered around Richard. Richard's machinations are, in fact, instances of political satire in which the nation’s affairs are determined by brutality and ruse. Hence, when Richard calms the fears of Clarence, having previously acted as the driving force behind his brother's imprisonment, we cannot help but smile at Richard’s ironic observation, "Well, your imprisonment shall not be long/ I will deliver you, or else lie for you." Here the irony is two-fold for it is certain to Richard that Clarence's imprisonment will not be long, Clarence's head being intended for the block, and it is equally certain that Richard has 'lied' for Clarence, having fabricated the grounds for his imprisonment and execution. Richard’s plots are the epitome of all that is heinous in politics, and his plots are so monstrous that they contain a humorous aspect. For example, when Richard complains of those "That do conspire nay death with devilish plots/ Of damned witchcraft," the irony is more than evident. Equally ironic is Richard's assumption of protector to Prince Edward. Here Richard admonishes his young charge:
Sweet Prince, th' untainted virtue of your years
Hath not yet dived into the...
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