Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 (Vol. 39)
Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2
Henry IV, Part One and Henry IV, Part Two, framed within the Lancastrian tetralogy by Richard II and Henry V, form the heart of Shakespeare's second history sequence. While the two parts of Henry IV treat the time period spanned by the reign of King Henry IV, the significance of the king himself tends to be overshadowed by the other characters in the play, notably the king's son, Prince Hal, the prince's dissolute friend, Sir John Falstaff, and the headstrong rebel, Hotspur. In fact, many critics past and present have held that the "education" of the prince is the primary focus of the two plays. Hal's relationship with and subsequent rejection of Falstaff has also been an issue treated unrelentingly by critics over the years.
Some modern critics have used such commonly studied issues as a means of exploring other aspects of the plays. James Black (1990) has examined the comedic discourse in the plays—that of Hal and Falstaff—to illuminate such themes as time and deferment in the plays. Similarly, critics such as Joan Webber (1963) and Wayne Rebhorn (1995) have examined the rhetoric of King Henry and Prince Hal in order to further investigate the nature of kingship and the relationship between father and son. Additionally, many twentieth-century scholars have focussed their studies on the concept and treatment of history in the plays. David Bergeron (1991) has analyzed the way in which the character of Falstaff is used by Shakespeare to discusses the problem of establishing accurate history. Catherine Belsey (1991) has maintained that the plays may indeed be understood as history, despite the prevalent notion that they should only be regarded as art. Additionally David Scott Kastan (1991) has interpreted the historical content of the plays as reflective of the political scene in Elizabethan England.
One of the most salient issues pervading modern criticism of the plays is the nature of kingship and Shakespeare's views on the subject. As Sherman Hawkins (1975) summarizes, criticism of the history plays has "been dominated by what E. M. W. Tillyard called the 'Tudor myth'." (Essentially, the Tudor myth is a view of history designed to legitimate the rule of Tudor monarchs, including Queen Elizabeth, who feared political instability following the Wars of the Roses—the conflict between the houses of Lancaster and York. Tenets of this view include the ideas that rebellion against a legitimate ruler is never justified and that usurpers and their heirs will be punished.) Hawkins argues that while Tillyard appears to favor lineal descent and the Yorkists, other critics, such as Irving Ribner point out that even though Shakespeare offers no approval of the usurpation of Richard II, the playwright does celebrate the Lancastrian kings that rule England following Richard's deposition. Hawkins views this debate as a struggle among critics to prove that either virtue or lineal descent was considered by Shakespeare to be the determining factor of kingship in the history plays.
Although critics such as James Calderwood (1979) and Barbara Baines (1980) discuss aspects of kingship other than the issue of whether virtue or lineage determines the right to rule, it appears as if they nevertheless take a stand on one side of the issue or the other. Calderwood examines Shakespeare's use of metaphor to discuss kingship, and in his conclusion on the matter, states that Shakespeare emphasizes the significance of lineal descent through the words and actions of Prince Hal. Baines, on the other hand, in her study of Shakespeare's portrayal of Bolingbroke, maintains that the playwright's depiction of the king is a sympathetic one, and that Henry teaches his son that kingship must be earned, not simply inherited.
While not every critical discussion of kingship can be distilled down to a battle between virtue and lineage (John Bromley , for example, analyzes the changing nature of Henry as a public and political man without discussing the right to rule), the issue remains a vital one to students and scholars of Shakespeare's history plays. Hawkins cautions, however, that an examination of Shakespeare's histories underscores that while the playwright appears to stress virtue over lineal succession in the Henry IV plays, Shakespeare nevertheless seems to value both "blood and virtue" in a ruler.
Theodore Weiss (essay date 1971)
SOURCE: "Now of All Humours: Henry VI, Parts I and II," in The Breath of Clowns and Kings: Shakespeare's Early Comedies and Histories, Atheneum, 1971, pp. 260-97.
[In the following essay, Weiss offers an overview of the major characters and themes of the two parts of Henry IV, maintaining that through the character of Prince Hal, Shakespeare constructs a play that is as accomplished as a comedy as it is a history.]
Richard II, my reading of it has proposed, is Shakespeare's most thoroughgoing study of the absorption in words and of the perils such absorption invites. On the other hand, Henry IV, written probably some years after Richard II but directly following it in historical time, constitutes the triumph of words properly understood, of words immediately, felicitously conjoined with—a very part of—action. From Richard II by way of Bolingbroke to Hal this circle is completed. Richard II is, through Richard's doting on words, a forced unity and simplicity. Eschewing subplot and the aeration of comic comment, it establishes a community of expression that, out of rigorous insularity and growing remoteness from reality, must collapse. Henry IV, to the contrary, is as free a play, as expansive, complex, and buoyantly inclusive, as any Shakespeare ever wrote. Here he gives his time, now of all humours, full voice. In Richard II, celebrating the climax and death of English Medievalism, Shakespeare, like Richard himself, compressed his powers in one splendid if narrow channel. But moving from that almost unaccompanied solo to the full-bodied symphony of Henry IV, Shakespeare celebrates the 'modern' Renaissance, the Elizabethan spirit at its most bounteous and exuberant. In Henry IV the whole man, exemplified by gallants like Raleigh and Sidney, lives his multiple life; in Hal that life is being lived, as in the play's vast range all of Elizabethan England seems to be living.
Thus one feels called upon to say that nothing in Henry IV is inert or unrealized. Rather, everything leaps to instant, teeming life. Like this moment of England itself, Shakespeare's medium is assured enough to encourage his characters and their actions to be genius-like themselves. There is, consequently, something in the individual personae and in their engagements of the rhythm of the dance, movement altogether itself. But of course it is modern dance one thinks of, not a court dance. The movement of earlier plays in their stately, artificial symmetry contrasts sharply with the naturalness, the crackling immediacy, of Henry IV's development. In fact, so crammed and bustling is the play in its use of a language adaptive to all occasions—those of the court, the tavern, the street, the battlefield, lovers—each occasion seemingly wrapped up in its own skin and breath, that not until quite recently have critics been able to see it for the amazing whole it is. The richness, the brio, of Henry IV has been ascribed to its nationalistic and patriotic, not to say epical, concerns. Certainly, the play most cogently testifies, this is a young nation breaking loose, joyous in the mere rehearsal of its newly released powers. The work's greatness resides in its very impurity, its gallimaufry-like nature, its bursting of normal bounds.
And critics have gradually become apprised of this freedom, but no less of the extraordinary form responsible for this freedom. Thus so much in modern criticism has been made of the play's multiple structure, of the way in which scenes, one after another, collaborate and comment on each other, a balancing so daring that one scene seems to be, not merely the counterpart of the other, but its subplot, that little more need be said about it here. But the critical vehemence produced by the tavern scenes and their master, Falstaff, must be dealt with. This vehemence has continued for some centuries. Ironically enough, however, perhaps even more than with Shylock, it has been almost equally spent on opposite positions: on the one hand, those who consider Falstaff not only the play's central figure but heroic and, for the abuse he sustains at the end of Part II, tragic as well; on the other, those who excoriate him as a ruffian, a vice, a Satan, to say the least a seducer of the young. But a creation of such magnitude and, simultaneously, of such intimately existential impact yields to no single view, no summary or generalizing. When we try to talk about him apart from his play we are bound to reduce him and so lose him. Whatever his moral worth, he rises, at least until Part II, fat singing dolphin that he is, above the element he lives in; and brimming it to flooding, he intoxicates us with that vintage sack. The intoxicating sack that his wit alone can make of it. Once a lord, he is now the chief lord of delight in a wakening in some sort the reverse of Sly's; he too enjoys a gallery of lusty pictures—impromptus and tableaux—but usually of his own devising. So, generation after generation, because of the sacred, earthy life in him, we, according to the bias of our own temperaments, passionately join or passionately disavow his company. Capable of every eventuality, he enables us to reflect another—maybe, if we are lucky and lively ourselves, even a new—iridescent side of his cornucopious nature. And therefore of our own. If he can animate creatures like Shallow and Slender it is not excessive to expect him to do the same for us.
Much like the contrary views of him is the extreme to which many modern critics have been led by their admiration for the Falstaff scenes. Considering him betrayed, they take his remarks and scenes to be, not only a puncturing of courtly hypocrisy parading as patriotism, but the play's essential meaning. For modern men with their belief mainly in the 'natural', carried to the point where only self-interest and submission to the appetites seem honest, such interpretation is pretty inevitable. Of course, the most faithful reading of the play attests that Falstaff and his scenes do have a fundamental, if low and therefore limited, seriousness that must be reckoned with; and of course, they expose the frivolity and the selfishness hidden away in the high scenes under thick brocades of words no less than of dress. The play's comics, like the zany, intricate carvings in cathedral doors and pews and like those cathedrals' gargoyles, do their part in exorcising evil and in draining off excess by expressing it. But necessary though this exposure may be, rather than fatally damaging those high scenes, it brings us to the reality inside them and, by throwing it into low relief, helps us to realize it.
If it is a fact that by the end of Part II freedom as embodied in these gargoyles is in danger, if order finds itself so threatened or at least so bent on morality that it must outlaw these creatures, then we are indeed involved in a grave matter. Eccentrics and independents, increasingly assertive while the world thrives, are likely more and more to irritate the others, especially the authorities. The State, often in its growing success, which would tend to promote freedom and even extravagance, may become, by its fears on behalf of that success, too rigid to accommodate, let alone benefit from, such dissident elements. Then always more uniformity is exacted. This drying up of geniality, of capacity, may, as I suggested, be at the root of Antonio's sadness, his awareness, not only of the fundamental materialism of life, but of its expanding insistence everywhere, its profound hatred of music, merriment, freedom, and the carefree. So too in Twelfth Night Sir Toby Belch's urging of cakes and ale, before the kind of world emerging, may well be tinged with wistfulness if not melancholy.
In any case, challenges and dangers notwithstanding, English history is here having one of its great days, that of the newborn modern world. So great is it, as enacted in this work, that it seems much more than history, in its very reality as fabulous as the Homeric, say. Yet it is painfully clear everywhere that, though this play via its language breathes health and delight, disease and corruption are also loose, on a scale that jeopardizes all the rest. The reasons, beyond abundance itself, are not hard to find. The sickness' principal source can be traced to the society's center, that which should be the source of strength and stability, the King and his deeds in becoming king; the rotting corpse of Richard II refuses to stay buried, and its stench penetrates the world of Henry IV, Unfortunately as with virtually all societies, since none can be started out of nothing, this brave new world is founded on old corruption. Henry IV's abilities are most impressive; so are his intentions and his yearning for a unified kingdom, one of peace. Yet his example, his responsibility for the murder of a legitimate king, has brought the reverse of stability to England; and he must exert all his very considerable powers merely to keep his place. By the oneness of king and society, his disease has been spreading throughout England even while it intensifies in his own person. Carrying on robberies and loose living generally, Falstaff and his crew are one manifestation of that dis-ease (however little we may want to stress their 'riot and dishonour') as are, much more urgently, the King's enemy lords. An even more poignant reminder of it, especially since the reminder seems to promise the dis-ease's prosperity after the King's death, is the conduct of his own son Hal.
The play opens with the King's delivering himself of a measured speech, similar to other such curtain raisers. It is a model of stately order, reminiscent in some degree of Richard II's oratory, a touch ironical, perhaps, coming from the eminently practical Bolingbroke, now immensely conscious of his role: the need to maintain a lofty distance from his audience. His oration is neatly divided between peace and war.
So shaken as we are, so wan with care,
Find we a time for frighted peace to pant,
And breathe short-winded accents of new broils
To be commenced in stronds afar remote.
No more the thirsty entrance of this soil
Shall daub her lips with her own children's blood.
No more shall trenching war channel her fields,
Nor bruise her flowerets with the arméd hoofs
Of hostile paces: those opposéd eyes,
Which like the meteors of a troubled heaven,
All of one nature, of one substance bred,
Did lately meet in the intestine shock
And furious close of civil butchery,
Shall now, in mutual well-beseeming ranks,
March all one way, and be no more opposed
Against acquaintance, kindred, and allies.
The edge of war, like an ill-sheathéd knife,
No more shall cut his master.
That knife, once let loose, is indeed hard to sheathe again or, for that matter, to hold so that it will not cut the hand that loosed it. But recalling the war just ended, he strives to settle it completely by putting his hope for abiding peace in the accents of something like a royal command. Most conspicuous in this attempt at order by way of rhetoric is the would-be bracing, repeated phrase 'no more', artfully, since somewhat unpredictably, placed. The many genitive phrases, occupied for the most part with violence, are also skilfully deployed, and exert themselves to contain or fix that violence, and so give a substance and stability to his words.
Then, with the immediate past taken care of, the King turns to the present and its occupation-to-be.
As far as to the sepulchre of Christ,
Whose soldier now, under whose blesséd cross
We are impresséd and engaged to fight,
Forthwith a power of English shall we levy,
Whose arms were moulded in their mothers' womb
To chase these pagans in those holy fields
Over whose acres walked those blesséd feet
Which fourteen hundred years ago were nailed
For our advantage on the bitter cross.
But this our purpose now is twelve months old,
And bootless 'tis to tell you we will go;
Therefore we meet not now.
Compared with the stiff, opening verses of Richard in his play, this speech at this point enjoys a most appealing fluidity, especially as its lines, keyed to the chasing of the pagans over the vast fields, vaster for the time Christ must span, sweep through the nonstopped five verses beginning 'Whose arms were moulded in their mothers' womb'. Beyond this fluidity our pleasure in the art of these lines is heightened by the way in which they, covering space and time, first by chasing then by walking, are braked by 'nailed' and finally weighed in 'advantage' as against 'bitter'. It is interesting to move from the 'blesséd cross' via those 'blesséd feet' to the advantaging 'bitter cross'. Not to recognize Henry's verbal powers, his suppleness of mind, especially sensitive to his times, is to miss some good part of him. Just to listen to Richard's initial blank verse in its official nature, shaped definite line by line, is to hear the difference.
Old John of Gaunt, time-honoured Lancaster,
Hast thou, according to thy oath and band,
Brought hither Henry Hereford, thy bold son,
Here to make good the boist'rous late appeal,
Which then our leisure would not let us hear,
Against the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Mowbray?
It is also to appreciate the basic difference between the worlds these men represent. Henry IV's oppression at his own grave difficulties, most of them, he assumes, out of his dedicated effort to serve England and his people, helps to intensify his sympathy for, if not his feeling of identification with, Christ. Distressed by the civil war and the killing of Richard that provoked it, Henry would pay the penance he has been denied for a whole year and thereby, in one great common cause far afield from England itself, would heal his sorely bruised kingdom. In short, his repentance is a complex mixture of policy and feeling, and his present policy an attempt to serve both. Briskly he turns to the business at hand.
However, instead of his council's decree 'In forwarding this dear expedience' he learns that civil war has broken out again. Hotspur's valor and success against the Scotch naturally move Henry, especially at Westmoreland's statement that Hotspur's prize 'is a conquest for a prince to boast of, to thoughts of his own son. Henry admits:
Yea, there thou mak'st me sad and mak'st me sin
In envy that my Lord Northumberland
Should be the father to so blest a son,
and proceeds to describe the difference between the two chief contenders in the play, a description bound to be fairly convincing coming from the father of one of them. For such strong words, and for much of the next scene that seems to fulfill them, who shall not believe this grieving father. Then when he weighs further evidence of Hotspur's nature, his pride in refusing to surrender most of his prisoners, we see what trouble is brewing between Henry and his supporters, the original conspirators against Richard II. It is one thing for Henry to admire Hotspur; quite another for Hotspur to oppose his will. Hotspur's character has been set out before us: the quality that makes him appealing also makes him a problem.
The second scene at once establishes the world Henry has just decried for his own son. Falstaff and Hal, in richly spiced prose, regale each other with a royal buffoonery that would indeed alarm and outrage Henry. (He is, we notice, a king with no time or mind for a jester or courtly clown.) It is amusing and most relevant that the first words of that mocker and enemy of time, Falstaff, should have to do with time. (Henry's first words also had to do with time and as mistakenly: 'So shaken as we are, so wan with care, / Find we a time for frighted Peace to pant. . . .' With consideration of time so quickly pressed upon us here, it does not seem excessive to suggest that it is a major matter in this play.) Falstaff yawningly asks, 'Now, Hal, what time of day is it, lad?' And Hal without a moment's pause laces into him:
Thou art so fat-witted, with drinking of old sack, and unbuttoning thee after supper, and sleeping upon benches after noon, that thou hast forgotten to demand that truly which thou wouldst truly know. What a devil hast thou to do with the time of the day? Unless hours were cups of sack, and minutes capons, and clocks the tongues of bawds, and dials the signs of leaping-houses, and the blessed sun himself a fair hot wench in flame-coloured taffeta, I see no reason why thou shouldst be so superfluous to demand the time of the day.
Humor apart, from his first word Hal's opinion of Falstaff is never in doubt. But hours are cups of sack and minutes capons for Falstaff, or at least they are in prompting witty, gusty talk about them. Sly, plucked from his drunken bench in the tavern, found a momentary Eden of sorts in the practical joke of the hunting lord: an Eden, that is, till the actual play began; Falstaff, plucking himself out of the rigors of the court, has found his own Eden in a Slyesque tavern, one that will happily serve him till the 'play' or reality itself breaks in. Falstaff, rising to this raillery (we hear at once, in Hal's words and accents, what a robust boy he is), pretends it is praise:
Indeed, you come near me now, Hal; for we that take purses go by the moon and the seven stars and not by Phoebus, he, 'that wandering knight so fair.'
He admits that he and his ways are not for the day, with its busy, prying nature. Falstaff and his cronies are moon-men. And if they cannot enjoy A Midsummer Night's Dream's balmy, lunar wood, they can at least steal by the moon in a world asleep under its influence.
Quickly then Falstaff, as is his wont, shifts subjects. And he proceeds to urge Hal:
. . . when thou art King, let not us that are squires of the night's body be called thieves of the day's beauty. Let us be Diana's foresters, gentlemen of the shade, minions of the moon; and let men say, we be men of good government, being governed, as the sea is, by our noble and chaste mistress the moon, under whose countenance we steal.
It is 'natural' law, its government, that he and his obey. Hal rounds on him, and what might be thought mere wit-chaffing we soon recognize for the much greater mordancy it is. Never does Hal conceal his real sentiments from Falstaff, but Falstaff—also Hal's sharpest critics who accuse him of deceit—fails or refuses to attend to them; no doubt he assumes it pays him to pass them off lightly as banter. And so they go, Hal an obviously fitting mate in wit to Falstaff, an apprentice who already bids fair to surpass his master, and a critic whose acerb remarks Falstaff deftly dodges or turns to momentary advantage. Yet who, listening, can deny the serious tenor, bravura and all, of Hal's rejoinder?
Thou sayest well, and it holds well too; for the fortune of us that are the moon's men doth ebb and flow like the sea, being governed, as the sea is, by the moon. As for proof now: a purse of gold most resolutely snatched on Monday night and most dissolutely spent on Tuesday morning; got with swearing 'Lay by' and spent with crying 'Bring in:' now in as low an ebb as the foot of the ladder, and by and by in as high a flow as the ridge of the gallows.
Falstaff, whatever his persiflage, has heard. For some half dozen speeches later he suddenly asks:
But, I prithee, sweet wag, shall there be gallows standing in England when thou art King? And resolution thus fobbed as it is with the rusty curb of old father antic the law? Do not thou, when thou art King, hang a thief.
Falstaff s would-be topsy-turvying of law and order is plain enough here. Equally plain is Hal's blunt answer: 'No; thou shalt.' However generously Falstaff chooses to understand it, we need not be surprised by his confessing a moment later, in what may be his lurking suspicion of the truth: "Sblood, I am as melancholy as a gib cat or a lugged bear.' That Shakespeare's prime comic should come to this!
Drollery it is no doubt. Yet were one to know where to have Falstaff, and fortunately one does not, one might be tempted to propose that, for a comic who is all vitality and mercuriality, he is astonishingly much preoccupied with aging, frailties, dying and death. But if there is one thing we are accustomed to in Shakespeare by now it is his infusing his comedy with sadness, ranging all the way to anguish. Gratiano, we recall, trying to jolly Antonio early in The Merchant of Venice, said:
Let me play the fool!
With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.
And let my liver rather heat with wine
Than my heart cool with mortifying groans.
Why should a man, whose blood is warm within,
Sit like his grandsire cut in alabaster,
Sleep when he wakes, and creep into the jaundice
By being peevish?
Why indeed? Yet in a world like ours who, even with the best, stouthearted will, can be impervious to its blows inside and out? But Falstaff, old though he may be, is even victorious with this, and makes it by his audacious wit his own. For spirit of play that he is, and age and dying be damned, he insists on making gaiety of winter itself and, at least until late in Part II, of melancholy. Also, we must remember, melancholy was very fashionable at this time. Both Hal and Falstaff, by their droll reeling off of varieties of melancholy, underscore that fact.
After the laying out of plans for that night's robbery Hal, alone, reveals, now properly in poetry, the truth of his feelings, his intentions, no less deliberate and calculated than the best of his father's:
I know you all, and will awhile uphold
The unyoked humour of your idleness.
Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wondered at
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapours that did seem to strangle him.
Strong, even fierce, renunciatory language this is; but Shakespeare, it appears, wants to make it clear from the start that Hal is already himself and the man he will be. Whatever his lingerings in, and his returns to, the world of Falstaff, Hal's mind was long ago made up, and he is biding his time, waiting for the proper moment to emerge. He has a happy sense of the dramatic, the need for change and the unpredictable.
So, when this loose behaviour I throw off
And pay the debt I never promiséd,
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, glitt'ring 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.
In all his hobnobbing with the vulgar then, Hal wisely (unlike Richard II, say) keeps his beauty, his nobility, a little like a fairytale prince, concealed and to himself. And time, given his rich sense of its meaning and its diverse usefulness, his talent for timing, is the element he works in. In fact, time is the element of all the main characters. Henry IV at the play's outset, we saw, wished to redeem the time, but local or immediate time burst in to prevent it. Time for him has thus become a mere wearying, endless sequence. For Falstaff, time is little other than the occasion for amusement, and he strives to make a kind of essence of existence itself, low existence at that. But we must recognize that this low existence is, on the whole, an excuse for high, effervescent with and hilarious humor. Hal, on the other hand, realizes full well that there is, as the Bible has it, a time for this and a time for that.
Hal's soliloquy, it is true, makes nothing of his enjoyment of Falstaff s company, an enjoyment, however, that his other lively speeches, despite their barbs for Falstaff, plainly betray. In examining earlier plays I have said a good deal about the unemployed, often bored, young lord, who attempts to distract himself or to make a new role for himself. In Love's Labour's Lost the King of Navarre sought to establish a School of Night and a different world for himself and his friends. Theseus, impatiently awaiting his marriage, set up a brief regime of merriment. Hal is such a young lord. With an able father in charge of state affairs, and with his sense of the troubled, stifling tedium prevalent in the court, his being elsewhere should not surprise us. He has found such an elsewhere in Falstaff and his cronies. For Hal in the tavern, Falstaff can be the jester that he cannot be in the long-faced court. And here we are in the midst of two vying worlds again, the court versus the tavern, day-men versus moon-men; in the midst of the churning, plot-ridden, daily 'real' world we discover a charmed and charming world of revelry. For a spell Hal is able to retire into it. One remembers Creon's response when Oedipus accuses him of plotting to seize his throne: 'Who would be king if he can, as I do, enjoy his privileges and rights without his duties and responsibilities?' Richard II assumed that only a king could so enjoy himself. A prince would be a likelier candidate.
At this point I recall Auden's surprise in his essay 'The Prince's Dog' at the company Hal keeps. 'Surely one could expect to see him surrounded by daring, rather sinister juvenile delinquents and beautiful gold-digging whores.' Till now, it is true, Shakespeare's young lords tended to travel in like-minded, carefree, devil-may-care packs. But they usually found part of their amusement in comic, if not ludicrous, retainers. For his purposes, serious and secret from the start, Hal can ill afford confidants on his own level; Falstaff is lord enough. Furthermore, the young lords of earlier plays are chummily together only till seriousness strikes either their principal member of all of them. Certainly Falstaff and his crew are nothing like La Dolce Vita. Nor are they sinister juvenile delinquents. Senior delinquents who have kept the child's sense of gaiety and play would be more like it. Enchanted wood or not, the tavern in its snug, familiar atmosphere—like a hearth whose fire counterpoints a most amiable winter's tale, more cosy for the winds just outside, the gathering storms of rebellion and violence—exudes a fairy-world quality while the moon, peeping in, reflects most intoxicatingly on the flames, the wine, and the bubbling wit. And the tavern's charm is all the more potent for being so obviously fragile and evanescent. For a brief, suspended time at least, these fat crickets and proud grasshoppers will not submit, not for all the diligent ants in the world. Of course Hal, like other good, young, noble Englishmen, might have gone off on the Grand Tour to Venice or Rome or Paris or possibly—like Hamlet—to some university. Instead, his plans being what they are, and by the interwovenness of Henry IV, he prefers to stay at home with Falstaff s homely, native glamor, his irreverent, often most relevant wit.
As the play proceeds, our surprise is replaced by another kind of puzzle, for the better we come to know Falstaff, the clearer it becomes that the world of historical reality which a chronicle play claims to imitate is not a world which he can inhabit.
Henry IPs realistic, local detail, its bustle and revel of a swarm of personages straight out of Shakespeare's own day, can hardly be tucked into the dimensions of a chronicle play. Yet there is some truth in Auden's observation. However, one could say that, for most purposes, Falstaff, tavern-becalmed, does not inhabit the world of historical reality until well on in Part I and then—and especially in Part II—with increasingly disastrous results to himself. At that time he proves that he cannot—should not—inhabit it, but for reasons, I shall try to show, other than Auden's. According to him, 'Falstaff has not and could not have found his true home because Shakespeare was only a poet. For that he was to wait nearly two hundred years till Verdi wrote his last opera.' The heightened, timeless world of music is Auden's notion of Falstaff s native element. He does 'not belong to the temporal world of change'. In his dedication to merriment and in his resentment at growing old, Falstaff would surely be happy to agree with this version of him.
But the facts are, I believe, rather different. For whatever our yearning for an existence beyond time with its ravages, Shakespeare knows better: no one is 'an unkillable, self-sufficient immortal'. The world at large—things as they are—comes first. And even though it is the destructive element, it is also the one we depend on for living and, now and then, for living jubilantly. Only this world supplies the resources whereby a few of us realize a style so brilliant that we appear to be invulnerable in the aura of our own personalities. Falstaff is a magician if only through words, almost able, he makes us feel, to bid time loiter and gawk like a yokel. Yet for all his guises and disguises Falstaff too requires a line, life-giving if tenuous, to the world at large. Like Richard II he too needs money, food, shelter, and friends (an audience?). Thus he takes it for granted that, when his own wits fail him, Hal will bail him out of debt and mischief. Shakespeare's earlier, almost enclosed garden comedies lived in the brief time of grace afforded them by some enchanted wood or a spell of moonlight. At the same time these enclosures, no less than the most abstracted college, Navarre's for instance, not to say the dingy little Night-School of Falstaff, are dependent on the outside world. It is only by the grace, or at least the indifference, of that world and by the means derived from it that such communities can be established and go on in the first place. To think of such schools, at least of the Falstaffian kidney, emerging at all and surviving, if only for a time, in a beleagured and beleaguring world, always threatening to flood and muddy our sack, is heartening. However, in maintaining that Falstaff should be spared the world of Henry IV, isn't Auden missing the point and splendor of the play entirely? It is, I firmly believe, precisely the brilliant amalgamation of Falstaff and his comedy, comedy which Shakespeare had by now thoroughly explored, with history, the public world he had mastered in earlier plays, that makes Henry IV so magnificent. Kept out of the histories till now, comedy is back with a vengeance.
But what kind of school or court is Falstaff's? It is of course that of wit and of rollicksome fun, supervised by one who has awakened from the dream of reality, 'the nightmare of history'. With the nonsense of the court and the world at large bade slip, the good sense of the senses in all their naturalness, employed by living for its own dear sake, is made the law. And Falstaff, usually called a Lord of Misrule, sees to it that his gamesome court's laws are to the letter observed. A ruler he is, capable as any king in his unique way of getting into scrapes and getting out of them. Fat, old and full of infirmities, Falstaff would seem to be little more than a perfect butt, farce's very favorite. And he is a butt, of bottomless, spicy ale, easily broached and tapped by all—not least of all by himself. All his weaknesses, through the happy exercise, the inspiring challenge, that they give his tireless wit, are devoutly to be wished. Nothing, we begin to think, is strong or able enough to capsize him. In fact, his time seems mainly spent in collaborating with his followers to get him into always tighter corners, apparently inescapable ones; these provide him with opportunities to exhibit his skills and by their authority to extricate himself with delight for everyone, thereby newly affirming his right to 'rule'. For kings, especially of such uncertain courts, must constantly prove themselves. In his fashion Falstaff is no less masterly than Henry IV. And his joy in his role, we can safely say, far exceeds Henry's in his.
To make a comparison in some ways ludicrous enough to impress even Falstaff, I suggest that he has established a court of the kind Richard II desired, believed he deserved and in truth had—a court in which words, Falstaff s words, are, for the time being, law. By the amiable glow of his personality Falstaff has persuaded the things around him, basking in that glow, to do his magical bidding. And human beings gladly bask in it as well. Sly, asleep, was spirited away by a hunting lord from a tavern to a mansion. Here, so able is Falstaff to convert the dinginess of his tavern into glamor, a lord, a prince at that, has for a time been captivated and led from the royal palace to that tavern. Yet the fragility of that ambience is clear enough. Meant to live only in the moon's tenuous realm, Falstaff s is indeed an exiguous kingdom, one, like the fairy and lover's world of A Midsummer Night's Dream, in danger of being swept away by the first intruding beams of daylight.
But why, aside from the reasons already specified, should a lively young man, a king's son, find such a meager, not to say basically tawdry, environment attractive? Hal understands how much is to be learned from a rare, opulent character like Falstaff, this 'cause that wit is in other men'. For if Falstaff seems out of the world, to the degree that he is rooted in his senses he is the master of common-sense, committed to the senses' meaning—they act as his touchstone—no less than to their pleasures. Thus he is a happy antidote to the court which more times than not, in its professed ideals and confused desires, wanders far from reality and common-sense. 'Wit' in this play, beyond its more obvious meanings, has to do with the exercise and fulfilment of one's mental faculties. Hal, appreciating the variety of men he meets in the tavern world, his subjects-to-be, as well as the variety Falstaff sparklingly bubbles forth, appreciates also what self-realization he can come to in their midst and what lessons he can learn towards understanding other men.
At the same time we must not blink the other side of it. Hal must also find out what is going on in the world outside the court, the dangers, the crimes, the outrages. How else, once he is king, will he be able to recognize them quickly and to deal with them? As late as the Fourth Act of Part II King Henry still fails to understand Hal and his appetite for Falstaff. Warwick tries to reassure King Henry:
My gracious lord, you look beyond him quite.
The Prince but studies his companions
Like a strange tongue, wherein, to gain the language,
'Tis needful that the most immodest word
Be looked upon and learned, which once attained,
Your Highness knows, comes to no further use
But to be known and hated. So, like gross terms,
The Prince will in the perfectness of time
Cast off his followers.
Stern and incomplete though Warwick's interpretation of Hal's conduct may be, as far as it goes it is accurate, not far in fact from Hal's own austerity in his first soliloquy in Part I. Thus Warwick's 'in the perfectness of time' is perfect in echoing Hal's concern with and sense of time and timing. And perhaps, in all their aptness, a measure of resonance beyond what Warwick intends or knows stirs in his next words:
And their memory
Shall as a pattern or a measure live,
By which his Grace must mete the lives of others,
Turning past evils to advantage.
If Falstaff can turn diseases to commodities, Hal will be able to turn evils to advantage.
No doubt all this sounds too deliberate and too ponderous, and no doubt it is. Nonetheless, apart from Hal's amusement in Falstaff and in the play of the imagination Falstaff releases from him before his arduous labors begin, he does have a profound sense of the magnitude of the role he will soon have to fill; of the training, the seasoning, it requires. Who can deny the element of truth in Falstaff s praise of sherry:
Hereof comes it that Prince Hal is valiant; for the cold blood he did naturally inherit of his father, he hath, like lean, sterile, and bare land, manured, husbanded, and tilled with excellent endeavour of drinking good and good store of fertile sherris, that he is become very hot and valiant.
More exactly, Hal has drunk deeply of that brimming bombard, that overflowing cask, Falstaff. For Hal is fortunately little like his cold and incomplete younger brother, Prince John of Lancaster, all policy and state. As Falstaff says of John, 'Good faith, this same young sober-blooded boy doth not love me, nor a man cannot make him laugh; but that's no marvel, he drinks no wine.' The geniality of the spirits ripened out of the good earth must loosen, not to say enlarge, the spirits in a man. (City habitué though he is, a naturalist of the indoors, it is not surprising that at the end Falstaff babbles of green fields.) Most relevantly Falstaff later observes, 'It is certain fact that, either wise bearing or ignorant carriage is caught, as men take diseases, one of another; therefore let men take heed of their company.' Hal takes such heed, takes courses, one might say, when and as he needs them, in timely, graduating sequence.
The early comedies often concentrated on education, the need of young men to be instructed, in books certainly, but perhaps even more in the senses and the feelings, in the ways of life itself. Usually, especially for the feelings, a young woman was required to instruct via those most efficient agents, beauty and love. But in the histories till now education was negligible, and what lessons were learned were learned too late. Furthermore, these histories, with their atmosphere of physical violence and war, did not favor women whose realm is mainly the domestic. Thus they usually were fairly passive (if in their very passivity, as in Richard III, often most potent). Now in Henry IV, with comedy resumed and some touch, we might say, of the domestic introduced in the tavern, education again becomes all-important, even crucial, and happily successful. But it derives not from a lovely young woman but from an old fat man, a disreputable one at that.
And it is not hard to understand, disreputableness and all, how Falstaff functions, how—more than any Audenesque glittering whore and with a mercuriality Cleopatra might have appreciated—effective and educative he is. He is a kind of low, earthly Socrates (who himself was well compared with Silenus), a latter-day satyr who, like Silenus the moon-man, can educate a young man in home truths, strengthen his earth sense, introduce him to the wisdom that inheres in mirth, the comic sense. Without this wisdom a man is incomplete since unaware of mankind's duality, unawakened to that objectivity which enables him to regard himself at a reasonable distance and to laugh at himself no less than at others. Dionysus, tutored and companioned by Silenus, identified with goats and satyrs and the emancipating of the spirits by the kindness of wine, became the presiding deity of theater, of comedy and tragedy alike, its origin and its life-blood. For he taught holiday, self-forgetting revelries by way of the senses away from the drab routine normal to daily life. Falstaff is of this line, a spirit of spirits, of the intoxicating mystery of earth. And he must be understood and used accordingly, must be given his ample due. But he must also—lest this intoxication override all else and tragedy, chaos and dismembering follow—be coped with. The Apollonian must be remembered at least as much. At the same time, however, though Falstaff seems a devotee of the senses and of their offspring, play and gaiety, by his buoyancy—for in Part I at least we never see him drunk or engrossed in the senses and for themselves alone—we understand that he lives by and with them, for their rich bouquet.
Having lived long with observation and a most retentive memory, he possesses boundless provisions of experience. Thus for a time he makes—and is—a god's plenty in a little room, that of the tavern and his commodious being. And for a time how shall that plenty, distilled with his wit and served up piping-hot, not seem sweeter than all the rest of the world? Especially since the rest of the world at its quintessential best seems to be swarming around him. For he is the actor consummate. He lives for the myriad parts he can, spontaneously or deliberately, play. This is his freedom. Of course, because of his bulk he can scarcely be expected to move much, let alone act. He must rely chiefly on his wits and his words, his ability to 'leap about' on the bare boards of the tavern by assuming other men's roles. And for the joy with which he does assume them we can judge that no other taste delights or fulfils him like the taste of being someone else.
In Bottom, Mercutio, and others we have already met effervescent, spontaneous actors. But Falstaff differs from these early actors—at least Bottom—fundamentally. However much he shares their gusto, he is not, until well on in Part I and in Part II, self-involved. Bottom, we recall, desires all the parts but primarily to be himself and more himself; like the puffed-up frog he would fill the world, have it be nothing but Bottom. Earlier characters, the Armadoes and Holofemes, winsome though they were, remain superb, wholly realized, strutting, opaque parodies. And we do have a new member of their company here in Pistol. But, aside from his resolution to avoid being caught and held to anything, Falstaff is a parodist supreme. Mercutio, it is true, has brief moments of this; but brief he and these moments have to be for the purposes of a tragedy like Romeo and Juliet. That is, like Richard III only till now, does Falstaff play many parts. However, Richard III, remarkable though he may also be for his immense enjoyment in performing, has his reason for playing parts, a great end, and a desperate one at that. Falstaff, though he can hardly be absolved of self-interest—his play-acting, like Hamlet's, is often a mode of evasion—is, at least for most of Part I, mainly taken up by the roles themselves, the relish of their performance.
We need not wonder, therefore, that so many are smitten with him. Here at last seems to be a man able, like his creator himself, to circumvent the limitations of being a man, the prison of a particular time and place. Already in The Taming of the Shrew Petruchio had set himself to instructing Kate in such play, the one way we have of escaping our respective prisons. By learning this freedom Kate could accept and be herself. Furthermore, Falstaff s being a superfluous man—like Richard II with his uselessness, one who will not yield to society and its requirements—has an almost irresistible appeal for many. Malcontent that Falstaff essentially is, in his chameleon-like changing of roles he becomes Shakespeare's most telling comic 'belcontent'. And his most convincing comic individual. Here at last I draw on Keats' valuable obiter scriptum, his notion of the negative capability. For him, quite rightly, Shakespeare was its supreme instance: the genius so enamored of the multifarious world around him that he absorbs himself entirely, finding himself insignificant beside them, in the variety of beings that world pours forth or, in his case, in the beings his genius pours forth. Falstaff, as much as any other Shakespearean character, partakes of his maker's genius: he is a character who exists by being—by creating—other characters, by being the parodist sublime.
It is this rare gift that Hal as a man and an eventual king is drawn to. In fact, from the play's start, we saw, he is Falstaffianly other than he seems, playing a part that has taken everyone in. In a sense, he is like most of those in the court, pretending to be different from what they are. But Hal's pretense is quite the reverse of theirs, and unique. They pretend—see Henry IV—to be better than they are and convince no one. Hal pretends to be far worse than he is, a full-time playboy, and convinces everyone. In a topsy-turvy, bad time one often must, to protect oneself and one's purpose, conceal one's true identity. Thus he is the ablest 'actor' of them all; for he deceives all, is truly a royal counterfeit, on behalf of truth, honor, justice, order. It is Falstaff who can best help Hal carry on and carry out his disguise.
With Hal's gift for learning, and learning at once, from others—apart from Falstaff, his father serves him, and the Lord Chief Justice—and with the importance of that gift in his career, we should consider his other major 'teacher', Hotspur. For many critics Hotspur and Falstaff, the two real conspirators, threaten to tear the kingdom and the play in half. Hotspur's appeal is, aside from Henry IV's endorsement, patent from the start. His wife tells us in Part II, a play full, unlike Part I, of definitions and character observations (for Part II has a past, a 'reality', that of Part I, to draw on):
.. . by his light
Did all the chivalry of England move
To do brave acts: he was indeed the glass
Wherein the noble youth did dress themselves.
He had no legs that practised not his gait;
And speaking thick, which nature made his blemish,
Became the accents of the valiant;
For those that could speak low and tardily
Would turn their own perfection to abuse,
To seem like him; so that in speech, in gait,
In diet, in affections of delight,
In military rules, humours of blood,
He was the mark and glass, copy and book,
That fashioned others.
Thus, because of Hotspur's virtues so gallantly on display, if the company of Falstaff seems to besmirch Hal, by comparison, the comparison that the King himself first proposes, the conduct of Hotspur does so all the more positively. And yet, we should notice, if he is a glass, he is a confining one; in fact, altogether in harmony with his self-crammed nature, he is no glass at all; he is too opaque for that. Rather he supplies others with an image they must imitate; he obliges all, even to the abuse of their perfection, to change to—that is, ape—him. Falstaff, on the other hand, inspires them to be themselves at their lustiest.
For all Hotspur's crusty humor—a volcano with wit!—and occasional insight into others—Glendower and his magic, for example, or the young lovers—he is of such divine peremptoriness, so fixed on the expression and imposition of his own fiery personality, he can hardly pause to know himself, let alone others. Noble and honourable he is, but it is a nobility and an honor altogether out of and for himself. In his own words:
By heaven, methinks it were an easy leap
To pluck bright honour from the pale-faced moon,
Or dive into the bottom of the deep,
Where fathom-line could never touch the ground,
And pluck up drownéd honour by the locks;
So he that doth redeem her thence might wear
Without corrival all her dignities:
But out upon this half-faced fellowship!
Several times, like Hal, he speaks of 'redeeming'. Thus a little earlier he urged his father and his uncle,
.. . yet time serves wherein you may redeem
Your banished honours, and restore yourselves
Into the good thoughts of the world again;.. .
For Hal the redeeming is also personal, but aware of responsibilities larger than himself, he would not merely employ time to serve his own purposes but to 'redeem the time' itself. However, as Hotspur's father says of him just before his speech on honour, 'Imagination of some great exploit / Drives him beyond the bounds of patience.' He is bitten as by swarms of stinging flies, is, when not employed, a blade that cuts itself in a thousand places. The opacity his impatience produces in him, the mistakes it inevitably results in regarding others and events, mistakes he seems to leap to to prove his defiance, his pride, his superiority over circumstances and their consequences, these are what Hal quickly sees and learns to avoid. He will not be one to indulge himself with sentiments like 'I will ease my heart, / Albeit I make a hazard of my head.' or 'O! I could divide myself and go to buffets,...'
It is amusing to review Hal's and Hotspur's version of each other as well as to compare their stances. Scornfully Hotspur says of Hal:
And that same sword-and-buckler Prince of Wales,
But that I think his father loves him not
And would be glad he met with some mischance,
I would have him poisoned with a pot of ale.
Later, when the battle-forces gather, Hotspur asks:
Where is his son,
The nimble-footed madcap Prince of Wales,
And his comrades, that daffed the world aside,
And bid it pass?
On the other hand, Hal can say:
I am not yet of Percy's mind, the Hotspur of the North, he that kills me some six or seven dozen of Scots at a breakfast, washes his hands, and says to his wife, 'Fie upon this quiet life! I want work.' 'O my sweet Harry,' says she, 'how many hast thou killed today?' 'Give my roan horse a drench,' says he, and answers, 'Some fourteen,' an hour after, 'a trifle, a trifle.'
How accurate a description this is, even to the interruption of 'an hour after', the scene just before deliciously attests. Hotspur, ignoring his wife's question on what he is up to by ordering his roan, collects himself to say to her:
Away, you trifler! Love! I love thee not,
I care not for thee, Kate; this is no world
To play with mammets and to tilt with lips:
We must have bloody noses and cracked crowns,
And pass them current too. God's me, my horse!
Hal's caricature has brilliantly caught the absurdity of Hotspur's unmitigated blood-and-thunder. But their difference is plain. Hal is 'not yet of Percy's mind', but he will be when the occasion requires. For Hotspur, on the other hand, 'this is no world / To play at mammets and to tilt with lips:...' For a temperament like his it rarely is.
But as Hotspur's words on honor suggest, he does not know himself even as a speaker. Nor, for that matter, does he seem to have any idea of how much, tied as he is to his own tongue, he talks. In a sense, like Falstaff, Hotspur is one of Shakespeare's 'plain' speakers and plain-dealers. At least he plumes himself on being direct, curt, down to earth. Tangy words and all, he never for a moment recognizes what a poet he is, especially since his contempt for poetry is based on a most limited notion of it. Thus he says to Glendower's
I can speak English, lord, as well as you,
For I was trained up in the English court;
Where, being but young, I framéd to the harp
Many an English ditty lovely well,
And gave the tongue an helpful ornament;
A virtue that was never seen in you.
with a brusqueness and would-be harshness that amounts to superb poetry:
Marry, and I'm glad of it with all my heart.
I had rather be a kitten and cry mew
Than one of these same metre balladmongers;
I had rather hear a brazen canstick turned,
Or a dry wheel grate on the axle-tree;
And that would set my teeth nothing on edge,
Nothing so much as mincing poetry:
'Tis like the forced gait of a shuffling nag.
Understandably for such a headlong stallion, who would be ever immersed in action and nothing but action, the lyrical in its dallying, the self-conscious preening of courtiers, is bound to be repellent. As for heroic verse, why that when there are deeds to be done? We need only remember his first words in the play when he explains his conduct to Henry IV, ascribing it mainly to 'a certain lord' 'perfumed like a milliner', who questioned him, just from battle, 'With many holiday and lady terms.' After his exchange with Glendower, a little later in self-justification he even betters his words on the Welsh magician:
O! he's as tedious
As a tired horse, a railing wife;
Worse than a smoky house. I had rather live
With cheese and garlic in a windmill, far,
Than feed on cates and have him talk to me
In any summer-house in Christendom.
(We know how important horses are to him, and we have seen one next to a railing wife in Hotspur's scene with Lady Percy. For one who would be spending his life mettlesomely enthroned on a horse, a tired horse like 'a shuffling nag' must be even worse than a railing wife.) All this of an ally he dearly needs! His uncle rightly rebukes him for his lack of patience, his 'pride, haughtiness, opinion, and disdain.'
Hotspur, who despite his temper is generosity itself, quickly acknowledges these words, then passes on to his most charming, exceptionally mellow scene, one involving ballad-mongering. Mortimer is about to part with Glendower's daughter, who knows only Welsh. As she speaks, Mortimer says:
I understand thy looks: that pretty Welsh
Which thou pourest down from these swelling heavens
I am too perfect in; and, but for shame,
In such a parley would I answer thee.
I understand thy kisses and thou mine,
And that's a feeling disputation;
But I will never be a truant, love,
Till I have learned thy language; for thy tongue
Makes Welsh as sweet as ditties highly penned,
Sung by a fair queen in a summer's bower,
With ravishing division, to her lute.
This tribute to ditties in a summer's bower echoes most amusingly Hotspur's words, his scoffing at 'mincing poetry' and his aversion to hearing Glendower carry on about his magic 'In any summer-house in Christendom'. Then, with Mortimer's head in her lap, his wife sings him such a ditty while Glendower bids musicians, that like Ariel 'Hang in the air a thousand leagues from hence', be here and at work. Thereupon Hotspur's realistic wit, pricked by this idyllic scene and momentarily relaxed, finds some of its happiest expression. He bids his wife:
Come, Kate, thou art perfect in lying down. Come, quick, quick, that I may lay my head in thy lap.
The music plays; Hotspur, moved to poetry, observes:
Now I perceive the devil understands Welsh;
And 'tis no marvel he is so humorous.
By'r lady, he's a good musician.
His wife most pointedly rejoins:
Then should you be nothing but musical, for you are altogether governed by humours. Lie still, ye thief, and hear the lady sing in Welsh.
But Hotspur is off to his habitual and characteristic 'I had rather': 'I had rather hear Lady, my brach, howl in Irish.' Appropriately enough for him, his dog's name is Lady. Then he asks his wife for a song too. And at her 'Not mine, in good sooth' he once more vents his feeling about 'holiday and lady terms':
Not yours, 'in good sooth!' Heart! you swear like a comfit-maker's wife. Not you 'in good sooth,' and, 'as true as I live,' and 'as God shall mend me,' and 'as sure as day,'
And, stirred up now, he takes to mouth-filling poetry:
And giv'st such sarcenet surety for thy oaths
As if thou never walk'st further than Finsbury.
Swear me, Kate, like a lady as thou art,
A good mouth-filling oath, and leave 'in sooth,'
And such protest of pepper-gingerbread,
To velvet-guards and Sunday citizens.
We have here his version of a 'lady'.
We might expect such impatience with magic and with poetic language, letalone verbal frills and euphemisms, from a world all activity, one overwhelmed by the pressing encounters of history. Nonetheless, it is striking that magic and bewitchment, prominent in the early comedies at least atmospherically, tend to play little part in the histories. Of course history itself by its nature is contrary to magic and might be expected to be dismissive of it. Yet much of the magical seems to inhere in Richard III. Superstitions and all, when he needs magic to improve his cause he readily assumes its presence and its effects. However, this magic is more announced than seen; and in the historical plays, apart from the mysterious workings out of fate, we recognize chiefly men's own faculties, their violent or crafty acts and the 'witchcraft of wit': that of Richard III, of Richard II, which works only on himself, and of Falstaff, a bewitching or charm that moves others not so much to action or to change as to delight in his wayward skill and then, often to their surprise, in their own. Glendower, for all his assumption of extraordinary powers, plays a very minor role in Henry IV, one altogether aborted by the would-be hard-headed, irascible Hotspur. From his own words in their magical quality, '.. . it were an easy leap / To pluck bright honour from the pale-faced moon' and so on, and from his father's comment on him here, 'Imagination of some great exploit / Drives him beyond the bounds of patience,' we might expect some sympathy in Hotspur for the magic that Glendower claims, his 'I can call spirits from the vasty deep.' But, no, Hotspur's respect for the 'imagination' lies exclusively in thinking of, then executing, some great deed, as 'magic' for him resides entirely in his own mind, in his expectation of what his own strength and courage can do.
Yet despite this amiable 'Welsh' interlude, and though both Hotspur and Falstaff are first-rate poets, similar in their proclivity to pungent terms and images and to plain-dealing, they are finally and fundamentally as opposite as their names suggest. Falstaff is committed to living itself and to a host-like welcoming of it. But he knows the relevancy of language to living: as a comic, often exposing comment on it...
(The entire section is 24710 words.)
Sherman H. Hawkins (essay date 1973)
SOURCE: "Virtue and Kingship in Shakespeare's Henry IV," in English Literary Renaissance, Vol. 5, No. 3, Autumn, 1975, pp. 313-43.
[In the following essay, an expanded version of a lecture given at the Shakespeare Association America in 1973, Hawkins examines the competing claims of virtue and lineage over the right to rule in Henry IV, maintaining that Shakespeare appears to stress virtue over lineage in these two plays.]
For a quarter of a century, criticism of Shakespeare's histories has been dominated by what E. M. W. Tillyard called the "Tudor myth." With its emphasis on the sin of...
(The entire section is 27199 words.)
Language And Rhetoric
Wayne A. Rebhorn (essay date 1995)
SOURCE: "Bound to Rule," in The Emperor of Men's Minds: Literature and the Renaissance Discourse of Rhetoric, Cornell University Press, 1995, pp. 23-79.
[In the following essay, Rebhorn compares the "rhetorical kingship" of King Henry IV, which relies more heavily on visual effects than on words to persuade, with Prince Hal's skillful use of rhetoric to reconcile with his father and, later as King Henry V, to rule his kingdom.]
. . . Shakespeare['s] . . . enlarged view of rhetoric .. . goes beyond that of the rhetoricians to stress the enormously persuasive force of visual displays, for his Machiavellian kings...
(The entire section is 3276 words.)
M. M. Reese (essay date 1961)
SOURCE: "Henry IV," in The Cease of Majesty: A Study of Shakespeare's History Plays, Edward Arnold Publishers Ltd., 1961, pp. 286-316.
[In the excerpt that follows, Reese offers a brief discussion on the character of Hotspur, maintaining that, despite Hotspur's admirable qualities and charm, the young knight dies having learned nothing.]
.. . For a prince of chivalry, as Hal was determined to be, Hotspur offered a different kind of seduction. This was the man whom the King wanted his own son to resemble, calling him the theme of honour's tongue, in a grove the very straightest plant, Mars in swathling...
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Belsey, Catherine. "Making Histories Then and Now: Shakespeare from Richard II to Henry V." In Uses of History: Marxism, Postmodernism, and the Renaissance, edited by Francis Barker, Peter Hulme, and Margaret Iversen, pp. 24-46. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991.
Contests the idea that Shakespeare's history plays, specifically the Lancastrian tetralogy, are to be read and understood within the "postmodern condition" as fiction, not as history, and offers a historical interpretation of the plays.
Berry, Ralph. "The Scenic Language of Henry IV" In The Elizabethan Theatre XII, edited by A. L. Magnusson and C. E. McGee, pp. 181-91. Toronto:...
(The entire section is 948 words.)