King Henry The Fourth: Part Two "The Wish Was Father To The Thought"

William Shakespeare

"The Wish Was Father To The Thought"

Context: After the defeat of the rebellious barons, King Henry gathers his sons around him. Then he falls into a fit of apoplexy and is laid in a bed. Prince Hal, the future Henry V, next in line for the throne, comes in and sits beside his father, whom he thinks dead. Seeing the crown on the bed beside the king Hal begins to meditate on his coming reign. He promises himself that nothing will force the crown from him. He will pass "this lineal honor" on to his successor. He then steps into another room, wearing the crown. King Henry wakes and misses it. When told that Hal is wearing it, the king mistakes his son's reason for putting it on. Hal tells his father that he thought he was dead: "I never thought to hear you speak again." Like Francis Bacon in his Essays (1596-1625) "Of Custom and Education," who said "Men's thoughts are much according to their inclination," Henry thinks that Hal can hardly wait to ascend the throne. But being older and more experienced, he knows that the crown is a mixed blessing, as he tells his son, in words on which the current popular expression is based:

Thy wish was father, Harry, to that thought.
I stay too long by thee, I weary thee.
Dost thou so hunger for mine empty chair,
That thou wilt needs invest thee with my honours,
Before thy hour be ripe? O foolish youth,
Thou seek'st the greatness that will overwhelm thee.
. . .