How does William Shakespeare criticize Victorian society through the use of language and plot in Henry the IV;  Part 1?

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I'm afraid that the premise of the question is flawed. Shakespeare wrote and published his plays from the late sixteenth to the early seventeenth century. The Victorian period encompassed the reign of Queen Victoria, which lasted from 1837 to 1901. So Shakespeare could not have offered a critique of Victorian society. If you are looking for how Shakespeare criticized society during his own time (sometimes known as the Elizabethan era) in the first part of Henry IV, the answer is that he wanted to show the problems that could occur with disorderly succession to the throne. Henry IV was part of a series of plays that included Richard II, the story of a usurper to the throne. Henry IV replaced him, and struggled to maintain his throne in the midst of a rebellion led by Henry Percy, or Hotspur. Henry IV also juxtaposes the irresponsible, amoral, riotous behavior of Prince Hal and Falstaff with the maturity and the responsibility necessary to run and maintain a kingdom. This is a contemporary concern, and reflects fears in Shakespeare's own time that society was devoid of the kind of virtue needed to maintain England as a great nation, particularly in the midst of a succession crisis.

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Henry IV, Part I

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