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...
(The entire section is 636 words.)