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Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2

Traditionally, critical discussion of 1 and 2 Henry IV has centered primarily on Prince Henry, or Hal. In this vein, scholars have examined Hal's fitness as the future ruler of England and have compared him favorably or unfavorably to the serious-minded rebel, Hotspur. Closely...

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Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2

Traditionally, critical discussion of 1 and 2 Henry IV has centered primarily on Prince Henry, or Hal. In this vein, scholars have examined Hal's fitness as the future ruler of England and have compared him favorably or unfavorably to the serious-minded rebel, Hotspur. Closely connected to this focus is critical speculation over whether Hal's transformation from fun-loving ne'er-do-well to responsible heir is a sincere and natural result of his maturation or part of a calculated, cynical plan. Similarly, critics have debated the nature of the Prince's relationship with his father and with Falstaff. Many have argued that Falstaff acts as a surrogate father to Hal and that the Prince's subsequent rejection of the fat knight in 2 Henry IV is cruelly Machiavellian; others have seen it as a necessary gesture of maturity. More recently, scholars have dispensed with efforts to pinpoint Hal's motives. Instead, critical discussion has concentrated on the tragic elements of the two history plays and how the characters and actions in 1 and 2 Henry IV reflect Elizabethan mores as well as the shifting perspectives of both Elizabethan and modern society—particularly with regard to the issues of law and justice.

Of importance to several critics is the degree to which tragedy as a genre informs both 1 and 2 Henry IV. Catherine M. Shaw (1985), for example, argues that for all their dependence on history, a tragic thread runs throughout both plays in the form of Henry IV's guilt-racked conscience for his part in the overthrow and assassination of his predecessor, Richard II. By contrast, Harry Levin (1981) asserts that the tragic focus is Falstaff, whose comic "vitality" and tragic "mortality" are in precarious balance—particularly in the more somber play, 2 Henry IV.

These differing viewpoints regarding genre mirror what has been described as the two plays' ambiguous and, at times, contradictory perspectives: the raucous tavern scenes versus the politically charged Court scenes, Hal's unclear motives (Machiavellian or simply prudent), and Henry's role as usurper versus Hotspur's role as rebel. Increasingly, critics have been less apt to blame one character more than another for the moral ambiguity of the two plays and have instead looked to the audience, the playwright, and the times. For instance Marc Grossman (1995) suggests that Shakespeare created conflict between Falstaff's appealing roguery and Hal's royal responsibilities so that his audience would recognize and accept the gray areas that exist in Hal's predicament as well as in the audience's "everyday" life. F. Nick Clary (1988) also refers to Shakespeare's contemporary audiences in his discussion of Hal's dubious behavior toward Falstaff. He concludes that an interpretation of Hal's behavior depends on the social experiences of the viewer and that "during the Elizabethan Age, when the amorality of Machiavellian politics was practiced as much as it was criticized, a belief in Hal's moral recovery may, in fact, be a testimony to the possibility of regaining an ideal which had been lost." Stephen Greenblatt (1985) asserts that the source of the ambiguity in 1 and 2 Henry IV resides not in the audience but more specifically in the politics of Elizabethan England and the fact that the theater of the time reflected a playwright's continual conflict between being faithful to his own ideas and submitting to royal censorship.

Ultimately, discussions of ambiguity of genre and perspective in 1 and 2 Henry IV revolve around the issues of law and justice. Dain A. Trafton (1981) and E. A. Rauchut (1994) address the question of Henry's legitimacy as king. Trafton contends that since Henry fails to create "an entirely new order" consisting of his own rule of law and neglects to "obliterate even the memory" of Richard IPs reign, he dooms himself to the continuing cycle of rebellion. Rauchut suggests that this rebellion is in part justified after Henry "ignor[es] the law of arms" and demands that Hotspur hand over his prisoners, thereby "committing a royal theft that causes civil war." Norman Sanders (1977), Stanley D. McKenzie (1992), and Daniel J. Kornstein (1994) link the themes of law and justice to Hal's ambiguous nature. All three see aspects of the Prince's behavior as part of his attempt to legitimatize his own eventual rule. Sanders, for example, argues that Hal shuns the "sick nation" he is due to inherit from his father and instead frequents the lawless world of the tavern so that he can one day "create single-handedly a totally new royal milieu" in which to rule legitimately. Similarly, McKenzie asserts that Hal's much debated rejection of Falstaff is in fact justified if the Prince hopes to be respected and obeyed by his future subjects. Indeed, McKenzie adds, while such behavior might seem brutal to a modern audience, an Elizabethan audience schooled in the tenets of Machiavelli would have considered Hal's actions wise. Finally, Kornstein asserts that in 2 Henry IV the "sober, solid, fair-minded lawyer figure" of the Lord Chief Justice is counterpoised against Henry IV as "a symbol of disorder." Thus Hal's coming of age occurs when he rejects his father's world which includes the lawlessness of Falstaff and turns to the legitimate rule personified by the Lord Chief Justice.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 16442

Larry S. Champion (essay date 1978)

SOURCE: "History into Drama: The Perspective of 1 Henry IV" in JGE: The Journal of General Education, Vol. XXX, No. 3, Fall, 1978, pp. 185-202.

[In the following essay, Champion presents an overview of 1 Henry IV, examining its structure and characterization. The critic asserts that this play reveals Shakespeare's increasing expertise at combining impersonal history with personal, dramatic interest.]

Following the composition of Richard II a conscious bifurcation seems to occur in Shakespeare's dramaturgy. The playwright in Julius Caesar continues to develop the focus of psychological analysis and the internalized protagonist which lead directly to his major tragic achievements. Brutus, like Richard II before him and Hamlet and Othello after him, confronts an ambiguous situation requiring decisions and commitments which cost him his life even at the point of his greatest sensitivity to the true nature of things. If Brutus' illumination is insignificant in comparison with that of Hamlet and Othello, he like them engages the spectators through soliloquies and asides in the intensely limited focus upon the spiritual agony of what Harley Granville-Barker terms the "war within himself."1 In the Henry IV plays and Henry V, on the other hand, all probably written within two years of Julius Caesar, Shakespeare essentially returns to the fragmented perspective and the static characterization of 1, 2, 3 Henry VI. In these plays he apparently was searching for a dramatic focus of sufficient scope to accommodate the movement of national forces through a significant portion of time. Even though an intense concentration upon a single individual would tend to blur the larger perspective by absorbing the spectators' interest and deflecting their attention from the broad social and political issues, he seemed progressively to realize that effective drama depends upon at least minimal emotional interaction between character and audience. And, especially in 3 Henry VI, he moved toward a combination of the structural features which produce the detached view necessary for the historical theme and the devices of internalization which provoke a limited emotional response to the tragically inept title figure and the calculating and heartless political opponent destined within a few years to be the most infamous of English kings. Such a perspective is basic also to 1 Henry IV. Here, however, he combines multiple plot lines with an emphasis upon character ambivalence which yields far richer and more provocative interactions than anything in those earlier Lancastrian stage worlds. "Poised between tragedy and comedy,"2 this work reflects the remarkable potential of the history play "as a separate form."3

The structural devices by which Shakespeare consciously shapes this broad perspective in 1 Henry IV are readily demonstrated, For one thing, no single character dominates the action either physically or emotionally.4 The principal figure in Richard III, by comparison, delivers well over thirty percent of the total lines (1127 of 3599); over five percent of the total lines (185 of 3599) involve him in soliloquies (eleven) or asides (five). Similarly Richard II speaks more than one-fourth of the total lines in his play (738 of 2755). While Richard's only genuine soliloquy occurs moments before his death at Pomfret Castle (66 11.), he gives the word-drunk impression throughout the play that he for the most part is talking to himself (or to the spectators) despite the presence of additional characters on stage. Moreover, in both plays the great majority of the other scenes focus sharply upon the protagonist through conversations about him—whether in Richard III from Margaret, Anne, Buckingham, and Richmond, or in Richard II from Bolingbroke, Carlisle, Gaunt, York, or the parasites. In 1 Henry IV, to the contrary, the title character speaks only eleven percent of the lines (340 of 3049). Three characters, in fact, deliver a larger number, though none is as predominant as the central figures of the Richard plays (Hotspur—18.6%, 566 lines; Hal—18.7%, 569 lines; Falstaff—20.4%, 623 lines). In terms of developing a close emotional rapport between the character and the spectator, the devices of internalization are relatively insignificant in the play (5%—160 lines); the eight soliloquies are scattered among three characters, no one of whom speaks in private more than three percent of the total lines.

For another thing, Shakespeare simultaneously develops three individually significant plot strands—Henry IV's apprehensions concerning both his kingship and his relations with his son, the activities of the rebellious feudal lords which center on the impetuous Hotspur, and Hal's escapades at Eastcheap involving the world of Falstaff and his debauched associates. Totally unlike either the single dramatic focus on Richard Ill's Machiavellian ascent to the throne or the intersecting personal and political fortunes of Richard II and Bolingbroke—and equally unlike the thematically related experience of the two family units in Hamlet or King Lear which intensifies the dramatic focus—the plot strands of this play expand the spectators' vision. While extensive and important parallels do exist between the comic and the serious scenes, the more notable fact is that each strand depicts a vision of a different socio-political stratum, and consequently the dramatic perspective tends to become broad and diffuse rather than narrow and intensely personal. The emerging theme focuses not on the experiences of a single individual but on the evolving condition of a nation as reflected in the fortunes and misfortunes of several significant personalities.

Both the action and the setting of the play are committed to breadth. The scenes, for example, take place in such diverse points as Windsor, Rochester, Gad's Hill, Northumberland, Wales, Shrewsbury, Coventry, and London; even the London scenes move from the polarities of the palace to the tavern at Eastcheap.5 And the disparate plot lines are carefully interwoven within the eighteen scenes as established in Fl—the King's private concerns in three (I, i; III, ii; V, i—426 11.), the rebels' perspective in seven (I, iii; II, iii; III, i; IV, i; IV, iii; IV, iv; V, ii—1136 11.), the Falstaffian world in six (I, ii; II, i; II, ii; II, iv; III, iii; IV, ii—1279 11.). The lines coalesce, of course, in the final two scenes with principals from each strand in combat on Shrewsbury field. Prior to that point, however, the spectators view English society from several angles and from various geographical points, and the activities of both the Lancastrian lower classes and the aristocracy reflect the political and social instability which will culminate in open rebellion.

This theme of national instability Shakespeare accentuates by the juxtaposition of Henry and Hal as political foils in both 1 and 2 Henry IV. Certain modifications which he imposed upon his sources, first described as such by A. R. Humphreys, underscore the dramatist's concern for such a conflict.6 The historical events of the two plays are roughly in the chronological sequence found in the source, but the domestic events (Hal's relationship with his father) are essentially Shakespeare's own creation. Daniel makes no mention whatever of discord between father and son, while Holinshed notes only that the old King in the final year of his life had suspicions about the Prince; similarly, though there is much ado in The Famous Victories concerning the Prince's debauchery, it is again late in Henry's life that he laments the curse of a son who will destroy him.

While establishing this human element so vital to genuinely effective drama, Shakespeare also maintains a broad focus upon the larger design—specifically, the limited capacities of Henry IV as a ruler and the implications of those limitations for the body politic of England—by measuring Henry and Hal against the concepts of monarchy shared by those in his contemporary audience. These late sixteenth-century views, in very general terms, rest on two essential criteria—proper exercise of power and equitable dispensation of justice. Concerning the former, the king, who should receive the scepter as a direct lineal descendant of the royal family, is God's vicar or lieutenant on earth; "The king, yes, though he be an infidel, representeth the image of God upon earth."7 The duty, both religious and social, of the populace is obedience. As a homily published in 1571 states, "Such subjects as are disobedient or rebellious against their princes, disobey God and procure their own damnation."8 In the body politic, obedience to the prince is essential; even a tyrant is preferable to anarchy, which would come with rebellion.9 It is argued that monarchy in form arose from nature as an extended concept of the family unit.10 The prince's duty is analogous to a father's duty; he exercises rule from the awareness of the need for order, for the welfare of the total community and nation. Hence, the king must be powerful, and he must be capable of using his authority to protect himself and his people.

Such, essentially, is Henry IV's concept of kingship, a concept, as Derek Traversi observes, predicated entirely on the ground of "political effectiveness."11 Troubled by a realization that he has achieved the throne at the expense of the rightful King and by a sense of guilt for Richard's murder, he knows full well that his success as a ruler will be determined by his public virtue, specifically his ability to maintain civil order in the land. Regardless of whether Bolingbroke coldly and calculatingly planned to manipulate Northumberland as a stepping stone to political office, the fact is clear at the beginning of the play that Northumberland believes Henry to have broken his pledged word that he sought only the Dukedom of Lancaster. Moreover, established on the throne, the new King seems to shun the alliance from the north as readily as he had earlier embraced it. Dismissed from council, Worcester asserts, "Our house, my sovereign liege, little deserves / The scourge of greatness to be us'd on it, / And that same greatness which our own hands / Have holp to make so portly" (I, iii, 10-13).12 The king with royal dispatch evaluates the rebels' strength and moves to confront them. There is no hesitation before Shrewsbury; the armies of the King are well directed and deployed to fight for protection of order in the land.

Certainly the spectators of the play would admire a king who, so unlike Richard II or Henry VI, exercises without hesitation his royal authority with a positive determination to uphold the law of the kingdom against the hydra-head of rebellion.13 Yet the spectator would perceive with equal clarity that this same king attempts in practice—as Machiavelli did in theory—to separate public and private virtue. Certainly the clearest key to this emphasis on appearance occurs in Part 2 in his deathbed speech to the king-elect:

God knows, my son,
By what by-paths and indirect crook'd ways

I met this crown, and I myself know well
How troublesome it sate upon my head.
To thee it shall descend with better quiet. . . .

And all [my] friends, which thou must make thy friends,
Have but their stings and teeth newly ta'en out;
By whose fell working I was first advanc'd,
And by whose power I well might lodge a fear
To be again displac'd; which to avoid,
I cut them off. . . .

(IV, v, 183-187, 204-209)

He is quick to counsel his son to "busy giddy minds / With foreign quarrels" (213-214) so that his own disjunction with his former allies might be put from the minds of the people. But in Part 1, as well, Henry explains the method by which he won the public opinion "that did help him to the crown" (III, ii, 42). By "being seldom seen" (46) and on such occasions dressing himself "in such humility" (51), Henry developed in reputation "like a robe pontifical" (52), which "Seldom but sumptuous, show'd like a feast" (58).

It is dramatically appropriate that this king, whose rule is vitally dependent upon decisive and powerful action in the face of danger and whose public reputation must appear inviolate even though his private actions smack so strongly of blatant practicality, should draw a specific analogy between Hotspur's valorous search for public glory and Hal's debauchery and apparent lack of concern for his public image. Indeed, Hotspur, "the theme of honor's tongue" (I, i, 81), "sweet Fortune's minion and her pride" (83), is a man of Henry's own heart; the King can understand, in a way in which he is never able to comprehend Hal, the political riser who is overtly conscious of public opinion. Kingly praise, it should be noted, comes even in the face of Henry's knowledge of Hotspur's rebellious action of denying prisoners to the throne. Furthermore, the King later praises Hotspur for his public display of virtue (III, ii, 115 ff.) in a scene immediately following Hotspur's compliance in a projected tripartite division of England. When the full effect of these scenes is considered, there can be little doubt that Shakespeare is utilizing Henry's praise of the "politic virtue" of Hotspur as yet another reflection of Bolingbroke's limited concept of rule. For certainly Henry praises, as one having "more worthy interest to the state / Than [Hal]" (98-99), a man who is specifically exposed as lacking qualities inherent in the ideal ruler.

In any event, Henry IV meets the sixteenth-century demands of a ruler who can and will exercise his power for the maintenance of unity in the kingdom. Beyond that, however, the king, in whom public and private virtue must agree in the equitable dispensation of justice should rule for the welfare of the subject. Gascoigne in The Steel Glass (11. 114-134) strikes particularly at the ruler who would strive "to maintain pomp and high, triumphant sights" and "never care . . . to yield relief where needy lack appears." Castiglione14 lists among the attributes of the ideal prince wisdom, justice, courtesy, and liberality in his treatment for and knowledge of his subjects. Similarly, Starkey15 raises the specific issue that there is nothing more repugnant to nature than a whole nation governed by the will of a prince who neither understands the nature of his subjects nor knows their needs. Above all, it is Elyot who most clearly describes this concept of a king in his discussion of the training of a prince.16 Like the "principal bee" the prince moves through society—not with "prick or sting" but with "more knowledge than is in the residue"; though, to understand his subjects, he might move temporarily among "herbs that be venomous and stinking," he gathers "nothing but that shall be sweet and profitable." Furthermore, though a prince study the classics diligently, his theoretical knowledge must be tempered by his experiences in society itself. And, as the prince moves in society, "What incredible delight is taken in beholding the diversities of people . . . to know the sundry manners and conditions of people, and the variety of their natures."

It would be difficult to escape the obvious contrast between Henry's constant concern to hold himself aloof from the people, and his son's ability to move with affable ease throughout the London populace. That the Prince is gaining useful knowledge of his future subjects through his associations is explicitly stated by Warwick in Part 2:

The Prince but studies his companions,
Like a strange tongue, wherein, to gain the language,
'Tis needful. . . .
The Prince will in the perfectness of time
Cast off his followers, 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 advantages.

(IV, iv, 68-79)

In Part 1 the Prince suggests a similar advantage in a conversation with Poins: "They [the commoners of London] take it already upon their salvation, that though I be but Prince of Wales, yet I am the king of courtesy, and tell me . . . when I am the King of England I shall command all the good lads of Eastcheap" (II, iv, 9-15). In Henry V the new King notes to the French ambassador the use he made of his wilder days (I, ii, 268-269). Even Falstaff in his blustering manner implies that the Prince has tempered the cold-blooded valor which he inherited from his father by his association with and knowledge of his subjects (Part 2, IV, iii, 118-123).

In short, although Prince Hal inherits kingly valor and courage from his father—as is witnessed in his exploits at Shrewsbury and in his victories over the French armies at Harfleur and Agincourt—he possesses an attitude toward the monarchy which his father never achieves. Instead of a usurped throne, he inherits an established one; instead of striking internecine blows to protect an unsettled position of authority, he will use the power of a unified England for the positive advantage of expanding his realm; instead of concentration upon the power to punish, he exercises a justice tempered with mercy. Henry IV's cruel treatment of Richard II and his sentencing of Worcester and Vernon to immediate execution might have been politically expedient, but the comparison with Prince Hal's mercy is striking. Immediately after Worcester and Vernon are sentenced, the Prince requests and receives permission "to dispose" of Douglas. In signal contrast to Henry IV's death sentences, Hal delivers Douglas "Up to his pleasure, ransomless and free" (V, v, 28): "His valors shown upon our crests to-day / Have taught us how to cherish such high deeds / Even in the bosom of our adversaries" (29-31). This action is even more significant when one considers that the Prince is showing mercy to one who was at the very center of the rebellion. For Worcester had earlier utilized the capture of "Douglas' son" (I, iii, 261 ff.) as the sole motivation for Hotspur's rallying troops against the King in Scotland, and it was Douglas who very nearly carried the day for the rebels in his personal combat with the King. The Prince also tempers justice with mercy in the much-discussed rejection of Falstaff and his associates, for, although they are "banish'd till their conversations / Appear more wise and modest," the new King "hath intent his wonted followers / Shall all be very well provided for. . . ." (Part 2, V, v, 98-99, 97) In Hal's later action as King he is overtly merciful in his unwarranted freeing, just before the army's departure to France, of one "That rail'd against our person. We consider / It was excess of wine that set him on, / And on his more advice we pardon him" (Henry V, II, ii, 41-43). Even to Cambridge, Exeter, and Grey, the traitors who have accepted bribery from the French, Henry states that, concerning his person, he seeks no revenge, but that their execution is mandatory for the safety of the kingdom (II, ii, 174-175). Moreover, Shakespeare consciously emphasizes the king's mercy in his actions against the citizens of Harfleur, though historically no such mercy was shown.17

A further distinction in 1 Henry IV between Henry and Hal emerges from the dialectical tension created by their perceptions of the other principal figures in the play. Henry's estimation of both Hotspur and Falstaff, for example, is simplistic at best. The one he condones for his valor, merit, and ambition; the other he condemns for his morally reprehensible conduct and his parasitic attachment to the heir apparent. Hal's appraisals are sharply different; he sees both for what they are—individuals who, not devoid of charm, indeed possessing certain admirable qualities vital both to personal fulfillment and popular acclaim, are ultimately unbalanced, intemperate, and self-destructive. The dichotomy, more specifically, is established in the opening lines. Henry IV, as we have previously noted, admires Hotspur and would gladly believe the two Harrys to have been secretly exchanged at birth. Even facing a blatantly traitorous Hotspur at Shrewsbury in Act V, he for "considerations infinite" will not sanction a single combat between his son and the adversary of "great name and estimation" (i, 102, 98). Hal, to the contrary, while obviously recognizing Hotspur's courage and battlefield skills, also perceives the bravado and the unrestrained Herculean ambitions of the man. The one he parodies in conversation with Poins at the Eastcheap tavern:

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 kill'd to-day?" "Give my roan horse a drench," says he, and answers, "Some fourteen," an hour after; "a trifle, a trifle."

(II, iv, 101-108)

The other he addresses in soliloquy over Hotspur's body as an "Ill-weav'd ambition" which, by provoking and feeding the conviction that a kingdom itself is too small, has resulted only in "two paces of the vilest earth" (V, iv, 88, 91).18

Their views of Falstaff and the society of commoners are equally divergent. Henry IV characterizes his son's relationship with them as one of "riot and dishonor" (I, i, 85), of "barren pleasures, rude society" (III, ii, 14); like Richard II Hal "amble[s] up and down, / With shallow jesters" and grows "a companion to the common streets" (60-61, 68). Hal, to the contrary, is never even partially blind to Falstaff's dissolute qualities. From first to last, he addresses his fat companion bluntly and honestly, if good-naturedly. Falstaff is a time-waster, courting trouble with the law (I, ii, 5, 42-43, 66-68); he is a "fat-guts" (II, ii, 31), a liar ("gross as a mountain, open, palpable" [iv, 226]), a villainous thief (314), a devil in the shape of a fat man (447-448), an impudent rascal in whose bosom "there's no room for faith, truth, nor honesty" (III, iii, 153-154). Over his presumably dead body Hal declares that Falstaff would be sorely missed "If I were much in love with vanity!" (V, iv, 106). Illustrations could continue at considerable length, but surely we must assume that Hal from the opening scenes of the play has no illusions whatsoever about his companion. Indeed, he specifically tells us as much in soliloquy. But he also sees beyond the present moment, suggesting that his present associations and actions will make him later shine more brightly when he throws off his "loose behavior" (I, ii, 208), just as the sun seems more brilliant when emerging from dark clouds. This tone of conscious analysis runs, in fact, like a thread through the entire play. Hal asserts that he is "of all humors" (II, iv, 92). He reports, in a statement which slices through the context of levity, that he eventually will banish "plump Jack" from his presence (479). And, on the battlefield he makes good his promise of his opening soliloquy; by openly referring to his truant youth and to an ostensibly instantaneous transformation, he dazzles those around him—even his enemy Vernon, who reports that he seems possessed of "such a grace / As if he mast'red there a double spirit / Of teaching and of learning instantly" (V, ii, 62-64).

Various structural features, then, such as multiple plot strands, the diversity of character and of setting, and the stylized juxtaposition of political concepts contribute to the broad historical perspective of 1 Henry IV. Also fundamental to this perspective is the nature of the characterization. Since the central figures are static and do not command the close rapport and intensity of attention which would tend to blur the larger view of the scene, the spectators are held emotionally at arm's length from the principals; such a detached perspective encourages a breadth of vision not possible—and certainly not intended—in the major tragedies. The movement of the drama, like that of Henry VI plays in some respects, is created by the interplay of fixed types rather than by the developing nature of dynamic figures. Worlds removed, however, is the technique which lends to the characterization a degree of depth and dramatic vitality foreign to the stage worlds of the Henry VI plays. Henry, Hal, Hotspur, and Falstaff, for instance, do not develop in the course of the action, and hence they are essentially static figures. The spectators, however forced to view these principals in widely divergent situations, experience a mixed response; the angles from which the character is observed—whether of the public man, the private, the courageous, the cowardly, the melancholic, the philosophic, or the like—cumulatively produce an ambivalence that, for the spectators, moves far beyond the stylization of political theory.

Hal, more specifically, in no way grows or is educated in the process of the play. He announces his intentions when first on stage, and he fulfills them, at least in part, at the conclusion of Part 1. Along the way there is not the slightest doubt in the spectator's mind that he will do so. The difficulty Shakespeare has with the character, as Peter Alexander has written, is that "while he had to talk about the Prince's becoming a different man he also had to make it clear from the beginning that there is no change whatever."19 To compare Hal's experience with that of the prodigal son, one must "so rewrite the parable that the prodigal may say as he departs for the far country, 'I'll so offend, to make offense a skill' " (p. 112). Similarly, to argue the morality tradition as the shaping force, one must accept an Everyman character who knows how to manipulate both sides to best advantage. If Hal is static, however, he is far from a simplistic figure of stylized ideality. Even placing the best interpretation on Hal's use of Falstaff's world is to become better acquainted with all elements of his future kingdom, one is hard pressed to sanction his occasional acts—his passive participation in a robbery involving physical violence and outright defiance of civil law, whatever the rationalization and the mitigating circumstances (II, ii); his refusal to consult with Sir John Bracy, an emissary from his father, at a time of political disruption, indeed permitting Falstaff to speak for him as the rogue sees fit (II, iv, 297 ff.); his arrant lie to the sheriff that Falstaff is not with him at the tavern, that instead he is employed on a special mission (513 ff.); his sudden determination, without explanation, to procure Falstaff an honorable position in the wars, this in the face of his full knowledge of Falstaff's character (545 ff.); and his willingness to grace the lie of Falstaff's slaying Hotspur in battle, an action which by implication at least condones Jack's earlier irresponsibility in substituting wine for his pistol20 and his "discretionary" cowardice in feigning death—let alone his earlier gross abuse of funds for impressment of troops (V, v, 157 ff.). In a word, one can place little credence in the claim that Hal, the ideal king in waiting, is presented without flaw or that any early indiscretions can be excused by his progressive development in spiritual and physical fortitude. He is indeed guilty of occasional lapses in moral judgment—as much at the end of the play as at the beginning—and certainly from the outset he knows his companions for what they are and calculatingly weighs the political advantages of his actions. Either to whitewash his character or to view him as subject to a kind of repentance which obviates a canny sense of political pragmatism is to enforce a reductionism which the full text will not support. Nor should he be viewed, with equal distortion, as a cunning schemer whose lust for power dictates his every move. If John Palmer begs the question with his assertion that Shakespeare "leaves us to decide for ourselves how far Henry really conducts himself according to plan, or how far he is merely creating an alibi for his misdemeanours,"21 it is nonetheless true that the full context will support neither the view that Hal, morally beyond reproach, practices the golden mean of virtue22 nor the view that he is a "self-complacent and self-centered" individual whose "incapacity for true feeling" leads him to discover a genuine Machiavellian energy.23 Hal is, as it were, "his own foil."24

Neither saint nor sinner, then, Hal is an intriguingly human combination of virtues and vices with a taste for the wild life and the thrill of defiance, a tendency to rationalize and mitigate his actions, a remarkable capacity for good humor and a toleration for the boon companion who epitomizes it, a wiley perception of political strategy and of human psychology, a splendid courage and magnanimity on the battlefield, and a genuine dedication to the Lancastrian Throne. Certain characteristics may be dominant at times (suggesting perhaps a sense of development) but never to the exclusion of other features—hence, for example, the significance of the soliloquy declaring his self-knowledge in the midst of his antic moments with Falstaff and the law at the beginning of the play, and of his permitting Falstaff's lie in the context of his greatest military encounter at the end of the play. Hal, then, anticipates the throne and the responsibilities which it entails from his first moment on stage. He, as a static figure moving inexorably toward the throne which will bring fame and glory both to him and to England, does not—like Richard III and Richard II—emotionally engage the spectators in a restrictingly personal manner which would diminish the breadth of their perspective. At the same time he is a complex figure, far from the stylized qualities of heroism in Talbot, of virtue in Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, of villainy in Margaret of Anjou or Richard Duke of York.

The title figure the spectators know less intimately, perhaps in itself an indication of the playwright's concern for a broad focus—especially when one considers the significance of the title roles in the earlier Richard III and Richard II.25 Henry IV, more specifically, speaks not one private line in Pari I, and he appears in fewer scenes than any of the other principals. Again, too, there is no fundamental development in the character. Like Hal, however, he is a complex individual who commands the spectators' interest as they observe his personality from various angles. In I, i, for instance, we view the public Lancastrian face which seems carefully to calculate the political ramifications of every word. Henry is concerned for the kingdom so "shaken" with the "intestine shock . . . of civil butchery" (1, 12-13); were the sporadic insurrections to cease, he would as an act of national expiation lead an English force against the pagans in Jerusalem. Another aspect of the public face, admirably firm and decisive, is revealed in I, iii, in which Henry dismisses Worcester from the Council and sternly refuses Hotspur's conditions for delivering prisoners of war; in III, ii, he moves with confident dispatch to align the three components of his battle force; similarly, the play concludes with his staccato orders to pursue the rebels still at large. Yet another dimension, combining political acumen and magnanimity, is evidenced in the early moments of Act V. Prior to battle he extends "grace" and honorable reconciliation to the rebels (i, 106 ff.), an offer which even Worcester describes as "liberal and kind" (ii, 2). Distinctly different, however, is the remorseful father who senses that his son's profligacy is "the hot vengeance, and the rod of heaven" sent to "punish [his] mistreadings" (III, ii, 10, 11). Sensing in Hal's seeming disregard for the throne a repudiation of all he has achieved, Henry laments that his son is his "nearest and dearest enemy," likely to fight in Percy's pay from "Base inclination, and the start of spleen" (123, 125). The moment of reconciliation is charged with emotion, and a similar humanly vulnerable side is exposed later on the battlefield in words of gratitude to Hal for saving his life.

There may be no significant growth or alteration in personality, but Henry IV is not one dimensional; and the same is true for both Hotspur and Falstaff. Certainly, for instance, Hotspur in one sense fulfills Henry IV's simplistic description.26 Vis-a-vis an effeminate lord from the court in I, iii, he is a veritable Mars on the battlefield, and he boldly asserts his position against the King himself. This same heroic stance the audience privately observes in Hotspur's disdain for those who shirk the battle from fear, yet claim political or domestic excuses: "he shows in this, he loves his own barn better than he loves our house. . . . What a frosty-spirited rogue is this!" (II, iii, 5-6, 20). And Hotspur bravely encounters Hal at Shrewsbury, lamenting in defeat that his sacrifice of "proud titles" is a far sharper pain than the loss of "brittle life" (V, iv, 78, 77). At the same time the spectators also see, far more plainly than Hal, the heir apparent's justification for mocking Hotspur's blustering and immoderate mien. Not only—following the King's order that all prisoners be delivered—does Hotspur develop such a passionate attack of logorrhea that his uncle declines further speech and his father brands him a "wasp-stung and impatient fool" (I, iii, 236); he also insists on alienating his ally. Glendower by bluntly calling him a liar (III, i, 58), and in a high dudgeon he insists that the river Trent be turned so that his division of the kingdom will be larger; in both cases only the cooler head of the Welsh leader preserves the fragile rebel alliance (an odious comparison indeed, since Glendower himself is given to such hyperbolic rant). Similarly he later disregards the defections from his ranks, vowing that since "Doomsday is near" all will "die merrily" (IV, i, 134) and insisting—against the advice of all of his counsellors —that the charge take place that very night (iii, 1-29). But the spectator, unlike the royal father and son, perceives yet another side. When Lady Percy expresses concern for her husband's sleeplessness and loss of appetite and berates him for not sharing his innermost problems, not the heroism or the bravado but the humanity surfaces. Like Portia, Kate fears for her husband's safety; and, if Hotspur's response in II, iv, seems somewhat peremptory, his bantering tone hardly conceals his affection in III, i. Juxtaposed to the amorous pair, Mortimer and his wife, for whom language is a barrier, Hotspur bluntly proclaims Kate "perfect in lying down" (226). She wittily threatens to break his head unless he keeps silence, but he insists that she swear a "good mouth-filling oath" (254). The two are obviously well matched, and the impression conveyed by the scene is one of genuine intimacy. Whatever Henry's or Hal's single-dimensional perception of Hotspur, in other words, the spectators see him in a far more complex light. Not only must they balance the opposing views of the royal family (and the manner in which these views functionally develop the conflict of father and son); they must also accommodate the more personal vision of the man with wife, friends, and political allies.

The spectator's perception of Falstaff is no less complex. On the one hand, the character is indeed a fat parasite who, by inference at least, is a "grey Iniquity," a "villainous abominable misleader of youth" (II, iv, 453-454, 462-463).27 On the other hand he is also a welcome participant in present mirth. Both views are readily illustrated. As a creature of malign influence, Falstaff is a "thief" (I, ii, 138; II, ii, 93) and a robber of the King's exchequer (55), a whoremonger and debtor to the hostess to the tavern (II, iii, 66), a traitor in his misuse of funds for assembling troops in a period of national emergency (IV, ii, 12), and an arrant coward on the field of battle (V, iii, 58-59; iv, 75 ff.). At the same time the Prince without question pays Falstaff 's tavern debts (I, ii, 51) and time and again delights in his resourceful excuses and rationalizations—whether involving the counterrobbery at Gad's Hill (II, iv, 267-269), the pocket-picking at Eastcheap (III, iii, 164-166), or the parodic role-changing (II, iv, 376-481);28 Hal will even tolerate dishonesty at Shrewsbury for the sake of such friendship:

Come bring your luggage nobly on your back.
For my part, if a lie may do thee grace,
I'Ll gild it with the happiest terms I have.

(V, iv, 156-158)

But there is yet another side to Falstaff which only the spectators perceive, and it is this quality which in large part accounts for the universal popularity of the character. Not only is this "huge hill of flesh" a voice of merry abandon; he also epitomizes that part of human nature which places a paramount value on life and survival and which disdains a commitment to violence and destruction for such pompous abstractions as national power and honor. Moments before the battle begins, for example, he privately shares with the spectators his catechism of honor—it may spur one to fight but it has never been able to set a leg or an arm or to mitigate the "grief of a wound" (V, i, 132). This concept of honor as a mere word for glorifying militaristic actions which result in death is a recurrent theme through several of his soliloquies in the final act.29 Standing over the slain Sir Walter Blount, Falstaff sardonically observes the vanity of honor's prompting the nobleman to fight in the King's disguise (iii, 30-39); later, he is more grotesquely pointed: "I like not such grinning honor as Sir Walter hath. Give me life, which if I can save, so; if not, honor comes unlook'd for, and there's an end" (58-61). Similarly, when compelled to feign death to save life, he proclaims that he is "no counterfeit. To die is to be a counterfeit, for he is but the counterfeit of a man who hath not the life of a man; but to counterfeit dying, when a man thereby liveth, is to be no counterfeit, but the true and perfect image of life indeed. The better part of valor is discretion" (iv, 115-120).30 He may at one moment be ashamed of the ragmuffins who follow him, but such embarrassment fails to dampen his enthusiasm for squandering the money he has appropriated (Iv, ii, 11 ff.). And he may at another moment vow to "purge and leave sack, and live cleanly," but he admits that he follows, "as they say, for reward" (V, iv, 164-165, 162). Falstaff, in a word, is worlds removed from the equally extreme battlefield heroics of Hotspur; but like Percy's son he is human in his habitude, and the interweaving of such powerfully ambivalent figures provides a rich and controlled perspective for dramatizing chronicle material.

In summary, Shakespeare's historical perspective reaches a new level of maturation in the two Henry IV plays and Henry V, a level which would seem flatly to refute the recent assertion by James Calderwood that the spectator "cannot simultaneously be involved in the immediate experience of the play and yet be detached from it."31 On the one hand, no longer as in the Henry VI plays is character abstractly fitted to idea. For the most part flat and one-dimensional, the characters of those earlier stage worlds merely serve the purposes of the narrative. Consequently, the plot builds upon a series of scenes in which stylized character types are set in confrontation, and the perspective is broadly focused on the full range of action rather than on the complexity of a particular individual. On the other hand, Shakespeare—for the purposes of history at least—seems almost consciously to depart from the technique which, in his contemporary romantic comedies, directs attention to characters like Bassanio and Portia or Benedick and Beatrice who grow in the knowledge of love and, in his contemporary tragedies like Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar, draws the spectators through soliloquies and asides to the private level of the protagonist. Whatever the nature of the external action in the tragic works, for example, and of the characters who move in opposition to the protagonist, the spectators' consuming interest is in the developing central figure whose critical moments they share. Perforce the perspective is both narrow and intense; the tragic impact arises from the spectators' personal identification with the protagonist and the quality of the insights gleaned from the suffering his error has provoked. The perspective of both Richard III and Richard II, although remarkably different in quality, shares this intensity of focus. Richard III celebrates his villainy with the spectators through a continuing run of soliloquies and asides forming a private level of perception. In Richard II, instead of the brittle relationship built on shared confidences about the gullibility of others, the perspective assumes a more emotionally empathetic quality as, in the final acts of the play, emphasis is focused more sharply upon the suffering of the man than the abuses of his royal office.

In 1 Henry IV Shakespeare has developed a middle ground between these two polarities of dramatic technique. Several principal characters, each of whom reflects a significant aspect of the national culture, command relatively equal attention, thus projecting the focus beyond a single individual. These characters, by sharing private thoughts or critical moments with the spectators, exhibit an ambivalent human dimension which moves beyond the comprehension of the other characters on stage; the spectators alone realize the full dimensions of the several major figures and thus possess the perspective for responding to the human consequences of the historical events of the narrative. While ambivalent, however, these characters are essentially static and consequently serve the purpose of a broader design reflecting divergent philosophies of life and attitudes toward the kingship. Ultimately this design reveals an England emerging precariously from medieval feudalism, characterized in turn by guilt, decadence, fanatical heroism, and sagacious practicality. Neither an individual tragedy with historic setting nor a play which, for want of sufficient characterization, fails to engage the spectators dramatically, 1 Henry IV presents a broad scene in which human interaction becomes history, unfolding the narrative of a nation struggling for unity at the expense of individual ambition in the lords and absolute integrity in the royal household.


1Prefaces to Shakespeare (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1946), I, 31.

2 R. J. Dorius, ed., Twentieth-Century Interpretations of Henry IV, Part One (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1970), p. 4.

3 Harold E. Toliver, "Falstaff, the Prince, and the History Play," SQ 16 (1965): 65.

4 William Empson describes "three worlds, each with its own hero" (Some Versions of Pastoral [London: Chatto and Windus, 1935], p. 43), while Alan C. Dessen speaks of "dual protagonists" ("The Intemperate Knight and the Politic Prince: Late Morality Structure in 1 Henry IV" Shakespeare Studies 7 [1974]: 157). This absence of a single dominant role as a "star vehicle," according to Margaret Webster, has hurt the popularity of the play in the theater (Shakespeare Without Tears [New York: McGraw-Hill, 1942], p. 133).

5 The prompt copy from the Smock Alley Theatre indicates the need for at least six different scene settings (Gunnar Sorelius, "The Smock Alley Prompt-Books of 1 and 2 Henry IV," SQ 22 [1971]: 124).

6 Ed., The First Part of King Henry IV, The Arden Shakespeare (London: Methuen, 1960), p. xxviii.

7 Stephen Gardiner, De Vera Obedientia, Oratio (1535); see J. W. Allen, A History of Political Thought in the Sixteenth Century (London: Methuen, 1928), p. 126.

8 Allen, p. 127.

9 William Tyndale, "The Obedience of a Christian Man," in Doctrinal Treatises and Introductions to Different Portions of the Holy Scriptures (Cambridge, 1848), pp. 179-180.

10 Sir Thomas Craig, Concerning the Rights of Succession to the Kingdom of England (London, 1703), p. 16. As Robert B. Pierce has recently observed, Shakespeare in 1, 2 Henry IV "Displays the quest for political order as fundamentally like the quest for personal order within the family"—the Percies fail while the Lancastrians ultimately succeed (Shakespeare's History Plays: The Family and the State [Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press, 1971], pp. 171, 213).

11Shakespeare from Richard II to Henry V (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1957), pp. 81-82.

12 Line references to 1, 2 Henry IV are to the edition of G. B. Evans, The Riverside Shakespeare (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974).

13 The topicality of the Henry IV plays has been investigated at length by Lily B. Campbell, Shakespeare's Histories: Mirrors of Elizabethan Policy (San Marino: Huntington Library, 1947), pp. 218 ff. The plays reflect the "delicate equilibrium of late sixteenth-century English society" (Charles Barber, "Prince Hal, Henry V, and the Tudor Monarchy," in The Morality of Art, ed. D. W. Jefferson [New York: Barnes and Noble, 1969]), p. 68; see also William B. Stone, "Literature and Class Ideology: Henry IV, Part One," College English 33 (1972): 894. Alfred Hart, in Shakespeare and the Homilies (Melbourne: Melbourne Univ. Press, 1934), asserts that 2 Henry IV was heavily cut by the censor because of the possible parallel between Elizabeth and Henry IV, a king depicted as "refusing wise counsel" and "depressing his nobles" (p. 194).

14 Sir Thomas Hoby, trans., The Book of the Courtier by Baldassare Castiglione (London: Dent, 1928), pp. 261 ff.

15Dialogue Between Cardinal Pole and Thomas Lupset, ed. Sidney J. Heritage, The Early English Text Society (London, 1878), pp. 100-101.

16The Boke of the Governor (New York: Dutton, 1907), p. 9.

17 J. H. Walter, ed., King Henry V, The Arden Shakespeare (London: Methuen, 1954), pp. xvii-xviii.

18 James Hoyle describes the tableaux vivant as Hal standing "between the two extremes of self-indulgence" ("Some Emblems in Shakespeare's History Plays," ELH 38 [1971]: 525); see also Charles Mitchell, "The Education of a True Prince," Tennessee Studies in Literature 12 (1967): 19.

19Introductions to Shakespeare (London: Collins, 1966), p. 109.

20 Rudolf B. Schmerl reminds us that such a scene would be far funnier to the comically detached spectator than to Hal ("Comedy and the Manipulation of Moral Distance: Falstaff and Shylock," Bucknell Review 10 [1961]: 132).

21Political and Comic Characters of Shakespeare (London: Macmillan, 1962), p. 186; see also Leonard Dean, "From Richard II to Henry V: A Closer View," in Studies in Honor of DeWitt T. Starnes, ed., Thomas P. Harrison and James H. Sledd (Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1967), rpt. in Shakespeare: Modern Essays in Criticism, ed. Leonard Dean, rev. ed. (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1967), p. 198. Such ambivalence is characteristic of the play as a whole (Cleanth Brooks and Robert B. Heilman, Understanding Drama [New York: Holt, Rinehart, Winston, 1948], p. 384; Anthony La Branche, " 'If Thou Wert Sensible of Courtesy': Private and Public Virtue in Henry IV, Part One" SQ 16 [1966]: 381).

22 William B. Hunter, "Falstaff," South Atlantic Quarterly 50 (1951): 89; Alan Gerald Gross, "The Justification of Prince Hal," Texas Studies in Literature and Language 10 (1968-1969): 28.

23 S. C. Sen Gupta, Shakespeare's Historical Plays (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1964), p. 137; John Masefield, William Shakespeare (New York: Holt, 1911), p. 112; Michael Manheim, The Weak King Dilemma in the Shakespearean History Play (Syracuse: Syracuse Univ. Press, 1973), p. 166.

24 Elmer M. Blistein, Comedy in Action (Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 1964), p. 10.

25 In this respect John C. Bromley aptly notes that Henry is a "wholly public figure" (The Shakespearean Kings [Boulder: Colorado Associated Univ. Press, 1971], p. 61), though to call his remorse "nothing but rhetorical posture" (p. 66) and to view him as a subtly drawn hypocrite (H. C. Goddard, The Meaning of Shakespeare [Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1951], I, 162) and a "cynically adept politician" (James Winney, The Player King [New York: Barnes and Noble, 1968], p. 87) is to oversimplify the character as it appears on stage.

26 Like Henry IV, writes David Riggs, Hotspur is engaged in "the ceaseless accumulation of 'proud titles' unrelieved by moments of social occasion or self-fulfillment" (Shakespeare's Heroical Histories [Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1971], p. 159). Of a bloody and vicious mind (W. Gordon Zeeveld, " 'Food for Powder'—'Food for Worms,' " SQ 3 [1952]: 310), Hotspur's instincts—"informed by the merely negative" (Raymond H. Reno, "Hotspur: The Integration of Character and Theme," Renaissance Papers [1962], p. 25)—are for "rebellion and anarchy rather than for order" (Northrop Frye, "Nature and Nothing," in Essays on Shakespeare, ed. Gerald W. Chapman [Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1965], p. 43).

27 A sampling of the diversity of opinion will suggest the large body of criticism. Falstaff has been traced, for example, to various literary and folk antecedents—the allegorical figures of medieval drama (Bernard Spivack, "Falstaff and the Psychomachia," SQ 8 [1957]: 458), the mock king and Lord of Misrule (Northrop Frye, "The Argument of Comedy," English Institute Essays [1948], 71), the miles gloriosus of Plautus (J. Dover Wilson, The Fortunes of Falstaff [Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1943], p. 83), the court fool and soothsayer (Roy Battenhouse, "Falstaff as Parodist and Perhaps Holy Fool," PMLA 90 [1975]: 32), the picaro of Renaissance fiction (Herbert B. Rothschild, Jr., "Falstaff and the Picaresque Tradition," Modern Language Review 68 [1973]: 14). Others find the origins in several characters of The Famous Victories of Henry V (D. B. Landt, "The Ancestry of Sir John Falstaff," SQ 17 [1966]: 70)—in particular in the influence of Richard Tarleton's striking impersonations in the role of Dericke (James Monaghan, "Falstaff and his Forebears," Studies in Philology 18 [1921]: 360)—in figures from the London streets of Shakespeare's day (Paul N. Siegel, "Falstaff and His Social Milieu," Shakespeare Jahrbuch 110 [1974]: 139), in the degenerate dependence upon the feudal order (T. A. Jackson, "Marx and Shakespeare," International Literature 2 [1963]: 87).

28 While John Shaw ("The Staging of Parody and Parallels in 1 Henry IV" Shakespeare Survey 20 [1967]: 64) and Paul A. Gottschalk ("Hal and the 'Play Extempore' in 1 Henry IV," TSLL 15 [1973-1974]: 609) perceive a broad parody and J. D. A. Ogilvy sees a comic attack upon both Euphuism and Arcadianism ("Arcadianism in 1 Henry IV," ELN 10 [1972-1973]: 185), Richard L. McGuire argues that the scene, far from being parodic, is the turning point for the relationship between Hal and Falstaff ("The Play-within-the-Play in 1 Henry IV," SQ 18 [1967]: 50); see also Fredson Bowers, "Shakespeare's Art: The Point of View," in Literary Views, ed. Carroll Camden (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1964), pp. 54-55.

29 Shakespeare, according to Norman Council, makes the concept of honor—and the major characters' response to it—central to the play ("Prince Hal: Mirror of Success," Shakespeare Studies 7 [1974]: 144). This emphasis is "a mark of the secular atmosphere of 1 Henry IV. . . . In the world of politics and civil war [honor] functions as a substitute for moral principle" (Moody E. Prior, The Drama of Power [Evanston: Northwestern Univ. Press, 1973], p. 202).

30 In an interesting article U. C. Knoepflmacher treats Falstaff's counterfeit rising as a parody of Hal's rising to glory at Shrewsbury ("The Humors as Symbolic Nucleus in Henry IV, Part I," CE 24 [1963]: 501).

31 "1 Henry IV: Art's Gilded Lie," English Literary Renaissance 3 (1973): 138. Irving Ribner describes the plays as the "ultimate peak" in the development of Shakespeare's histories (The English History Play in the Age of Shakespeare [Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1957], p. 193), and Edward I. Berry describes them as "subtler, more complex, more aesthetically coherent elaborations of dramatic techniques and political insights expressed in the first tetralogy" (Patterns of Decay: Shakespeare's Early Histories [Charlottesville: Univ. Press, of Virginia, 1975], p. 104).

Barbara Hodgdon (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: " 'Let the End Try the Man': 1 and 2 Henry IV" in The End Crowns All: Closure and Contradiction in Shakespeare's History, Princeton University Press, 1991, pp. 151-84.

[In the following excerpt, Hodgdon discusses various theatrical and cinematic interpretations of 1 and 2 Henry IV, focusing on the "multiple endings " of the two plays and how they are dealt with by different directors.]

Taking Falstaff's part, A. C. Bradley begins "The Rejection of Falstaff" (1902) by asking, "Now why did Shakespeare end his drama with a scene which, though undoubtedly striking, leaves an impression so unpleasant?" Eventually, he concludes that Henry IV's "chief hero" is the "wild" Prince Henry, who, in order to emerge "as a just, wise, stern, and glorious King," must, together with Bradley himself, banish Falstaffian plenitude.1 Like Bradley, Orson Welles, a later Falstaffian conjuror, also begins with the end: discussing his 1966 film, Chimes at Midnight, an adaptation of 1 and 2 Henry IV with traces of Richard II, Henry V, and The Merry Wives of Windsor, he comments, "I directed everything, and played everything, with a view to preparing for the last scene."2 The close of his film, however, not only readdresses Bradley's question from a diametrically opposed position but, by staging Falstaff's body as its primary site of spectacle, turns Henry IV's royal narrative, as in Hotspur's phrase, "topsy-turvy down" (1 Henry IV, 4.1.82).

In the cathedral space where Henry V is crowned, Welles's film articulates the rejection in a shot—reverse shot exchange consisting primarily of low- and high-angle close-ups and mid-close-ups in which two shots are especially striking. In the first, as Henry says "I know thee not, old man," he stands with his back to a Falstaff he clearly knows so well he does not even need to look at him; in the second, as the new King finally turns away from the "surfeit-swelled" old man to walk between massed banners toward the light, the film cuts to a mid-close-up of Falstaff, whose gaze registers pride in the splendid figure of his "sweet boy." When soldiers carrying lances bar his view of Hal, Falstaff moves slowly to stand alone next to a column, speaks with Shallow and, finally, moves out of the shot. As Shallow calls to him, a series of extreme long shots details his own procession as he walks away from the camera toward the darkened castle ramparts, his bulk growing smaller and smaller in the frame until, against deep, empty foreground space, his tiny silhouette disappears through a lit archway. As in Shakespeare's playtext, the Lords—here, the Bishop, Prince John, and the Lord Chief Justice—remark on the King's "fair proceeding"; but then Welles's textual rearrangements counterpose that judgment with its "fair" results: Doll is arrested, calling for Falstaff, who is ordered to the Fleet; his tiny Page, squirming through the crowd, tells Pistol that Falstaff is sick; and Bardolph comments, "The King is a good king, but it must be as it may." Before the castle battlements, Henry proclaims "Now, Lords, for France" and orders Falstaff released from prison—"We consider / It was excess of wine that set him on."

Now the camera pans right to follow Poins as he walks past the empty tavern "throne" where Falstaff and Hal had both played Henry IV and into the innyard, where he stops beside a huge coffin, resting on a rude cart: "Falstaff?" "Falstaff is dead," says the page; and, after Mistress Quickly speaks his epitaph (Henry V, 2.3.9-24), she watches while the three men push the enormous coffin through the innyard gates across a snow-speckled landscape bounded by the distant castle walls. The camera slowly booms up to offer an omniscient perspective that traps this procession, in a high-angle extreme long shot, between tavern and court, and Ralph Richardson's authoritatively impersonal voice speaks a pastiche from Holinshed: "The new king, even at first appointing, determined to put on him the shape of a new man. This Henry was a captain of such prudence and such policy that he never enterprised anything before it forecast the main chances that it might happen. So humane withal, he left no offense unpunished nor friendship unrewarded. For conclusion, a majesty was he that both lived and died a pattern in princehood, a lodestar in honor, and famous to the world al way." Over a slow-motion film loop of a row of soldiers, nobles, and clerics, armed and ready for war, standing against the side wall of a church, pennon lances waving in the breeze, muffled drums beat out a rhythm that replaces his words.3

Rejected from the court by the King and from the tavern by Death, Falstaff's body inhabits a no-man's-land between the two spaces over which the voice of "history" presides, circumscribing and displacing Quickly's report of the fat knight's death with excerpts from Henry V's chronicle epitaph. Finally, the film reconstitutes the body, and the hierarchy, of the kingdom in an image that repeats itself endlessly, like the drums that simultaneously sound Falstaff's death knell and presage the coming war. If Welles's pseudo-Aristotelian complicity with tragedy generates a "finer end" (the Hostess's phrase), it also remaps the traditional territory4 framed by "I know you all" and "I know thee not, old man" onto Falstaff's body to call Henry V's "carefully plotted official strategy" as well as the spectacle of rule into question. Strikingly, Welles's film is responsive not only to Bradley's praise, echoed by other readers, for Falstaff and his overreaching creator, "caught up in the wind of his own genius"—"It is not a misfortune that happens to many authors, nor is it one we can regret, for it costs us but a trifling inconvenience in one scene"5—but also to more recent configurations of the Henry IV plays as an ideal testing ground for examining the relations between plebian and patrician discourses, the carnivalesque and the theater as sites of subversion that work, ultimately, to authorize the state.6 Indeed Welles himself envisioned his film, not as a "lament for Falstaff, but for the death of Metrie England . . . a myth, which has been very real to the English-speaking world . . . the age of chivalry, of simplicity, of Maytime and all that."7 When Steven Mullaney writes, of Falstaff's rejection, that "what surprises is not the event itself but the fact that the world being cast off has been so consummately rehearsed: so fully represented to us, and consequently, so fully foreclosed,"8 he identifies quite precisely the rupture between "play" and "history" that shapes 2 Henry IV's close, a contradiction Welles's film reveals in the disjuncture between image and sound—the one recording what history excludes to hollow out the voice of official memory.

However split between a "prodigally lavish" Falstaffian economy and one of royal legitimation, between subversion and its containment, critical narratives of the Henry IV plays as well as late twentieth-century theatrical practice so consistently link its two parts into one that Falstaff's banishment becomes an end that indeed "crowns all." In fact, Henry IV's "master narrative" not only subsumes 1 Henry IV's ending but absorbs the insistently coded closural gestures of 1 and 2 Henry IV—what Samuel Crowl, writing on Welles's film, calls "The Long Goodbye"—into a pattern that arches over both plays to (always already) expel Falstaff. Reading 1 and 2 Henry IV's multiple endings from a "double vantage," I want not only to raise questions concerning their late sixteenth-century representation and reception but, by looking at several of their latter-day theatrical configurations, to examine how these reproduce or refashion, arrange or rearrange, social meaning as theatrical meaning. And I want to begin by describing 1 Henry IV's close in a version that, complete within itself, forecloses, so to speak, on the need for a second play.

Beerbohm Tree's 1895 1 Henry IV9 constructs a highly idealized resolution of the play's contradictory, oppositional father-son relations. Omitting Hal's rescue of his father, Tree cuts from Falstaff's exit, taking a quick drink from the bottle Hal has just refused, to Hotspur's entrance, effecting a double exchange: rival son for rival father, true chivalry for its lack. As Hal and Hotspur recognize one another, the prompt copy indicates a trumpet flourish, followed by a pause and "picture" before an orchestral tremolo signals Falstaff's reentry to confront the Douglas. After the fights, Hal places a battle standard over Hotspur's body, turns briefly to address Falstaff, salutes Hotspur, and, with a sigh, exits. As the stage lights dim to an "evening effect," Falstaff glances over his shield; to the offstage clashing of swords, "very piano," he slowly rises and takes another drink from his bottle; but rather than taking up Hotspur's body, he falls to his knees and is about to lie down again when, seeing Hal and Prince John enter, he tries to creep away on his hands and knees. Helping Falstaff to his feet, Hal laughs, as Hotspur had done earlier in disbelief at his own death, and willingly gilds Falstaff's lie before proclaiming "the day is ours," at which a "15th and Final Flourish" sounds, backed by "hurrahs." Tree cuts Falstaff's promise to reform and moves directly to a mass entrance that fills the stage with soldiers, who frame a central tableau in which King Henry and Prince Hal embrace, surrounded by waving banners and triumphant "Huzzahs." Not only does Hotspur's body remain on the stage to figure the rebels' defeat and Hal's victory but, since Tree himself played Falstaff and since the prompt copy indicates no exit for him,10 this close gives Hal two fathers and celebrates his reconciliation with both amidst a splendid military spectacle.

Its pictorial realization reminiscent of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century commemorative paintings of famous battles, this sort of grand finale, its power greatly enhanced by the practice then common of playing the national anthem at the end of each performance, caps 1 Henry IVs well into the 1950s.11 While some performance texts, like Tree's, simply substitute military spectacle for the play's final scene, others, such as Bridges-Adams's for the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1932,12 by retaining King Henry's sentence of Worcester and Vernon, punish treason against the state and heal filial "treason" with the image of a Hal who kneels to his father at the final victory declaration. So transformed into moral myth, closure becomes a nostalgic fantasia in which rebellion has indeed lost its sway, mastered by heroism and military might embodied in a unitary spectacle that authenticates the relations between past and present cultures along a transhistorical continuum of idealized national and familial values.

In taking on such contours, these 1 Henry IVs push to extremes the resolution of a story familiar to Elizabethans—the parable of the prodigal son, one well-known through two models, the biblical narrative and the equally mythologized tales, dramatized in the anonymous play, The Famous Victories of Henry V, of what Henry IV calls his son's "vile participation" (3.2.87). In both versions,13 it is an exclusively male narrative directed toward working through father-son antagonisms and, in the case of the parable only, those between a dutiful elder son and his wastrel brother. Also in both, it is not the prodigal son's legitimacy that is in question but the need to establish his authenticity in relation to patriarchal law. Drawing on these paradigms as well as on chronicle materials, Shakespeare's play constructs a highly mythologized economy, structured through binary oppositions—court/tavern, honor/dishonor, time/ timelessness, everyday/holiday, word/body, serious history/comic-popular discourse—in which the first term represents the desirable ideal, the second its inversion. As the only figure who can move flexibly between their boundaries, Hal encompasses their contradictions, for which Shrewsbury—represented on the one hand as history, and on the other as a purely theatrical invention—is the ideal testing ground.

Unlike Shakespeare's earlier histories, where conflict centers on genealogical descent in a struggle for the crown's rightful ownership, 1 Henry IV positions the Percy-Northumberland rebellion against the state so that it serves Hal's mimetic rivalry with Hotspur as well as that between his authentic and counterfeit fathers, Henry IV and Falstaff.14 In this extremely limited gender economy, structured by a desire for the male other that takes the form of aggression, women are positioned at history's margins: unnecessary to prove or deny Hal's or Hotspur's legitimacy (as, for instance, in King John), they simply delay historical time. Only the rebel leaders—Hotspur and Lord Mortimer—have wives, whose presence functions primarily to separate public from private domains and, by proving their husbands' heterosexuality, deflects the homoerotic into the homosocial; says Hotspur, "This is no world / To play with mammets or to tilt with lips" (2.3.87-88), nor has he time to listen to the Welsh lady sing (3.1.234). In their resistance to the male chivalric project, Kate Percy and Glendower's daughter are kin to Falstaff, a more substantial image of feminine "misrule," who lies within the tavern space, together with thieves, swaggerers, a Hostess-landlady, and "gentlewomen" who, it is said, "live honestly by the prick of their needles" (Henry V, 2.1.31-32). Although within the Oedipal narrative, Falstaff figures as Hal's surrogate father, he is coded in feminine, maternal terms:15 his fat belly is the masculine counterpart of the pregnant woman; his Rabelaisian excesses of food and drink make him the Carnival antithesis to Henry IV's ascetic Lenten identity and his world of religious penance, bent as Henry IV is on expiating personal as well as national guilt with a crusade. It is Falstaff who accuses Hal of being the king's bastard son, and Hal, too, imagines him as female when, just before baiting Falstaff about his Gadshill cowardice and with Hotspur circulating in his mind and in his talk, he thinks himself into playing Percy and "that damned brawn" into "Dame Mortimer his wife" (2.4.104-5). That "play extempore" is then transformed into one where the roles of king and son become interchangeable, shared between Falstaff and Hal, and where women have no place: Falstaff's first "command" as "father-king" is "convey my tristful queen" (2.4.375).

But perhaps the most telling of Falstaff's multiform female guises of misrule is his association with Queen Elizabeth's virgin identity: "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" (1.2.23-27).16 Desiring to undertake something like Essex's role in the annual Accession Day Tourneys that celebrated Elizabeth's powerfully mythic, theatricalized presence, his fantasy of social order would steal and invert Essex's chivalric image—echoed in Hotspur's "easy leap / To pluck bright honor from the pale-faced moon" (1.3.201-2)—in order to recode his own body. Chivalry's daytime, however, cannot admit an aging, corpulent "squire of the night's body," whose 2 Henry IV counterpart, mentioned in passing, is Shallow's "bona roba," Jane Nightwork (3.2.188). Even Hal, "a truant to chivalry" and the "shadow" of his father's succession (5.1.94), must transform himself to look the part of a May lord, "Ris[ing] from the ground like feathered Mercury . . . / As if an angel dropped down from the clouds," in order to confront Hotspur, a "Mars in swaddling clothes," the "king of honor" (4.1.106-8; 3.2.112; 4.1.10).17 And although Sir John's body is also capable of metamorphosis, his transformations, and the codes he serves, work precisely to expose such glorious disguises.

Elizabethan spectators would have still other figures for Falstaff, and for his fluid gender identity, including his guise of eternal youth, that are distant from present-day readers and spectators. Spectators at 1 Henry IV's first performances, when Falstaff was called Oldcastle, would connect him not only with the character of the same name in The Famous Victories but also with a historical Sir John Oldcastle, a martyr celebrated in Foxe's Actes and Monuments and sentenced to death for treason by Henry V. Certainly some observers, the sixteenth-century Oldcastle descendants, Sir William Brooke and his son, the seventh and eighth Lord Cobhams, objected to such libel of the family name. And their objections had considerable weight, for Sir William was the Lord Chamberlain, with oversight responsibilities for the Master of Revels and the licensing of plays: given such sensitivity in high places, Shakespeare changed the name, and though traces of it remain in 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV's Epilogue offers a public disclaimer that "Oldcastle died martyr, and this is not the man" (Ep., 27-28).18 The subject of anecdotes, letters, and rival plays, the Oldcastle-Falstaff issue may well have been fueled by the character's impersonator, the famous clown, Will Kemp, whom Nashe described as "jest-monger and Vice-gerent general to the ghost of Dick Tarlton" and who "succeeded" Tarlton as a favorite of Queen Elizabeth as well as the general public.19 David Wiles argues persuasively that the Oldcastle-Falstaff role was written with Kemp in mind and that Kemp's particular skills helped to shape it, especially his ability to produce the illusion, in speaking scripted words, of spur-of-the-moment improvisation. And the conventions that coded a clown's role—ambiguous social status and semi-androgynous identity, freedom to separate himself from the play's role and plot structure,20 metamorphosis and final exclusion — rather precisely figure the attributes of Falstaff, who is both thief and knight, gentleman and marginal reveller, mother as well as father and giant "Power Baby,"21 separate from but also central to the historical rebellion, protean liar, the excluded other. Throughout, but most especially at Shrewsbury, all of these images of his theatrical abundance come into play.

To "thrust in clowns by head and shoulders"22 or, in this case, belly first, at Shrewsbury is, of course, Shakespeare's invention. The official chronicle sources record a battle in which the chief actors are Henry IV, Hotspur, and the Douglas, and position Hal simply as his father's helper, "a lusty young gentleman" who, though wounded, refuses to withdraw and continues to "fight where the battle was most hot."23 And it is entirely possible to extract, from Shakespeare's own fictional account in 1 Henry IV—in which his major additions to its royal plot are Hal's offer to oppose Hotspur "in single fight," his rescue of his father, his combat with Hotspur, his freeing of the Douglas, and the presence of Prince John—a "decent" version of Shrewsbury that avoids the "mingling [of] kings and clowns" that Sidney so deplores.24 Indeed, these particular alterations are sufficient to reshape the chronicle record as a test of feudal and familial values, similar to those dramatized in the closing battles of the Henry VI plays. Selectively retold, such a decorously perfected narrative might begin as the King, with unexpected concern for his wounded son, begs him to retire; following Hal's refusal, both Henry IV and Hal praise John's valor in "hold[ing] Lord Percy at the point"—an event that gives Hal a second rival, his "true" brother. And when Hal's "fair rescue" of his father "redeem[s] his lost opinion, he dispels his "loose behavior" and supposed treachery—and with it the filial aggression dramatized in The Famous Victories15—as a rumor perpetrated by others: "they did me too much injury / That ever said I heark'ned for your death" (5.4.50-51). So prepared for, the Hal-Hotspur combat—what Graham Holderness calls "a vivid poem of feudal romance and chivalric adventure"26—is an exchange of "glorious deeds" for "indignities" that, with the death of the rival (rebel) son, ensures Hal's place as Henry IV's "authentic" heir. Finally, in the play's last scene, with the rebels vanquished and punished, Henry IV acknowledges that authenticity: Hal, granted leave by his father to dispose of the Douglas, not only redeems his prisoner, and so takes on the Hotspur-like qualities his father had so admired, but, in recognition of John's valor, transfers the "honorable bounty" to his brother just before his father, for the first time, and in the play's concluding speech, calls him "son Harry" (5.5.39).

In that Falstaff is kept apart from his kingly other, Shakespeare's fiction of Shrewsbury approaches this decorous ideal: during the battle, he appears only with Hal or alone on the stage and, in conformity with convention, is absent from its final "official" ending. Yet, curiously enough, Shakespeare's "double reading" of the chronicle takes license for Falstaff's appearance at Shrewsbury from details that, in keeping with his fictional status as a Lord of Misrule, are introduced as hearsay:

(as some write) the earl of Douglas struck [Henry IV] down, and at that instant slew sir Walter Blunt, and three other, apparelled in the kings suit and clothing, saying: I marvel to see so many kings thus suddenly arise one in the neck of an other. The king in deed was raised, & did that day many a noble feat of arms, for as it is written, he slew that day with his own hands six and thirty persons of his enemies. The other on his part encouraged by his doings, fought valiantly, and slew the lord Percy, called sir Henry Hotspur.27

In 1 Henry IV's Shrewsbury, many also walk in the King's coats: indeed, Shrewsbury begins by killing the king, later recognized by Hotspur as Blunt, and so recirculates the question of the true king's identity, the central issue behind the Hotspur-Northumberland rebellion (5.3). Having others march in the King's armor represents the King's body both as powerfully doubled and redoubled in his subjects and as an empty lie; it also questions whether counterfeiting, dying as one's self or in another's guise, is honorable when put at the king's service, dishonorable when put into play by a Falstaffian subject.

For in 1 Henry IV, it is Falstaff, not the King, who "rises," and the ambiguous "other on his part" becomes Hal who, as in Daniel's Civil Wars, saves his father's life.28 While Holinshed represents the king-father's body as a multiform illusion, in 1 Henry IV, it is Falstaff—whose "lying" nature the play codes in his body as well as his voice—who calls such illusion, and the omnipresence of fatherly law, into question. If, like the Douglas, the play's first, or first-time, spectators assume that, in killing Blunt, he has killed the king, they could also imagine that the Douglas does indeed kill Falstaff, especially since their attention is, so to speak, doubled, for the encounter occurs at the same time as Hal's mythic combat with Hotspur, Shrewsbury's most heroic event for which Falstaff is, at first, an observer:

They fight. Enter Falstaff
FALST. Well said, Hal, to it Hal. Nay you shall
find no boys' play here I can tell you.
Enter Douglas, he fighteth with Falstaff he
falls down as if he were dead, the Prince killeth Percy.


When, later, Hal speaks double epitaphs—one for Hotspur's "stout" heart, one over Falstaff's stout body—the conventions alone dictate resolution, neatly rounded off in perfect, and perfectly accidental, closure that dispenses with both rival son and rival parent, throwing the rivals into relationship, joining antithetical perspectives on honor that the play has kept separate but parallel, restoring order in the play's most politically significant systems: father-son relations, the threatened division of the kingdom, and Hal's authenticity. Indeed, since the last six lines of Hal's eulogy on Falstaff even fall into rhyme, it is possible for spectators as well as readers to hear these "last words" as the end of the play. In present-day theatrical configurations of the scene, the pause that invariably follows Hal's exit certainly invites spectators to believe in both deaths: even when "Falstaff riseth up" to fals-ify the illusion, it is only his ability to speak, proclaiming himself "no counterfeit, but the true and perfect image of life indeed," that codes the moment as something other than a curtain call where, eventually, the two other bodies onstage—the players of Hotspur and Blunt, dressed in armor that counterfeits the King—would also rise to acknowledge spectators' applause.

Most present-day critical configurations of this moment claim that Falstaff's resurrection invites readers and spectators, first, to be complicit with him, welcoming his surprise return from death, and then reject him when he stabs Hotspur and leaves to claim Hal's glory as his own.29 But in fact the playtext makes none of these moralistic judgments; rather, the only "moral work" is Falstaff's own, and it constitutes a riff on the infinite possibilities of theatrical dying (5.4.114-17). Here again, 1 Henry IV's Elizabethan spectators would have other options. For those who knew the character as Oldcastle, the fat knight's "rising" might take on specific topical resonances and be read as a lampoon on Oldcastle's alleged dying promise that he would "rise from death to life again, the third day."30 And when his "killing" of Hotspur is read through the conventions associated with the clown, Falstaff's weapon takes on particular meaning. His sword first appears at Gadshill as a property that figures him as both Vice and adolescent, for the Vice's traditional weapon was a dagger of lath, similar to the wooden "waster" used by apprentices in the Sunday evening fights allowed them by their masters.31 "Hacked like a handsaw" by Falstaff himself after the robbery, it is clearly a toy sword as well as a figure for his name—a "false staff" that, in figuring his lack of a potent phallus, is an emblematic weapon well chosen to represent his ineffectiveness in chivalry's, so to speak, metallic world. And it is this same child's toy with which he gives Hotspur a "new wound in [his] thigh" (5.4.127), an injury Shakespeare seems to transfer from the chronicler's Douglas—who "brake one of his cullions" in a fall and, having so lost his manliness, was pardoned by Henry IV32—to Hotspur. For all its insistent mythologizing of the heroic, Shrewsbury's battle is, finally, just what Falstaff claimed it was not: "boys' play."33 And what gives it the lie and refutes its chivalric signs, making them serve his own interests, is the clown's interventionary presence. A creature who draws his own authenticity from the suspect realm of theatrical shadows, he, more than any other, is well aware that the counterfeit—the reproduced image of the authentic—has no value until it is put into circulation and exchanged.34

Curiously enough, it is the rupture within Hal's own chivalry—his failure to take favors from Hotspur and, instead, to give him his own—that enables Falstaff to recirculate Hotspur's body and claim for himself the father's honor. While it is usual to displace Hal's "fault" onto Falstaff and to read Falstaff as one who takes meaning from Hal, present-day theatrical configurations in which Hal demonstrates less than chivalric tactics in the fight show him sharing in Falstaff's brand of honor, a choice that can turn his gilding of Falstaff's lie into a kind of self-justification. Even more important, however, is Falstaff's ability to steal meaning from Henry IV. As he leaves the stage to "follow . . . for reward" (5.4.158), promising dietary reform, it looks as though Carnival will indeed yield to Lent and so, perhaps, create a new fiction of a Falstaff who can insert his transformed body into history. His words sound final—sound, that is, like the end of his role—and 1 Henry IV's final scene excludes him from its image of a reconstituted, rebellion-free royal hierarchy. Elizabethan spectators would recognize these moves as entirely "decorous," for the clown's final metamorphosis and his absence from the play's last scene were conventions of his role, and he would, in most cases, return to perform the traditional jig finale.35 In the play's representational economy, convention works to dismantle narrative closure. By the last scene, Shakespeare seems to revert to reading the chronicle "straight": Henry IV never has knowledge of precisely which "other on his part"—whether Hal or Falstaff—has killed Hotspur. It is only Falstaff who, at least in some sense, has witnessed the event and turned it to imagined future advantage. And when, at the close, the King looks forward to "such another day," he reads into Shrewsbury's official account what 2 Henry IV will, at first, record as a lie destined for the ears of Hotspur's "crafty-sick" father and, then, as the means to reinstate a newly costumed, newly titled "valiant Jack Falstaff," and so to further transform 1 Henry IV's "mingle" of king and clown.

From the mid-1950s forward, theatrical configurations of 1 Henry IV's close for the most part avoid the seamless, unitary discourse of spectacle characteristic of late nineteenth- and earlier twentieth-century versions and so not only "play out the play" but extend its boundaries, though not, except in one case, in order to say more on Falstaff's behalf (2.4.460-61). In that it so clearly articulates patterns of substitution and replacement among rival sons and fathers, Terry Hands's 1975 Royal Shakespeare Company 1 Henry IV draws the closing scenes into what might be called a structuralist's dream.36 In the Hal-Hotspur combat, Hotspur disarms Hal, who then seizes Hotspur's sword and aims two blows at his shield and a third at his stomach, which brings him to his knees; Hal then removes Hotspur's helmet and slashes his face with a dagger. On "I better brook the loss of brittle life," Hotspur grabs Hal and slowly stands, to die in his arms. To further cement their brotherhood, Hal lays Hotspur's body down and, kneeling beside it, enacts a series of ceremonial gestures: after wiping Hotspur's blood onto his own face, he places Hotspur's sword on his chest, crosses the dead hands over it, takes a red cloth from his own dagger to cover Hotspur's eyes, and finally stands and removes his own helmet while he praises his dead rival. In contrast, he pauses just long enough to see Falstaff and speak his epitaph but does not touch his body. When Falstaff returns to life, he not only performs a sequence of actions—speaking a few lines before rising to his knees and, finally, standing—that echo Hotspur's but repeats Hal's tactics by stabbing Hotspur with his own sword; linking him to both, his mimicry also calls the value of such gestures into question and, when he drags Hotspur's body offstage, subverts them completely. To further the transformed value of Hotspur's body, Hands repeats the image—not once but twice. As Falstaff exits, Hal reenters with John37 and registers surprise at seeing neither Hotspur nor Falstaff; then Falstaff returns, dragging Hotspur's body behind him to hear a bemused Hal "gild" his lie. Left alone after Hal and John exit together, Falstaff again drags Hotspur's body out, undercutting his final promise to "live cleanly as a nobleman should do." Although this staging replaces Falstaff with John as Hal's companion, neither Hal's bond to Falstaff nor his to Hal is severed: indeed, this Hal seems to accept Falstaff's lie in order to accept his own counterfeiting self.

Hands's final stage images trace a further range of substitutions. Led in on ropes, Worcester and Vernon flank King Henry's central figure, while Westmoreland stands directly upstage of Henry, with Clarence and Humphrey at either side of him. Deliberately enforcing military justice, Henry drops, first, Worcester's rope and, after a pause, Vernon's. When Westmoreland and Humphrey exit with the prisoners, Henry moves downstage where, as Hal kneels at his right, asking for leave to dispose of the Douglas, and John moves to his father's left, both sons replace Worcester and Vernon, the traitors. On "ransomless and free," Hal stands, as Hotspur had earlier when Henry questioned him about his prisoners (1.3); and the echo of one son replacing another persists when Henry calls Hal "son Harry," puts an arm on his shoulder, and draws him toward a prominent downstage position before, pausing as though in doubt, he speaks his final line, "Let us not leave till all our own be won," which cues music filled with expectant drumbeats.38 Hands's staging reconstitutes the initial image of Henry surrounded by roped prisoners as a Plantagenet family portrait: Clarence and John stand in Vernon and Worcester's positions, Humphrey directly upstage of King Henry, Westmoreland up left, and Hal, now the "authentic" heir, directly downstage of Henry. As in Hands's closing images for the Henry VI plays, this final tableau figures a hard-won stability and predicts the "true" successor. And if replacing traitors with sons and cousins also refigures rebellion as a family matter, freeze-framing the close not only suppresses such potential contradictions but makes them unreadable, masked by an image of exclusive familial hierarchy that perfectly expresses the self-regarding gaze of legitimated royal power.

While the formal satisfactions of Hands's close fix Shrewsbury's moment within time, the close of Trevor Nunn's 1982 1 Henry IV, again for the Royal Shakespeare Company,39 goes beyond its limits to reread its victory through Henry IV's eyes. The final image rhymes with the opening spectacle, where a flickering candlelight procession of monks, all in white robes and cowls, moves slowly downstage, while the rest of the company fills the dimly lit boxlike rooms, walkways, and turrets of the set—watchers as well as participants assembled to sing a haunting Te Deum. There, the King, dressed in a gold-embroidered ceremonial white cope, emerges from the procession to stand at its head, encompassed by the symbolic weight of his costume; here, the close diminishes the full panoply of that opening tableau. Bare to the waist and wearing a large crucifix, King Henry kneels in a tunnel of light, a shadowy kingdom of men and women standing in darkness behind him to observe his solitary, agonized penance. Drawing on Henry's opening wish to undertake a pilgrimage, Nunn's ending positions Shrewsbury's victory as a tainted substitute for and displacement of Henry's desire to lead a crusade that will expiate his guilt. It is an image that can be doubly read. If read backwards through Richard II's ending and forward through the King's speech on the crown (2 Henry IV, 4.5.178-219), the image sharply focuses Henry's private angst and, by showing him surrounded by onstage spectator-subjects, all eyes turned toward the King, enhances his vulnerability and, as in Richard II's close, figures not royal power but its lack. But the image can also be read through the schematic opposition of rival fathers: although it is Falstaff who promises reform,' here it is Henry IV who performs his Shrewsbury penance.

Only once in 1 Henry IV, at the parley just before Shrewsbury's battle (5.1), do King Henry and Falstaff share the stage, within a context that flirts with equating carnival and rebellion. When the King asks Worcester how he came to rebel, Falstaff answers for him, "Rebellion lay in his way, and he found it," and Hal quickly silences him—"Peace, chewet, peace!" (5.1.27-28). Whether Henry IV either does not hear or simply chooses to ignore Falstaff's remark, he never addresses him; Falstaff himself does not speak again until, following Hal's offer to "Try fortune with [Hotspur] in a single fight" and the King's offer of amnesty for the rebels, he is alone with Hal and asks for "friendship": "Hal, if thou seest me down in the battle . . . " (5.1.121). But although the playtext denies the support of language to the moment, this does not rule out the possibility of a silent exchange between Falstaff and the King, and both Hands's and Nunn's performance texts took this opportunity to sketch in their rivalry. In Hands's staging, both the King and Falstaff start to leave, and when Falstaff turns back to plead with Hal, the King pauses to watch their encounter, as though to satisfy himself that Hal will indeed keep his promise to "redeem all this on Percy's head" rather than revert to playing holiday with Falstaff. And Nunn's Henry IV, caught between envy and contempt for Falstaff, turns away, his shoulders sagging in defeat as Hal jokes with Falstaff.40 Emrys James, who played Henry IV in Hands's production, remarked in an interview with Michael Mullin that "one can conceive a marvellous scene being written about [Henry and Falstaff]—a meeting between them."41 Two other performance texts—Welles's Chimes at Midnight and Michael Bogdanov's 1987 English Shakespeare Company 1 Henry IV—provide such a meeting, though not, perhaps, the one James may have had in mind.

Welles's film extends Hands's and Nunn's exchange of speaking looks to read Shrewsbury's victory as a record of personal loss and, by including Falstaff in its final moves, changes the relations between history and carnival, between the official version of Shrewsbury and Falstaff's account. When Falstaff throws Hotspur's body to the ground, Hal kneels in the mud and turns the body over on its back; in a mid-long shot of Hal, seen across Hotspur's body, a figure enters the frame at left, only the bottom of his robe visible, and the camera, rising with Hal, moves left to reveal King Henry, facing his son, his back to the camera. In a tightly edited sequence of close-ups—Henry's anguished face; Hal's look, caught between his two fathers; Falstaff's glow of self-pleasure; Hal meeting his father's gaze—the film links the three figures in an ambiguous web of doubt, betrayal, and dishonor in which Falstaff's expectant "I look to be either earl or duke, I assure you" cancels what Hal wants to say but cannot: that he has killed Hotspur. In a long shot, father and son face each other across the dead body before the King walks past Hal, strides into the background, and, in the next several shots, mounts his horse, collapses over the saddle in anguish, and, recovering, raises his arm in salute as the camera pans right to follow rows of horsemen. The next sequence reveals Falstaff, surrounded by his entire crew of ragged soldiers, a huge wine keg in the background; as though the previous confrontation had not occurred, he speaks a truncated version of his dissertation on sherris-sack (2 Henry IV, 4.3.83-119) and offers a tankard to Hal, who takes it and drinks, his forced smile suddenly becoming serious as he turns away from Falstaff, not sharing in the general laughter. As Falstaff's own smile turns quizzical and disappears, Hal, seen in an extreme-long shot, walks away across the smoke-filled battlescape, dropping the tankard: the sound track registers only the wind's empty roar, and the shot fades out. Restating father-son oppositions, Welles's film deepens and sharply triangulates them to entrap a doubly orphaned Hal between his rival fathers—cut off by his father's gaze and rejecting Falstaff's sack-nurturning maternity himself—and, in eclipsing the image of Falstaff's bulk with that of Hal's receding figure, points forward to Sir John's ultimate rejection.

Deliberately quoting Welles's film, Michael Bogdanov's 1 Henry IV not only reorders the play's final events but figures a more radical disjuncture between historical event and Falstaffian intervention than either Chimes at Midnight or Shakespeare's play.42 In this eclectically dressed production, where costume ranges from Hal's blue jeans and open-necked shirt to nineteenth-century military uniform for Henry IV to commandolike garb for the rebels and camouflage gear for Falstaff, Hai and Hotspur wear tabards and chain mail for their mythic combat on a bare stage—bare, that is, except for the rounded hill of Falstaff's body. Toward the end of a long fight with heavy broadswords, Hal loses his and curls into a fetal position, as though overcome with infantile fear. With a grin, Hotspur slides the sword across to him; recovering immediately, Hal comes at him, slices across his gut in an ugly sweep, and then plunges the sword down from the shoulder, crosswise under the tabard, to his heart. Standing behind Hotspur and cradling his body, he stabs him once more, this time from the rear, on Hotspur's "And food for . . ."—an unnecessary overkill, this Hal's deliberate revenge on his father's obvious preference for Hotspur, as well as a coup de grace in tribute to Hotspur's bravery. As Hal returns his sword to the scabbard, he starts to exit, and then, seeing Falstaff, dismissively speaks his epitaph. When, after removing a NO ENTRY sign from his shirt, Falstaff rises, he uses a child's toy sword to saw at Hotspur's thigh before heaving him onto his back as he leaves the stage.

Now the King, Worcester, Westmoreland, Prince John, and Hal return for the play's final scene, but as Henry concludes his last speech, Falstaff enters with Hotspur's body and unceremoniously plunks it down center, in front of Hal (fig. 13). His "I look to be either earl or duke, I assure you" is spoken half to Henry IV, half to Hal; positioned between the two, his bulk separating father and son, he recounts his version of Shrewsbury. Henry IV crosses to the body, looks down at it and then up at Hal, silently accusing him, before turning away to exit upstage center; after a self-righteous smirk at his brother, John follows his father, and an angry Hal smashes his sword to the floor with both hands. Pulling a cart piled with dead bodies, a solider enters to circle the stage, weaving around Hal and Falstaff, stopping briefly at Hotspur's body before he exits. Now Hal bends over Hotspur's body, takes back the neckerchief he had worn in the earlier tavern scenes and had tied around the dead Hotspur's neck, and replaces it jerkily around his own—a mark of his kill through which he reaccepts the rivalry separating father and son. As though attempting to placate him, Falstaff delivers his promise to leave sack and live cleanly to a Hal who, without looking at him, orders him to "bring your luggage nobly on your back," an irony this Falstaff shrugs off as he exits, once again bearing Hotspur's body. Alone, Hal raises his sword with both hands straight over his head, turns upstage, and, his back rigid, exits toward his father into the gathering dark to the accompaniment of crashing brasses.

Like Welles's ending for Shrewsbury, Bogdanov's rewritten close sharply focuses Hal's entrapment. Although similar to Welles's strategy in catalyzing Hal's guilt through an exchange of gazes to turn him back into an unredeemed son, Bogdanov's close also more sharply calls the limits of counterfeiting into question. This 1 Henry IV not only restores the father-son opposition but refuses to exclude a Falstaff who imagines his lie a Shrewsbury joke not unlike Henry IV's "shadows" marching in armor. By omitting Hal's gilding of Falstaff's lie, Bogdanov's rearranged ending permits Falstaff to take revenge for Hal's exposure of his Gadshill cowardice. And its final emphases rest not on Hal's rejection of Falstaff but on Hal's own exclusion, his need to prove himself once more and also, perhaps, to seek revenge against the father who, doubting his true son, believes the boastful lie of another, counterfeit, father. The close of Bogdanov's 2 Henry IV will further transform, and interrogate, this finale to read Henry V's rejection of Falstaff as his final, bitter revenge on all such fatherly lies. . . .


1 See A. C. Bradley, "The Rejection of Falstaff," 1902; reprinted in Henry the Fourth, Parts I and II, ed. David Bevington (New York, 1986), 81, 96.

2 Quoted in Juan Cobos and Miguel Rubio, "Welles and Falstaff," 1966; reprinted in Chimes at Midnight, ed. Bridget Geliert Lyons (New Brunswick, N.J., 1988), 261.

3 For discussions of Welles's film, see Jorgens, Shakespeare on Film, 106-21; Samuel Crowl, "The Long Goodbye: Welles and Falstaff," Shakespeare Quarterly 31 (1980): 369-80; and Dudley Andrew, Film in the Aura of Art (Princeton, 1984), 152-71.

4 Sherman H. Hawkins reviews, judges, and extends the two-century-old debate over the plan, structure, and aesthetic unity of the plays, which ranges from Dr. Johnson and Malone to Harold Jenkins, in "Henry IV: The Structural Problem Revisited," Shakespeare Quarterly 33 (1982): 278-301. See also Calderwood, Metadrama in Shakespeare's Henriad, especially 111-16, and Berry, Patterns of Decay, 109. Giorgio Melchiori posits an "original" one-part play (based on The Famous Victories) comprising 1 and 2 Henry IV and Henry V, rejected because of the Oldcastle controversy and later divided into three ("Reconstructing the Ur-Henry IV " in Essays in Honour of Kristian Smidt, ed. Peter Bilton, Lars Hartveit, Stig Johansson, and Arthur O. Sandved [Oslo, 1986], 59-77).

5 Bradley, "Rejection of Falstaff," 97.

6 See, for instance, Barber, Shakespeare's Festive Comedy, 214-16; Greenblatt, "Invisible Bullets," 265; Holderness, Shakespeare's History, 88-95; Bristol, Carnival and Theater, 180-83, 204-7; Barber and Wheeler, Whole Journey, 198-217; Tennenhouse, Power on Display, 83-84; and Steven Mullaney, "Strange Things, Gross Terms, Curious Customs: The Rehearsal of Cultures in the Late Renaissance," in Greenblatt, Representing the English Renaissance, 82-89.

7 Quoted in Cobos and Rubio, "Welles and Falstaff," 262.

8 Mullaney, "Strange Things," 87.

9 Prompt copy in the Beerbohm Tree Collection, the University of Bristol Theatre Collection.

10 Because Tree played Falstaff, he probably remained onstage, since common stage practice licensed actor-managers' presences at significant moments, especially at curtain, regardless of the playtext's stage directions. Whether or not his presence undercut the embrace between father and son is impossible to gauge. Although 5.5 was apparently returned at a later time (perhaps for the 1906 production), a second, less thoroughly marked, prompt copy for this production also highlights the Battle of Shrewsbury conceived as a spectacular tableau.

11 For example, in Anthony Quayle's 1951 Shakespeare Memorial Theatre production; prompt copy at the Shakespeare Centre Library.

12 Prompt copy at the Shakespeare Centre Library.

13 Richard Helgerson, The Elizabethan Prodigals (Berkeley, 1977). See also Mullaney, "Strange Things," 83.

14 In reading the substitutions and replacements in these character relations, I draw from V. I. Propp, Morphology of the Folktale (1928); reprint, trans. Laurence Scott (Austin, 1958); A. J. Greimas, "Elements of a Narrative Grammar" (1969), reprinted in Diacritics 7 (1977): 23-40; and Barthes, S/Z. See also my "Falstaff: History and His Story," Iowa State Journal of Research 53, no. 3 (1979): 185-90. For an analysis based on René Girard's concept of sacred mythic difference, see Laurie E. Osborne, "Crisis of Degree in Shakespeare's Henriad," Studies in English Literature 25 (1985): 337-59. On morality elements, see Dessen, Shakespeare and the Late Moral Plays, 55-90.

15 On Falstaff's "curiously feminine sensual abundance," see Kahn, Man's Estate, 72. See also Valerie Traub, "Prince Hal's Falstaff: Positioning Psychoanalysis and the Female Body," Shakespeare Quarterly 40 (1989): 456-74. On the Henriad as an Oedipal narrative, see Ernst Kris, "Prince Hal's Conflict," Psychoanalytic Quarterly 17 (1948): 487-506. See also Richard Wheeler, Shakespeare's Development and the Problem Comedies (Berkeley, 1981), 158-67.

16 Marcus also notes the connection (Puzzling Shakespeare, 94).

17 See Tennenhouse, Power on Display, 83-84.

18 On the Oldcastle connection, see Alice Lyle Scoufos', Shakespeare's Typological Satire (Athens, Oh., 1979). See also Henry the Fourth, Part I, ed. David Bevington (Oxford, 1987), 3-10. Gary Taylor argues for returning Oldcastle's name to the playtext ("The Fortunes of Falstaff," Shakespeare Survey 38 [1985]: 95-100). Holderness positions the Oldcastle controversy in relation to The True and Honourable History of the Life of Sir John Oldcastle and to Puritan risings (Shakespeare's History, 107-12).

19Almond for a Parrat (1590); Apology for Actors (1612); both quoted in David Wiles, Shakespeare's Clown (Cambridge, 1987), 11.

20 See Wiles, Shakespeare's Clown, 116-20.

21 I borrow Beverle Houston's apt phrase, "Power and Dis-Integration in the Films of Orson Welles," Film Quarterly 35 (Summer 1982): 2.

22 Sidney, A Defence of Poetry, 77. On the clown's "disorder," see David Scott Kastan, " 'Clownes Should Speake Disorderlye': Mongrel Tragicomedy and the Unitary State," unpublished paper, Shakespeare Association of America, 1989.

23 Holinshed, Chronicles, 521/1/74, reproduced in Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources, 4: 191.

24 Sidney, A Defence of Poetry, 77.

25 See Holinshed' s report of Hal coming to his father strangely attired (538/2/74, reproduced in Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources, 4: 193).

26 Holderness, Shakespeare's History, 122. See also Gerard H. Cox, " 'Like a Prince Indeed': Hal's Triumph of Honor in 1 Henry IV," in Bergeron, Pageantry in the Shakespearean Theater, 133, 135-47; and. Derek Cohen, "The Rite of Violence in 1 Henry IV" Shakespeare Survey 38 (1985), especially 82.

27 Holinshed, Chronicles, reproduced in Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources, 4: 191.

28 Daniel, Civil Wars, 4: 110-11, reproduced in Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources, 4: 214.

29 See, for instance, Edward Pechter, "Falsifying Men's Hopes: The Ending of 1 Henry IV," Modern Language Quarterly 41 (1980): 227-28. See also Barber, Shakespeare's Festive Comedy, 204-6; James Black, "Henry IV: A World of Figures Here," in McGuire and Samuelson, Shakespeare, 173-80; and Calderwood, Metadrama in Shakespeare's Henriad, 83-84, 119, 174. In Welles's film, Hal sees breath rising like steam from the kettle of Falstaff's armadillo-like armor, which turns his "Embowelled will I see thee by-and-by" (5.4.108) into a threatening joke.

30 See Stow's account, taken from Walsingham; quoted in Scoufos, Shakespeare's Typological Satire, 109.

31 See Wiles, Shakespeare's Clown, 120-22.

32 See Holinshed, Chronicles, quoted in Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources, 4: 191.

33 Wiles also notes this (Shakespeare's Clown, 123).

34 For a pertinent discussion of counterfeit images, see Sharon Willis, "Disputed Territories: Masculinity and Social Space," Camera Obscura 19 (1989): 5-23.

35 See Wiles, Shakespeare's Clown, 110-15.

36 Prompt copy at the Shakespeare Centre Library.

37 Hands replaces 5.4.18-19 so that these lines cap Hal's praise of John—"Before I loved thee as a brother, John, / But now I do respect thee as my soul"—and gives Hal John's "But soft, what have we here?"

38 In Michael Edwards's 1984 1 Henry IV at Santa Cruz, Hal "avoided the simple notion that Hal returns to the role his father offered him—deliberately refusing . . . to resolve the many-sided, partly contradictory aspects of the part 'Into an overall theory about Hal.' " See Mary Judith Dunbar, "Shakespeare at Santa Cruz," Shakespeare Quarterly 35 (1984): 477.

39 The prompt copy at the Shakespeare Centre Library provides practically no directions for the close. I rely on notes taken at an August 1982 performance. See also R. L. Smallwood, "Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 at the Barbican Theatre" (1983; reprinted in Bevington, Henry the Fourth, Parts I and II, 423-30). Tree's 1895 production also opened with a procession accompanied by a Gregorian chant (prompt copy in the Beerbohm Tree Collection, the University of Bristol Theatre Collection).

40 See Smallwood, "Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, " 425.

41 Quoted in an interview with Michael Mullin, "On Playing Henry IV," Theatre Quarterly 7, no. 27 (1977): 31.

42 My account combines details from a June 1987 performance in Toronto and a May 1988 performance in Chicago. In a September 1988 interview, Bogdanov indicated that his rearranged ending indeed drew from Welles's film, which he much admires.

Law And Justice

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 22049

Norman Sanders (essay date 1977)

SOURCE: "The True Prince and the False Thief: Prince Hal and the Shift of Identity," in Shakespeare Survey: An Annual Survey of Shakespearian Study and Production, Vol. 30, 1977, pp. 29-34.

[In the following essay, Sanders contends that Prince Hal associates with outlaws such as Falstaff in order to dissociate himself from his own father's illegitimate rule and, ultimately, to "create " his own form of kingly "Justice. "]

Much of Shakespeare's drama is centrally concerned with men's need to make choices in life and the necessity for taking full responsibility for the actions which result from these choices. One of the dramatic techniques he often uses to explore this aspect of the human condition is an interchange of roles between characters who are in some way parallel, owing to a similarity in situation, personality, action, or attitude. Thus Edgar can 'Represent' Cordelia during the storm scenes in King Lear, so that she becomes, in a sense, the philosopher on the heath from whom her father learns life's awful lessons. In a similar way, the lines of action open to Hamlet, but not followed by him, can be explored with their consequences in the persons of the other revenging sons, Laertes and Fortinbras. And the same device lies behind the handling of such different characters as Portia and Jessica, Viola and Sebastian, the twin Antipholi, Perdita and Hermione, and the pairs of lovers in As You Like It.

However, in no play does Shakespeare use this technique quite so deliberately in both verbal and dramatic forms as in the Henry IV plays. Further, the almost self-conscious consistency shown in its employment is clearly related to the conception of the character of Prince Hal; and consequently may throw light on the divergent attitudes that critics have taken to him.

Throughout the two plays, Shakespeare frequently lifts Hal out of his own person or transfers to another character some aspect of his identity. The most obvious verbal example of this is King Henry's desire, in the opening scene of Part 1, to have Hotspur for a son instead of Hal:

O that it could be prov'd
That some night-tripping fairy had exchang'd
In cradle-clothes our children where they lay,
And call'd mine Percy, his Plantagenet!
Then would I have his Harry, and he mine.

(1 Hen. IV, I, i, 85-9)1

The implications of these lines are clear. The king is seen as choosing for himself a more symbolically appropriate son than the one he has; for Hotspur, who is soon to be a rebel against the crown, is a proper heir to the man who sneaked home like a poor unminded outlaw and

In short time after he depos'd the King,
Soon after that depriv'd him of his life,
And in the neck of that task'd the whole state.

(7 Hen. IV, IV, iii, 90-2)

It is, of course, ironical that the act that provokes such a longing as this in the king is Hal's abandonment of court and family, which constitutes in practice exactly the severing of paternity that Henry so desires.

Another verbal transference of identity, rather more complex because it is a double one, takes place in the interview between father and son in III, ii of the first play. Here the king uses words which effectively detach Hal from his lineage:

Yet let me wonder, Harry,
At thy affections, which do hold a wing
Quite from the flight of all thy ancestors.

(7 Hen. IV, III, ii, 29-31)

He then reinforces this observation by vividly placing Hal in parallel with Richard II. First, he depicts himself as the model of retiring success:

Had I so lavish of my presence been,
So common-hackney'd in the eyes of men,
So stale and cheap to vulgar company,
Opinion, that did help me to the crown,
Had still kept loyal to possession,
And left me in reputeless banishment,
A fellow of no mark nor likelihood.
By being seldom seen, I could not stir
But like a comet I was wonder'd at,
That men would tell their children, 'This is he!'
Others would say, 'Where, which is Bolingbroke?'
And then I stole all courtesy from heaven,
And dress'd myself in such humility
That I did pluck allegiance from men's hearts,
Loud shouts and salutations from their mouths,
Even in the presence of the crownéd King.

(ll. 39-54)

This is the ideal that the father-usurper-king sets up for his erring son: one which, by his own testimony, is at odds with loyal possession of the crown. It is a picture of a man who 'stole courtesy from heaven', who 'plucks allegiance from men's hearts'. Against this tarnished figure is offered an equally vivid portrait of the legitimate monarch:

The skipping King, he ambled up and down,
With shallow jesters, and rash bavin wits,
Soon kindled and soon burnt, carded his state,
Mingled his royalty with cap'Ring fools,
Had his great name profanéd with their scorns,
And gave his countenance against his name
To laugh at gibing boys, and stand the push
Of every beardless vain comparative.

(11. 60-7)

Both Henry and Shakespeare place Hal 'in that very line'—that is as heir to Richard; while the king is transformed into an earlier Hotspur:

For all the world
As thou art to this hour was Richard then
When I from France set foot at Ravenspurgh,
And even as I was then is Percy now.

(11. 93-6)

While Hal, the legal heir, is 'the shadow of succession', Hotspur 'hath more worthy interest to the state' that Henry stole. With such alternatives open to him, Hal can promise to fight Percy; but personally he can only vow

I shall hereafter, my thrice gracious lord,
Be more myself.

(11. 92-3)

It is in dramatic rather than poetic terms that an even more complex and significant transference takes place in the tavern's comic counterpart of the serious court interview. In answer to Falstaff's plea to Hal to rehearse his excuses to his father, two playlets are arranged. In the first of them, Falstaff (the King of Misrule with no moral right to reprimand personal disorder) will play King Henry (also a king of misrule, by virtue of his act of usurpation, who has no moral right to lament national disorder). Hal will play himself in his twin roles as legitimate son to his father and apparent spiritual son to his surrogate tavern father, Falstaff.

Falstaff's admonishment, as it winds its euphuistic way, actually makes in comic form some of the points repeated by the king to his son two scenes later. First, it questions the reality of the father-son relationship:

That thou art my son I have partly thy mother's word, partly my own opinion, but chiefly a villainous trick of thine eye, and a foolish hanging of thy nether lip, that doth warrant me. If then thou be son to me, here lies the point . . . why, being son to me, art thou so pointed at?

(7 Hen. IV, II, iv, 397-402)

Then Hal's truancy from court is questioned: 'Shall the blessed sun of heaven prove micher, and eat blackberries?' (11. 402-4). Third, the question is raised as to whether Hal can associate with criminals without becoming criminal himself:

There is a thing, Harry, which thou hast often heard of, and it is known to many in our land by the name of pitch. This pitch (as ancient writers do report) doth defile, so doth the company thou keepest.

(11. 406-10)

And finally, there is the extended praise of Falstaff himself.

It is at this point that Hal sets up the second playlet, in which the roles played are very different. The prince takes the part of his own father, and in that role castigates himself and his weaknesses in the person of Falstaff, who can aptly personate those associations to which Hal is committed by his conscious decision to separate himself from the illegality of his father's reign. As this second play proceeds, Hal 'deposes' his father, Falstaff; and then casts out his devil by turning away that element in his necessary truancy represented by the old Vice. Nowhere are Hal's position of aloneness and the isolation he feels in the England of the plays made more clear than when he utters his banishment of Jack Falstaff and 'all the world'.

Both in this scene and that with his father, it is plain that the prince conceives himself to be solely responsible for making his way to the crown in an environment that has nothing of the normal security and aids which an heir might expect to be available to prepare himself for future kingship. His society is sick; established authority is riddled with guilt; the opposition to this authority is doubly guilty; and the only condition which will effectively dissociate him from both parties entails engagement with the usual enemies of social order—idlers, rogues, and thieves. Hal can indeed only promise to be more himself, and accept the charges of coldness and machiavellian calculation that have been levelled at him.

As it has often been noted, the second part of the play, despite the brilliant realism of the scenes in Gloucestershire, moves very close at certain points to the manner of the old morality drama. And whatever one believes about the relationship between the two parts, it is demonstrable that some episodes in the second play do repeat, or make more explicit, or expand effects and events which the first part deals with more suggestively and (in my opinion) more subtly.

It is not surprising, therefore, that we find in two crucial episodes of Part 2 the same technique being used in the management of Hal's character. In the scene between the newly proclaimed Henry V and the Lord Chief Justice (v, ii), Hal once again juggles with his identities; only in this case he does so in a way that is complexly linked to the basic issues of kingship and its position in the social structure of the nation.

The Lord Chief Justice places Hal in the position of being his own father, even as Hal had himself in the tavern play scene:

Question your royal thoughts, make the case yours,
Be now the father, and propose a son,
Hear your own dignity so much profan'd,
See your most dreadful laws so loosely slighted,
Behold yourself so by a son disdain'd:
And then imagine me taking your part,
And in your power soft silencing your son.
After this cold considerance sentence me;
And, as you are a king, speak in your state.

(2 Hen. IV, v, ii, 91-9)

Hal accepts the role and passes judgement on himself:

You are right, Justice, and you weigh this well.
Therefore still bear the balance and the sword;
And I do wish your honours may increase
Till you do live to see a son of mine
Offend you and obey you, as I did.
So shall I live to speak my father's words:
'Happy am I, that have a man so bold
That dares do justice on my proper son;
And not less happy, having such a son
That would deliver up his greatness so
Into the hands of justice.'

(11. 102-12)

But he goes further than ever his own father could; by abstracting the concept of Justice from its particular human representative, he places himself beneath the law in a classic formulation of the Tudor principle concerning the position of royal magistrates:

I do commit into your hand
Th'unstained sword that you have us'd to bear,
With this rememberance—that you use the same
With the like bold, just, and impartial spirit
As you have done 'gainst me. There is my hand.
You shall be as a father to my youth,
My voice shall sound as you do prompt mine ear,
And I will stoop and humble my intents
To your well-practis'd wise directions.

(11. 113-21)

Justice is thus dissociated from the reign of Henry IV and the wildness of Hal's youth and his father's illegal reign are firmly linked in the words used:

believe me, I beseech you,
My father is gone wild into his grave,
For in his tomb lie my affections;
And with his spirits sadly I survive
To mock the expectation of the world,
To frustrate prophecies, and to raze out
Rotten opinion, who hath writ me down
After my seeming.

(11. 122-9)

In richly associative terms, Hal sees his blood, which had flowed in consciously adopted 'vanity' and was deflected from its true path of nobility by the decision forced upon him by his father's guilt, as reassuming its right channel:

The tide of blood in me
Hath proudly flow'd in vanity till now.
Now doth it turn, and ebb back to the sea,
Where it shall mingle with the state of floods,
And flow henceforth in formal majesty.

(11. 129-33)

However one may react to the emotional and human impact of Henry V's final rejection of Falstaff in the last scene of Part 2, its terminology is perfectly consistent with the pattern of dissociation of identity I have tried to trace. Hal's experience has indeed been unreal and like a dream: one in which seeming has been taken for truth, where actual criminality has been necessary to achieve true legality, when the self has had to be split in two and one part of it turned away:

I have long dreamt of such a kind of man, . . .
But being awak'd I do despise my dream. . . .
For God doth know, so shall the world perceive,
That I have turn'd away my former self; . . .
When thou dost hear I am as I have been,
Approach me, and thou shalt be as thou wast.

(2 Hen. IV, v, v, 49, 51, 57-8, 60-1)

If Shakespeare worked so deliberately and consistently to connect Hal with this pattern of dislocation from self and society, it follows that this means of dramatic portrayal must be connected with the way we are intended to view the prince and his unique difficulties in the situation in which he finds himself. And many other aspects of these plays seem to provide evidence that Shakespeare carefully constructed a world which forced upon Hal self-definition via apparent criminality as the only choice open to him.

First, both plays are loaded with reminders of the immediacy of Henry IV's ever-present guilt about what he did to get the crown, and with vivid recollections of the past by such characters as Hotspur, the Archbishop, and Worcester. These allusions are further reinforced by the cumulative effect of the imagery of sickness, weariness, and sleeplessness associated with Henry's reign, and also by the long shadow that Richard IPs deposition and death throws over the plays. The rebels against this diseased rule are similarly devalued; for throughout both parts they are characterised by division, bickering, distrust, and weakness. In fact, despite the variety offered by such features as the violent and colourful animosity of Hotspur, the calculating illness of Northumberland, the pseudomysticism of Glendower, and the crafty manoeuvrings of Worcester, there is basically little to choose between the moral stances of the two sides. We find at various points in the plays definite interrelationships indicated between the moral deficiencies of both. In Part 2, the Archbishop accurately depicts the dilemma facing the usurper-king:

the King is weary
Of dainty and such picking grievances;
For he hath found, to end one doubt by death
Revives two greater in the heirs of life:
And therefore will he wipe his tables clean,
And keep no tell-tale to his memory
That may repeat and history his loss
To new remembrance. For full well he knows
He cannot so precisely weed this land
As his misdoubts present occasion.
His foes are so enrooted with his friends
That plucking to unfix an enemy
He doth unfasten so and shake a friend.
So that this land, like an offensive wife
That hath enrag'd him on to offer strokes,
As he is striking, holds his infant up,
And hangs resolv'd correction in the arm
That was uprear'd to execution.

(2 Hen. IV, IV, i, 197-214)

The final image of family strife in the last five lines here is a telling one, for Hal's position between opposing forces is similar to that of the infant pictured between father and mother. In the first part of the play, Worcester describes the equally impossible situation in which the rebels find themselves:

It is not possible, it cannot be,
The King should keep his word in loving us;
He will suspect us still, and find a time
To punish this offence in other faults:
Supposition all our lives shall be stuck full of eyes,
For treason is but trusted like the fox,
Who, never so tame, so cherish'd and lock'd up,
Will have a wild trick of his ancestors.
Look how we can, or sad or merrily,
Interpretation will misquote our looks,
And we shall feed like oxen at a stall,
The better cherish'd still the nearer death.

(1 Hen. IV, V, ii, 4-15)

It is this process of rebellion-repentance-recrimination-new rebellion-revenge set in train by Richard II's deposition and murder that Hal must put an end to. He must redeem that temporal pattern which decrees that

heir from heir shall hold this quarrel up
Whiles England shall have generation.

(2 Hen. IV, IV, ii, 48-9)

Given these conditions, how else is Hal to create single-handedly a totally new royal milieu except by complete and apparently criminal dissociation from all the norms that a sick nation offers him? Shakespeare's dramatic solution is to make Hal's defection real to both the court and tavern worlds, while assuring the audience that the prince so offends to make offence a skill. His being, yet not being, a part of Falstaff's corrupt realm is typified by his role in the Gadshill robbery, in which the justice he creates is of his own rather than his society's making. He is for the same reason verbally detached from his father's lineage; even as he can strike his father's Justice, yet submit himself to the same Justice when it is the main prop of his own reign.

Because Hal's possession of the crown must be seen to be 'plain and right', Shakespeare devises a scene, which, although explicable in human terms, also shows Hal symbolically stealing the crown of England from his father rather than receiving it at his hands. In this scene (2 Henry IV, IV, V), Hal draws a careful distinction between the debt he owes his father as a loving son:

Thy due from me
Is tears and heavy sorrows of the blood,
Which nature, love, and filial tenderness
Shall, O dear father, pay thee plenteously,

(11. 36-9)

and the right he possesses by virtue of what he has made of himself:

My due from thee is this imperial crown,
Which, as immediate from thy place and blood,
Derives itself to me. [Putting it on his head]

(11. 40-2)

As Henry says, more truly than he knows, 'God put it in thy mind to take it thence. . . . Thou wilt needs invest thee with my honours'; for no one else in his England can rightfully perform the ritual.

The Prince of Wales, in these two plays, faces alone the task of finding, while laden with an awesome duty, a modus operandi in an impossible world; just as the later Prince of Denmark was to undertake a not completely dissimilar task and meet it in a similar way. For Hamlet, the ultimate objective is the discovery of self and true being; whereas for Hal, it is the discovery of public role and right doing—which is to say that one is a tragic hero and the other a political one. As it is necessary for the greater prince to play the fool for wisdom's sake; so, for the lesser, a true prince may and does, for re-creation's sake, prove a false thief.


1 Quotations are from the new Arden edition of the plays edited by A. R. Humphreys (1960, 1966).

Dain A. Trafton (essay date 1981)

SOURCE: "Shakespeare's Henry IV: A New Prince in a New Principality," in Shakespeare as Political Thinker, edited by John Alvis and Thomas G. West, Carolina Academic Press, 1981, pp. 83-94.

[In the following essay, Trafton argues that Shakespeare intended to portray Henry IV as a calculating and impious usurper who, lacking "the creative qualities of a founder," fails to create a legitimate monarchy within his own lifetime.]

Between the richly colored and dramatically imposing figures of Richard II and Henry V—at the very center, as it were, of Shakespeare's second tetralogy of plays about English history—stands the sober, curiously drab figure of Henry Bolingbroke. A mere outline of his career suggests a portrait that might have been composed almost entirely of highlights, both lurid and brilliant. Having seized the throne and murdered his cousin the king, Henry holds his prize against all comers, destroys his enemies at last, and bequeaths his conquests intact to his son. What this outline suggests, however, Shakespeare's art avoids. Throughout three plays notably filled with characters who dominate the stage, Shakespeare withholds from Henry the vividness that his story seems to warrant. Unlike other Shakespearean characters who commit outstanding crimes in the pursuit of thrones—Richard III, Macbeth, or Claudius—Henry has not been granted the moments of high dramatic intensity, the triumphs and the agonies, that make a hero. His is a study in grey. Moreover, as the tetralogy progresses from Richard II to the plays that bear his name, Henry literally recedes from view. A progressive diminishment of his presence on the stage occurs. In Richard II he is on stage about half the time; in the first of the plays named for him, however, his role is reduced by half, and in the second a further reduction leaves him with only three scenes, which amount to less than one sixth of the work. One might conclude that Henry's character simply never engaged Shakespeare's full interest, but such a conclusion would miss the point. The sobriety of tone befits the special intention of Henry's portrait. That intention is neither tragic nor heroic, but essentially political. In the curiously muted presentation of Henry can be discovered one of Shakespeare's most searching political portraits—his most extended and also his profoundest political investigation of (to use the language of Machiavelli) a new prince in a new principality.1 Other Shakespearean characters present the type in greater psychological and moral depth, and with greater dramatic power; none displays with such clarity and thoroughness the political implications of regicide and usurpation. Ultimately, moreover, the lusterless tones in which Henry is drawn point to Shakespeare's judgment upon the first Lancastrian king. As we shall see, the tetralogy's analysis of Henry's politics leads to a revelation of his essential deficiency.

According to Shakespeare, Henry's usurpation represents more than a simple change of dynasty. In defying, deposing, and eventually murdering Richard, Henry subverts not only the rule of a particular king, but also a fundamental principle of the realm. He violates, and thus undermines, the sanctity of monarchy itself, the belief that kings are God's deputies and that rebellion is a sin. Through the figures of Gaunt, Carlisle, York, and Richard himself, Shakespeare articulates this principle in all its religious dignity, and identifies it as an essential source of order in the traditional regime that exists at the beginning of the tetralogy. When the Duchess of Gloucester seeks revenge upon Richard for the murder of her husband, Gaunt sternly refuses to take action against "God's substitute, / His deputy anointed in His sight."2 When Henry is on the point of taking the crown itself from "plume-pluck'd Richard," Carlisle steps forward to deplore "so heinous, black, obscene a deed." If "the figure of God's majesty" is deposed, Carlisle warns,

The blood of English shall manure the
. ground, And future ages groan for this foul act.


Henry must be presumed as familiar with the weighty significance of these views as are his father and Carlisle; yet neither the memory of the former nor the eloquence of the latter turns him from an act of profound impiety against the regime. Noting the ambiguities and contradictions in his statements, and the fact that he is not depicted clearly as a villain, most critics have concluded that Shakespeare intended to present Henry as a rebel who drifts into his radical course without quite knowing, or quite admitting to himself, what he is doing.3 At heart, these critics argue, Henry is more of an opportunist than a schemer; his maneuvers finally leave him no choice except to make himself king, but he is not the kind of man to have reflected much along the way. That Henry's statements are often ambiguous and that he is an opportunist cannot be denied. However, to conclude that he drifts into rebellion, that he has not reflected upon the implications of his deeds is to credit him too much or too little. In fact he is more thoroughly a rebel in thought than in action. He does not blink his own impiety; on the contrary, he guides his career consistently by a view of the world that is totally opposed to the one on which the traditional politics of the realm are grounded. Only when the extent of Henry's intellectual rebellion has come to light can the nature and cause of his deficiency as a new prince be perceived.

Interpretation of Henry's character is complicated by his evident prudence. Observation and his own admission inform us that he is an extremely politic man, constantly concerned with manipulating others and cultivating a public image:

And then I stole all courtesy from heaven,
And dress'd myself in such humility
That I did pluck allegiance from men's hearts.

(1 Henry IV, III.ii.50-52)

Unlike Richard, who makes a parade of his thoughts and feelings, Henry is a man of masks. Yet masks, too, reveal—especially when they are recognized as masks; and we shall see that Shakespeare has designed Henry's so that they point to the reality they partly hide. In one scene, moreover, near the end of Henry's life, Shakespeare allows us to see him momentarily divested of his disguises, and speaking with shocking openness. Act III, scene i, of Henry IV, part 2, which contains Henry's only soliloquy, represents a spiritual crisis brought on by illness and the burden of a troubled reign. To his closest adviser, Warwick, Henry seems at times unbalanced during this scene, but his words provide an unusually clear insight into a mind that has discarded orthodox political ideals and has not flinched from deposing and murdering "the figure of God's majesty."

At the beginning of the scene Henry waits for Warwick and Surrey, whom he has just summoned to an impromptu midnight council, and soliloquizes on his insomnia. He wonders why he should suffer while the poor who lie in "smoky cribs" and the sailor on "the high and giddy mast" sleep soundly. "O sleep, O gentle sleep, / Nature's soft nurse, how have I frighted thee?" (5-6), Henry asks, but finds no cause in himself. Sleep is simply a "dull god" and "partial"; it is the general lot of kings to suffer. What is striking here is that Henry does not impute his troubles to his own deeds.

A more traditional mind might have invoked Carlisle's prophecy at this point, but Henry has turned away from that vision. For him there is no moral or religious significance in events: the god that governs sleep manifests no rational pattern of cause and effect. As the scene progresses, moreover, Henry's unorthodoxy becomes clearer. Warwick and Surrey arrive, but instead of attending immediately to the business at hand, Henry interrupts their advice with a long discourse upon the nature of things:

Oh God, that one might read the book of fate,
And see the revolution of the times.


He begins by calling on God, but the account of "the revolution of the times" that he goes on to give leaves God out entirely. Periodic cataclysms level mountains and dissolve coasts; the oceans themselves at times withdraw; and Henry sees in such events not the providential hand of God, but rather "how chance's mocks / And changes fill the cup of alteration" (51-52). To Henry, obviously, his father's and Carlisle's views of kingship are nothing more than pious myths. If the world is ruled by "chance's mocks," traditional religious restraints possess no more force than credulous minds are willing to give them.

In his present mood, however, Henry's view of the world seems more cause for despair than confidence. He has avoided one dread—the dread of sin—to discover another—the dread of meaninglessness as one drains "the cup of alteration." "O, if this were seen," he laments,

The happiest youth, viewing his progress through,
What perils past, what crosses to ensue,
Would shut the book and sit him down and die.


What motive to great actions can there be in a world subject to patternless change? As Henry rouses himself from depression one idea emerges as predominant in his mind—the idea of necessity. Turning from universal disorder to the infidelity of friends, he recalls Richard's accusation of Northumberland as the "ladder by the which / My cousin Bolingbroke ascends my throne," and interjects an apology—the 'Only one he ever offers—for his usurpation: "necessity so bow'd the state / That I and greatness were compell'd to kiss" (70-74). And when Warwick seizes upon the idea, urging Henry to recognize the "necessary form" in his present difficulties, he responds with vigor:

Are these things then necessities?
Then let us meet them like necessities;

And that same word even now cries out on us.


For Henry, there is a necessity that compels in spite of "chance's mocks." To learn exactly what necessity means to him and how it operates in the world he envisions we must examine his earlier career.4

The earliest clear indication of the necessity that Henry recognizes occurs in the first act of Richard II, in Henry's response to his father's efforts to persuade him to accept his banishment patiently. On the surface, Gaunt argues simply that a wise man makes the best of everything. Beneath his stoicism, however, lies his belief in the sanctity of kingship. From Gaunt's point of view, a kind of necessity obliges Henry to submit to Richard's sentance; not to submit would be a sin:

Teach thy necessity to reason thus—There is no virtue like necessity.


Henry replies with a string of revealing rhetorical questions:

O, who can hold a fire in his hand
By thinking on the frosty Caucasus?
Or cloy the hungry edge of appetite
By bare imagination of a feast?
Or wallow naked in December snow
By thinking on fantastic summer's heat?
O no, the apprehension of the good
Gives but the greater feeling to the worse.


No moral dimension complicates the three examples of simple physical pain that Henry employs; in each, the only conceivable "good" consists in alleviating the pain rather than in patiently bearing it. By implying that being banished is analogous to holding fire in one's hand or suffering from hunger or wallowing naked in snow, Henry makes it clear that the only good he apprehends is the end of banishment. He reduces what his father regards as a moral issue, involving a necessity imposed by divine law, to a matter of avoiding personal pain. Gaunt's advice violates nature as Henry understands it. Gaunt assumes a world informed by divine purpose, but Henry takes his bearings by the body. Just as physical necessity compels men to avoid fire, hunger, and cold, so the psychological pain of banishment will compel Henry to end it. A great deal has been written about the motive of Henry's actual return to England, but critics have failed to perceive the importance of this speech. To those who pay attention, Henry's words are a warning that he has already determined to come home as soon as he can. His later claim "I come but for mine own" (III.iii.196) must be considered a politic lie; Northumberland's revelations immediately after the death of Gaunt (II.i.277-298) inform us that Henry has set out from Brittany even before the confiscation of his estate. Of course he wants his inheritance, but land is not what pricks him on. Not acquisitiveness but spirited self-assertion—an impulse that is strictly personal, and as compelling as the most powerful physical drive—impels Henry to violate the doctrine of kingship in which he does not believe, and to brave the mockery of chance in which he does. In a world bereft of the divine, the only necessity that obtains for a man derives either from his body's needs or from individual inclination; what but the sheer assertion of individuality leads one man to make himself king and another to "shut the book and sit him down and die"?

Obviously other possibilities exist—possibilities that lie somewhere between the violent course of usurpation and passive withdrawal from all effort—but they do not occur to Henry. Partly, of course, they do not occur to Henry because they do not occur for him. His condition precludes moderate courses. Given the necessity that brings him back illegally from banishment, he has no choice except to destroy Richard or be destroyed by him. Having defied the king, Henry can never be safe in England until he sits upon the throne himself, and until the old king lies dead. In a personal sense, at least, Henry's assertion that he and greatness "were compell'd to kiss" is true. At the same time, Shakespeare makes it clear that Henry considers the violent necessities of his own life to be not merely personal but also consistent with the design of nature as a whole. Indeed, Henry seems convinced that usurpation and regicide accord with "the revolution of the times." Logically, of course, there is no reason why "chance's mocks / And changes" should foster usurpation and murder any more than loyalty; under fortune, nature is promiscuous, but procreative as well as abortive, constructive as well as destructive. As we have seen, however, Henry's meditation on the nature of things focuses on destruction and disorder—on the vast calamities that alter the very face of the earth. In the minds of those who hold the world to be empty of God and governed by chance or fortune, the violent and destructive side of things tends to become ascendant. Lucretius reveals this subtly, Machiavelli emphatically. Henry conforms to the pattern.5

At Flint Castle, for example, Henry envisions his meeting with Richard in images of elemental struggle:

Methinks King Richard and myself should meet
With no less terror than the elements
Of fire and water, when the thund'Ring shock
At meeting tears the cloudy cheeks of heaven.


Here the violence upon which Henry bases his own career appears to reflect a universal disorder. Although he goes on to claim that in the coming confrontation he will be "the yielding water," the fact remains that Henry would not even have come to Flint Castle if he identified himself with the yielding elements. Earlier, indeed, he presented himself more frankly as a kind of natural force that might create a rain of blood:

I'll use the advantage of my power
And lay the summer's dust with showers of blood
Rain'd from the wounds of slaughtered Englishmen.


And the image of a bloody rain recurs at the end of the play in a context that makes clear Henry's sense that one must live in accord with a violence that is essentially natural. Speaking of Richard's murder to the assembled court, Henry protests, "my soul is full of woe / That blood should sprinkle me to make me grow" ( Whether Henry really feels sorrow or not, and if so how much, remains a matter of doubt; what cannot be doubted is that no scruple of conscience ever prevents him from pursuing the harsh course that his personal needs dictate. When he imagines himself a plant sprinkled with Richard's blood, Henry implies that Richard's murder must be seen as a necessary part of a natural process: just as a plant naturally requires rain, so Henry in the nature of things required the blood of the king whom he deposed.

In Henry IV, part 1, nothing illustrates Henry's view of life more clearly than his praise of Hotspur. Commenting on Hotspur's victory over the Scots at Holmedon, Henry describes him as "amongst a grove the very straightest plant" and "sweet Fortune's minion and her pride" (I.i.81-82). The best man, it seems, the man most likely to prosper in Fortune's capricious eyes, is the best soldier. Like Henry himself, Hotspur lives by the needs of his own aggressive nature; and it is fully consistent with Henry's deepest convictions that his admiration increases when Hotspur's self-assertion aims at the throne. Having summoned Hal to the palace in order to rebuke him for his neglect of harsh necessity, Henry holds up the rebel Hotspur as an example of princely virtue:

Now, by my sceptre, and my soul to boot,
He hath more worthy interest to the state
Than thou the shadow of succession;
For of no right, nor colour like to right,
He doth fill fields with harness in the realm.


According to Henry, who swears by his sceptre before his soul, the measure of Hotspur's worthiness for rule consists in his will and ability to take by force what he wants. In one contemptuous line, Henry dismisses the standards of legal and moral "right"; the only right he recognizes is the right established by might. "[E]ven as I was then is Percy now," he remarks, recalling his rebellion against Richard. No doubt Henry sees his own and Hotspur's careers as responsive to the same basic necessity—the need to assert oneself violently in a violent world, to use violence against others lest it be used against oneself.6

After Henry becomes king, of course, his admiration for men of similar virtue is necessarily restricted: his personal interests and the interests of the kingdom coincide. As exiled Henry Bolingbroke, he was fully prepared to "lay the summer's dust with showers of blood / Rain'd from the wounds of slaughtered Englishmen"; as King Henry IV, he abhors civil strife and seeks to bring order to the land. Nevertheless, the opening speech of Henry IV, part I, reveals that the same views that confirmed him in rebellion now inform his scheme for restoring order. Henry comes on stage "shaken" and "wan with care," but expressing optimism. Insurrection has plagued his reign from the outset, but he perceives at last an opportunity to transform domestic enmity into a foreign war. An expedition to the Holy Land will serve Henry's turn. Ostensibly the expedition is to be a crusade. Henry describes himself as a soldier of Christ and alludes to his original intention of journeying to the Holy Land in atonement for the murder of Richard. However, close attention to Henry's words reveals the wholly political motives that lie behind his religious professions:

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 flow'rets with the armed hoofs
Of hostile paces; those opposed 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-sheathed knife,
No more shall cut his master.


That Henry considers war abroad a proper preventive for war at home illustrates his conviction that violent courses conform to nature and are more likely to win the favors of Fortune. His imagery suggests that bloodshed is inevitable. The very earth thirsts for her children's blood, and if "this soil"—England—is to be denied what it longs for, the result will be an abundance for the soil of foreign lands. Men resemble meteors, conventional symbols of cosmic disorder; "all of one nature, of one substance bred," they nevertheless—or therefore—butcher each other. Civil war is an "ill-sheathed knife," but the obvious remedy of sheathing the knife correctly never arises; the only possible course, it seems, is to draw the knife completely and employ it on others. Later, Henry claims that his subjects "were moulded in their mothers' womb / To chase those pagans in those holy fields" (I.i.23-24). Men were born to fight; they carry from the womb an impulse to destroy. Just as Henry does not try to restrain that impulse in himself, his political program aims not at restraining his subjects but rather at channeling their violence outward towards foreigners. Peace is not his goal but rather a "well-beseeming" foreign war which will remove the destruction from England, and from Henry himself.

This political reading of the motives behind Henry's crusade is confirmed in Henry IV, part 2, during the king's final interview with Hal. There Henry analyzes his difficulties with the unruly noblemen of the realm who first helped him and now oppose him, and explains the policy by which he sought to check them:

I cut them off, and had a purpose now
To lead out many to the Holy Land,
Lest rest and lying still might make them look
Too near unto my state.


According to Henry, Hal too must find a way "to busy giddy minds / With foreign quarrels." Of all Henry's references to a crusade, this one stands out as providing the most trustworthy account of his aims. Whereas earlier—in the presence of the court both at the end of Richard II and at the beginning of Henry IV, part 1—public consideration precluded frankness, nothing inhibits him here. He knows that he is on his deathbed, and he has no object beyond offering his political wisdom to his heir. The lesson that he conveys has nothing to do with religious atonement or any other sacred duty. He wants to teach Hal how to save his throne, not his soul. Although Henry mentions the "indirect crook'd ways" by which he obtained the crown (2 Henry IV, IV.v.183-185), and concludes with a nod toward the traditional doctrine of kingship—"How I came by the crown, O God forgive" (IV.v.218)—the rest of his long speech expresses no guilt. On the contrary, most of what Henry says amounts to a recommendation of his "indirect crook'd ways," and makes clear his opinion that success in politics depends upon them. One must grasp the potential for violence in things and wield it to one's own advantage. Even one's "friends" have "stings and teeth" (IV.v.204-205).

Occasionally, as in these last words of counsel to Hal, Henry's religious expressions seem merely perfunctory or ironic; characteristically, however, as in his proclamations of a crusade, he appeals to religion for obvious political reasons.7 Having established his rule by force, Henry apparently hopes to render it more secure by arrogating to himself the religious awe of a traditional monarchy like Richard's. The crusade is the main device by which Henry attempts to throw a veil of piety over his deeds, but he is careful to identify his kingship with convention from the very moment of his accession. In order to maintain the illusion of an unbroken succession, he does his best to present Richard's deposition as an abdication; and when York arrives to announce that Richard has agreed to step down, Henry promptly announces, "In God's name, I'Ll ascend the regal throne" (Richard II, IV.i.113). Carlisle revolts at this brazenness and rebukes it; most of the court, however, seems prepared to accept, at least initially, Henry's assumption of divine favor along with the crown. York makes an extravagant show of loyalty in denouncing his own son's plot against Henry; and after Henry, yielding to the Duchess of York's pleas, pardons Aumerle, the Duchess thanks him with a phrase that seems to acknowledge his legitimacy in traditional terms: "A god on earth thou art" (V.iii.134).

Even before the end of Richard II, however, it becomes clear that Henry's efforts to make himself a sacred king in the old style cannot succeed. In spite of his follies and delusions, Richard's claim to be a kind of "god on earth" commands the loyalty of respectable men like Gaunt and Carlisle; Henry will never enjoy such dignity. The kingdom he has seized rises in arms against itself:

the latest news we hear,
Is that the rebels have consum'd with fire
Our town of Ciceter in Gloucestershire.


His son and heir defies him. Contemptuous of his father's authority, Hal plays at robbery and beats the king's watch. Upon being informed of the royal "triumphs" to be held at Oxford, he is said to have promised to appear wearing the "favour" of a prostitute. And these are but the portents of worse disorders. As many critics have pointed out, the Henry IV plays anatomize a kingdom split into factions, each seeking its particular ends and lacking the common bond of loyalty that 'shapes a regime: "this house is turned upside down since Robin Ostler died" (1 Henry IV,II.i.9-10), remarks the Second Carrier, unwittingly turning a wretched inn into a symbol for the realm. Falstaff's cynical comment on Justice Shallow—"If the young dace be a bait for the old pike, I see no reason in the law of nature but I may snap at him" (2 Henry IV, III.ii.325-326)—expresses the ethos that, through Henry's example, has contaminated the land. Under the circumstances, even the religious values that Henry tries to appropriate in his rhetoric turn against him. Appealing to "the blood / Of fair King Richard, scrap'd from Pomfret stones," deriving "from heaven his quarrel and his cause," the Archbishop of York "[t]urns insurrection to religion" (2 Henry IV, I.i.201-206). Rebellion engenders rebellion; the awe that protected Richard cannot porteci his murderer.

Henry's effort to usurp the traditional sanctity of the throne along with the throne itself lays bare the fundamental defect of his policy. According to Machiavelli, a new prince in a new regime must make everything new; he must have the wisdom, skill, and courage to introduce an entirely new order that will obliterate even the memory of the old one. Left intact, or only impaired, the old order will return to haunt him. It furnishes a ready pretext and provocation to rebellion.8 The truth of this teaching comes home to Henry with a vengeance. By attempting to resurrect in himself the principles of the old regime, by failing to exorcise Richard's ghost, Henry renders his usurpation abortive: he dooms himself to unceasing struggle, and afflicts both his dynasty and his kingdom. He and his direct heirs survive only by repeating his original violence over and over—first in England, then in France, then in England again. Both Henry and Hal spill blood continually and with considerable success; the reign of Henry VI, however, reveals the precariousness of their achievement. When the sword fails, the dynasty falls. As Shakespeare's contemporaries were aware, and as his earlier tetralogy of English history plays had already indicated, peace and stability return to the land only when the founder of a new dynasty—Henry VII, first of the Tudors—is able to revive the claims of traditional legitimacy, and present himself plausibly as God's deputy on earth.9

Ironically, it is the revolutionary boldness of Henry's thought that betrays him in the end. Having thrust him on to regicide, his radically new vision of the nature of things fails to provide him with the ground on which to create a new regime. He recognizes that stable political rule cannot be based on force and cunning alone, yet his view of life as essentially egotistical, violent, and governed by chance offers no principle of order that can replace the divine right that surrounded earlier English kings. A doctrine of individualism and violent necessity has no power to bind men together. As a result Henry is forced outside the characteristic range of his mind, and this necessity confounds him. He possesses one part of what is needful in a new prince in a new principality—an understanding of, and ability to use, violence—but he wants an even more important part—the creative qualities of a founder who is both armed and a prophet. The personal sense of necessity that drives him to make himself king finally traps him in the narrowness and harshness of his vision. Henry proves incapable of the extraordinary virtù attributed by Machiavelli to a Moses or a Theseus; we may consider him a type of Cain, but not of Romulus.10

England and Henry suffer for his sins, but they are not the sins of which Carlisle thought. Shakespeare's dramatization of Henry's career focuses not on the unfolding of God's judgment, but rather on the strictly political consequences of a usurpation only half achieved.11 By the light of Shakespeare's analysis, we perceive that Henry misses the greatness that alone could redeem the heinous crimes of usurpation and regicide. He remains a usurper rather than a founder. It is to this deficiency, above all, that his drabness points.


1 Machiavelli defines the kinds of principalities in the first chapter of The Prince: "Principalities are either hereditary, in which case the family of the prince has been ruling for generations, or they are new. And the new ones are either completely new, as was Milan for Francesco Sforza, or they are like members joined to the hereditary state of the prince who acquires them, as is the kingdom of Naples for the King of Spain" (trans. Mark Musa [New York: St. Martin's Press, 1964], p. 5).

2Richard II, I.ii.37-38. Act, scene, and line references are to the Arden editions of Richard II, ed. Peter Ure (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1956), of The First Part of King Henry IV, ed. A. R. Humphreys (London: Methuen, 1961), and of The Second Part of King Henry IV (London: Methuen, 1966).

3 For expressions of the prevailing view that Henry is basically an opportunist, see John Palmer, Political Characters of Shakespeare (London: Macmillan, 1948), pp. 135-138; Brents Stirling, "Bolingbroke's 'Decision'," Shakespeare Quarterly 2 (1951), 27-34; Ure's Introduction to Richard II, pp. lxxiv-lxxv; A. L. French, "Who Deposed Richard II?" Essays in Criticism 17 (1967), 411-433; and Robert Ornstein, A Kingdom for a Stage (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972), pp. 114-116.

4 The importance of Henry's idea of necessity has been recognized but never adequately studied: see, for example, Harold C. Goddard, The Meaning of Shakespeare (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), p. 162; Humphreys' note on III.i.72-74 in The Second Part of King Henry IV; and John C. Bromley, The Shakespearean Kings (Boulder: Colorado Associated University Press, 1971), p. 71. For more general remarks on the theme of necessity in the second tetralogy, see Humphreys' Introduction to The Second Part of King Henry IV, pp. xlv-xlvi and Derek Traversi, Shakespeare: From Richard II to Henry V (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1957), pp. 135-136.

5 On Lucretius, see Leo Strauss, "Notes on Lucretius," in Liberalism Ancient and Modern (New York: Basic Books, 1968), pp. 76-139 (esp. pp. 76-85, 133-135). For other examples of Machiavelli's usefulness in analyzing Henry's career, see Irving Ribner, "Bolingbroke, A True Machiavellian," Modern Language Quarterly 9 (1948), 177-184; John F. Danby, Shakespeare's Doctrine of Nature (London: Faber and Faber, 1949), pp. 81-101; and Moody Prior, The Drama of Power (Evanston, I11.: Northwestern University Press, 1973), pp. 219-248.

6 Near the end of Henry IV, part 1, it is true, Henry upbraids Worcester in terms that suggest a rather different view of man and nature:

Will you again unknit
This churlish knot of all-abhorred war?
And move in that obedient orb again
Where you did give a fair and natural light,
And be no more an exhal'd meteor,
A prodigy of fear, and a portent
Of broached mischief to the unborn times?


Contrary to Henry's praise of Hotspur, these lines imply that peace and obedience rather than war and rebellion are natural, but we must understand them in the light of the dramatic situation. Talking to Worcester, Henry has an obvious reason to stress the virtue of obedience, but there is no evidence that it is part of his private morality. Although he condemns Worcester for being a "meteor," earlier Henry compared himself complacently to a "comet" (III.ii.46-49).

7 Some critics have contended that Henry's expressions of guilt are sincere: see, for example, John Dover Wilson's note on I.i.1-28 in The First Part of the History of Henry IV (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1946); Traversi, Shakespeare: From Richard II to Henry V, pp. 48, 51, 81; and M.M. Reese, The Cease of Majesty (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1961), p. 286. Such a view seems to me incompatible with everything else that Shakespeare shows us about Henry. If Henry's religion is sincere, it never restrains his political actions in any way.

8 See The Prince, chapter 6.

9 See Shakespeare's presentation of Henry VII throughout the last act of Richard III (especially scenes ii, iii, and v).

10 See The Prince, chapter 6. Henry's final speech in Richard II suggests the analogy between himself and Cain ( He condemns Exton as a kind of Cain, but recognizes his own guilt as well.

11 Cf. Machiavelli's comment on "the present ruin of Italy": "And he [Savonarola] who said that our sins were the cause, said the truth; but they certainly were not the sins he thought, but rather the ones I have just recounted [military and political failures]; and since these were the sins of princes, they have come in turn to suffer the penalty for them" (Trans. Mark Musa, p. 101). That Shakespeare's second tetralogy departs from the moralized religious view of history favored by some of the Tudor chroniclers seems generally accepted by recent critics: see, for example, Alvin B. Kernan, "The Henriad: Shakespeare's Major History Plays," in Modern Shakespearean Criticism, ed. Alvin B. Kernan (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1970), pp. 245-275; and Moody Prior, The Drama of Power, pp. 14-33.

Stanley D. McKenzie (essay date 1992)

SOURCE: "The Prudence and Kinship of Prince Hal and John of Lancaster in 2 Henry IV" in Law and Philosophy: The Practice of Theory, Essays in Honor of George Anastaplo, edited by John A. Murley, Robert L. Stone and William T. Braithwaite, Ohio University Press, 1992, pp. 937-58.

[In the following essay, McKenzie examines Prince Hal's rejection of Falstaff and Prince John 's betrayal of the rebels at Gaultree, arguing that although their actions appear to be unjust, they are in fact attempting to protect the realm and provide legitimacy to their family's accession to the throne of England.]

George Anastaplo continually explores the concept of prudence throughout his writings.1 In his musings on literature, Anastaplo dismisses "dramatic necessities" in favor of inquiring "why a man of a certain character acted thus and so," and poses the ubiquitous Anastaplo question, "What is the right thing for a man to do in this situation."2 He concludes that "in order to be able to choose correctly, one must be prudent. . . . Prudence tends to lead us to moderation, both personal and communal."3 Hence for Anastaplo, Odysseus prevails because "he is a prudent man able to restrain himself."4

For a volume of essays in honor of George Anastaplo on the theme of "The Practice of Theory," it seems appropriate to apply his concept of prudence to the characters in one of Shakespeare's most complex history plays, 2 Henry IV. Henry V's rejection of Falstaff remains the central critical subject of debate in this play. Is this rejection the proper fate of an unregenerate reprobate, or does it expose the new king as another Machiavellian Lancastrian placing policy above human feelings? A secondary but related problem concerns the manner in which Hal's younger brother, Prince John of Lancaster, defeats the rebels at Gaultree. Critical response has overwhelmingly condemned John, and the concern articulated by Samuel Johnson has not been adequately resolved to this day: "It cannot but raise some indignation to find this horrible violation of faith passed over thus slightly by the poet, without any note of censure or detestation."5 Despite Dr. Johnson's protestation, there is considerable evidence that an Elizabethan audience in 1598 would view both Hal's rejection of Falstaff and John's "betrayal" of the rebels as prudent actions to be approved. Shakespeare enhances such a response through the structure and imagery of 2 Henry IV, which associate Hal with John and create an ethic within which the actions of these Lancastrian brothers are prudent, commendable, and intrinsically akin.

Modern scholarship generally acknowledges the political necessity for the rejection of Falstaff, but there is no consensus as to how we should feel about Hal's method of effecting it. A. C. Bradley asserts that during the rejection speech the audience feels "a good deal of pain and some resentment,"6 while, more recently, Catherine M. Shaw writes, "Intellectual moral justification for the expulsion of Falstaff can be accepted as can the historical actuality, but the disquietude which greets the end of 2 Henry IV is not intellectual; it is emotional."7 During the last decade, much attention has been given to Hal's role-playing throughout the Henry IV plays, but again with sharp disagreement: does this play-acting prove Hal to be a hypocrite with no underlying sincerity nor ethical base? Or is Hal admirably rehearsing for the day in which he will be forced to accept the burdens and responsibilities of "formal majesty" (5.2.133),8 a role he does not desire, but which he is duty-bound to accept?9

Whereas Hal's rejection of Falstaff is increasingly being justified by critics, albeit often reluctantly and even apologetically, his brother's actions at Gaultree continue to be roundly denounced. Bradley is more damning than Dr. Johnson, referring to the Gaultree victory as a "detestable fraud," and describing John as "the brave, determined, loyal, cold-blooded, pitiless, unscrupulous son of a usurper."10 E. M. W. Tillyard and Lily B. Campbell each provide some defense for John, but with the collapse of a single-minded Elizabethan world view has come nearly unanimous critical condemnation of John. These modern critics, however, have tended to ignore the fear of civil war ever-present throughout Elizabeth's reign. After the Northern Rebellion of 1569, a long "Homilie against Disobedience and Wylfull Rebellion" (1571) was read in every church throughout England, affirming that the sin of rebellion violates the Ten Commandments and entails all the seven deadly sins:

For he that nameth rebellion nameth not a singular or one only sin, as is theft robbery murder and such like, but he nameth the whole puddle and sink of all sins against God and man.11

Elizabeth's propaganda machinery continually stressed that subjects had no right to judge their monarch (undoubtedly to discourage those inclined to do just that); to rebel against a bad king, with the notable exception of Richard III, was as sinful as to rebel against a good king. An Elizabethan could view Henry IV as an evil man (albeit penitent) inasmuch as he acquired the crown through rebellion,12 but still as a good king in that he successfully crushed rebellions against him. God permitted the rebellions as punishment, but the rebels themselves were committing the mortal sin of disobedience to their king and deserved no mercy. That John's method of victory at Gaultree in 2 Henry IV was consistent with Elizabethan policy of the 1590s can be seen in Lodowick Lloyd's The Stratagems of Jerusalem (1602), which recounts numerous examples of treachery being used to achieve peace and asserts that "all stratagems, victories, & good counsell cometh from the Lord."13 Paul Jorgensen attributes the growing Elizabethan acceptance of deceit and treachery in dealing with rebels to the Irish wars. Faced with guerrillas who adeptly circumvented standard military efforts, the English for years had been resorting to treacherous policies, including the slaughter in 1580 of several hundred rebels who surrendered to Lord Grey at Smerwick.14 Although theoretically despising Machiavelli, the Elizabethans were increasingly aware that many of his tactics could strengthen the security of the realm.15

Elizabethan perceptions of the historical John of Lancaster must also be taken into account when analyzing the events at Gaultree; Shakespeare has specifically altered his source materials in making John, rather than Westmoreland, the perpetrator of the deceit. Critics have argued that this historical change, along with the antipathy between John and Falstaff, serves to portray John as a cold-blooded, political Lancastrian in contrast to his warm and generous brother Hal.16 This thesis is dubious, however, considering that John becomes the famous Duke of Bedford, whose reputation among the Elizabethans was nearly as great as his brother's. Shakespeare himself had previously portrayed Bedford in J Henry VI, where at his death he is eulogized by Talbot and Burgundy as "valiant," "Courageous," "Undaunted spirit," and

A braver soldier never couchèd lance,
A gentler heart did never sway in court.


On his deathbed, Henry V named Bedford protector of the realm for the infant Henry VI, and even after assuming the regency of France, Bedford remained instrumental in keeping peace at home between his brother Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, and his uncle Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester. Holinshed calls Bedford "a man both politike in peace, and hardie in warre, and yet no more hardie than mercifull when he had the victorie."17 It seems likely that Shakespeare made John responsible for the events at Gaultree not to contrast him with Hal, but to use the future Duke of Bedford's reputation as a positive reflection on the method of victory; the brother's responsibility also serves to associate Hal more directly with these events that preserve the crown for him.

Henry V's rejection of Falstaff and John's betrayal of the rebels at Gaultree would be seen as essentially similar by a London audience in 1598 inasmuch as each manifests the triumph of order over disruptive forces threatening the security of the kingdom. For the brothers to have acted differently would have constituted a shocking and dangerous display of irresponsibility by those with whom God had entrusted the welfare of the realm. This political prudence may still be emotionally unattractive, however, especially for a modern audience, if it is viewed as calculatedly Machiavellian and personally unprincipled. The brilliance of Shakespeare's achievement within 2 Henry IV is the manner by which he reinforces the cold lessons of political reality through the artistic devices available to the dramatist, especially imagery and thematic structuring. As the remainder of this paper will show, Shakespeare creates a functional ethos in the world of 2 Henry IV where voracious appetite and greedy expectations surfeit, while moderation triumphs in the course of time.18 Attuned to this ethos, Hal and John thrive and conform precisely to Anastaplo's definition of prudence as moderation and self-restraint which "may depend, ultimately, on a vital awareness of the nature of things:"19

Turning first to Shakespeare's dramatic shaping of the play's literal plot, when the newly crowned Henry V stands between Falstaff and the Lord Chief Justice and is forced to make a final irrevocable choice, his commitment to justice and rejection of disorder contradicts the previously expressed expectations of every major character in the play.20 Shakespeare nevertheless has carefully prepared for Hal's rejection of Falstaff throughout 2 Henry IV, and those who empathize with Falstaff's expectations will find little encouragement within the text itself. The second scene of the play establishes the Lord Chief Justice and Falstaff as polar opposites; the Chief Justice does engage in battles of wit with Falstaff, but he also expresses his contempt with comments such as "the truth is, Sir John, you live in great infamy" (1.2.138-39) and "Thou art a great fool" (2.1.195-96). Prince Hal also treats Falstaff in this play with open contempt. He says, "I do allow this wen to be as familiar with me as my dog" (2.2.105-6), and claims that it is "profane" to spend time playing jokes on Falstaff (2.4.368-69). Except for one episode, Hal and Falstaff do not appear together until the final rejection scene, and the feeling that they are boon companions, established in Part 1, is lost in Part 2. At court, Warwick foreshadows Falstaff's rejection when he assures Henry IV that

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. . . .


Such a rationale seems dubious in today's addiction-conscious society, but it was commonplace in sixteenth-century educational treatises. On the other hand, Henry IV's prediction of his son's reign (4.5.117-37) provides a horrifying description of England's fate if Henry V should not indeed cast out the "gross terms" he has learned.

Even the comic Gloucestershire scenes prepare for Falstaff's rejection. He traitorously misuses the king's press, receiving bribes from Moldy and Bullcalf, whom Shallow proclaims the best of the lot, to free them from impressment and taking in their place the decrepit Wart.21 Furthermore, the relationship between Shallow and Falstaff parallels Falstaff's relationship with Hal; in each case one partner expects to use his fellow for his own advantage, while the other associates with the hanger-on solely for his own amusement. Falstaff thus unwittingly anticipates his own rejection when he says of Shallow, "Either wise bearing or ignorant carriage is caught, as men take diseases, one of another. Therefore let men take heed of their company" (5.1.78-80). Immediately after the final reconciliation between Hal and Henry IV, act 5 opens in Gloucestershire with Falstaff asking to be excused to leave; Shallow responds,

I will not excuse you. You shall not be excused. Excuses shall not be admitted. There is no excuse shall serve. You shall not be excused.


Falstaff is soon not to be excused in a less comic sense as well. In the final Gloucestershire scene, Falstaff destroys any possible remaining sympathy for him when he learns that Hal is king and greedily cries out,

Let us take any man's horses; the laws of England are at my commandment. Blessed are they that have been my friends, and woe to my Lord Chief Justice!


The new king, however, has already assured his brothers and the Chief Justice of his devotion to law and order. Henry V must still confirm his choice when confronted by both the Lord Chief Justice and Falstaff simultaneously, but Shakespeare has foreshadowed Hal's decision throughout the play.

Henry V nevertheless finds the rejection difficult to make, and he at first attempts to have the Chief Justice get rid of Falstaff for him: "My Lord Chief Justice, speak to that vain man" (5.5.44). Falstaff persists, however, and the new king must deal with him personally. The problem is that Falstaff's wit has seduced characters and audience alike; Hostess Quickly, whom Falstaff has constantly swindled, earlier choked up when he left for the wars, crying, "Well, fare thee well. I have known thee these twenty-nine years, come peascod-time, but an honester and truer-hearted man—well, fare thee well" (2.4.389-91). Falstaff's fascinating character makes plausible Hal's wasting time with him, but now judgment must be passed, and an objective look at Falstaff leaves no choice but for the prudent and moderate man to reject him.

Beginning with A. C. Bradley, the critics who claim that Shakespeare created such a genius of wit that he could not destroy him convincingly when the time came have themselves failed to distinguish between the genuinely witty Falstaff of Part 1 and the Falstaff in Part 2, whose wit is so often based on other people's miseries.22 Falstaff sentire environment has degenerated in Part 2. In Part 1 Mistress Quickly apparently had an honest husband, well loved by the prince (Part 1,3.3.98), and ran a respectable tavern, but in Part II she is a widow (2.1.82) and seems to be operating a brothel. Doll Tearsheet and Pistol, new additions to the Eastcheap populace in Part 2, are two of the grossest characters in any of Shakespeare's plays. Immediately before Falstaff's rejection, Hostess Quickly and Doll Tearsheet are hauled away to prison for having, along with Pistol, beaten a man to death (5.4.16-17). Although humorous, the voracious excesses of Falstaff and his companions have now become deadly.

When Henry V does reject Falstaff, Prince John comments, "I like this fair proceeding of the king's" (5.5.99) and then accurately predicts that Henry V will invade France. Shakespeare's giving John the final words in the play (except for the "Epilogue [Spoken by a DANCER.]") links John's moral approbation of Henry V with his own proceedings at Gaultree. Although dramatically John's betrayal of the rebels is of secondary importance to Henry V's rejection of Falstaff, the betrayal is likewise foreshadowed through advance warnings that the truce may not be all it seems. Mowbray, for one, is uneasy throughout the negotiations:

There is a thing within my bosom tells me
That no conditions of our peace can stand.


Mowbray argues that the king must henceforth view everything they do with suspicion, and after both armies have presumably been dismissed, it is again Mowbray who suddenly feels ill while the others are drinking toasts. Prince John also provides a hint of what is to come when he reproaches the Archbishop for acting unlike a man of God in "Turning the word to sword and life to death" (4.2.10); it is likewise equally unnatural for John, a soldier and prince, to put up his sword and settle a rebellion with words.

The outward events of the play significantly take no notice of the moral issues involved in John's dissembling. Falstaff criticizes John's sobriety, but not his method of victory, and even the rebels go off to execution with minimal protest. Furthermore, no one in the royal family indicates that John's actions blemish Lancastrian honor. In Part 1, both King Henry IV and Hal had high praise for John's performance at Shrewsbury (5.4.15-22), and Part 2 provides no evidence that Hal changes his mind about John, either before or after Gaultree; likewise, the dying king, who has consistently chastised Hal for perceived moral shortcomings, welcomes John back from Gaultree without qualification.

Although John's betrayal of the rebels is not foreshadowed as extensively as Hal's rejection of Falstaff, the literal plot level of 2 Henry IV does prepare for both events and associates them with each other through John's approbation of his brother's action. Falstaff's defenders have argued that Shakespeare intends John's approval as a deprecation of Hal's character, in that only someone as treacherous as John could approve of the new king's cold-hearted treatment of his former companion; however, the symbolic or mythic elements and imagery patterns of the play also link Hal and John closely together and enhance the appropriateness of both brothers' actions.

Falstaff's bulk enables him to embody several symbolic and mythic aspects, all requiring his rejection by the new king. His roles as the Vice figure, the unregenerate "Old Man," the "Martlemas" beef, and the Lord of Misrule or scapegoat sacrificed to regenerate the wasteland have been so well established that when Justice Silence sings of "lusty lads" eating "flesh" at "Shrovetide" (5.3.17-37) shortly before Falstaff's rejection, we may well recall that Shrovetide's feasting precedes the barren "winter" Lent leading to death and rebirth at Easter.23 Thus the model Christian king's "sacrifice" of the symbolic scapegoat of riot and waste promises not only a new spirit of self-restrained frugality and strict order, but also future glories for England.

The psychoanalytical critics carry these symbolic aspects even further, claiming that Falstaff is a substitute father figure for Hal and must, like the ritually slain kings of Sir James Frazer's Golden Bough, be sacrificed before the land can regain its fertility under the rule of the young, virile son. Hal's real father-king, Henry IV, acquired his crown through the deposition and murder of Richard II, and "under the guiltridden, infirm, old king, England itself has become diseased."24 Hal manifests parricidal tendencies toward his father throughout both parts of Henry IV, but according to these critics, these impulses are restricted to a displacement "killing" of the substitute father. Henry IV's natural death expiates the murder of Richard, but to renew England's strength, Henry V must bury his youthful vanities with the body of his father and sacrifice the spirit of excess and misrule by banishing his companions of those earlier, carefree days.

Falstaff's symbolic qualities encompass greedy appetite and disorder in general and are associated with the rebels in the play, even though these secondary political figures lack the abundance of specific mythic overtones that make Falstaff so rich a character. This association is made through imagery patterns that establish structural relationships among the major characters.25 In the rejection scene, Hal calls Falstaff "surfeit-swelled" (5.5.50) and tells him that "the grave doth gape / For thee thrice wider than for other men" (5.5.53-54). The images echo the Archbishop's reference to "our surfeiting and wanton hours" (4.1.55) and Northumberland's claim that "my limbs . . . Are thrice themselves" (1.1.143-45). Lord Bardolph says the rebel messenger from Shrewsbury "had stol'n / The horse he rode on" (1.1.57-58), while Falstaff cries, "Let us take any man's horses" (5.3.140) upon learning that Hal is king, again linking him to the rebels. Both Falstaff and the rebels indulge in self-deception, entertaining hopes for which they have little basis and which ultimately fail. Falstaff continually deceives himself until the very end that Hal will still be his companion when king, while the rebels create false hopes in planning their campaign. Hastings acknowledges that "our supplies live largely in the hope / Of great Northumberland," (1.3.12-13) and cautious Lord Bardolph asserts that they need to be certain of Northumberland's questionable support, since "Conjecture, expectation, and surmise / Of aids incertain should not be admitted." (1.3.23-24). Yet after these self-acknowledged dangers, the rebels imprudently decide to proceed regardless of North-umberland's support and by the end of the scene are trusting their hopes entirely to circumstances.

Hal and John are likewise linked through the imagery of the play as they reverse the surfeits of their adversaries and return things to normal. The rebellion is a flooding (4.1.174) which John contains; when the "truce" is celebrated with drinks, the archbishop gets high, "Believe me, I am passing light in spirit" (4.2.85), while John's drinking is highly restrained, according to the play's preeminent drinker (4.3.89-90). Hal also stems a flood of excessive sanguinity when he becomes king:

The tide of blood in me
Hath proudly flowed in vanity till now.
Now doth it turn and ebb back to the sea,
Where it shall mingle with the state of floods
And flow henceforth in formal majesty.


Hal and John also meet their obligations, in contrast to the debt-ridden Falstaff (literally) and the rebels (morally). Thinking his father has died, Hal says,

Thy due from me
Is tears and heavy sorrows of the blood,
Which nature, love, and filial tenderness
Shall, O dear father, pay thee plenteously.


The Archbishop accuses John of breaking faith, but the prince claims,

I pawned thee none.
I promised you redress of these same grievances
Whereof you did complain, which, by mine honor,
I will perform with a most Christian care.


John's punctiliousness contrasts with Northumberland's earlier argument that he must join the Archbishop's rebellion:

Alas, sweet wife, my honor is at pawn,
And, but my going, nothing can redeem it.


Northumberland, however, once again fails to provide the support upon which the rebels are counting.

Several minor thematic images thus link Hal and John together, as well as Falstaff with the rebels. Disease, time, and unfulfilled expectations are the dominant and most frequently analyzed images of 2 Henry IV,27 however, and these motifs create even larger structural relationships among the characters, in which the king is also grouped with Falstaff and the rebels in contrast to Hal and John. Beginning with disease, Henry IV, unlike the fighting king of Part 1, is ill throughout Part 2 and finally dies. Whereas the bad news of Shrewsbury cures the crafty-sick Northumberland (1.1.137-39), the good news of Gaultree hastens the king's death (4.4.102-11). Falstaff is preoccupied with everyone's diseases, and the analysis of his urine (1.2.3-5) reveals that he is thoroughly sick himself; he even boasts, "I will turn diseases to commodity" (1.2.251). Other characters in the play are likewise diseased. Falstaff insinuates that Doll Tearsheet and Hostess Quickly have syphilis, while of the prospective recruits at Gloucestershire, the two best are Moldy and Bulicali, who claims he has been plagued with a "whoreson cold" through Henry IV's entire reign (3.2.183-87). The Archbishop, leader of the rebels, sums it all up:

We are all diseased,
And with our surfeiting and wanton hours
Have brought ourselves into a burning fever,
And we must bleed for it. Of which disease
Our late king, Richard, being infected, died.


This all-encompassing disease afflicts not only the people, but also the realm itself. The Archbishop speaks of a "bleeding land" (1.1.207), and even the king admits his land is diseased:

Then you perceive the body of our kingdom
How foul it is, what rank diseases grow,
And with what danger, near the heart of it.


All of England bears responsibility for the murder of Richard II through the popular support given Bolingbroke; now the sickness in the land is exasperated by new rebellions led by the same guilty men who helped Henry IV acquire his crown in the first place. Only Hal and John, too young to have participated in Richard's deposition, are healthy and free from the disease that afflicts England.

England's disease was caused by events that occurred in the past, but still affect the present times. Mowbray claims they all

feel the bruises of the days before,
And suffer the condition of these times,


and the rebels constantly use time or the "times" as an excuse for their actions. The Archbishop tells Westmoreland,

We see which way the stream of time doth run,

And are enforced from our most quiet there
By the rough torrent of occasion.


But Westmoreland relies upon the identical rationale when he responds to the Archbishop's claim that the times make them rebel:

Construe the times to their necessities,
And you shall say indeed, it is the time,
And not the king, that doth you injuries.


Warwick also claims the "necessary form" of "the hatch and brood of time" enabled Richard II to prophesy correctly that Northumberland would revolt against Henry IV (3.1.80-92), and even the king wishes he could

read the book of fate,
And see the revolution of the times. . . .


All these men, rebels and loyalists alike, are so caught up in capitalizing on the present moment to further their worldly ambitions and have such a highly developed consciousness of time's power over them that they become indeed "time's subjects," as Hastings claims (1.3.110).

Hal and John, however, do not subject their destinies to "the rough torrent of occasion" and never blame the times for their actions. Being young, they are scarcely concerned with time, and each makes only two direct references to it in Part 2. Hal, regretting his youthful imprudence, tells Poins, "Thus we play the fools with the time" (2.2.141), and when he learns that his father has been preparing for war while he has been playing tricks on Falstaff, he cries,

By heaven, Poins, I feel me much to blame,
So idly to profane the precious time.


Attuned to the larger patterns of time that in due course will bring him to the crown, Hal views the present moment as a commodity for prudent use, but not a binding force. Similarly, John does not attempt to construe the necessities of the moment into a defense for his deeds and indeed claims that the rebels are

much too shallow,
To sound the bottom of the after-times.


John's only other use of the word comes when he tells Falstaff after Gaultree,

These tardy tricks of yours will, on my life,
One time or other break some gallows' back.


Not the vagrancies of time, John says, but Falstaff's own actions will destroy him.

Falstaff is time's subject, however, in the sense that time brings old age and death. Throughout Part 2 Falstaff tries to embody the eternal spirit of youth, but he cannot escape the fact that he has grown old and infirm, ever closer to paying the debt to God he managed to postpone at Shrewsbury. Like Henry IV and the rebels, Falstaff too is a diseased prisoner of his own past. The king and the rebels remember Richard II, but Falstaff and Shallow recall the even earlier era when John of Gaunt ruled England during the declining years of Edward III; Falstaff closes the scene by saying, "Let time shape, and there an end" (3.2.336-337).

The time imagery of 2 Henry IV thus separates the major characters into two groups. Henry IV, the Archbishop, Northumberland, the other rebels, and Falstaff, the would-be exploiters of time, are instead all time's subjects, old "fathers" (the Archbishop is a "reverend father") whose voracious appetites and expectations have disrupted the established order.28 Henry IV robbed Richard of his crown with the help of the rebels who now attempt to rob it from him, while Falstaff robs the king's "crowns," or money. These robberies create unpaid debts, and even though Henry IV claims he "purchased" the crown (4.5.199), he can pay for it only with his life. Purchasing is associated with death throughout the play, as when Shallow keeps asking the purchase price of animals while reminiscing about his youthful companions who have now grown old and died (3.2.39-54). Moldy and Bulicali purchase their lives, but Feeble says, "We owe God a death" (3.2.240), punning on debt and echoing Hal's words to Falstaff before Shrewsbury in Part 1, "Why, thou owest God a death" (5.1.126). Despite Falstaff's incessant borrowing on even that debt, in Part 2 the time for payment comes due, and all the old robbers are required to make a final reckoning. Hal and John, however, the healthy young sons from a new generation, are free from the guilty debts of the past that haunt the diseased old men of England. They do not blame the times but accept the state of affairs created by their elders; they attune themselves to the natural order of their world, assume their proper duties and responsibilities, and set out to shape a new future.

The final significant thematic motif connecting Henry IV, Falstaff, and the rebels is unfulfilled expectations. The king expects to expiate his murder of Richard II through a journey to Jerusalem, where it was prophesied to him he would die; instead he dies at home in a room called Jerusalem. He also expects his son to institute a reign of riot and says that Hal's premature taking of the crown "hast sealed up my expectation" (4.5.103), but Henry V becomes "the mirror of all Christian kings" (Henry V, 2 cho. 6). The rebels expect support from Northumberland, which they do not receive, and the Archbishop expects to have God's help, only to hear John credit his own victory to God. Mowbray does not think the peace can last, while his fellow rebels believe that the king will not chastise them after the truce; the peace does last, however, and John executes all the rebel leaders. Falstaff expects to be the boon companion of Henry V, but he is not to command the laws of England.

As with the disease imagery, unfulfilled expectations permeate 2 Henry IV at every level, beginning with Rumor, who creates false expectations only to destroy them.29 Hostess Quickly expects not only to get paid by Falstaff, but even to marry him; Justice Shallow thinks he will use Falstaff for his own gain; after Henry IV dies, the Chief Justice expects punishment from Henry V, Warwick now thinks Hal will be a riotous king, and even Clarence dreads having to speak well of Falstaff; but all three are wrong. Hal realizes that no one expects him to weep over his father, but he later does, and the crown that seems to be the "best of gold" turns out to be the "worst of gold" (4.5.160). The very language of the play creates unfulfilled expectations through the use of oxymora ("wrathful dove or most magnanimous mouse"); images such as Hal's simile that the crown is

Like a rich armor worn in heat of day,
That scald'st with safety;


and even in set poetic passages such as the king's apostrophe to sleep which comes to the ship-boy in a deafening storm, but is denied to a king despite all his material comforts (3.1.4-31). This speech is parodied moments earlier by Falstaff as he tells Doll Tearsheet and Mistress Quickly "how men of merit are sought after. The undeserver may sleep when the man of action is called on" (2.4.382-84), providing yet another linkage between the king and fat knight.30

The theme of unfulfilled expectations is often developed through eating imagery, as in Henry IV's lament that fortune

either gives a stomach and no food—
Such are the poor, in health—or else a feast
And takes away the stomach—such are the rich
That have abundance and enjoy it not.


Throughout the play, excessive "eating" leads not to contented satiation, but to surfeits and disease. The Epilogue promises more of Falstaff, "If you be not too much cloyed with fat meat" (Epi.26-27), and even the prostitutes' syphilis is associated with gluttony:

FALSTAFF: You make fat rascals, Mistress Doll.
DOLL: I make them? Gluttony and diseases make, I make them not.
FALSTAFF: If the cook help to make the
gluttony, you help to make the diseases,
Doll. We catch of you, Doll, we catch of you.


The images of voracious appetite, surfeits, disease, death, time, and unfulfilled expectations are all brought together in an early speech by the Archbishop that sets the tone for the entire play:

The commonwealth is sick of their own choice;
Their overgreedy love hath surfeited.
An habitation giddy and unsure
Hath he that buildeth on the vulgar heart.
O thou fond many, with what loud applause
Didst thou beat heaven with blessing Bolingbroke,
Before he was what thou wouldst have him be!
And being now trimmed in thine own desires,
Thou, beastly feeder, art so full of him
That thou provok'st thyself to cast him up.
So, so, thou common dog, didst thou disgorge
Thy glutton bosom of the royal Richard;
And now thou wouldst eat thy dead vomit up,
And howl'st to find it. What trust is in these times?


In 2 Henry IV, greedy expectations are not fulfilled as desired, but instead surfeit. Time is the ultimate betrayer, imprisoning men through past events and eventually defeating all desires through old age, disease, and death.

Surfeit is the result of gluttony, the opposite of prudent moderation and self-restraint.31 Falstaff literally gorges himself with food and drink and tries to ingest everything else, including the very laws of England; Henry V calls the "surfeit-swelled" knight "The tutor and the feeder of my riots" (5.5.50,62). Henry IV hungered for Richard II's crown and dies repenting for the manner by which he became king. Northumberland and the other rebels who originally helped Henry now try to take the crown for themselves and are executed for their efforts. All these men create expectations based on lawlessly and gluttonously grabbing for things not belonging to them. Their expectations either remain unfulfilled or they surfeit on what they have imprudently ingested, become sick and die. England was jarred out of its naturally fertile state by Richard's misrule and his subsequent deposition and murder, but the men responsible continue trying to satiate their own opportunistic appetites and blame the times instead of their gluttony for the sickness they have caused.

Those characters who do not grab, but instead prudently accept what life brings to them, live on successfully at the end of the play. John, with typical restraint, foregoes a battlefield resolution and instead calmly lets the rebels fall into his clever trap, crediting God for the restoration of the peace. The Chief Justice also accepts his anticipated fate without making elaborate plans for his own safety. He does not expect Henry V to love him, but he is prepared "To welcome the condition of the time" (5.2.11); this passive acceptance of destiny without regard to personal benefit leads to an affirmative reversal of his expectations as he is retained in his position and honored by the new king. The most prudent non-grabber, of course, is Hal, whose only expectation is that he will be king. When he tries to fulfill this expectation himself, however, taking the crown before it belongs to him, he has to give it back. The last lesson Hal learns before becoming king is self-restraint and not to grab, but to wait prudently for things to descend to him in rightful order.

When Henry IV awakes to find that Hal has taken his crown, he cries out, "See, sons, what things you are!" (4.5.64), claiming that fathers who care for their sons are unnaturally "murdered for our pains" (4.5.77). When Hal again enters the room, the dying king continues:

Dost thou so hunger for mine empty chair
That thou wilt needs invest thee with my honors
Before thy hour be ripe? . . .
Thy life did manifest thou loV'dst me not,
And thou wilt have me die assured of it.
Thou hid'st a thousand daggers in thy thoughts,
Which thou has whetted on thy stony heart,
To stab at half an hour of my life.


Although the king is wrong in his assessment of Hal's parricidal motives, in this play the old "fathers"—secular, spiritual and sensual alike—give way to the young sons. Hal and John both defeat the expectations of the old generation as they impose new codes of strict moral justice on the forces of disorder. Henry IV, Falstaff, Northumberland, and the Archbishop are time's subjects, the products of their pasts, while Hal and John represent the future and are not bound by either the deeds or expectations of the fathers. Sons, however, must build the future on an inheritance from the past; they must not grab for the possessions of the fathers until they naturally descend in proper order. Henry IV's crown in due course comes to Hal, while the Chief Justice embodies the heritage of the deceased king. The Chief Justice is old, diseased, and time's subject; he does not grab, however, and so lives on temporarily bridging the past and the new era of Henry V, who tells him, "You shall be as a father to my youth" (5.2.118).

The plot, characterizations, mythic and symbolic elements, themes, and imagery of 2 Henry IV all work together to create a functional ethic of moderation and self-restraint in which gluttony surfeits, defeating the expectations of the glutton. Those who are attuned to this premise of personal and political prudence prosper, while those who defy it are destroyed.32 The last step in the education of Prince Hal is learning not to be a glutton, but rather to be prudent and moderate; he voices this lesson when, as the newly crowned king, he speaks to Falstaff:

I know thee not, old man. Fall to thy prayers.
How ill white hairs becomes a fool and jester!
I have long dreamt of such a kind of man,
So surfeit-swelled, so old, and so profane,
But, being awaked, I do despise my dream.
Make less thy body hence, and more thy grace.
Leave gormandizing.


Although Saturn devoured his own children, Falstaff is not permitted to ingest his "Jove."33 To save the old glutton from temptation, Henry V provides him with a "competence of life" (5.5.66), and if Falstaff will be content with what he receives without grabbing for more, he will be given advancement.

Henry V's rejection of Falstaff is akin to John's betrayal of the rebels at Gaultree inasmuch as both curb voracious appetites by exercising moderation and self-restraint. The two Lancastrian brothers thematically are of similar character and possess Anastaplo's "vital awareness of the nature of things" in the world that Shakespeare has created for them. They recognize the death of the old order of things and accept the Machiavellian reality of the new order, but at the same time give legitimacy to this new order by immersing themselves in an ethos of natural succession. Indeed, Hal and John essentially affirm a comic vision of generational renewal as opposed to the tragic gluttonous vision of their forefathers. The functional ethic operating through the imagery and structure of 2 Henry IV impels us to accept and to approve the prudence of both Hal's and John's actions and to recognize their inherent thematic kinship.


1 See especially Anastaplo's "American Constitutionalism and the Virtue of Prudence: Philadelphia, Paris, Washington, Gettysburg," in Abraham Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address and American Constitutionalism, ed. Leo Paul S. de Alvarez (Irving, Tex.: University of Dallas Press, 1976), pp. 77-170.

2 Anastaplo, The Artist as Thinker: From Shakespeare to Joyce (Chicago: Swallow Press, 1983), p. 16; emphasis in original.

3 Ibid.; emphasis in original.

4 Ibid., p. 6.

5 Samuel Johnson, Johnson on Shakespeare, ed. Walter Raleigh (London: Oxford University Press, 1959), p. 121.

6 A. C. Bradley, "The Rejection of Falstaff," Oxford Lectures on Poetry (London: Macmillan, 1909), p. 251.

7 Catherine M. Shaw, "The Tragic Substructure of the 'Henry IV' Plays," Shakespeare Survey 38 (1985): 65.

8 All references to Shakespeare's plays are from The Complete Signet Classic Shakespeare, ed. Sylan Barnet et al. (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972).

9 See John W. Blanpied, Time and the Artist in Shakespeare's English Histories (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1983); Derick R. C. Marsh, "Hal and Hamlet: the Loneliness of Integrity," in Jonson and Shakespeare, ed. Ian Donaldson (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1983), pp. 18-34; John Alvis, "A Little Touch of the Night in Harry: The Career of Henry Monmouth," in Shakespeare as Political Thinker, ed. John Alvis and Thomas G. West (Durham, N. C: Carolina Academic Press, 1981), pp. .95-125; Harold Toliver, "Workable Fictions in the Henry IV Plays," University of Toronto Quarterly 53 (1983): 53-71.

10 Bradley, "Rejection of Falstaff," p. 256.

11 Cited by E. M. W. Tillyard, Shakespeare's History Plays (London: Chatto and Windus, 1964), p. 68. Both Tillyard and Lily B. Campbell, Shakespeare's 'Histories: " Mirrors of Elizabethan Policy (San Marino, Cal.: Huntington Library, 1968), pp. 216-17, discuss this homily against rebellion. Campbell believes that Shakespeare's Henry IV plays specifically portray the 1569 Northern Rebellion, and she is one of the few critics to acknowledge that John's "peace-making . . . would, I think, have seemed quite orthodox to the Elizabethan audience" (p. 226). More recently, in an attempt to counter the current critical fad of Tillyard bashing, M. M. Reese, " 'Tis My Picture; Refuse It Not," Shakespeare Quarterly 36 (1985): 254-56, writes, "The contemporary [Elizabethan] conception of history expected it to be didactic and to teach immediate lessons. In the 1590s, under an aging and progressively erratic monarch, its duty was to emphasize the perils of disunity and secession" (pp. 255-56).

12 In 2 Henry IV the dying king confesses to his heir "By what bypaths and indirect crooked ways" (4.5.184) he acquired the crown.

13 Sig. A 2v; cited by Paul A. Jorgensen, "The 'Dastardly Treachery' of Prince John of Lancaster," PMLA 76 (1961): 490. Jorgensen cites several other sources from this period that affirm the same concept.

14 The six hundred men slain at Smerwick were Spanish and Italian mercenaries sent by the Pope to aid the Irish rebels. Presumably Lord Grey never promised life as a condition of the surrender, and Queen Elizabeth was upset only at Grey's sparing some of the officers for ransom. This episode, however, was sensitive enough in 1598 that Edmund Spenser's spirited defense of Lord Grey in a Veue of the Present State of Ireland may have caused the difficulties encountered in getting the work published. Although registered with the Stationers on 14 April 1598, the work was not to be printed without further authority, and was not finally published until 1633 in Dublin. See Alexander C. Judson, "The Life of Edmund Spenser" in The Works of Edmund Spenser: A Variorum Edition, ed. Edwin Greenlaw and Charles Grosvenor Osgood et al., 11 vols. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1966), 11: 89-92, 185-87. Judson states, "This horrible slaughter of the foreigners at Smerwick was unhappily quite in accord with the practice of the time" (p. 91).

15 See Coriolanus, written ten years after 2 Henry IV, where Volumnia urges her son to pretend to humble himself before the plebeians:

I have heard you say,
Honor and policy, like unsevered friends,
i' th' war do grow together. . . .


If it be honor in your wars to seem
The same you are not, which for your best ends
You adopt your policy, how is it less or worse
That it shall hold companionship in peace
With honor as in war. . . .


Now, this no more dishonors you at all
Than to take in a town with gentle words,
Which else would put you to your fortune and
The hazard of much blood.
I would dissemble with my nature, where
My fortunes and my friends at stake required
I should do so in honor.


See Stanley D. McKenzie, " 'Unshout the noise that banish'd Martius:' Structural Paradox and Dissembling in Coriolanus" Shakespeare Studies 18 (1986): 189-204.

16 For example, George J. Becker, Shakespeare's Histories (New York: Frederick Ungar, 1977), states that "the cold-blooded calculation of Prince John by contrast adds to Hal's stature" (p. 53).

17 Raphael Holinshed, Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (London, 1808), 3:184. Holinshed cites an impressive tribute to Bedford's valiancy by Louis XI, the son of the Dauphin (Charles VII) who had been Bedford's constant adversary. Tillyard claims that the Elizabethans believed that one source of the problems during Henry VI's reign was "the arrogance of thé Duke of Bedford," which offended Burgundy, England's ally (Shakespeare 's History Plays, p. 60). Bedford married Burgundy's sister, which cemented the alliance between the Lancastrain kings and the French duke until the lady's death in 1432. Holinshed recounts that the two dukes were then estranged by "flattering taletellers," and an attempted reconciliation failed when neither would travel to the other's lodging: "Thus by the proud disdaine and enuious discord of these two high stomached princes, Bedford not minding to haue anie peere, and Burgognie not willing to abide anie superior, shortlie after England much lost. . ." (Holinshed, 3:181). Unlike Tillyard, I do not believe this single episode stained Bedford's reputation among the Elizabethans.

18 John Danby, Shakespeare's Doctrine of Nature (London: Faber and Faber, 1949), pp. 95ff, distinguishes between "Appetite" and "Authority" in2 Henry IV.Derek Traversi, Shakespeare: From Richard II to Henry V (Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press, 1957), pp. 108-65, sees the distinction being between those who act on passionate emotions and those who have the detached self-control of Hal and John, but which contains a certain moral loss and inhumanness. Norman N. Holland, Jr., Introduction to2 HenryIV in The Complete Signet Classic Shakespeare, pp. 678-85, sees craving appetite set in opposition to a stoical acceptance of destiny.

19 Anastaplo, "Appendix B. Citizenship, Prudence, and the Classics," inThe Artist as Thinker, p. 281.

20 Sherman H. Hawkins, "Virtue and Kingship in Shakespeare's Henry IV," English Literary Renaissance 5 (1975): 313-43, provides a detailed review of sixteenth-century treatises on the ideal education of a prince being in the cardinal virtues of justice, valor or fortitude, prudence, and temperance. Hawkins argues that Hal learns primarily temperance and valor inPart 1and justice and prudence inPart 2.

21 J. Dover Wilson, The Fortunes of Falstaff (New York: Macmillan, 1944), pp. 84-85, points out that this episode echoes that inPart 1 where Falstaff first recruited 150 men of means, who bought their release, then enlisted another 150 wretched "cankers" to fill the places. Furthermore, he sent his troops into the thick of the battle at Shrewsbury so that all but three were killed, and he could pocket the victims' belongings and pay.

22 Traversi, Richard II to Henry V, pp. 118-33, effectively demonstrates the distinction between the Falstaff of Part 1 andPart 2. See also Harry Levin, "Falstaff's Encore," Shakespeare Quarterly 32 (1981): 5-17 and J. McLaverty, "No Abuse: The Prince and Falstaff in the Tavern Scenes of 'Henry IV,' "Shakespeare Survey 34 (1981): 105-10.

23 For studies of Falstaff as Vice, see Bernard Spivack, Shakespeare and the Allegory of Evil (New York: Columbia University Press, 1958), pp. 87-91, 203-5 and Walter Kaiser, Praisers of Folly: Erasmus, Rabelais, Shakespeare (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1963), pp. 195-275; Kaiser provides a list of other critical analyses of Falstaff as a Vice (p. 197n). Falstaff as the "Old Man" in Paul'sEpistle to the Ephesians, who must be cast off for renewal of spirit, is discussed by D. J. Palmer, "Casting Off the Old Man: History and St. Paul in 'Henry IV,' "Critical Quarterly 12 (1970): 265-83, and by Robin Headlam Wells and Alison Birkinshaw, "Falstaff, Prince Hal and the New Song," Shakespeare Studies18 (1986): 103-15.

24 Philip Williams, "The Birth and Death of Falstaff Reconsidered," Shakespeare Quarterly 8 (1957): 363; Williams provides one of the most convincing psychoanalytical analyses of this play.

25 Many of the following points were explored in an undergraduate thesis I wrote at M.I.T. under the direction of Norman N. Holland, Jr. Professor Holland indicates an indebtedness to that original paper for several of the ideas he develops in his introduction to2Henry IV in The Complete Signet Classic Shakespeare, and I take pleasure in acknowledging my indebtedness to him as teacher and scholar.

26 In Hal's initial soliloquy in Part 1, he speaks of the day when he will "pay the debt I never promised. . . . Redeeming time when men think least I will" (1.2.206-14). ThroughoutPart 1 Hal takes upon himself other people's obligations, including Falstaff's "debts,"-and makes them good when his mettle proves current, not counterfeit, at Shrewsbury.

27 The images of time, disease, and unfulfilled expectations in2 Henry IV have been analyzed by Clifford Leech, "The Unity of 2 Henry IV," Shakespeare Survey 6 (1953): 16-24; Traversi,Richard II to Henry V,pp. 108-65; L. C. Knights, Some Shakespearean Themes (London: Chatto and Windus, 1959), pp. 45-64; R. J. Dorius, "A Little More than a Little," Shakespeare Quarterly 11 (1960): 13-26; M. M. Reese, The Cease of Majesty: A Study of Shakespeare 's History Plays (London: Edward Arnold, 1961), pp. 116-18, 286-92; Kaiser, Praisers of Folly, pp. 238-51; Holland, Introduction to 2 Henry IV, pp. 678-84; Edgar T. Schell, "Prince Hal's Second 'Reformation,' " Shakespeare Quarterly 21 (1970): 11-16; Becker, Shakespeare's Histories, pp. 51-65; Levin, "Falstaff's Encore," pp. 5-7; and Blanpied, Time and the Artist, pp. 179-99.

28 Dain A. Trafton, "Shakespeare's Henry IV: A New Prince in a New Principality," Shakespeare as Political Thinker, ed. John Alvis and Thomas G. West (Durham, N. C: Carolina Academic Press, 1981), pp. 83-94, analyzes Henry IV's view of "necessity" from Richard II through 2 Henry IV and argues that under Henry's reign the old men of England, including Falstaff, claim to be bound by the necessity of the times, but use this to justify their gluttonous desires and ambitions, hence contaminating the entire realm.

29 Richard Abrams, "Rumor's Reign in 2 Henry IV: The Scope of a Personification," English Literary Renaissance 16 (1986): 467-95, finds a close verbal relationship between Falstaff and the Archbishop: "As Falstaff's bellyful of tongues parodically subsumes the Archbishop's language gifts and the people's many-headed subversiveness, and as he re-establishes the spirit of Eastcheap riot in the peaceful Gloucestershire countryside, so all the dissident elements of 'unquiet' or rebellion are gathered under one head and jointly dispatched" (p. 492).

30 Cited by Stephen Greenblatt, "Invisible Bullets: Renaissance Authority and its Subversion, Henry IV and Henry V" in Political Shakespeare: New Essays in Cultural Materialism, ed. Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1985), pp. 40-41. Greenblatt argues that the "structure of things [in 2 Henry IV is called by] the twinned names of time and necessity" (p. 35).

31 Dorius, "A Little More than a Little," argues that "what seems to set off the values of [Shakespeare's history] plays most markedly from those of the tragedies is the importance given by the histories to the virtues of prudence and economy"; Dorius defines the opposites of prudence and economy as "carelessness, excess, waste, and disease" (p. 13).

32 Greenblatt argues that "Shakespeare does not shrink from any of the felt nastiness implicit in this sorting out of the right people and the wrong people; . . . the founding of the modern State, like the founding of the modern prince, is shown to be based upon acts of calculation, intimidation, and deceit. And the demonstration of these acts is rendered an entertainment for which an audience, subject to just this State, will pay money and applaud" ("Invisible Bullets," p. 39).

33 Holland points out that "in the coronation scene, Falstaff calls out, 'My King! My Jove!' (thus identifying himself with Saturn, the Titan who devoured his own children)" (Introduction to 2 Henry IV, p. 681). Earlier in the play, when Hal puts on a tavern drawer's leather apron to spy on Falstaff and Doll, whom he refers to as "Saturn and Venus" (2.4.269), the prince compares himself to Jove taking the form of a bull (2.2.170-73). Jove deposed his father-king Saturn as Hal now banishes his father substitute Falstaff.

Daniel J. Kornstein (essay date 1994)

SOURCE: "Old Father Antic the Law: Henry TV, Parts 1 and 2," in Kill All the Lawyers: Shakespeare's Legal Appeal, Princeton University Press, 1994, pp. 135-42.

[In the following essay, Kornstein emphasizes the themes of law and justice in 1 and 2 Henry IV, asserting that in these plays, Hal is meant to turn away from both Falstaff's thievery and the illegality of his father's rule, and embrace instead the "sober" lawfulness personified in the Lord Chief Justice.]

With the two parts of Henry IV, Shakespeare spins a new and important legal theme. Like A Midsummer Night's Dream, the plays about Henry IV offer a theory of legal interpretation and perceptive comments on the role of law in society. But then the Bard does something unique and central to understanding his attitude toward law and lawyers. In the two Henry IV plays, Shakespeare gives us the most unqualifiedly, unmistakably complimentary portrait of a sober, solid, fair-minded lawyer figure in all the canon. Shakespeare's highly favorable and especially respectful description of the lord chief justice in the two parts of Henry IV is a powerful and effective antidote to those who think Dick the Butcher's line about killing all the lawyers should be taken at face value only.

To etch his most positive portrait of a lawyer that much more deeply, Shakespeare sets up a contrast. Early in Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1, Falstaff, the great comic creation of Shakespeare, gives his own candid view of the rule of law. Chatting merrily with Prince Hal, Falstaff asks, "Shall there be gallows standing in England when thou / art king?" (1.2.58-59). Why, asks Falstaff, should a thief s courage be cheated of its reward "with the / rusty curb of old father Antic [i.e., that old screwball] the law" (1.2.59-60)? The very phrasing, the offhand but colorful reference to the law gone awry, catches our attention and makes us anticipate something special about the role played by "old father Antic the law" in Henry IV. The two parts of Henry IV continue the story begun in Richard II At the end of Richard II, Bolingbfoke, having successfully rebelled against Richard II, is crowned Henry IV. But both parts of Henry IV show that "uneasy lies the head that wears a crown" (2 Henry IV, 3.1.31).

King Henry is beset by troubles. He spends his time putting down new revolts by Hotspur and others who had originally helped the king achieve his power. Hal, the young prince of Wales, is a youth without any apparent sense of responsibility, who pains his father the king with the "bad element" he hangs around with. By the time Part 2 closes, the new rebels are routed, Henry IV dies of natural causes, and ne'er-do-well Hal assumes the crown while foreswearing his past friends.

One of the underlying legal themes in Henry IV concerns the teaching function of government. Bolingbroke, the successful revolutionary, becomes, as Henry IV, a symbol of disorder. Under his reign, there is no lasting order. Lawlessness springs up all about him. One who acted as a street thug is king.

But Henry IV is not primarily about the educative role of government. According to a leading Shakespearean scholar, "the mainspring of the dramatic action" in Henry IV is legal.

In The Fortunes of Falstaff, published in 1944, John Dover Wilson, an English critic, argued that Henry IV hinges on "the choice . . . Hal is called upon to make between vanity and government."1 Vanity is personified by Falstaff, and government by chivalry or prowess in the field (in Part J) and justice (the theme of Part 2). In Wilson's analysis, Hotspur symbolizes chivalry and the lord chief justice stands for the rule of law or the new ideal of service to the state. Henry IV becomes a morality play, a struggle between vanity and government for possession of youth.

To choose vanity is, for Hal, to choose a disrespectful, even anarchic attitude toward law. He takes part in robberies. He even hits the chief justice, who sends Hal to jail. In this phase, Hal is always in trouble with the law.

Hal's antilegal attitude is the same as Falstaff's. He sees in Falstaff—and imitates—an entire absence of moral responsibility, a complete freedom. After Henry IV dies, and Falstaff thinks of his own influence over his friend Hal, Falstaff says, "Let us / take any man's horses—the laws of England are at my commandment . . . and woe to my Lord Chief Justice" (Part 2, 5.3.134-137). The law is "old father Antic the law."

Falstaff's interview with the chief justice nicely poses the basic choice facing Hal. When the chief justice asks for him, Falstaff tells a servant, "Tell him I am deaf (Part 2, 1.2.67). In context, we can interpret this as "deaf to the law." And then a little later the chief justice upbraids Falstaff: "You hear not what I [i.e., the law] say to you" (Part 2, 1.2.121). In this interview, Falstaff comes off far wittier, which may help dramatize the choice for Hal.

In the same interview, Hal's friend speaks for Hal and youth in all times and in all places. Falstaff sums up generational conflict and youthful bridling at authority when he challenges the chief justice, in words that echo down to our own times: "You that are old / consider not the capacities of us that are young" (Part 2, 1.2.174-75). And soon after Hal inherits the throne, and adviser tells the chief justice, "Indeed I think the young King loves you [i.e., the law] not" (Part 2, 5.2.9).

But Hal's attitude changes. The lord chief justice of England, admirable symbol of the law, remains constant. Shakespeare portrays him throughout as sober, calm, incorruptible, fair, measured, and at all times fully in control of himself and the situation. The chief justice always speaks rationally and sensibly, without being overbearing or arch. He personifies justice in its eternal, ideal form.

The chief justice's symbolic role shows through, for example, in act 2 of Part 2 when he restores order following Falstaff's arrest for nonpayment of a debt. Mistress Quickly sues Falstaff, and two officers come to a tavern to bring Falstaff into custody. A scuffle ensues until the lord chief justice and his men enter. "What is the matter?" asks the chief justice. "Keep the peace here, ho!" (Part 2, 2.1.63). The commotion subsides and the chief justice hears both sides, rendering judgment against Falstaff: "Pay her / the debt you owe her" (Part 2, 2.1.120-21).

But the real moment of truth—the theatrical moment of the play for the link between Shakespeare and the law—comes in the last act of Part 2 when Hal has to make the choice of his life. Prince Hal has become King Henry V, and the chief justice recalls how he, the chief justice, has had, on occasion, to punish the wayward youth. The new king confronts the experienced, upright judge and sees the uncertainty in the judge's face.

The new king tells the judge, "You are, I think, assured I love you not" (Part 2, 5.2.64). The judge does not know if he will now be removed from office or, worse yet, punished by the new king for the judge's past strictness.

Bravely answers the chief justice, "I am assured, if I be measured rightly, / Your majesty hath no just cause to hate me" (Part 2, 5.2.65-66). "No?" responds the king with apparent sarcasm (though much depends on the actor's inflection).

How might a prince of my great hopes forget
So great indignities you laid upon me?

What—rate, rebuke, and roughly send to prison
Th'Immediate heir of England? Was this easy?
May this be washed in Lethe and forgotten?

(Part 2, 5.2.67-71)

The chief justice's thoughtful comeback makes the play's legal symbolism explicit:

I then did use the person of your father.
The image of his power lay then in me;
And in th'Administration of his law,
Whiles I was busy for the commonwealth,
Your highness pleased to forget my place,
The majesty and power of law and justice,
The image of the King whom I presented,
And struck me in my very seat of judgment.

(Part 2, 5.2.72-79)

Then the chief justice goes on to tell the new king that he should think how he would feel,

To have a son set your decrees at naught—
To pluck down justice from your awe-full bench,
To trip the course of law, and blunt the sword
That guards the peace and safety of your person,
See your most dreadful laws slighted . . .

(Part 2, 5.2.84-87, 93)

The chief justice's cogent and dignified advocacy on his own behalf (and on behalf of law) moves the king. "You are right, Justice," answers Hal, and at last we know what his choice will be.

And you weigh this well.
Therefore still bear the balance and the sword;
And I do wish your honours may increase.

(Part 2, 5.2.101-3)

In an extraordinary passage, Shakespeare celebrates the notion that the law is supreme even over royalty. The playwright has Hal conjure up the possibility that one of his own sons would disobey the law, at which point Hal would say,

Happy am I that have a man so bold
That dares do justice on my proper son,
And not less happy having such a son
That would deliver up his greatness so
Into the hands of justice.

(Part 2, 5.2.107-11)

Hal returns the "unstained" sword of justice to the chief justice, reappoints him, and begs him to go on administering the laws of England in this "bold, just, and impartial spirit" (Part 2, 5.2.115).

Then and there the new king chooses law over vanity as the touchstone for his reign. He puts off vanity and adopts justice as his father and guide. To the chief justice, Hal says:

You shall be as a father to my youth;
My voice shall sound as you do prompt mine ear,
And I will stoop and humble my intents
To your well-practised wise directions.

(Part 2, 5.2.117-20)

Shakespeare has created a portrait of a great judge and has paid an impressive tribute to the impartiality of courts.2 So much for a superficial reading of Dick the Butcher's "Kill all the lawyers."

Here we have an allegory for all of us, lawyers or not. Each of us faces a choice similar to Hal's: youth standing between vanity and law or some other occupation. Somewhere around the time we finish college, consider what to do with our lives, decide whether to go on to graduate or professional school, and start to conduct our life's work, we first choose, as Hal chose, one over the other, profession over vanity. And then, as we live our lives in our work, we choose the way we will practice and conduct ourselves. Prince Hal is each one of us. This remembrance of choice quickens anyone's interest in the play.

There is proof of the large role of the law in Shakespeare's Henry IV. I find persuasive—and personally significant—the theory that the work is essentially a morality play about youth faced with a choice between law and vanity. But supplementing and even going beyond that theory is other evidence. Again and again Shakespeare makes us aware that the play is an allegory about law, sprinkled with casual but still stimulating legal references, some of which stay a while in the mind.

Consider the small but revealing matter of Mistress Quickly's lawsuit against Falstaff. In those days, lawsuits apparently began with more than a simple summons. Attachment of the person was the preferred method. In Henry IV, the two officers of the law who come to arrest Falstaff as a defendant in Quickly v. Falstaff are called Master Snare and Master Fang. Could Shakespeare have picked better allegorical names than Snare and Fang to reflect the dim, crabbed view debtors took of the law and its personnel?

Similarly, if the lord chief justice stands for the ideal element of the law, the mundane aspect of the law is represented by two local justices of the peace called Silence and Shallow. Justice Silence, true to his name, says almost nothing during the play. But Justice Shallow hardly a deep fellow, is a fully developed character with many traits. The contrast between the lord chief justice and Justice Shallow could not be greater.

Shakespeare portrays Justice Shallow as a foolish old lawyer. Shallow makes several references to the time he spent as a young man at the Inns of Court (Part 2,3.2.12-33, 275-83, 303-9). He reminisces about the wildness of his youth, his fighting, and his womanizing, for which he was then dubbed "lusty Shallow." At one point in the play a friend of Shallow even tries improperly to influence Shallow on behalf of a litigant. In the end, he comes off—especially in his dealings with Falstaff—as a stupid, gullible liar, ripe to be the victim of Falstaff's schemes.

Justice Shallow's allusions to the Inns of Court are significant. He refers to two by name—Clement's Inn and Gray's Inn; in only one other play, Henry VI, Part 2, does Shakespeare actually name another of the Inns (Middle Temple). We should recall that Clement's Inn is where Shakespeare's cousin John Greene had studied and Gray's Inn gave Shakespeare one of his first big breaks by inviting him to put on Comedy of Errors there. All of this shows the influence of the Inns of Court on Shakespeare.

It may also show that Shakespeare had some firsthand knowledge of the carousing that sometimes went on at the Inns of Court, and that "lusty Shallow" was not the only one who earned such a sobriquet. Some surviving evidence indicates that Shakespeare followed Shallow's habits after a performance of Twelfth Night at Middle Temple in March 1602. According to the unexpurgated diary of John Manningham, a barrister of the Middle Temple:

Upon a time when Burbage played Richard the Third there was a citizen grew so far in liking with him, that before she went from the play she appointed him to come that night unto her by the name of Richard the Third. Shakespeare, overhearing their conclusion, went before, was entertained and at his game ere Burbage came. Then message being brought that Richard the Third was at the door, Shakespeare caused return to be made that William the Conqueror was before Richard the Third. Shakespeare's name was William.3

The Bard might then have been called "lusty Shakespeare."

Both parts of Henry IV stress the virtues of settlement and compromise, virtues that should not readily be lost on lawyers. In Part 1, just before the crucial battle at Shrewsbury where Hotspur is killed, King Henry offers to pardon the rebels if they will lay down their arms. Worcester, emissary of the rebels, decides for his own reasons not to relay the "liberal and kind offer of the King" (5.2.2), which Hotspur would have accepted. After the battle, with the rebels defeated, the king confronts Worcester about the generous settlement offer and on getting no satisfactory response orders Worcester killed.

In Part 2 another settlement conference takes place. The king's representative offers the king's promise of mercy and attention to the rebels' grievances. Everyone knows it will be the last chance to settle before the battle:

we may meet,
And either end in peace—which God so frame—
Or to the place of diff'Rence call the swords
Which must decide it.


If litigation is a type of war, then attempts to settle are akin to peace negotiations. Viewed this way, the double mention of settlement in Henry IV takes on meaning. Once again, the lawyer knows Shakespeare is speaking about settling or calling down the swords. As almost every lawyer must have told a client at some time, the archbishop of York says:

A peace is of the nature of a conquest,
For then both parties nobly are subdued,
And neither party loser.

(Part 2, 4.1.315-17)

This is Shakespeare's version of the familiar lawyer's adage: "A fair settlement is better than a bad trial."

When the rebels have difficulty explaining their grievances, one of the king's men says, "A rotten case abides no handling" (Part 2, 4.1.159). Now there's a thought that must have gone through lawyers' minds more than once. How many rotten cases have attorneys handled? To what result? What is a rotten case?

Then there is a line full of special meaning about how a lawyer should best plead a case. The chief justice says to Falstaff:

Sir John, Sir John, I am well acquainted
with your manner of wrenching the true cause the
false way. It is not a confident brow, nor the throng
of words that come with such more than impudent
sauciness from you, can thrust me from a level consideration.

(Part 2, 2.1.111-16)

This passage compresses in a verse a whole primer on advocacy. The reader should linger on the lines a while, rolling them over delightedly in his or her mind, and meditate about their meaning.

Ability to wield the written or spoken word is a lawyer's primary weapon. Successful use of the basic technical skills of courtroom persuasion depend to a large extent on skillful use of language, on mobilizing language to the advocate's ends. We try to persuade by using words. Every great courtroom advocate grasps the vital importance of the written and oral word. "The power of clear statement," said Daniel Webster, "is the great power at the bar."

"The throng of words" has double application here. Both sentimental Richard II and pugnacious Hotspur—different personalities that they were—were similar in their wordiness. Shakespeare gives them good speeches, but in the end makes them both losers. They become victims of words, and one wonders if that too is a lesson for lawyers.

"Impudent sauciness"—a lawyer should be bold, even irrepressible, but there are limits. Overboldness runs the risk of sanctions; impudence is an unpleasant trait. We have all come across adversaries or colleagues who have said and done things with "more than impudent sauciness."

On the other hand, if deference became the hallmark of the legal profession, the law's creativity, its independence and willingness to challenge authority, its very excitement, may to some extent be lost.

Which brings us back full circle to the lord chief justice. Might it not be suggested that the chief justice uses some of the very qualities he taxes Falstaff for using? After all, does not the chief justice in his occasionally difficult dealings with young Prince Hal and new King Henry V display a "confident brow" and rely on a "throng of words," and even on what some might characterize as an "impudent sauciness"? Yet when the chief justice employs these traits, they are good, praiseworthy, and for positive ends. The lesson may be that skills are only skills in the service of deeper aspects of personality and character; skills depend on the purpose to which they are put, means have to be related to ends. These purposes and ends come under scrutiny in Richard III.


1 John Dover Wilson, The Fortunes of Falstaff (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1943), p. 17.

2 G. W.Keeton, Shakespeare's Legal and Political Background (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1967), pp. 155-62.

3 W. Nicholas Knight, Shakespeare's Hidden Life: Shakespeare at the Law, 1585-1595 (New York: Mason & Lipscomb, 1973), p. 169.

E. A. Rauchut (essay date 1994)

SOURCE: "Hotspur's Prisoners and the Laws of War in I Henry IV" in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 45, No. 1, Spring, 1994, pp. 96-7.

[In the following essay, Rauchut discusses the laws governing prisoners of war in medieval England and concludes that Henry IV breaks these laws and aggravates his role as usurper when he commands Hotspur to hand over his prisoners to the crown.]

Whether Hotspur is legally bound to turn over his prisoners and whether King Henry IV is justified in demanding them are questions that have long perplexed critics of Shakespeare's 1 Henry IV.1 Military and legal texts from the medieval and early modern periods suggest that although Henry asserts a royal right to all Hotspur's prisoners, his assertion flies in the face of both chivalric convention and the law of arms. A usurper's theft in the name of royal right thus becomes a cause for civil war as well as a dramatic causa causans of the play's robbery motifs.2 I begin by considering some of the economic, legal, and political contexts of prisoners and ransom.

Prisoner ransom comprised war's greatest gain, a point that Camden illustrates in his history of Britain when he records that the Montgomerys' Poununy castle in Scotland was built with ransom paid for the "captive Henry Percy, sirnamed Hotspur."'3 Honore Bonet, in The Tree of Battles, suggests that a captor may demand "reasonable and knightly ransom, such as is possible for the prisoner to pay and according to the usage of arms and of his country, and not such as to disinherit his wife, children, relations and friends." James Turner, in Pallas Armata, notes, however, that because ransom demands are often extravagant, "an agreement is frequently made between the two parties who make the War, of a certain price to be paid by Officers, and Common Souldiers for their Ransomes according to their quality, and this seldom exceeds one Months pay, for any under the degree of Colonel." Francis Grose, in Military Antiquities, writes that the "usual price demanded for the ransom of a prisoner of war was . . . one year's rent of his estate," while a soldier without an estate might expect to pay a half-year's wages. In practice, however, captors often used the heat of battle and threats of death to extort top dollar from their prisoners, as Pistol does with the French Soldier in 4.4 of Henry V. As M. H. Keen explains, "the captor made a rough assessment of what his prisoner could at a pinch pay, threw in what his wealthier connections were likely to add to this, and asked for as much as he thought he could get."4

Laws governing prisoners and the distribution of ransom were similar to but more complicated than those governing other spoil. Prisoners became the property of their captors and, like other booty, were subject to laws of division. The soldier's share of ransom was the same whether he was paid wages or was armed by a prince. In England the king, captain, and captor each received a third of the ransom.5

The oath a prisoner swore to his captor was founded in the ius gentium: it was binding under the law of arms and formed a "close chivalrous bond" between captor and prisoner. This bond is dramatically underscored in 1 Henry IV, where Hotspur's code of chivalric honor serves as a dramatic foil to Henry IV's Realpolitik.6

The transfer of prisoner rights involved a complicated formality entailing the prisoner's renunciation of faith to his original captor and a declaration of loyalty to his new master. In a provision of Meaux's 1422 treaty of surrender, for example, Henry V required the garrison to free its prisoners and each master formally to quit faith with each of his prisoners. Thomas Rymer, in Foedera, also records a formal transfer of loyalty in the Market of Mews, where "the Prisoners that thei have and with holden of the Subgetts and Obeysaunce and other of the Service of the said Kings . . . shall quitten pleinly all other Subgetts, Obeysauntes, and other of the said Services of the abovesaid Kynges, that have to hem made any Feith or Othe." Significantly, then, Henry IV's demand that Hotspur surrender his prisoners violates this formal oath, as well as the chivalric bond of honor between Hotspur and his captives.7

According to the law of arms, Henry IV can order Hotspur to turn over only those prisoners of noble blood, which in this case includes Mordake, Earl of Fife. The rest belong to Hotspur, who has the right to refuse even the king's demand for them. Henry, however, leaves no room for compromise: he claims all prisoners by royal right, making provision neither for a formal renunciation of faith nor for the traditional royal gratuity granted in exchange for prisoners.8

In demanding that Hotspur surrender all his prisoners, then, Henry asserts his royal right while ignoring the law of arms, traditional compensation, and the formal chivalric bond between Hotspur and his captives. In a real sense Henry attempts to steal the captives, and his court, as Stephen Greenblatt has observed, "comes to embody . . . glorified usurpation and theft."9 The rob-ber of the crown now robs the "hands" that "holp to make [him] so portly" (1.3.12-13), committing a royal theft that causes civil war.


1 See, for example, Robert Hapgood, "Falstaff's Vocation," Shakespeare Quarterly 16 (1965): 91-98, esp. 95; Paul A. Jorgensen, Shakespeare's Military World (Berkeley, 1956), 246; and Edna Zwick Boris, Shakespeare 's English Kings, the People, and the Law: A Study in the Relationship between the Tudor Constitution and the English History Plays (Rutherford, NJ, 1978), 174. Quotations of 1 Henry IV follow the Oxford Shakespeare edition edited by David Bevington (Oxford, 1987).

Research for this note was conducted with the generous support of a Folger Short-Term Fellowship.

2 Cf. Geoffrey Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, 8 vols. (London, 1957-75), 4:162. For the idea of a kingdom without justice as a band of robbers, see St. Augustine's City of God, trans. Marcus Dods (New York, 1950), 112-13. For a discussion of this topos with reference to 1 Henry IV, see W. R. Elton's "Shakespeare and the Thought of His Age" in A New Companion to Shakespeare Studies, Kenneth Muir and S. Schoenbaum, eds. (Cambridge, 1971), 180-98, esp. 197.

3 William Camden, Britain, or A chorographicall description of. . . England, Scotland, and Ireland . . . (London, 1610). On the profitability of ransom, see also M. H. Keen, The Laws of War in the Late Middle Ages (London, 1965), 156; and Francis Grose, Military Antiquities Respecting A History of the English Army, from the Conquest to the Present Time, 2 vols. (London, 1812), 2:110.

4 Bonet, The Tree of Battles (1387),ed. and trans. G. W. Coopland (Liverpool, UK, 1949), 153;.Turner, Pallas Armata: Military Essayes of the Ancient Grecian, Roman, and Modern Art of War (London, 1683), 341-42; Grose, 2:111; and Keen, 158-59.

5 For laws governing status and treatment of prison-ers, see Giovanni da Legnano, TRACTATUS: De Bello, De Represaliis et De Duello (1360), ed. Thomas Erskine Holland, trans. James Leslie Brierly (Oxford, 1917), 270; Pierino Belli, De Re Militari et Bello Tractatus (1563), ed. James Brown Scott, trans. Herbert C. Nutting, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1936), 2:95; and Balthazar Ayala, De Iure Belli Libri Tres (1612), trans. John Pawley Bate, 2 vols. (Washington, DC, 1912), 2:38.

For distribution of ransom among captor, captain, and king, see Bonet, 152; Grose, 2:110-11; and also Keen, 146-47, 148, and 156.

6 Keen, 164. On the potential for violence inherent in "the conflict between honor and obedience, the 'customary rites' of knighthood and the duty to 'Right royal majesty,' " see Richard McCoy's The Rites of Knighthood: The Literature and Politics of Elizabethan Chivalry (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1989), 2-3.

7 On the transfer of prisoner rights, see Keen, 166; and Rymer, Foedera, Conventiones, Literae, et cujuscunque generis Acta Publica inter Reges Angliae, 3d ed., 10 vols. (London, 1740), 4:65.

8 On the royal right, see Keen, 166. On exchange of prisoners of equal or greater rank and for examples of royal gratuity, see Turner, 341; Rymer, 3:2 and 3:13, where he records the award of two such gratuities in the year 1347, one granted for the prisoner David Bruce, King of Scotland, and another of 80,000 florins to Thomas Holland for his prisoner, the earl of Eu.

For more discussion of the legality of Henry's demand for Hotspur's prisoners in 1 Henry IV, see commentaries by George Tollet in the Johnson-Steevens edition of 1773; George Steevens in the Malone Variorum (1821); Samuel B. Hemingway, editor of the Yale Shakespeare edition of 1917 (rpt. New Haven, 1943); and George Lyman Kittredge in his 1940 edition of the play.

9 "Invisible Bullets" in Shakespearean Negotiations:The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England (Berkeley, 1988), 21-65, esp. 41.

Ambiguous Perspectives

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Stephen Greenblatt (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: "Invisible Bullets: Renaissance Authority and Its Subversion, Henry IV and Henry V" in Political Shakespeare: New Essays in Cultural Materialism, edited by Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield, Manchester University Press, 1985, pp. 18-47.

[In the following essay, Greenblatt examines the subversive nature of 1 and 2 Henry IV, arguing that it paradoxically serves to strengthen, rather than undermine, the legitimacy and power of the king.]

In his notorious police report of 1593 on Christopher Marlowe, the Elizabethan spy Richard Baines informed his superiors that Marlowe had declared, among other monstrous opinions, that 'Moses was but a juggler, and that one Heriots, being Sir Walter Ralegh's man, can do more than he'.1 The 'Heriots' cast for a mo-ment in this lurid light is Thomas Harriot, the most profound Elizabethan mathematician, an expert in cartography, optics, and navigational science, an adherent of atomism, the first Englishman to make a telescope and turn it on the heavens, the author of the first original book about the first English colony in America, and the possessor throughout his career of a dangerous reputation for atheism.2 In all of his extant writ-ings, private correspondence as well as public discourse, Harriot professes the most reassuringly orthodox religious faith, but the suspicion persisted. When he died of cancer in 1621, one of his contemporaries, persuaded that Harriot had challenged the doctrinal account of creation ex nihilo, remarked gleefully that 'A nihilum killed him at last: for in the top of his nose came a little red speck (exceeding small), which grew bigger and bigger, and at last killed him'.3

Charges of atheism levelled at Harriot or anyone else in this period are extremely difficult to assess, for such accusations were smear tactics, used with reckless abandon against anyone whom the accuser happened to dislike. At a dinner party one summer evening in 1593, Sir Walter Ralegh teased an irascible country parson named Ralph Ironside and found himself the subject of a state investigation; at the other end of the social scale, in the same Dorsetshire parish, a drunken servant named Oliver complained that in the Sunday sermon the preacher had praised Moses excessively but had neglected to mention his fifty-two concubines, and Oliver too found himself under official scrutiny.4 Few if any of these investigations turned up what we would call atheists, even muddled or shallow ones; the stance that seems to come naturally to the greenest college freshman in late twentieth-century America seems to have been almost unthinkable to the most daring philosophical minds of late sixteenth-century England.

The historical evidence, of course, is unreliable; even in the absence of substantial social pressure, people lie quite readily about their most intimate beliefs. How much more must they have lied in an atmosphere of unembarrassed repression. Still, there is probably more than politic concealment involved here. After all, treason was punished as harshly as atheism, and yet, while the period abounds in documented instances of treason in word and deed, there are virtually no professed atheists. If ever there were a place to confirm the proposition that within a given social construction of reality certain interpretations of experience are sanctioned and others excluded, it is here, in the boundaries that contained sixteenth-century scepticism. Like Machiavelli and Montaigne, Thomas Harriot professed belief in God, and there is no justification, in any of these cases, for a simple dismissal of the profession of faith as mere hypocrisy.

I am not, of course, arguing that atheism was literally unthinkable in the late sixteenth century; rather that it was almost always thinkable only as the thought of another. This is, in fact, one of its attractions as a smear; atheism is one of the characteristic marks of otherness. Hence the ease with which Catholics can call Protestant martyrs atheists, and Protestants routinely make similar charges against the Pope.5 The pervasiveness and frequency of these charges then does not signal the probable existence of a secret society of freethinkers, a School of Night, but rather registers the operation of a religious authority that, whether Catholic or Protestant, characteristically confirms its power in this period by disclosing the threat of atheism. The authority is secular as well as religious; hence at Raleigh's 1603 treason trial, Justice Popham solemnly warned the accused not to let 'Harriot, nor any such Doctor, persuade you there is no eternity in Heaven, lest you find an eternity of hell-torments'.6 Nothing in Harriot's writings suggests that he held the position attributed to him here, but of course the charge does not depend upon evidence: Harriot is invoked as the archetypal corrupter, Achitophel seducing his glittering Absolom. If he did not exist, he would have to be invented.

Yet atheism is not the only mode of subversive religious doubt, and we cannot entirely discount the persistent rumors of Harriot's heterodoxy by pointing to his perfectly conventional professions of faith and to the equal conventionality of the attacks upon him. Indeed I want to suggest that if we look closely at A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, the only work Harriot published in his lifetime and hence the work in which he was presumably the most cautious, we can find traces of exactly the kind of material that could lead to the remark attributed to Marlowe, that 'Moses was but a juggler, and that one Heriots, being Sir Walter Ralegh's man, can do more than he'. Further, Shakespeare's Henry plays, like Harriot in the New World, can be seen to confirm the Machievellian hypothesis of the origin of princely power in force and fraud even as they draw their audience irresistibly toward the celebration of that power.

The apparently feeble wisecrack attributed to Marlowe finds its way into a police file because it seems to bear out one of the Machiavellian arguments about religion that most excited the wrath of sixteenth-century authorities: Old Testament religion, the argument goes, and by extension the whole Judeo-Christian tradition, originated in a series of clever tricks, fraudulent illusions perpetrated by Moses, who had been trained in Egyptian magic, upon the 'Rude and gross' (and hence credulous) Hebrews.7 This argument is not actually to be found in Machiavelli, nor does it originate in the sixteenth century; it is already fully formulated in early pagan polemics against Christianity. But it seems to acquire a special force and currency in the Renaissance as an aspect of a heightened consciousness, fuelled by the period's prolonged crises of doctrine and church governance, of the social function of religious belief.

Here Machiavelli's writings are important, for The Prince observes in its bland way that if Moses's particular actions and methods are examined closely, they do not appear very different from those employed by the great pagan princes, while the Discourses treat religion as if its primary function were not salvation but the achievement of civic discipline and hence as if its primary justification were not truth but expediency. Thus Romulus's successor, Numa Pompilius, 'Finding a very savage people, and wishing to reduce them to civil obedience by the arts of peace, had recourse to religion as the most necessary and assured support of any civil society'.8 For although 'Romulus could organize the Senate and establish other civil and military institutions without the aid of divine authority, yet it was very necessary for Numa, who feigned that he held converse with a nymph, who dictated to him all that he wished to persuade the people to' (147). In truth, continues Machiavelli, 'There never was any remarkable lawgiver amongst any people who did not resort to divine authority, as otherwise his laws would not have been accepted by the people' (147).

From here it was only a short step, in the minds of Renaissance authorities, to the monstrous opinions attributed to the likes of Marlowe and Harriot. Kyd, under torture, testified that Marlowe had affirmed that 'Things esteemed to be done by divine power might have as well been done by observation of men', and the Jesuit Robert Parsons claimed that in Ralegh's 'school of Atheism', 'both Moses and our Savior, the Old and the New Testament, are jested at'.9 On the eve of Ralegh's treason trial, some 'Hellish verses' were lifted from an anonymous tragedy written ten years earlier and circulated as Ralegh's own confession of atheism. (The movement here is instructive: the fictional text returns to circulation as the missing confessional language of real life.) At first the earth was held in common, the verses declare, but this golden age gave way to war, kingship, and property:

Then some sage man, above the vulgar wise,
Knowing that laws could not in quiet dwell,
Unless they were observed, did first devise
The names of Gods, religion, heaven, and hell . . .
Only bug-bears to keep the world in fear.


Now Harriot does not give voice to any of these speculations, but if we look attentively at his account of the first Virginia colony, we find a mind that seems interested in the same set of problems, a mind indeed that seems to be virtually testing the Machiavellian hypotheses. Sent by Ralegh to keep a record of the colony and to compile a description of the resources and inhabitants of the area, Harriot took care to learn the North Carolina Algonkian dialect and to achieve what he calls a 'special familiarity with some of the priests'.11 The Indians believe, he writes, in the immortality of the soul and in otherworldly punishments and rewards for behaviour in this world; 'What subtlety soever be in the Wiroances and Priests, this opinion worketh so much in many of the common and simple sort of people that it maketh them have great respect to their Governors, and also great care what they do, to avoid torment after death and to enjoy bliss' (374). The split between the priests and the people implied here is glimpsed as well in the description of the votive images: 'They think that all the gods are of human shape, and therefore they represent them by images in the forms of men, which they call Kewasowak. . . . The common sort think them to be also gods' (373).

We have then, as in Machiavelli, a sense of religion as a set of beliefs manipulated by the subtlety of the priests to help ensure social order and cohesion. To this we may add a still more telling observation not of the internal function of native religion but of the impact of European culture upon the Indians: 'Most things they saw with us', Harriot writes, 'As mathematical instruments, sea compasses, the virtue of the loadstone in drawing iron, a perspective glass whereby was showed many strange sights, burning glasses, wildfire works, guns, books, writing and reading, spring clocks that seem to go of themselves, and many other things that we had, were so strange unto them, and so far exceeded their capacities to comprehend the reason and means how they should be made and done, that they thought they were rather the works of gods then of men, or at the leastwise they had been given and taught us of the gods' (375-6). The effect of this delusion, born of what Harriot supposes to be the vast technological superiority of the European, is that the savages began to doubt that they possessed the truth of God and religion and to suspect that such truth 'Was rather to be had from us, whom God so specially loved than from a people that were so simple, as they found themselves to be in comparison of us' (376).

What we have here, I suggest, is the very core of the Machiavellian anthropology that posited the origin of religion in a cunning imposition of socially coercive doctrines by an educated and sophisticated lawgiver upon a simple people. And in Harriot's list of the marvels—from wildfire to reading—with which he undermined the Indian's confidence in their native understanding of the universe, we have the core of the claim attributed to Marlowe: that Moses was but a juggler and that Ralegh's man Harriot could do more than he. It was, we may add, supremely appropriate that this hypothesis should be tested in the encounter of the Old world and the New, for though vulgar Machiavellianism implied that all religion was a sophisticated confidence trick, Machiavelli himself saw that trick as possible only at a radical point of origin: 'If any one wanted to establish a republic at the present time', he writes, 'He would find it much easier with the simple mountaineers, who are almost without any civilization, than with such as are accustomed to live in cities' (Discourses, p. 148).

In Harriot then we have one of the earliest instances of a highly significant phenomenon: the testing upon the bodies and minds of non-Europeans or, more generally, the non-civilised, of a hypothesis about the origin and nature of European culture and belief. Such testing could best occur in this privileged anthropological moment, for the comparable situations in Europe itself tended to be already contaminated by prior contact. Only in the forest, with a people ignorant of Christianity and startled by its bearers' technological potency, could one hope to reproduce accurately, with live subjects, the relation imagined between Numa and the primitive Romans, Moses and the Hebrews. And the testing that could then take place could only happen once, for it entails not detached observation but radical change, the change Harriot begins to observe in the priests who 'Were not so sure grounded, nor gave such credit to their traditions and stories, but through conversing with us they were brought into great doubts of their own' (375). I should emphasise that I am speaking here of events as reported by Harriot. The history of subsequent English-Algonkian relations casts doubts upon the depth, extent, and irreversibility of the supposed Indian crisis of belief. In the Brief and True Report, however, the tribe's stories begin to collapse in the minds of their traditional guardians, and the coercive power of the European beliefs begins to show itself almost at once in the Indians' behaviour: 'On a time also when their corn began to wither by reason of a drought which happened extraordinarily, fearing that it had come to pass by reason that in some thing they had displeased us, many would come to us and desire us to pray to our God in England, that he would preserve their corn, promising that when it was ripe we also should be partakers of the fruit' (377). If we remember that, like virtually all sixteenth-century Europeans in the New World, the English resisted or were incapable of provisioning themselves and were in consequence dependent upon the Indians for food, we may grasp the central importance for the colonists of this dawning Indian fear of the Christian God.12 As Machiavelli understood, physical compulsion is essential but never sufficient; the survival of the rulers depends upon a supplement of coercive belief.

The Indians must be persuaded that the Christian God is all-powerful and committed to the survival of his chosen people, that he will wither the corn and destroy the lives of savages who displease him by disobeying or plotting against the English. We have then a strange paradox: Harriot tests and seems to confirm the most radically subversive hypothesis in his culture about the origin and function of religion by imposing his religion—with all of its most intense claims to transcendence, unique truth, inescapable coercive force—upon others. Not only the official purpose but the survival of the English colony depends upon this imposition. This crucial circumstance is what has licensed the testing in the first place; it is only as an agent of the English colony, dependent upon its purposes and committed to its survival, that Harriot is in a position to disclose the power of human achievements—reading, writing, gunpowder and the like—to appear to the ignorant as divine and hence to promote belief and compel obedience.

Thus the subversiveness which is genuine and radical—sufficiently disturbing so that to be suspected of such beliefs could lead to imprisonment and torture—is at the same time contained by the power it would appear to threaten. Indeed the subversiveness is the very product of that power and furthers its ends. One may go still further and suggest that the power Harriot both serves and embodies not only produces its own subversion but is actively built upon it: in the Virginia colony, the radical undermining of Christian order is not the negative limit but the positive condition for the establishment of the order. And this paradox extends to the production of Harriot's text: A Brief and True Report, with its latent heterodoxy, is not a reflection upon the Virginia colony nor even a simple record of it—not, in other words, a privileged withdrawal into a critical zone set apart from power—but a continuation of the colonial enterprise.

By October 1586, there were rumours in England that there was little prospect of profit in Virginia, that the colony had been close to starvation, and that the Indians had turned hostile. Harriot accordingly begins with a descriptive catalogue in which the natural goods of the land are turned into social goods, that is, into 'Merchantable commodities': 'Cedar, a very sweet wood and fine timber; whereof if nests of chests be there made, or timber thereof fitted for sweet and fine bedsteads, tables, desks, lutes, virginals, and many things else, . . . [it] will yield profit' (329-30).13 The inventory of these commodities is followed by an inventory of edible plants and animals, to prove to readers that the colony need not starve, and then by the account of the Indians, to prove that the colony could impose its will upon them. The key to this imposition, as I have argued, is the coercive power of religious belief, and the source of this power is the impression made by advanced technology upon a 'backward' people.

Hence Harriot's text is committed to record what we have called his confirmation of the Machiavellian hypothesis, and hence too this confirmation is not only inaccessible as subversion to those on whom the religion is supposedly imposed but functionally inaccessible to most readers and quite possibly to Harriot himself. It may be that Harriot was demonically conscious of what he was doing—that he found himself situated exactly where he could test one of his culture's darkest fears about its own origins, that he used the Algonkians to do so, and that he wrote a report on his findings, a coded report, of course, since as he wrote to Kepler years later, 'our situation is such that I still may not philosophize freely'.14 But we do not need such a bio-graphical romance to account for the phenomenon: the subversiveness, as I have argued, was produced by the colonial power in its own interest, and A Brief and True Report was, with perfect appropriateness, published by the great Elizabethan exponent of missionary colonialism, the Reverend Richard Hakluyt.

Yet it is misleading, I think, to conclude without qualification that the radical doubt implicit in Harriot's account is entirely contained. Harriot was, after all, hounded through his whole life by charges of atheism and, more tellingly, the remark attributed to Marlowe suggests that it was fully possible for a contemporary to draw the most dangerous conclusions from the Virginia report. Moreover, the 'Atlantic Republican Tradition', as Pocock has argued, does grow out of the 'Machiavellian moment' of the sixteenth century, and that tradition, with its transformation of subjects into citizens, its subordination of transcendent values to capital values, does ultimately undermine, in the interests of a new power, the religious and secular authorities that had licensed the American enterprise in the first place. What we have in Harriot's text is a relation between orthodoxy and subversion that seems, in the same interpretive moment, to be perfectly stable and dangerously volatile.

We can deepen our understanding of this apparent paradox if we consider a second mode of subversion and its containment in Harriot's account. Alongside the testing of a subversive interpretation of the dominant culture, we find the recording of alien voices or, more precisely, of alien interpretations. The occasion for this recording is another consequence of the English presence in the New World, not in this case the threatened extinction of the tribal religion but the threatened extinction of the tribe: 'There was no town where we had any subtle device practiced against us', Harriot writes, 'but that within a few days after our departure from every such town, the people began to die very fast, and many in short space; in some towns about twenty, in some forty, in some sixty and in one six score, which in truth was very many in respect of their numbers. The disease was so strange, that they neither knew what it was, nor how to cure it; the like by report of the oldest man in the country never happened before, time out of mind' (378).15 Harriot is writing, of course, about the effects of measles, smallpox, or perhaps simply the common cold upon people with no resistence to them, but a conception of the biological basis of epidemic disease lies far, far in the future. For the English the deaths must be a moral phenomenon—the notion is for them as irresistible as the notion of germs for ourselves—and hence the 'Facts' as they are observed are already moralised: the deaths only occurred 'Where they used some practice against us', that is, where the Indians conspired secretly against the English. And, with the wonderful self-validating circularity that characterises virtually all powerful constructions of reality, the evidence for these secret conspiracies is precisely the deaths of the Indians.

Now it is not surprising that Harriot seems to endorse the idea that God is protecting his chosen people by killing off untrustworthy Indians; what is surprising is that Harriot is interested in the Indians's own anxious speculations about the unintended but lethal biological warfare that was destroying them. Drawing upon his special familiarity with the priests, he records a remarkable series of conjectures, almost all of which assume—correctly, as we now know—that their misfortune was linked to the presence of the strangers. 'Some people', observing that the English remained healthy while the Indians died, 'could not tell', Harriot writes, 'Whether to think us gods or men'; others, seeing that the members of the first colony were all male, concluded that they were not born of women and therefore must be spirits of the dead returned to mortal form (an Algonkian 'Night of the Living Dead'). Some medicine men learned in astrology blamed the disease on a recent eclipse of the sun and on a comet—a theory Harriot considers seriously and rejects—while others shared the prevailing English interpretation and said 'That it was the special work of God' on behalf of the colonists. And some who seem in historical hindsight eerily prescient prophesied 'That there were more of [the English] generation yet to come, to kill theirs and take their places'. The supporters of this theory even worked out a conception of the disease that in some features uncannily resembles our own: 'Those that were immediately to come after us [the first English colonists], they imagined to be in the air, yet invisible and without bodies, and that they by our entreaty and for the love of us did make the people to die . . . by shooting invisible bullets into them' (380).

For a moment, as Harriot records these competing theories, it may seem to a reader as if there were no absolute assurance of God's national interest, as if the drive to displace and absorb the other had given way to conversation among equals, as if all meanings were provisional, as if the signification of events stood apart from power. This impression is intensified for us by our awareness that the theory that would ultimately triumph over the moral conception of epidemic disease was already at least metaphorically present in the conversation. In the very moment that the moral conception is busily authorising itself, it registers the possibility (indeed from our vantage point, the inevitability) of its own destruction.

But why, we must ask ourselves, should power record other voices, permit subversive inquiries, register at its very centre the transgressions that will ultimately violate it? The answer may be in part that power, even in a colonial situation, is not perfectly monolithic and hence may encounter and record in one of its functions materials that can threaten another of its functions; in part that power thrives on vigilance, and human beings are vigilant if they sense a threat; in part that power defines itself in relation to such threats or simply to that which is not identical with it. Harriot's text suggests an intensification of these observations: English power in the first Virginia colony depends upon the registering and even the production of such materials. 'These their opinions I have set down the more at large', Harriot tells the 'Adventurers, Favorers, and Wellwishers' of the colony to whom his report is addressed, 'That it may appear unto you that there is good hope they may be brought through discrete dealing and government to the embracing of the truth, and consequently to honor, obey, fear, and love us' (318). The recording of alien voices, their preservation in Harriot's text, is part of the process whereby Indian culture is constituted as a culture and thus brought into the light for study, discipline, correction, transformation. The momentary sense of instability or plenitude—the existence of other voices—is produced by the monological power that ultimately denies the possibility of plenitude, just as the subversive hypothesis about European religion is tested and confirmed only by the imposition of that religion.

We may add that the power of which we are speaking is in effect an allocation method—a way of distributing resources to some and denying them to others, critical resources (here primarily corn and game) that prolong life or, in their absence, extinguish it. In a remarkable study of how societies make 'Tragic choices' in the allocation of scarce resources (e.g. kidney machines) or in the determination of high risks (e.g. the military draft), Guido Calabresi and Philip Bobbitt observe that by complex mixtures of approaches, societies attempt to avert 'Tragic results, that is, results which imply the rejection of values which are proclaimed to be fundamental'. These approaches may succeed for a time, but it will eventually become apparent that some sacrifice of fundamental values has taken place, whereupon 'Fresh mixtures of methods will be tried, structured . . . by the shortcomings of the approaches they replace'. These too will in time give way to others in a 'strategy of successive moves' that comprises an 'Intricate game', a game that reflects the simultaneous perception of an inherent flaw and the determination to 'Forget' that perception in an illusory resolution.16 Hence the simple operation of any systematic order, any allocation method, will inevitably run the risk of exposing its own limitations, even (or perhaps especially) as it asserts its underlying moral principle.

This exposure is at its most intense at moments in which a comfortably established ideology confronts unusual circumstances, moments when the moral value of a particular form of power is not merely assumed but explained. We may glimpse such a moment in Harriot's account of a visit from the colonists' principal Indian ally, the chief Wingina. Wingina was persuaded that the disease decimating his people was indeed the work of the Christian God and had come to request the English to ask their God to direct his lethal magic against an enemy tribe. The colonists tried to explain that such a prayer would be 'ungodly', that their God was indeed responsible for the disease but that, in this as in all things, he would only act 'According to his good pleasure as he had ordained' (379). Indeed if men asked God to make an epidemic he probably would not do it; the English could expect such providential help only if they made sincere 'petition for the contrary,' that is, for harmony and good fellowship in the service of truth and righteousness.

The problem with these assertions is not that they are self-consciously wicked (in the manner of Richard HI or Iago) but that they are highly moral and logically coherent; or rather, what is unsettling is one's experience of them; the nasty sense that they are at once irrefutable ethical propositions and pious humbug designed to conceal from the English themselves the rapacity and aggression that is implicit in their very presence. The explanatory moment manifests the self-validating, totalising character of Renaissance political theology—its ability to account for almost every occurrence, even (or above all) apparently perverse or contrary occurrences—and at the same time confirms for us the drastic disillusionment that extends from Machiavelli to its definitive expression in Hume and Voltaire. In his own way, Wingina himself clearly thought his lesson in Christian ethics was polite nonsense. When the disease had in fact spread to his enemies, as it did shortly thereafter, he returned to the English to thank them—I presume with the Algonkian equivalent of a sly wink—for their friendly help, for 'Although we satisfied them not in promise, yet in deeds and effect we had fulfilled their desires' (379). For Harriot, this 'Marvelous accident', as he calls it, is another sign of the colony's great expectations.

Once again a disturbing vista—a sceptical critique of the function of Christian morality in the New World—is glimpsed only to be immediately closed off. Indeed we may feel at this point that subversion scarcely exists and may legitimately ask ourselves how our perception of the subversive and orthodox is generated. The answer, I think, is that 'subversive' is for us a term used to designate those elements in Renaissance culture that contemporary authorities tried to contain or, when containment seemed impossible, to destroy and that now conform to our own sense of truth and reality. That is, we locate as 'subversive' in the past precisely those things that are not subversive to ourselves, that pose no threat to the order by which we live and allocate resources: in Harriot's Brief and True Report, the function of illusion in the establishment of religion, the displacement of a providential conception of disease by one focused on 'Invisible bullets', the exposure of the psychological and material interests served by a certain conception of divine power. Conversely, we identify as the principle of order and authority in Renaissance texts things that we would, if we took them seriously, find subversive for ourselves: religious and political absolutism, aristocracy of birth, demonology, humoral psychology, and the like. That we do not find such notions subversive, that we complacently identify them as principles of aesthetic or political order, is a version of the process of containment that licensed what we call the subversive elements in Renaissance texts: that is, our own values are sufficiently strong for us to contain almost effortlessly alien forces. What we find then in Harriot's Brief and True Report can best be described by adapting a remark about the possibility of hope that Kafka once made to Max Brod: There is subversion, no end of subversion, only not for us.

I want now to consider the relevance of what I've been saying to our understanding of more complex literary works. It is tempting to focus such remarks on Shakespeare's Tempest where Caliban, Prospero's 'salvage and deformed slave' enters cursing the expropriation of his island and exits declaring that he will 'be wise hereafter, / And seek for grace'.17 What better instance, in the light of Harriot's Virginia, of the containment of a subversive force by the authority that has created that force in the first place: 'This thing of darkness', Prospero says of Caliban at the close, 'I acknowledge mine.'

But I do not want to give the impression that the process I have been describing is applicable only to works that address themselves directly or allusively to the New World. Shakespeare's plays are centrally and repeatedly concerned with the production and containment of subversion and disorder, and the three modes that we have identified in Harriot's text—testing, recording, and explaining—all have their recurrent theatrical equivalents. I am speaking not solely of plays like Measure for Measure and Macbeth, where authority is obviously subjected to open, sustained, and radical questioning before it is reaffirmed, with ironic reservations, at the close, but of a play like 1 Henry IV in which authority seems far less problematical. 'Who does not all along see', wrote Upton in the mid eighteenth century, 'That when prince Henry comes to be king he will assume a character suitable to his dignity?' My point is not to dispute this interpretation of the prince as, in Maynard Mack's words, 'An ideal image of the potentialities of the English character',18 but to observe that such an ideal image in-volves as its positive condition the constant production of its own radical subversion and the powerful containment of that subversion.

We are continually reminded that Hal is a 'juggler', a conniving hypocrite, and that the power he both serves and comes to embody is glorified usurpation and theft; yet at the same time, we are drawn to the celebration of both the prince and his power. Thus, for example, the scheme of Hal's moral redemption is carefully laid out in his soliloquy at the close of the first tavern scene, but as in the act of explaining that we have examined in Harriot, Hal's justification of himself threatens to fall away at every moment into its antithesis. 'By how much better than my word I am', Hal declares, 'By so much shall I falsify men's hopes' (I.ii.210-11). To falsify men's hopes is to exceed their expectations, and it is also to disappoint their expectations, to deceive men, to turn their hopes into fictions, to betray them. Not only are the competing claims of Bolingbroke and Falstaff at issue but our own hopes, the fantasies continually aroused by the play of absolute friendship and trust, limitless playfulness, innate grace, plenitude. But though all of this is in some sense at stake in Hal's soliloquy and though we can perceive at every point, through our own constantly shifting allegiances, the potential instability of the structure of power that has Henry IV at the pinnacle and Robin Ostler, who 'never joy'd since the price of oats rose' (II.i.12), near the bottom, Hal's 'Redemption' is as inescapable and inevitable as the outcome of those practical jokes the madcap prince is so fond of playing. Indeed, the play insists, this redemption is not something toward which the action moves but something that is happening at every moment of the theatrical representation.

The same yoking of the unstable and the inevitable may be seen in the play's acts of recording, that is, the moments in which we hear voices that seem to dwell in realms apart from that ruled by the potentates of the land. These voices exist and have their apotheosis in Falstaff, but their existence proves to be utterly bound up with Hal, contained politically by his purposes as they are justified aesthetically by his involvement. The perfect emblem of this containment is Falstaff's company, marching off to Shrewsbury: 'discarded unjust servingmen, younger sons to younger brothers, revolted tapsters, and ostlers trade-fall 'n, the cankers of a calm world and a long peace' (IV.ii.27-30). These are, as many a homily would tell us, the very types of Elizabethan subversion—masterless men, the natural enemies of social discipline—but they are here pressed into service as defenders of the established order, 'good enough to toss,' as Falstaff tells Hal, 'Food for powder, food for powder' (IV.ii.65-6). For power as well as powder, and we may add that this food is produced as well as consumed by the great.

Shakespeare gives us a glimpse of this production in the odd little scene in which Hal, with the connivance of Poins, reduces the puny typster Francis to the mechanical repetition of the word 'Anon':

Prince. Nay, but hark you, Francis: for the
sugar thou gavest me, 'Twas a pennyworth, was'T not?
Francis. O Lord, I would it had been two!
Prince. I will give thee for it a thousand pound.
Ask me when thou wilt, and thou shalt have it.
Poins. [Within] Francis!
Francis. Anon, anon.
Prince. Anon, Francis? No Francis; but
tomorrow, Francis; or, Francis, a' Thursday;
or indeed, Francis, when thou wilt.


The Bergsonian comedy in such a moment resides in Hal's exposing a drastic reduction of human possibility: 'That ever this fellow should have fewer words than a parrot,' he says at the scene's end, 'And yet the son of a woman!' (II.iv.98). But the chief interest for us resides in the fact that Hal has himself produced the reduction he exposes. The fact of this production, its theatrical demonstration, implicates Hal not only in the linguistic poverty upon which he plays but in the poverty of the five years of apprenticeship Francis has yet to serve: 'Five year!' Hal exclaims, 'by'R lady, a long lease for the clinking of pewter' (II.iv.45-6). And as the Prince is implicated in the production of this oppressive order, so is he implicated in the impulse to abrogate it: 'But, Francis, darest thou be so valiant as to play the coward with thy indenture, and show it a fair pair of heels and run from it?' (II.iv.46-8). It is tempting to think of this peculiar moment—the Prince awakening the apprentice's discontent—as linked darkly with some supposed uneasiness in Hal about his own apprenticeship,19 but if so the momentary glimpse of a revolt against authority is closed off at once with a few words of calculated obscurity designed to return Francis to his trade without enabling him to understand why he must do so:

Prince. Why then your brown bastard is your
only drink! for look you, Francis, your
white canvas doublet will sully. In Barbary,
sir, it cannot come to so much.
Francis. What, sir?
Poins. [Within] Francis!
Prince. Away, you rogue, dost thou not hear them call?


If Francis takes the earlier suggestion, robs his master and runs away, he will find a place for himself, the play implies, as one of the 'Revolted tapsters' in Falstaff's company, men as good as dead long before they march to their deaths as upholders of the crown. Better that he should follow the drift of Hal's deliberately mystifying words and continue to clink pewter. As for the prince, his interest in the brief exchange, beyond what we have already sketched, is suggested by his boast to Poins moments before Francis enters: 'I have sounded the very base-string of humility. Sirrah, I am sworn brother to a leash of drawers and can call them all by their christen names, as Tom, Dick, and Francis' (II.iv.5-8). The prince must sound the basestring of humility if he is to know how to play all of the chords and hence to be the master of the instrument, and his ability to conceal his motives and render opaque his language offers assurance that he himself will not be played on by another.

I have spoken of such scenes in 1 Henry IV as resembling what in Harriot's text I have called recording, a mode that culminates for Harriot in a glossary, the beginnings of an Algonkian-English dictionary, designed to facilitate further acts of recording and hence to consolidate English power in Virginia. The resemblance may be seen most clearly perhaps in Hal's own glossary of tavern slang: 'They call drinking deep, dyeing scarlet: and when you breathe in your watering, they cry 'Hem!' and bid you play it off. To conclude, I am so good proficient in one quarter of an hour that I can drink with any tinker in his own language during my life' (II.iv.15-20). The potential value of these lessons, the functional interest to power of recording the speech of an 'under-skinker' and his mates, may be glimpsed in the expressions of loyalty that Hal laughingly recalls: 'They take it already upon their salvation that. . . when I am King of England I shall command all the good lads in Eastcheap' (II.iv.9-15).

There is, it may be objected, something slightly absurd in likening such moments to aspects of Harriot's text; 1 Henry IV is a play, not a tract for potential investors in a colonial scheme, and the only values we may be sure that Shakespeare had in mind, the argument would go, were theatrical values. But theatrical values do not exist in a realm of privileged literariness, of textual or even institutional self-referentiality. Shakespeare's theatre was not isolated by its wooden walls, nor was it merely the passive reflector of social and ideological forces that lay entirely outside of it: rather the Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre was itself a social event. Drama, and artistic expression in general, is never perfectly self-contained and abstract, nor can it be derived satisfactorily from the subjective consciousness of an isolated creator. Collective actions, ritual gestures, paradigms of relationship, and shared images of authority penetrate the work of art, while conversely the socially overdetermined work of art, along with a multitude of other institutions and utterances, contributes to the formation, realignment, and transmission of social practices.

Works of art are, to be sure, marked off in our culture from ordinary utterances, but this demarcation is itself a communal event and signals not the effacement of the social but rather its successful absorption into the work by implication or articulation. This absorption—the presence within the work of its social being—makes it possible, as Bakhtin has argued, for art to survive the disappearance of its enabling social conditions, where ordinary utterance, more dependent upon the extraverbal pragmatic situation, drifts rapidly toward insignificance or incomprehensibility.20 Hence art's genius for survival, its delighted reception by audiences for whom it was never intended, does not signal its freedom from all other domains of life, nor does its inward articulation of the social confer upon it a formal coherence independent of the world outside its boundaries. On the contrary, artistic form itself is the expression of social evaluations and practices.

One might add that 1 Henry IV itself insists that it is quite impossible to keep the interests of the theatre hermetically sealed off from the interests of power. Hal's characteristic activity is playing or, more precisely, theatrical improvisation—his parts include his father, Hotspur, Hotspur's wife, a thief in buckram, himself as prodigal and himself as penitent—and he fully understands his own behaviour through most of the play as a role that he is performing. We might expect that this role-playing gives way at the end to his true identity—'I shall hereafter', Hal has promised his father, 'be more myself (III.ii.92-3)—but with the killing of Hotspur, Hal clearly does not reject all theatrical masks but rather replaces one with another. 'The time will come', Hal declares midway through the play, 'That I shall make this northern youth exchange / His glorious deeds for my indignities' (III.ii.144-6); when that time has come, at the play's close, Hal hides with his 'Favours' (that is, a scarf or other emblem, but the word also has in the sixteenth century the sense of 'Face') the dead Hotspur's 'Mangled face' (V.iv.96), as if to mark the completion of the exchange.

Theatricality then is not set over against power but is one of power's essential modes. In lines that anticipate Hal's promise, the angry Henry IV tells Worcester, 'I will from henceforth rather be myself, / Mighty and to be fear'd, than my condition' (I.iii.5-6). 'To be oneself here means to perform one's part in the scheme of power as opposed to one's natural disposition, or what we would normally designate as the very core of the self. Indeed it is by no means clear that such a thing as a natural disposition exists in the play as anything more than a theatrical fiction; we recall that in Falstaff's hands 'Instinct' itself becomes a piece of histrionic rhetoric, an improvised excuse when he is confronted with the shame of his flight from the masked prince: 'Beware instinct—the lion will not touch the true prince. Instinct is a great matter; I was now a coward on instinct. I shall think the better of myself, and thee, during my life; I for a valiant lion, and thou for a true prince' (II.iv.271-5). Both claims—Falstaff's to natural valour, Hal's to legitimate royalty—are, the lines darkly imply, of equal merit.

Again and again in 1 Henry IV we are tantalised by the possibility of an escape from theatricality and hence from the constant pressure of improvisational power, but we are, after all, in the theatre, and our pleasure depends upon the fact that there is no escape, and our applause ratifies the triumph of our confinement. The play then operates in the manner of its central character, charming us with its visions of breadth and solidarity, 'Redeeming' itself in the end by betraying our hopes, and earning with this betrayal our slightly anxious admiration. Hence the odd balance in this play of spaciousness—the constant multiplication of separate, vividly realised realms—and claustrophobia—the absorption of all of these realms by a power at once vital and impoverished. The balance is almost eerily perfect, as if Shakespeare had somehow reached through in 1 Henry IV to the very centre of the system of opposed and interlocking forces that held Tudor society together.

When we turn, however, to the plays that continue the chronicle of Hal's career, 2 Henry IV and Henry V, not only do we find that the forces balanced in the earlier play have pulled apart—the claustrophobia triumphant in 2 Henry IV, the spaciousness triumphant in Henry V—but that from this new perspective the familiar view of 1 Henry IV as a perfectly poised play must be revised. What appeared as 'balance' may on closer inspection seem like radical instability tricked out as moral or aesthetic order; what appeared as clarity may seem now like a conjurer's trick concealing confusion in order to buy time and stave off the collapse of an illusion. Not waving but drowning.

2 Henry IV makes the characteristic operations of power less equivocal than they had been in the preceding play: there is no longer even the lingering illusion of distinct realms, each with its own system of values, its soaring visions of plenitude, and its bad dreams. There is manifestly a single system now, one based on predation and betrayal. Hotspur's intoxicating dreams of honour are dead, replaced entirely by the cold rebellion of cunning but impotent schemers. The warm, roistering sounds overheard in the tavern—sounds that seemed to signal a subversive alternative to rebellion—turn out to be the noise of a whore and bully beating a customer to death. And Falstaff, whose earlier larcenies were gilded by fantasies of innate grace, now talks of turning diseases to commodity (I.ii.234-5).

Only Prince Hal seems, in comparison to the earlier play, less meanly calculating, subject now to fits of weariness and confusion, though this change serves less, I think, to humanise him (as Auerbach argued in a famous essay) than to make it clear that the betrayals are systematic. They happen to him and for him. He needn'T any longer soliloquise his intention to 'Falsify men's hopes' by selling his wastrel friends: the sale will be brought about by the structure of things, a structure grasped in this play under the twinned names of time and necessity. So too there is no longer any need for heroic combat with a dangerous, glittering enemy like Hotspur (the only reminder of whose voice in this play is Pistol's parody of Marlovian swaggering); the rebels are deftly if ingloriously dispatched by the false promises of Hal's younger brother, the primly virtuous John of Lancaster. To seal his lies, Lancaster swears fittingly 'by the honour of my blood'—the cold blood, as Falstaff observes of Hal, that he inherited from his father.

The 'Recording' of alien voices—the voices of those who have no power to leave literate traces of their existence—continues in this play, but without even the theatrical illusion of princely complicity. The king is still convinced that his son is a prodigal and that the kingdom will fall to ruin after his death—there is a certain peculiar consolation in the thought—but it is no longer Hal alone who declares (against all appearances) his secret commitment to disciplinary authority. Warwick assures the king that the prince's interests in the good lads of Eastcheap are entirely what they should be:

The Prince but studies his companions
Like a strange tongue, wherein, to gain the language,
'Tis needful that the most immodest word
Be look'd upon and learnt, which once attain'd,
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, and their memory
Shall as a pattern or a measure live,
By which his Grace must mete the lives of other,
Turning past evils to advantages.


At first the language analogy likens the prince's lowlife excursions to the search for proficiency: perfect linguistic competence, the 'Mastery' of a language, requires the fullest possible vocabulary. But the darkness of Warwick's words—'To be known and hated'—immediately pushes the goal of Hal's linguistic researches beyond proficiency. When in 1 Henry IV Hal boasts of his mastery of tavern slang, we are allowed for a moment at least to imagine that we are witnessing a social bond, the human fellowship of the extremest top and bottom of society in a homely ritual act of drinking together. The play may make it clear, as I have argued, that there are well-defined political interests involved, but these interests may be bracketed, if only briefly, for the pleasure of imagining what Victor Turner calls 'communitas'—a union based on the momentary breaking of the hierarchical order that normally governs a community.21 And even when we pull back from this spacious sense of union, we are permitted for much of the play to take pleasure at the least in Hal's surprising skill, the proficiency he rightly celebrates in himself.

To learn another language is to acknowledge the existence of another people and to acquire the ability to function, however crudely, within its social world. Hal's remark about drinking with any tinker in his own language suggests, if only jocularly, that for him the lower classes are virtually another people, an alien tribe—immensely more populous than his own—within the kingdom. That this perception extended beyond the confines of Shakespeare's play is suggested by the evidence that middle-and upper-class English settlers in the New World regarded the American Indians less as another race than as a version of their own lower classes; one man's tinker is another man's Indian.22

If Hal's glossary initially seems to resemble Harriot's, Warwick's account of Hal's practice quickly drives it past the functionalism of the word-list in the Brief and True Report, with its Algonkian equivalents for fire, food, shelter, and toward a different kind of glossary, one more specifically linked to the attempt to understand and control the lower classes. I refer to the sinister glossaries appended to sixteenth-century accounts of criminals and vagabounds. 'Here I set before the good reader the lewd, lousy language of these loitering lusks and lazy lords', announces Thomas Harman, as he introduces (with a comical flourish designed to display his own rhetorical gifts) what he claims is an authentic list, compiled at great personal cost.23 His pamphlet, A Caveat for Common Cursitors, is the fruit, he declares, of personal research, difficult because his informants are 'Marvellous subtle and crafty'. But 'With fair flattering words, money, and good cheer', he has learned much about their ways, 'not without faithful promise made unto them never to discover their names or anything they showed me' (82). Harman cheerfully goes on to publish what they showed him, and he ends his work not only with a glossary of 'peddlar's French' but with an alphabetical list of names, so that the laws made for 'The extreme punishment' of these wicked idlers may be enforced.

It is not at all clear that Harman's subjects—upright men, doxies, Abraham men, and the like—bear any relation to social reality, any more than it is clear in the case of Doll Tearsheet or Mistress Quickly. Much of the Caveat, like the other cony-catching pamphlets of the period, has the air of a jest book: time-honoured tales of tricksters and rogues, dished out cunningly as realistic observation. (It is not encouraging that the rogues' term for the stocks in which they were punished, according to Harman, is 'The harmans'.) But Harman is quite concerned to convey at least the impression of accurate observation and recording—clearly, this was among the book's selling points—and one of the principal rhetorical devices he uses to do so is the spice of betrayal: he repeatedly calls attention to his solemn promises never to reveal anything that he has been told, for his breaking of his word serves as an assurance of the accuracy and importance of what he reveals.

A middle-class Prince Hal, Harman claims that through dissembling he has gained access to a world normally hidden from his kind, and he will turn that access to the advantage of the kingdom by helping his readers to identify and eradicate the dissemblers in their midst. Harman's own personal interventions—the acts of detection and apprehension he proudly reports (or invents)—are not enough: only his book can fully expose the cunning sleights of the rogues and thereby induce the justices and shrieves to be more vigilant and punitive. Just as theatricality is thematised in the Henry IV plays as one of the crucial agents of royal power, so in the Caveat for Common Cursitors (and in much of the cony-catching literature of the period in England and France) printing is represented in the text itself as a force for social order and the detection of criminal fraud. The printed book can be widely disseminated and easily revised, so that the vagabonds' names and tricks may be known before they themselves arrive at an honest citizen's door; as if this mobility weren'T quite tangible enough, Harman claims that when his pamphlet was only half-way printed, his printer helped him apprehend a particularly cunning 'counterfeit crank'—a pretended epileptic. In Harman's account the printer turns detective, first running down the street to apprehend the dissembler, then on a subsequent occasion luring him 'With fair allusions' (116) and a show of charity into the hands of the constable. With such lurid tales Harman literalises the power of the book to hunt down vagabonds and bring them to justice.

The danger of such accounts, of course, is that the ethical charge will reverse itself: the forces of order—the people, as it were, of the book—will be revealed as themselves dependent on dissembling and betrayal, and the vagabonds either as less fortunate and well-protected imitators of their betters or, alternatively, as primitive rebels against the hypocrisy of a cruel society. Exactly such a reversal seems to occur again and again in the rogue literature of the period, from the doxies and morts who answer Harman's rebukes with unfailing if spare dignity to the more articulate defenders of vice elsewhere who insist that their lives are at worst imitations of the lives of the great:

Though your experience in the world be not so great as mine [says a cunning cheater at dice], yet am I sure ye see that no man is able to live an honest man unless he have some privy way to help himself withal, more than the world is witness of. Think you the noblemen could do as they do, if in this hard world they should maintain so great a port only upon their rent? Think you the lawyers could be such purchasers if their pleas were short, and all their judgements, justice and conscience?

Suppose ye that offices would be so dearly bought, and the buyers so soon enriched, if they counted not pillage an honest point of purchase? Could merchants, without lies, false making their wares, and selling them by a crooked light, to deceive the chapman in the thread or colour, grow so soon rich and to a baron's possessions, and make all their posterity gentlemen?24

Yet though these reversals are at the very heart of the rogue literature, it would be as much of a mistake to regard their final effect as subversion as it would be to regard in a similar light the comparable passages—most often articulated by Falstaff—in Shakespeare's histories. The subversive voices are produced by the affirmations of order, and they are powerfully registered, but they do not undermine that order. Indeed as the example of Harman—so much cruder than Shakespeare—suggests, the order is neither possible nor fully convincing without both the presence and perception of betrayal.

This dependence on betrayal does not prevent Harman from levelling charges of hypocrisy and deep dissembling at the rogues and from urging his readers to despise and prosecute them. On the contrary, Harman's moral indignation seems paradoxically heightened by his own implication in the deceitfulness that he condemns, as if the rhetorical violence of the condemnation cleansed him of any guilt. His broken promises are acts of civility, necessary strategies for securing social well-being. The 'Rowsy, ragged rabblement of rakehells' has put itself outside the bounds of civil conversation; justice consists precisely in taking whatever measures are necessary to eradicate them. Harman's false oaths are the means of identifying and ridding the community of the purveyors of false oaths. The pestilent few will 'Fret, fume, swear, and stare at this my book' in which their practices, disclosed after they had received fair promises of confidentiality, are laid open, but the majority will band together in righteous reproach: 'The honourable will abhor them, the worshipful will reject them, the yeomen will sharply taunt them, the husbandmen utterly defy them, the labouring men bluntly chide them, the women with clapping hands cry out at them' (84). To like reading about vagabonds is to hate them and to approve of their ruthless betrayal.

'The right people of the play', a gifted critic of 2 Henry IV observes, 'Merge into a larger order; the wrong people resist or misuse that larger order'.25 True enough, but like Harman's happy community of vagabond-haters, the 'Larger order' of the Lancastrian State seems, in this play, to batten on the breaking of oaths. Shakespeare does not shrink from any of the felt nastiness implicit in this sorting out of the right people and the wrong people; he takes the discursive mode that he could have found in Harman and a hundred other texts and intensifies it, so that the founding of the modern State, like the founding of the modern prince, is shown to be based upon acts of calculation, intimidation, and deceit. And the demonstration of these acts is rendered an entertainment for which an audience, subject to just this State, will pay money and applaud.

There is, thoughout 2 Henry IV a sense of constriction that the obsessive enumeration of details—'Thou didst swear to me upon a parcel-gilt goblet, sitting in my Dolphin chamber, at the round table by a sea-coal fire, upon Wednesday in Wheeson week. . . .'—only intensifies. We may find, in Justice Shallow's garden, a few twilight moments of release from this oppressive circumstantial and strategic constriction, but Falstaff mercilessly deflates them—and the puncturing is so wonderfully adroit, so amusing, that we welcome it: 'I do remember him at Clement's Inn, like a man made after supper of a cheese-paring. When 'A was naked, he was for all the world like a forked radish, with a head fantastically carV'd upon it with a knife' (III.ii.308-12).

What is left is the law of nature: the strong eat the weak. Yet this is not quite what Shakespeare invites the audience to affirm through its applause. Like Harman, Shakespeare refuses to endorse so baldly cynical a conception of the social order; instead actions that should have the effect of radically undermining authority turn out to be the props of that authority. In this play, even more cruelly than in I Henry IV, moral values—justice, order, civility—are secured paradoxically through the apparent generationof their subversive contraries. Out of the squalid betrayals that preserve the State emerges the 'Formal majesty' into which Hal at the close, through a final, definitive betrayal—the rejection of Falstaff—merges himself.

There are moments in Richard II in which the collapse of kingship seems to be confirmed in the discovery of the physical body of the ruler, the pathos of his creatural existence:

. . . throw away respect,
Tradition, form, and ceremonious duty,
For you have but mistook me all this while.
I live with bread like you, feel want,
Taste grief, need friends: subjected thus,
How can you say to me I am a king?


By the close of 2 Henry IV such physical limitations have been absorbed into the ideological structure, and hence justification, of kingship. It is precisely because Prince Hal lives with bread that we can understand the sacrifice that he and, for that matter, his father, have made. Unlike Richard II, Henry IV's articulation of this sacrifice is rendered by Shakespeare not as a piece of histrionic rhetoric but as a private meditation, the innermost thoughts of a troubled, weary man:

Why rather, sleep, liest thou in smoky cribs,
Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee,
And hush'd with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber,
Than in the perfum'd chambers of the great,
Under the canopies of costly state,
And lull'd with sound of sweetest melody?


Who knows? perhaps it is even true; perhaps in a society in which the overwhelming majority of men and women had next to nothing, the few who were rich and powerful did lie awake at night. But we should understand that this sleeplessness was not a well-kept secret: the sufferings of the great are one of the familiar themes in the literature of the governing classes in the sixteenth century. Henry IV speaks in soliloquy, but as is so often the case in Shakespeare his isolation only intensifies the sense that he is addressing a large audience: the audience of the theatre. We are invited to take measure of his suffering, to understand—here and elsewhere in the play—the costs of power. And we are invited to understand these costs in order to ratify the power, to accept the grotesque and cruelly unequal distribution of possessions: everything to the few, nothing to the many. The rulers earn, or at least pay for, their exalted position through suffering, and this suffering ennobles, if it does not exactly cleanse, the lies and betrayals upon which this position depends.

As so often Falstaff parodies this ideology, or rather—and more significantly—presents it as humbug before it makes its appearance as official truth. Called away from the tavern to the court, Falstaff turns to Doll and Mistress Quickly and proclaims sententiously: 'You see, my good wenches, how men of merit are sought after. The undeserver may sleep when the man of action is called on' (II.iv.374-7). Seconds later this rhetoric—marked out as something with which to impress whores and innkeepers to whom one owes money one does not intend to pay—recurs in the speech, and by convention of the soliloquy, the innermost thoughts of the king.

At such moments 2 Henry IV seems to be testing and confirming an extremely dark and disturbing hypothesis about the nature of monarchical power in England: that its moral authority rests upon a hypocrisy so deep that the hypocrites themselves believe it. 'Then (happy) low, lie down! / Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown' (III.i.30-1): so the old pike tells the young dace. But the old pike actually seems to believe in his own speeches, just as he may believe that he never really sought the crown, 'But that necessity so bow'd the state / That I and greatness were compell'd to kiss' (III.i.72-3). We who have privileged knowledge of the network of State betrayals and privileged access to Falstaff's cynical wisdom can make this opaque hypocrisy transparent. And yet even in 2 Henry IV, where the lies and the self-serving sentiments are utterly inescapable, where the illegitimacy of legitimate authority is repeatedly demonstrated, where the whole State seems—to adapt More's phrase—a conspiracy of the great to enrich and protect their interests under the name of commonwealth, even here the audience does not leave the theatre in a rebellious mood. Once again, though in a still more iron-age spirit than at the close of 1 Henry IV, the play appears to ratify the established order, with the new-crowned Henry V merging his body into 'The great body of our state', with Falstaff despised and rejected, and with Lancaster—the cold-hearted betrayer of the rebels—left to admire his still more cold-hearted brother: 'I like this fair proceeding of the King's' (V.v.97).

The mood at the close remains, to be sure, an unpleasant one—the rejection of Falstaff has been one of the nagging 'problems' of Shakespearean criticism—but the discomfort only serves to verify Hal's claim that he has turned away his former self. If there is frustration at the harshness of the play's end, the frustration is confirmation of a carefully plotted official strategy whereby subversive perceptions are at once produced and contained:

My father is gone wild into his grave;
For in his tomb lie my affections,
And with his spirits sadly I survive,
To mock the expectation of the world,
To frustrate prophecies, and to rase out
Rotten opinion. . . .


The first part of Henry IV enables us to feel at moments that we are like Harriot, surveying a complex new world, testing upon it dark thoughts without damaging the order that those thoughts would seem to threaten. The second part of Henry IV suggests that we are still more like the Indians, compelled to pay homage to a system of beliefs whose fraudulence somehow only confirms their power, authenticity, and truth. The concluding play in the series, Henry V, insists that we have all along been both coloniser and colonised, king and subject. The play deftly registers every nuance of royal hypocrisy, ruthlessness, and bad faith, but it does so in the context of a celebration, a collective panegyric to 'This star of England', the charismatic leader who purges the commonwealth of its incorrigibles and forges the martial national State.

By yoking together diverse peoples—represented in the play by the Welshman Fluellen, the Irishman Macmorris, and the Scotsman Jamy, who fight at Agincourt alongside the loyal Englishmen—Hal symbolically tames the last wild areas in the British Isles, areas that in the sixteenth century represented, far more powerfully than any New World people, the doomed outposts of a vanishing tribalism. He does so, obviously, by launching a war of conquest against the French, but his military campaign is itself depicted as carefully founded upon acts of what I have called 'explaining'. The play opens with a notoriously elaborate account of the king's genealogical claim to the French throne, and, as we found in the comparable instances in Harriot, this ideological justification of English policy is an unsettling mixture of 'Impeccable' reasoning26 (once its initial premises are accepted) and gross self-interest. The longer the Archbishop of Canterbury continues to spin out the public justifications for an invasion he has privately said would relieve financial pressure on the Church, the more the audience is driven toward scepticism. None of the subsequent attempts at explanation and justification offers much relief: Hal continually warns his victims that they are bringing pillage and rape upon themselves by resisting him, but from the head of an invading army these arguments lack a certain moral force. Similarly, Hal's meditation on the sufferings of the great—'What infinite heart's ease / Must kings neglect that private men enjoy!'—suffers a bit from the fact that he is almost single-handedly responsible for a war that by his own account and that of the enemy is causing immense civilian misery. And after watching a scene in which anxious, frightened troops sleeplessly await the dawn, it is difficult to be fully persuaded by Hal's climactic vision of the 'slave' and 'peasant' sleeping comfortably, little knowing 'What watch the King keeps to maintain the peace' (IV.i.283).

This apparent subversion of the glorification of the monarch has led some recent critics to view the panegyric as bitterly ironic or to argue, more plausibly, that Shakespeare's depiction of Henry V is radically ambiguous.27 But in the light of Harriot's Brief and True Report, we may suggest that the subversive doubts the play continually awakens serve paradoxically to intensify the power of the king and his war, even while they cast shadows upon this power. The shadows are real enough, but they are deferred—deferred until after Essex's campaign in Ireland, after Elizabeth's reign, after the monarchy itself as a significant political institution. Deferred indeed even today, for in the wake of full-scale ironic readings and at a time in which it no longer seems to matter very much, it is not at all clear that Henry V can be successfully performed as subversive. For the play's enhancement of royal power is not only a matter of the deferral of doubt: the very doubts that Shakespeare raises serve not to rob the king of his charisma but to heighten it, precisely as they heighten the theatrical interest of the play; the doubt-less celebrations of royal power with which the period abounds have no theatrical force and have long since fallen into oblivion.

The audience's tension then enhances its attention; prodded by constant reminders of a gap between real and ideal, facts and values, the spectators are induced to make up the difference, to invest in the illusion of magnificence, to be dazzled by their own imaginary identification with the conqueror. The ideal king must be in large part the invention of the audience, the product of a will to conquer which is revealed to be identical to a need to submit. Henry V is remarkably self-conscious about this dependence upon the audience's powers of invention. The prologue's opening lines invoke a form of theatre radically unlike the one that is about to unfold: 'A kingdom for a stage, princes to act, / And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!' (3-4). In such a theatre-State there would be no social distinction between the king and the spectator, the performer and the audience; all would be royal, and the role of the performance would be to transform not an actor into a king but a king into a god: 'Then should the warlike Harry, like himself, / Assume the port of Mars' (5-6). This is in effect the fantasy acted out in royal masques, but Shakespeare is intensely aware that his theatre is not a courtly entertainment, that his actors are 'Flat unraised spirits,' and that his spectators are hardly monarchs—'gentles all', he calls them, with fine flattery. 'Let us', the prologue begs the audience, 'On your imaginary forces work . . . For 'Tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings' (18, 28). This 'Must' is cast in the form of an appeal and an apology—the consequence of the miserable limitations of 'This unworthy scaffold'—but the necessity extends, I suggest, beyond the stage: all kings are 'decked' out by the imaginary forces of the spectators, and a sense of the limitations of king or theatre only excites a more compelling exercise of those forces.

To understand Shakespeare's whole conception of Hal, from rakehell to monarch, we need in effect a poetics of Elizabethan power, and this in turn will prove inseparable, in crucial respects, from a poetics of the theatre. Testing, recording, and explaining are elements in this poetics that is inseparably bound up with the figure of Queen Elizabeth, a ruler without a standing army, without a highly developed bureaucracy, without an extensive police force, a ruler whose power is constituted in theatrical celebrations of royal glory and theatrical violence visited upon the enemies of that glory. Power that relies upon a massive police apparatus, a strong, middle-class nuclear family, an elaborate school system, power that dreams of a panopticon in which the most intimate secrets are open to the view of an invisible authority, such power will have as its appropriate aesthetic form the realist novel;28 Elizabethan power, by contrast, depends upon its privileged visibility. As in a theatre, the audience must be powerfully engaged by this visible presence while at the same time held at a certain respectful distance from it. 'We princes', Elizabeth told a deputation of Lords and Common in 1586, 'Are set on stages in the sight and view of all the world.'29

Royal power is manifested to its subjects as in a theatre, and the subjects are at once absorbed by the instructive, delightful, or terrible spectacles, and forbidden intervention or deep intimacy. The play of authority depends upon spectators—'For 'Tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings'—but the performance is made to seem entirely beyond the control of those whose 'Imaginary forces' actually confer upon it its significance and force. These matters, Thomas More imagines the common people saying of one such spectacle, 'be king's games, as it were stage plays, and for the more part played upon scaffolds. In which poor men be but the lookers-on. And they that wise be will meddle no farther.'30 Within this theatrical setting, there is a remarkable insistence upon the paradoxes, ambiguities, and tensions of authority, but this apparent production of subversion is, as we have already seen, the very condition of power. I should add that this condition is not a theoretical necessity of theatrical power in general but an historical phenomenon, the particular mode of this particular culture. 'In sixteenth century England', writes Clifford Geertz, comparing Elizabethan and Majapahit royal progresses, 'The political centre of society was the point at which the tension between the passions that power excited and the ideals it was supposed to serve was screwed to its highest pitch. . . . In fourteenth century Java, the centre was the point at which such tension disappeared in a blaze of cosmic symmetry.'31

It is precisely because of the English form of absolutist theatricality that Shakespeare's drama, written for a theatre subject to State censorship, can be so relentlessly subversive: the form itself, as a primary expression of Renaissance power, contains the radical doubts it continually provokes. There are moments in Shakespeare's career—King Lear is the greatest example—in which the process of containment is strained to the breaking point, but the histories consistently pull back from such extreme pressure. And we are free to locate and pay homage to the plays' doubts only because they no longer threaten us. There is subversion, no end of subversion, only not for us.


1 John Bakeless, The Tragicall History of Christopher Marlowe, 2 vols. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1942), I, 111.

2 On Harriot see especially Thomas Harriot, Renaissance Scientist, ed. John W. Shirley (Oxford University Press, 1974); also Muriel Rukeyser, The Traces of Thomas Harriot (New York: Random House, 1970), and Jean Jacquot, 'Thomas Harriot's Reputation for Impiety', Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 9 (1952), 164-87.

3 John Aubrey, Brief Lives, ed. Andrew Clark, 2 vols. (Oxford University Press, 1898), I, 286.

4 For the investigation of Ralegh, see Willobie His Avisa (1594), ed. G. B. Harrison (London: John Lane, 1926), appendix 3, pp. 255-71.

5 See, for example, TheHistorie of Travell into Virginia Britania (1612), ed. Louis B. Wright and Virginia Freund (London: Hakluyt Society, 2nd. ser., no. 103, 1953), p. 101.

6 Jacquot, 'Thomas Harriot's Reputation for Impiety',p. 167.

7 See for instance Richard Baines's version of Marlowe's version of this argument: C. F. Tucker Brooke, The Life of Marlowe (London: Methuen, 1930), appendix 9, p. 98.

8 Niccolò Machiavelli, Discourses, trans. Christian Detmold (New York: Random House, 1950), p. 146. See also The Prince in Tutte le opere di Niccolò Machiavelli, ed. Francesco Flora and Carlo Cordiè, 2 vols. (Rome: Arnoldo Mondadori, 1949), I, 18.

9 Kyd is quoted in Brooke, Life of Marlowe, appendix 12, p. 107; Parsons in Ernest A. Strathmann, Sir Walter Ralegh (New York: Columbia University Press, 1951), p. 25.

10 Quoted in Jean Jacquot, 'Ralegh's "Hellish Verses" and the "Tragicall Raigne of Selimus"', Modern Language Review, 48 (1953), 1.

11 Thomas Harriot, A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia (1588), in The Roanoke Voyages, 1584-1590, ed. David Beers Quinn, 2 vols. (London: Hakluyt Society, 2nd ser., no. 104, 1955), p. 375. (Quotations are modernised here.) On the Algonkians of southern New England see Bruce G. Trigger, ed., Handbook of North American Indians: vol. 15, Northeast (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian, 1978).

12 Cf. Richard Hakluyt, The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques, & Discoveries of the English Nation, 12 vols. (Glasgow: James Maclehose, 1903-5), X, 54, 56.

13 On these catalogues, see Wayne Franklin, Discoverers, Explorers, Settlers: the Diligent Writers of Early America (University of Chicago Press, 1979), pp. 69-122.

14 Quoted by Edward Rosen, 'Harriot's Science: the Intellectual Background', in Thomas Harriot, ed. Shirley, p. 4.

15 Cf. Walter Bigges's account of Drake's visit to Florida in 1586, in The Roanoke Voyages, I, 306.

16 Guido Calabresi and Philip Bobbitt, Tragic Choices (New York: Norton, 1978), p. 195. The term tragic is, I think, misleading.

17 V.i.295-6. All citations of Shakespeare are to The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974).

18 John Upton, Critical Observations on Shakespeare (1748), in Shakespeare, the Critical Heritage, ed. Brian Vickers, vol. 3: 1733-1752 (London: Routledge, 1975), p. 297; Maynard Mack, introduction to Signet Classic edition of 1 Henry IV (New York: New American Library, 1965), p. xxxv.

19 See S. P. Zitner, 'Anon, Anon: or, a Mirror for a Magistrate', Shakespeare Quarterly, 19 (1968), 63-70.

20 See V. N. Volosinov, Freudianism: a Marxist Critique, trans. I. R. Titunik, ed. Neal H. Bruss (New York: Academic Press, 1976), pp. 93-116; the book was written by Bakhtin and published under Volosinov's name.

21 See, for example, Victor Turner, Drama, Fields, and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1974).

22 See Karen Ordahl Kupperman, Settling with the Indians: the Meeting of English and Indian Cultures in America, 1580-1640 (Totawa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1980).

23 Thomas Harman, A Caveat of Warening, for Commen Cursetors Vulgarely Called Vagabones (1566), in G mini Salg do, ed., Cony-Catchers and Bawdy Baskets (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972), p. 146.

24 Gilbert Walker?, A manifest detection of the moste vyle and detestable use of Diceplay (c. 1552), in Salg do, Cony-Catchers, pp. 42-3.

25 Norman N. Holland, in the Signet Classic edition of 2 Henry IV (New York: New American Library, 1965). p.xxxvi.

26 So says J. H. Walter in the New Arden edition of Henry V (London: Methuen, 1954), p. xxv.

27 See the illuminating discussion in Norman Rabkin,Shakespeare and the Problem of Meaning (University of Chicago Press, 1981), pp. 33-62.

28 For a brilliant exploration of this hypothesis, see D. A. Miller, 'The Novel and the Police', Glyph, 8 (1981), 127-47.

29 Quoted in J. E. Neale, Elizabeth I and her Parliaments, 1584 -1601, 2 vols. (London: Cape, 1965), II, 119.

30The History of King Richard III, ed. R. S. Sylvester, in The Complete Works of St Thomas More, vol. 3 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963), p. 80.

31 Clifford Geertz, 'Centers, Kings and Charisma: Reflections on the Symbolics of Power', in Culture and its Creators: Essays in Honour of Edward Shils, ed. Joseph Ben-David and Terry Nichols Clark (University of Chicago Press, 1977), p. 160.

Sections of this article originally appeared in Glyph 8: Johns Hopkins Textual Studies (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), pp. 40-61.

F. Nick Clary (essay date 1988)

SOURCE: "Reformation and Its Counterfeit: The Recovery of Meaning in Henry IV, Part One" in Ambiguities in Literature and Film: Selected Papers from the Seventh Annual Flordia State University Conference on Literature and Film, edited by Hans P. Braendlin, Florida State University Press, 1988, pp. 76-94.

[In the following essay, Clary suggests that an interpretation of Hal's characterthat is, whether he indeed reforms or whether he is Machiavellian in his actionsdepends upon an audience's perspective of human nature.]

After a little tavern "play" designed to prepare Hal for a meeting with his father at court, Falstaff advises the Prince: "never call a true piece of gold a counterfeit." One editor prints, "thou art essentially mad, without seeming so," as Falstaff's next line. However, he glosses "essentially made" in his note for the line in question.1 The Variorum editors list over three dozen entries which elaborate the controversy over this passage. Although the edition quoted above does not mention this controversy, the combination of the line and its gloss could provoke a similar confusion among readers unfamiliar with the available scholarship. The edition to which I have referred bears the label "An Authorized Text" on the title page; however, the paperback cover advertises "An Authoritative Text." I am not sure which label the editor would approve, and I hesitate to guess whether the author would consider this "revised" version of his play "a true piece of gold" or "a counterfeit."

From the earliest commentaries to the most recent critical studies, Shakespeare's Prince Hal has been the subject of persistent and varied controversy.2 Literary scholars, however, have not so much created the controversy as revealed its inevitability; if the playwright has not written an intentionally ambiguous work, he has at least constructed a text that reveals the difficulties of interpretation. From the moment that Hal is first mentioned near the end of Richard II (V, iii), his words and actions are the objects of onstage commentary from every quarter.3 The experience of Shake-speare's plays about Prince Hal approximates, in some respects, the reading of several source accounts concerning the exploits of Henry Monmouth.

Among the broad range of pre-Shakespearian sources, there is considerable variation. Whether the source is historical or nonhistorical in its methods, moral or political in its ideals, each interpretation is an effect of a particular appropriation of Prince Hal as a model and a testament to specific beliefs about the causes that shape events and the forces that govern the transformations in human character and behavior.4 Con-flicts of interpretation, which are the legacy of diversified source records, may have been a central concern of Shakespeare in his second historical tetralogy. Problems of interpretation will be my concern in this present reading of Henry IV, Part One.

In Shakespeare's earliest reference to Hal (Richard II, V, iii), the newly crowned King expresses concern about the political effect of his son's "madcap" behavior.5 Although he has not seen the Prince for three months, Henry has heard rumors that Hal has been haunting the taverns of London. When he urges the nobles gathered at Windsor Castle to find out what they can about his son, his anxiety is clear: "If any plague hang over us, 'Tis he." Hotspur is quick to report that he has seen Hal and told him of the jousting matches to be held at Oxford. Hal's answer, that he would go the "stews, / And from the common'st creature pluck a glove" to wear as a "favor" (V, iii, 16-19), would seem to confirm the King's suspicions. Yet Henry reads in this reply "some sparks of better hope, which elder years / May happily bring forth" (V, iii, 21-22).

Later, in the first scene of Henry IV, Part One, the King once again laments the "riot and dishonor" which "stain the brow" of his son. Between Henry's two references to Hal, no change has been reported in the Prince's behavior. The King's reading of his son, however, has grown less optimistic, for his hope now lies in the improbable fancy that fairies might have exchanged his Harry for Percy's when they were infants (I, i, 86-90). While offstage audiences may speculate about the meaning of Hal's behavior, Henry's reading of it as sometimes dangerously irresponsible and sometimes harmlessly immature indicates that the Prince's conduct can generate variant effects of meaning at different times and under different circumstances.6

When Shakespeare's Prince makes his first appearance in Henry IV, Part One (I, ii), his behavior in conversation is noteworthy in its strategy. Falstaff speaks first: "Now, Hal, what time of day is it, lad?" Hearing the question, Hal says that Falstaff cannot mean what his words signify. In light of what he believes about this speaker and of what he takes to be the situation, Hal claims, "thou hast forgotten to demand that truly which thou wouldst truly know." Initially Falstaff's inquiry about the time is taken to be an effect of forgetfulness induced by the speaker's idleness of life. Hal goes on to insist that the only way he can comprehend Falstaff is to assume that a system of substitutions is in* play which invests the question with its apparent identity:

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.

(I, ii, 6-13).7

This first exchange is instructive, for Hal's reading of Falstaff illustrates how assumptions about a speaker and situation may be operative in the process of understanding. By extension, whether the interpreter is a father or a fat companion, an historian or a contributor to folklore, a literary scholar or an unsophisticated reader,8 there will always be some interplay between perceptible data and the network of beliefs and habits that shape the interpretation of Hal's own words and actions.

As the scene in question continues, Hal baffles Falstaff at every turn and dismantles each of his attempted readings of the conversation in progress. Hal's evasions and indirections frustrate each of Falstaff's efforts to find familiar ground on which to stand. Failing to assure himself of the meaning of Hal's speech, the "old lad of the castle" finds himself in a verbal wilderness without a map, and he complains self-consciously about his condition (call it melancholy, vanity, or what he will). Falstaff, however, may not be the only one affected this way by Shakespeare's Prince. For example, those who might have expected that their direct experience of Hal would guarantee a clear and certain reading of his character and conduct might have found instead that the presence of the Prince has only served to dispel the hope that contact with him could be free of the subjectiveness that colors rumors and reports. In this scene Hal is exasperating, for he does not stand still long enough to be a stable object of attention. Whenever he seems to vanish behind clouds of verbal wit, offstage interpreters are left to consider their own operations in startlingly self-conscious ways. If they should ask themselves what they are doing, they might find that Falstaff is not the only one baffled by Hal.

Near the end of this scene, Poins enters to propose a robbery of pilgrims and traders outside London, and Falstaff is anxious to ask Hal to join in. The Prince replies, "Who, I rob? I a thief? not I, by my faith." When Falstaff accuses him of lacking "honesty" for refusing to be a robber, Hal adjusts his speech to the terms of the persuasion. If robbing is princely behavior in Falstaff's system, then Hal's refusal to be a thief must be accommodated. He responds, "Well then, once in my days I'Ll be a madcap." When Falstaff commends Hal, "Why, that's well said," the Prince clarifies his decision by insisting that, in light of the current exchange, madcap behavior can only mean staying at home and not participating in the robbery.

Before Hal is left alone on the stage, however, Poins urges him to join in a scheme to rob Falstaff and his confederates at Gadshill, insisting that the "virtue of this jest" will be in the "reproof of Falstaff's lies afterwards. When Hal agrees, his "dissolute" conduct can be read as part of a program to reprove dishonesties. But whatever Hal's conversations with Falstaff and Poins might seem to illustrate, the meaning of his appearance so far in this scene cannot be understood as obvious or self-evident; it must be interpreted.

When Poins bids farewell and exits, Hal is left alone onstage. For the first time, Shakespeare's Prince speaks without the conditioning restraints of an onstage audience. In the conventional privacy of soliloquy, he claims to know precisely what he is doing. When Hal credits himself with success in creating his own reputation for "loose" behavior, he momentarily unsettles the available readings of his conduct. Whether the Prince's behavior has been consistently or variously read as dangerously irresponsible or harmlessly immature or indirectly reproving, it had never before been openly considered as part of a calculated political strategy. In this new light, his scheme looks like a Machiavellian gloss on the parable of the prodigal son. Although editorial notes may guide readers to interpret this speech in a particular way, and critical commentaries often encourage a specific assumption about the author's intention, when Hal anticipates the moment when he will throw off his "loose" behavior in a dazzle of "glitt'Ring" reformation, he creates the possibility of conflicting interpretations at every turn.9

One important question that Hal's soliloquy raises is this: how can one recognize reformation when one sees it? In light of his speech, there are several ways to read the action that follows in the play. Insofar as a speaker's description of himself defines and determines the meaning of the actions he performs, it is possible to understand Hal as an essentially consistent character.10 According to this reading, Hal may be said to remain committed to his plan of manipulating public opinion by engineering a moment when the illusion of "loose behavior" will give way to the impression of "glitt'Ring" reform. No more virtuous than his father and no less calculating than Richard III, Hal's success would be a tribute to Machiavelli.11 On the other hand,it is possible to understand Hal as a character who subsequently undergoes a remarkable transformation in a moment of actual conversion. This latter reading would find miracle, in place of manipulation, in Hal's story and dramatic irony, rather than political program, in his soliloquy. In this light, Prince Hal becomes the real convert that he had claimed he would only play.12 Both of these readings depend on the fixing of refor-mation in a single event. Whether played or actual, the casting off of dissolute behavior is "foreshadowed" as a moment of conversion which will be publicly recognized and generally welcomed. In order to be effective, Hal's reformation cannot be suspected of counterfeit; it must be indistinguishable from the real thing.13

The problem of distinguishing between reformation and its counterfeit, however, is not limited to one unrepeated occasion; it is a persistent condition of interpretation. In the tavern, at the palace, and on the battlefield, Hal enacts confessions of his misconduct and promises to reform. Onstage interpreters, whose experiences with the Prince are more restricted than those of offstage audiences, find themselves challenged to take the Prince at his word. For example, when the tavern play ends, in which Falstaff and Hal had alternately assumed the roles of King and Prince, Falstaff delivers a mock ultimatum: "banish plump Jack, and banish all the world." Hal makes a cryptic reply: "I do, I will." No one onstage seems to take the Prince at his word, for he is assumed to be merely playing.14 Offstage interpreters, however, might recognize this scene as Hal's moment of mysterious conversion from a life of wayward prodigality. As such, it does not appear to be politically motivated, and it lacks the impact that his "reformation" was designed to have. Nonetheless, it is possible to read a firm purpose of amendment in his reply to Falstaff.15 Although several critics and commentators have found this scene to be more purposeful than the comic diversion it is taken to be onstage, many consider Hal's closing remark to be either evidence of callousness in the speaker or irony in the playwright rather than reformation in the prince.16 In most of the scenes after Hal's soliloquy, offstageaudiences have discovered meanings in actions and words which go virtually unnoticed by those onstage.17 Furthermore, offstage interpreters have regularly found themselves in considerable disagreement despite the advantage of seeing the events from a perspective which is not limited by onstage involvement in the action or biased by political allegiance.18

Later, under the pressure of his father's badgering speculations at the palace (III, ii), Hal has several opportunities to explain himself. Whatever designs the King might have in suggesting that his son's "vile participation" could be God's punishment for his own "mistreadings," he is surely not confessing his guilt.19 When Hal is asked to explain his madcap conduct, he admits to "some things true," which he excuses as the "wanderings" of youth, and dismisses other charges as the "tales" of "pick-thanks and news-mongers."20 Still,he asks pardon in the name of "true submission." Despite Henry's exclamation, "God pardon thee!," this king sees no place for morality within the political arena; when he presses on to lecture Hal on good conduct, he stresses effectiveness, rather than ethics. Describing his own political shrewdness and mocking Richard's ineptitude, Henry details his success in supplanting the annointed King. The time might seem opportune for Hal to reveal the politic method in his madness and to predict success for himself based on the simple logic of his soliloquy.21 He promises in-stead, "I shall hereafter . . . be more myself." By now both speakers may be engaged in the kind of doublethink that Worcester had earlier described: "The king will always think him in our debt, / And think we think ourselves unsatisfied" (I, iii, 283-284). Offstage audiences are left to infer the meanings taken by both of the onstage hearers which provide the contexts for interpreting the meanings of their replies. Not only is reference to some "subtext" required, but citations from "the text itself are insufficient as evidence of meaning unless they are persuasively interpreted.22 Onstage, however, Hal's apparent promise to reform leads directly to the King's denunciation of him as his "nearest and dearest enemy" who might fight against him "under Percy's pay."23 To this, the Prince replies, "Do not think so; you shall not find it so,"24 and he goes on to prophesy "some glorious day" when he will exchange his own indignities for Hotspur's "glorious deeds." When Hal promises to fight to the death for his father against the rebels and seals his pledge with a vow, the King exults.25

Whether the offstage audience is expected to forget Hal's soliloquy or Hal effectually forgets it himself, when his vow reintroduces God to the field of the conversation, it could signal a diminishment of his belief in the efficacy of political strategy.26 At any rate, as the generalities of his soliloquy are displaced by the particulars of developing events, Hal's willingness to concede errors in his ways may be growing into a recognition of the essential error in his thinking. At this point in the play, offstage interpreters may notice in Hal's behavior a gradual recovery of the meaning of reformation as a process, which depends for its achievement on the progressive unlearning of what he had seemed to know already. The idea that education is the proper process description for the Prince's reformation may have occurred to several offstage interpreters even before Warwick's claim in Henry IV, Part Two, and the conclusion drawn by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Ely in Henry V.27 The difference that I am suggesting here is that Hal's transformation is a counterprogressive process; it is not so much a gaining of knowledge through varied experiences as a losing of what he seemed to know in favor of more ancient wisdoms. The notion that Hal could have known already what he seems to be learning could be a way of glossing Vernon's later description of him to Hotspur: it was "As if he mastered there a double spirit / Of teaching and of learning instantly" (V, ii, 63-64). In this light, Hal's transformation from a politically cynical strategist to an idealistic defender of the King is directly related to his repeated enactment of a promise to reform his life while confessing the looseness of his ways.

On the eve of the battle at Shrewsbury, Worcester and Vernon represent the rebels in a meeting at the King's camp (V, i). After Worcester and the King exchange accusations which trumpet their suspicions and distrust,28 Hal steps forward to praise Hotspur for his celebrated "deeds" and to confess his own shame for having been a "truant to chivalry."29 Fur-thermore, he offers to "try fortune" in a single fight with Hotspur, in order "to save the blood on either side" (V, i, 83-100). Whether offstage audiences read Hal in good faith (as gold) or with suspicion (as counterfeit), the King, for whatever reason, sets his son's proposal aside and offers his "grace" to the rebels if they will yield to him.30

When the meeting ends and the rebels leave, each negotiator for an alternative to open battle reveals his doubts and his suspicions of the others. Worcester, for example, expresses his fear of "suppositions" everywhere and his certainty that "interpretation" will always "misquote" his looks. In this, he reveals another problem which arises when one attempts to read others: the hazard of being read. The failure of peaceful reconciliation here may be one of the inevitable consequences of private interpretation in an age of pervasive self-interest and profound disbelief.

In the final scenes of the play, while the rebel leaders are maddened by the King's men who march to their deaths "furnish'd like the king himself (V, iii, 20), Hal relentlessly pursues Hotspur amid a flurry of reports that Percy has already been killed or captured.31 Whatever doubts he might have about fulfilling his vow to "redeem" himself "on Percy's head" (III, ii, 132), when Hal rescues his father from Douglas, he declares that he "never promiseth but he means to pay" (V, iv, 42). As this echo from a line in his early soliloquy combines with Henry's announcement that his son has "redeemed" his "lost opinion" by driving Douglas off, Hal's politic plan and his filial pledge seem to coincide for an instant.

But the Prince does not declare his success on either count; rather he protests his father's continued suspicions and indirectly confesses his own failure to control the readings given to his words and actions: "O God! they did me too much injury / That ever said I heark'ned for your death" (V, iv, 51-52).32 Until the end of the play, as Hal's words repeatedly recall earlier scenes and other contexts, the challenge to decide who Hal is and what he is doing is unavoidable.33 While the characters onstage reveal the diffi-culties involved in reading others and in being read themselves, offstage audiences may feel pressured to hazard a belief which will provide a stable ground for reading Hal's story.

From the moment he encounters Hotspur until he gives Prince John the honor of setting Douglas free, Shakespeare's Hal challenges his interpreters' beliefs. When he meets Hotspur in the field, Hal echoes his promise to the King, though presumption rather than prophecy sounds through his claim: "think not, Percy, / To share with me in glory any more. . . . all the budding honours on thy crest / I'Ll crop, to make a garland for my head" (V, iv, 62-73). When he mortally wounds Hotspur, completing his rival's final estimate of himself ("thou art dust, / And food for—/ For worms, brave Percy" [V, iv, 85-86]), Hal might refresh the audience's memory of his soliloquy's cocky arrogance. But in the presumed privacy of his triumph, Hal goes on to eulogize the "great heart" fallen before him and to speak again of "ill-weaved ambition" and the ironies of human mortality, but this time with moral prudence.

This is no mere repetition; it illustrates how the effects of meaning can deepen and improve as they are reiterated.34 When Hal bends to cover Hotspur's face with his own "favours," the image that he strikes refreshes a memory of noble chivalry and restores prophetic dignity to Hal's vision of the "glorious day" of his redemption (III, ii, 132-137). However questionable his integrity and motives might be later when he promises to give Falstaff credit for killing Hotspur and when he grants Prince John the honor of disposing of Douglas, Hal's final words over the body of his fallen rival seem genuinely magnanimous:

Adieu, and take thy praise with thee to heaven!
Thy ignominy sleep with thee in the grave,
But not rememb'Red in thy epitaph!

(V, iv, 99-101)

As the play ends amid a swirl of promises and poses, offstage interpreters might experience momentary trials of belief involving Hal's conditions of mind, heart, and soul. In fact, the problems of distinguishing between counterfeit and the real thing, which persist to the last lines of this play, continue through the two plays which complete the story of Hal's succession to the throne.35 There will be many more times when interpreters will find their subject involved in unexpected actions and uttering words which test their faith in the Tightness of their "settled" readings.

Because it is possible for moral choice to coincide with political necessity, idealistic motives are sometimes inextricable from utilitarian ones.36 In the shadow of pervasive ambiguity, the reading given to Hal at any point will be conditioned by the interpreter's assumptions about man's nature and the mysteries of human experience. In times of self-doubt, pretense, and suspicion, the belief that anyone can achieve nobility in his conduct might be a necessity. During the Elizabethan Age, when the amorality of Machiavellian politics was practiced as much as it was criticized, a belief in Hal's moral recovery may, in fact, be a testimony to the possibility of regaining an ideal which had been lost.37 If counterfeit reformation was one of the effects of challenged authority and the failure of personal conscience, it might be said that Hal gives new currency to the "real" thing near the end of Henry IV, Part One. If so, then this play could be a clue to Shakespeare's sense of the value of historical thinking and an invitation to faith in the possibility of "redeeming time."


1 Unless otherwise stated, I refer to the Sanderson edition in citations to 1 Henry IV, ed. James L. Sanderson (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1969).

2 In addition to the commentaries and studies cited in the glosses, the Variorum Edition of Henry the Fourth, Part I (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott and Company, 1936) and the Supplement (published in 1956 by the Shakespeare Association of America) include Appendices which sketch the major lines of the controversy. See especially Variorum 341-55 and 457-66; and Supplement 56-78 and 90-94. Recent articles and books indicate that the critical controversy is not likely to subside. I encourage my readers to attend to the documentation and consider its implications relative to the rules of evidence and persuasion.

3 In addition to the characters in 1 Henry IV, there are several others in 2 Henry IV and in Henry V (including clerics, nobles, and the soldiery) who take various positions on the meaning of Hal's words and behavior. In these latter plays, characters are not the only commentators onstage: there is a Prologue (presented by Rumor) and an Epilogue (spoken by a Dancer, according to one recent edition) in 2 Henry IV; in Henry V there are choral introductions to each act in addition to the Prologue and Epilogue.

4 In their interpretations of the meaning of events, these writers reveal the anomalies that derive from attributing causes sometimes to the exercises of human will and sometimes to the workings of Divine Providence. Ornstein notes that ambivalences exist not only between but within various accounts: "In Hall's as in other sixteenth-century Chronicles, moralistic judgements stand side by side with shrewdly realistic observations of political life. Next to pious exclamations and simplistic moral portraits are clear-eyed statements of the Machiavellian facts of political struggle and intrigue." See Robert Ornstein, A Kingdom for a Stage (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1972) 20-21.

5 For a fertile introduction to the problems of sorting out facts from legend, see Croft's expanded footnote on Elyot's reference to the Lord Chief Justice incident (Henry Stephen Croft, The Boke Named the Governour devised by Sir Thomas Elyot, vol. 2 [London: K. Paul, Trench and Company, 1883] fn. 6, 61-71). Willey notes: "It may be that all thought is conditioned, and so 'unfree'; even so-called 'Liberal' or 'Objective' thinking is directed by presuppositions, however latent or unconscious they may be. We cannot help interpreting the world from where we stand, and with a view to some hoped for destination (Basil Willey, The English Moralists [New York: Doubleday Company, Inc., 1964, rpt. 1967] 82).

6 The wording here has been intentionally groomed after Abrams's rendering of the deconstructive claims of Jacques Derrida (M. H. Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms, 4th ed. [New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1981]).

7 See "Deconstruction" in Abrams for suggestions about the implications made available by the wording of this description of Hal's procedure in "reading" Falstaff.

8 The distinction between "literary scholar" and "un-sophisticated reader" is made in light of the First Folio's opening range of readers, from "the most able" to "him that can but spell" (A3). See discussions of "literary competence" in Jonathan Culler, Structuralist Poetics (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1975) 113-30, and of "informed" readership in Stanley Fish, Is There A Text In This Class? (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1980) 303-71.

9 As a dramatic device, the soliloquy is a versatile convention. Abrams notes: "the playwright uses this device as a convenient way to convey directly to the audience information about a character's motives, intentions, and state of mind, as well as for purposes of general exposition" (180). This versatility, however, introduces ambiguity: for instance, "intention" and "state of mind" may be proper labels for the remarkably different soliloquies spoken by Richard III (Richard III, I, i) and by Richard II (Richard II, V, v), respectively. In terms of Hal's speech, the difference between political rationale (an "intention") and psychological rationalization (a "state of mind") does not appear to be a quibble. See also the commentary on "various modes of solo speech" in Daniel Seltzer, "Prince Hal and Tragic Style," Shakespeare Survey 30 (1977) 17-25, and notes on alternate ways that an actor might "play" this speech as well as the gloss on "variable effectiveness of the soliloquy . . . illustrated from accounts of performances" in Shakespeare in Performance: An Introduction through Six Major Plays, ed. John Russell Brown (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1976) 125-26. On the point of authorial intention, Empson notes: "Of course to decide on an author's purpose, conscious or unconscious, is very difficult. Good writing is not done unless it works for readers with opinions different from the author's." Yet Empson insists later in his book: "The crucial first soliloquy of Prince Henry was put in to save his reputation with the audience; it is a willful destruction of his claims to generosity, indeed to honesty, if only in Falstaff's sense: but this is not to say that it was a mere job with no feeling behind it . . . it cannot have been written without bitterness against the prince. . . . In having some sort of double attitude to the prince, Shakespeare was merely doing his work as a history writer" (William Empson, Some Versions of Pastoral [New York: New Directions Publishing Co., 1930, rpt. 1968] 3-5 and 102-05).

10 The wording here has intentionally followed Rorty, who goes on to note that a speaker's description "may perfectly well be set aside" (Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979] 349). In light of Worcester's complaints about the unalterability of the King's fixed reading of him (II, i, 282-85 and V, ii, 12-15), Hal's politic strategy might seem naive. The outcome of events in the play, however, could be introduced in support of both the optimism of Hal and the pessimism of Worcester, though they are mutually exclusive in their assumptions.

11 Although Tudor historians indicate that Hal's con-temporaries, including his father, suspected him of political plotting long befor the events of this play, Swinburne (who likened Hal to Louis XI and Caesar Borgia) was one of the earliest proponents of this reading, but it did not become popular until after Bradley, Yeats, and G. B. Shaw argued for it (see Variorum 461-63). By now it has become one of the recognized interpretations of Prince Hal/Henry V. See the commentary by Fredson Bowers, "Shakespeare's Art: The Point of View," in Literary Views, ed. Carroll Camden (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964) 45-58, which is reprinted in Sanderson, esp. 313-16. Weiss has more recently turned the corner on this reading by commending rather than blaming Hal for his policy; he labels him "the ablest 'Actor' " and a "royal counterfeit" who is well suited to a "topsy-turvy, bad time" (Theodore Weiss, The Breath of Clowns and Kings [New York: Atheneum, 1974] 277). On this latter note, Mosse's assertion that "pious frauds" and "holy deceits" may imply "sincere attempts to meet the challenge of 'policy' and reason of state," rather than "mere hypocrisy," might shed more favorable light on Hal's reformation ploy (George L. Mosse, The Holy Pretense [New York: Howard Fertig, 1957, rpt. 1968] 5).

12 In general, Tudor historians attempt to diminish the extent and/or intensity of Hal's dissoluteness by speaking of slanders and false rumors. Several, however, favor this reading, and there is considerable agreement among them about naming the time of Hal's "miraculous conversion" as the day of his coronation; see J. Dover Wilson's discussion of Fabyan's Chronicle of 1516 in The Fortunes of Falstaff (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1944) 15-35, which is reprinted in Sanderson, esp. 261-66. It might be well to mention that in Henry V, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Ely consider this interpretation but reject it, "for miracles are ceased" (I, i, 67). Brown glosses this passage: "protestants believed miracles ceased to occur after the revelation of Christ" (William Shakespeare: The Life of Henry V, ed. John Russell Brown [New York: The New American Library, 1965] 45). Modern historians tend to lament the lack of documentary evidence for Hal's dissolute conduct and to dismiss the possibility of miraculous conversion as a matter of superstition.

13 Rabkin's discussion of the notion of "comple-mentarity" might be valuable reading for those who recognize a problem here and see no convincing way to avoid what looks like an either/or choice at the crossroads of interpretation (Norman Rabkin, Shakespeare and the Common Understanding [New York: The Free Press, 1967] 1-29). In addition, I would like to recommend Stanley Fish, Self-Consuming Artifacts (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972) 1-43 and Harold Bloom, "The Breaking of Form," Deconstruction and Criticism (New York: The Seabury Press, 1979) 1-22. After reading these, it might be possible to avoid lamenting the road(s) not taken.

14 It might be argued that the Sheriff's knocking pre-vents any direct onstage response. It is curious, nonetheless, that while this knocking can effectively prevent interpretive responses onstage, it might be taken to be a specialized dramatic signal by interpreters offstage. See Goddard's discussion of "knocking" as a device used by Shakespeare "to betoken at a fateful moment the knocking of the inner mentor" (Harold Goddard, The Meaning of Shakespeare, vol. 2 [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951] 207-09).

15 Toliver, for example, calls it "a kind of official proclamation . . . a present impulse to reject comic ritual and to seek some other adjustment" (Harold O. Toliver, "Falstaff, the Prince, and the History Play," Shakespeare Quarterly 16 [Winter 1965]: 63-80, reprinted in Sanderson, esp. 176-79). Furthermore, Dessen notes: "Shakespeare makes it clear that the prince's summary comment ('I do, I will') is based upon accurate knowledge of his companions (emphasized again through the papers from Falstaff's pockets), complete control of himself (in evidence since I, ii), and total awareness of the debt that remains to be paid, the role that must be assumed, and the world that must eventually be banished. Hal's four revealing words are in themselves enough to explain his ultimate victory over Hotspur if only in the vision that allows him to see the future in the present (as in his soliloquy) and steer his own independent course through uncharted political and moral watefs" (Alan C. Dessen, "The Intemperate Knight and the Politic Prince: Late Morality Structure in 1 Henry IV" Shakespeare Studies 7 [1974]: 159). See also Richard L. McGuire, "The Play-within-the-Play in 1 Henry IV" Shakespeare Quarterly 18 (Winter 1967): 50.

16 Traversi finds Hal's reply "true to the Prince's character and to the tragedy of his family": he will "banish everything that cannot be reduced to an instrument of policy in the quest for empty success" (D. A. Traversi, 'Henry IV, Part I: History and the Artist's Vision," a revised reprint of his essay in Scrutiny [1947], in Sanderson, 322). On the other hand, Arthur C. Sprague sees "plenty of irony" in Hal's reply, though it was unavailable to audiences until the composition and presentation of 2 Henry IV, and George L. Kittredge is careful to rule out an intention in the Prince to banish Falstaff, "for when this happens, he has 'Turned from his former self " (Variorum Supplement, 25-26). See also Seltzer's remarks on Hal's reply ("Prince Hal and Tragic Style" [26]).

17 Sometimes onstage interpreters find themselves at a loss to understand Hal and must ask him for an explanation. For example, earlier in this same scene, Poins plays along with Hal in the baiting of Francis. Afterwards, however, Poins turns to Hal and says, "But hark ye; what cunning match have you made with this jest of the drawer? come, what's the issue" (II, iv, 100-02). Dessen finds no such difficulty offstage: "To the audence, Prince Hal is the obvious puppetmaster who can control Francis's reactions because of his knowledge of what makes the puppet work, whereas no one else understands the purpose of the test case" (158).

18 With respect to the baiting of Francis (alluded to above), Ornstein describes the controversy it has spawned and notes one possible consequence of claims based on an assumption about Elizabethan conventions: "If Tillyard is correct the Francis episode is not a fascinating revelation of Hal's personality; it is an irrelevant and purposeless bit of low humor, which exposes Shakespeare's 'Elizabethan' snobbery and coarseness" (see Ornstein's discussion of this scene and of "Elizabethan 'Thought,' " 8-11).

19 Setting aside his own earlier readings of Hal (as dangerously irresponsible or harmlessly immature), the King now finds the reproving hand of God in Hal's dissoluteness. If Hal could be thought of as a conscious scourge of God, then his designs on the King might be inferred to be similar to the indirect reproval claimed as a possible explanation of his earlier agreement to rob Falstaff at Gadshill. Ornstein, however, considers Henry's first words "a scathing rebuke," though he notes an ambivalence in the King's lecturing of Hal: "Does Henry mistake his son? Or does he know precisely how to test Hal's mettle and how to expose the princely self behind the cloak of loose behavior?" (142-43).

20 Hal does not enumerate or distinguish the "tales" from the "true things." The King and the offstage interpreters are left to assume that they know what he means.

21 Though the phrase "method in his madness" may seem inexcusably trite, it is meant to recall the lines mentioned in the opening paragraph of this paper ("essentially mad/made"), and the commonplace that is popular in discussions of Hamlet's dealings with Claudius. See G. R. Hibbard, "Henry IV and Hamlet," Shakespeare Survey 30 (1977): 1-12.

22 Seltzer, on the issue of Hal's subtext in this play, notes: "The words of the text, in the mode of playwriting, themselves become referential; they demand for their full effectiveness an understanding of, or at least our assumption that the character possesses, an interior life which is developing its own energies, subtextually" (26). See also persuasions in Fish regarding ambiguity and indirect speech act (268-92) and to relativism and solipsism (317-21).

23 Ornstein cites C. L. Kingsford's introduction to The First Life of King Henry the Fifth (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1911) xxi, in support of his own suggestion: "We rejoice in the thought that the greatest monarch had misspent his youth, and much prefer this fictional prince to the real one, who apparently schemed with his allies to wrest the throne from his ailing father. We would rather believe that Hal boxed the ear of Authority than that he lusted for the crown" (140).

24 Although these two statements may be taken as distinct declarations with respect to the King's claims (a denial of the charge that he is his father's enemy and an assurance that he will never take arms with the rebels against the King), it is possible to perceive conditional logic between them (If you do not believe that I am your enemy, then you will not find that I am your enemy).

25 In light of Hal's vow (if he "break the smallest parcel," may he "die a hundred thousand deaths"), the King's triumphant reply, "A hundred thousand rebels die in this," may be as richly ambiguous as Hal's "I do, I will."

26 Hal's invocation of God may be an unexpected effect of Henry's political hectoring or of his own repeated enactment of a resolution to change his ways. See C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan Co., 1943, rpt. 1960) 147; and Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory (New York: Macmillan Co., 1959) 102. Furthermore, his vow is not a denial of Henry's charge that his son is in Richard's line (III, ii, 85-87); rather it recalls a time when the God of Justice was believed to be the director of human events, a time like that invoked for a moment by Richard II when Mowbray and Bolingbroke were set on proving each other false (Richard II, I, i, and iii). In this connection, perhaps Mazzeo's analysis of Machiavelli's theory of reform might reveal a surprising irony: Machiavelli "blends two views of history—the cyclical and the regenerative. . . . Any hope of reform lies, analogically, in a retrograde movement to the more vigorous starting point. For example, any state that wishes to renew itself must return to its old ethos, a return which, Machiavelli says, can only be the work of one powerful man" (Joseph Mazzeo, Renaissance and Revolution [New York: Random House, 1965, rpt. 1967] 88. Ornstein, on the other hand, considers Hal's reply "a furious and boasting pledge" (142).

27 For a survey of some recent proposals concerning the implications of Hal's education, see especially Paul A. Jorgensen, " 'Redeeming Time' in Shakespeare's Henry IV," Tennessee Studies in Literature 5 (1960): 101-09; Hugh Dickson, "The Reformation of Prince Hal," Shakespeare Quarterly 12 (1961): 33-46; Joan Webber, "The Renewal of the King's Symbolic Role: From Richard II to Henry V" reprinted from Texas Studies in Language and Literature (1963) in James L. Calderwood and Harold E. Toliver, Essays in Shakespeare (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1970) 193-201; and Charles Mitchell, "The Education of the True Prince," Tennessee Studies in Literature 12 (1967): 13-21.

28 Worcester accuses the King of a "violation" of faith which drove the rebels "for safety sake to fly," while Henry charges that "insurrection" is always able to find "water colors to impaint his cause."

29 This Hal appears to be remarkably different from the gallant who had responded so cavalierly to Hotspur's announcement of the "triumphs at Oxford" (Richard II, V, iii, 16-19) and from the tavern cynic who had mocked Hotspur's braveries after his own "heroics" at Gadshill (1 Henry IV, II, iv, 92-101). In addition, offstage interpreters might have various expectations based on their "readings" of the scenes that have taken place in the meantime. For example, between the scene at the Palace and the eve of the battle at Shrewsbury, Hal has returned to the tavern one more time. If there is a change in him, it is that he is less amused at Falstaff's shameless refusal to own up to his extravagant indulgences and debts. For his part, Hal admits to going through Falstaff's pockets and to paying back the robbery money after Gadshill, explaining, "I am good friends with my father and may do any thing" (III, iii, 161). Although Falstaff and Bardolph recognize this statement as a claim to be above the law and immediately propose another robbery, Hal abruptly changes the subject: "I have procured thee, Jack, a charge of foot." In a later scene, Vernon has announced to the rebel camp the approach of the King's army. His description of Hal mounting his horse (rising "like Mercury" from the ground and vaulting into his seat "As if an angel dropp'd down from the clouds" [IV, i, 106-08]) overturns Hotspur's more cynical request for news of "the nimble-footed madcap Prince of Wales," and evokes an image of "glitt'Ring" reform. Hal's commitment to putting down the rebellion is complete, regardless of the motives or forces that direct him.

30 See John C. Robertson, "Hermeneutics of suspicion versus hermeneutics of goodwill" and Ben F. Meyer, "Response," in Studies in Religion 8, 4, (Fall 1979): 365-77 (Robertson) and 393-95 (Meyer).

31 In V, iii, Falstaff tells Hal that he has already "paid Percy" (45), though the Prince doubts him. And later, in V, iv, when the King claims to have seen Prince John holding "Lord Percy at the point," Hal replies, "O, this boy / Lends mettle to us all!" (20-23). See also Empson (43-44).

32 The King's suspicions are rekindled in 2 Henry IV when he awakens to find Hal wearing the crown, though the soliloquy that Hal speaks reveals his anxiety about being King rather than his ambition. Furthermore, when the two exchange speeches it is clear that Henry has moved closer to contrition for his past than that expressed in his first meeting with Hal in 1 Henry IV. Compare 1 Henry IV, III, ii, and 2 Henry IV, IV, iv.

33 I had originally written "where Hal is coming from" in the place now filled by "who Hal is and what he is doing" because the phrase seemed to aptly gather together suggestions about the process of reformation and the notion that Hal's recovery of meaning is a return to older and less amoral ideals. I have since thought better of it and chosen to avoid the slang idiom.

34 The effect of repetition here seems to be the reverse of what Falstaff had earlier called Hal's "damnable iteration" in alluding to a line which is recognizable from Proverbs. See I, ii, 76 and the editor's gloss.

35 In fact, the final scene of Henry V, which centers on Hal's/Henry's marriage proposal to Katherine of France, may be as enigmatic as his first appearance with Falstaff and Poins in 1 Henry IV, I, ii.

36 In his study of Machiavellism, Meinecke notes: "If, after similar acts where idealistic and utilitarian motives might have been operating jointly, anyone were to put the question to himself sincerely as to how far his conduct had been determined by one or another motive, he would in the majority of cases be forced to admit that he was no longer able to distinguish clearly between the two types of motive and that they had intermingled imperceptibly. It is often the case that moral impulses do not make their appearance until after a dispassionate examination has revealed the usefulness and effectiveness of ethical action. . . . Between those sensations and motives which are moral in character and those which are amoral, there too often lie obscure regions of blending and transition; and it can even happen that these obscure regions come to occupy the entire space (Friedrich Meinecke, Machiavellism, trans. Douglas Scott [London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1924, rpt. 1957] 3-4).

37 In this connection, see Meinecke's assertion: "The belief that there does exist an absolute, capable of being recovered, is both a theoretical and a practical need; for, without such beliefs, pure contemplation would dissolve into a mere amusement with events, and practical conduct would be irretrievably exposed to all the naturalistic forces of historical life. . . . There are only two points at which the absolute manifests itself unveiled to his gaze: in the pure moral law on the one hand, and in the supreme achievements of art on the other" (433).

Marc Grossman (essay date 1995)

SOURCE: "The Adolescent and the Strangest Fellow: Comic and Morally Serious Perspectives in 1 Henry IV" in Essays in Literature, Vol. XXIII, No. 2, Fall, 1995, pp. 170-95.

[In the following essay, Grossman argues that in 1 Henry IV the "comic" world of Falstaff and the "morally serious " world of the Court ultimately collide, rendering the audience's perspective of the play's actions and characters uncertain.]

The figure of Prince Hal in 1 and 2 Henry IV is notable for the divergent, and often vociferous, reactions it provokes. To Tillyard, for example, the prince is "a man of large powers, Olympian loftiness, and high sophistication, . . . Shakespeare's studied picture of the kingly type" (269). To Harold Bloom, on the other hand, he is a "cold opportunist . . . [and] a hypocritical and ambitious politician, caring only for glory and for power, his father's true son . . . [he] is best categorized by his own despicable couplet: 'I'Ll so offend, to make offence a skill; / Redeeming time when men think least I will' " (3). As David Bevington remarks, and as Bloom's choice of quotation attests, in accounting for commentators' differing reactions to the prince "the interpretation of Hal's soliloquy (1.2 [of 1 Henry IV]) is crucial." "Are we," Bevington asks, "to view it as evidence of bloodless calculation, or as reassurance for the audience of good intent, or perhaps as whistling in the dark?" (59) Other commentators, however, generally seem to view this speech as unproblematically performing an essentially explanatory function and more or less take for granted and follow one, or a combination, of the first two interpretations noted in Bevington's question.1 These interpretations seem to me, however, to mistake the speech's dramatic function by treating it as an example of the kind of soliloquy, familiar both in Shakespeare and earlier Tudor drama, that serves principally as a mode of audience address and is fundamentally self-descriptive, or reportorial, or recitative in nature. This essay therefore proposes what I believe is a fresh reading of Hal's soliloquy, a reading that educes an understanding of Prince Hal that differs significantly both from the currently prevalent conception of him as a young "Machiavel" and from earlier views of him as a profligate prince who undergoes a morality play conversion into a responsible leader. As must any attempt at a satisfying account of the prince, the one offered here argues the significance of his companionship with, and subsequent banishment of, Falstaff. In joining that discussion I include an account of Falstaff that emphasizes the fantastic aspect of the character he embodies and that, in so doing, aspires to lay to its final rest the hoary debate over whether he is really a coward.

Focusing chiefly on 1 Henry IV, I argue throughout that the most prominent and pervasive opposition established by that play is one between what I call "morally serious" and "comic" perspectives and that the play employs a variety of techniques for exposing the tension between the two—within a character, between characters, and, most inventively, within the audience itself. Most obviously, through the simple device of alternating historical and comic scenes throughout much of its first three acts, 1 Henry IV confronts us with two contrasting worlds, whose opposition to each other is apt to emerge more powerfully in the theatre than in reading. The one inhabited by King Henry and his loyalists and by Hotspur and the other rebels is an essentially humorless and relentlessly judgmental world where qualities of moral character are regarded with the utmost seriousness. These historical characters assess themselves and others as being upright or deceitful, loyal or disloyal, courageous or cowardly, deliberate or rash, unassuming or arrogant, and so on, and although neither faction acts with unstained virtue or untainted motives, each is represented as having a measure of justice on its side, and as comprised of the kind of men who would not engage in such a contest without substantial conviction in the merit of their cause. Theirs, accordingly, is a world where conflict arises not only as a result of competing ambitions but as a result of opposing views as to the mandates of social justice, a world in which tragedy therefore looms as a continuous possibility. It is, in short, the world in which most of us live most of the time. I use such terms as "moral seriousness" and "a morally serious perspective" to denote, in a fully inclusive way, the perspective held by these characters and elicited in the audience by the play's historical scenes.

The other world dramatized in 1 Henry IV is, of course, that of Falstaff and his fellow denizens of Eastcheap. Although its inhabitants are never portrayed as malicious or evil, in this world of pranks and high spirits moral seriousness is deflated with mockery and dissolved with laughter. It is a world that reflects its characters' tacit premise that life is short and the flesh is weak and their liberating lack of any sense of individual importance. Its reigning spirit is therefore one of mutual understanding and forgiveness, and it engenders in its audience the pleasure of a warm affection for all of its characters in all of their weakness and with all of their faults. It consequently is a world in which moral judgments are not the principal basis for the esteem in which a person is held. My use of such terms as "a comic perspective" and "seeing things comically" is intended to capture, once again in the broadest manner, the various facets of the Weltanschauung reflected, and elicited, by these eastcheap characters. Although, with a single salient exception, 1 Henry IV maintains a quite sharp bifurcation between the morally serious perspective of the personages of the court and the non-jnorally serious, or comic, perspective of the habitués of the tavern, Shakespeare knows more ways of producing the effect of gray from black and white than simply by mixing the two together.


Many commentators unhesitatingly accept Hal's soliloquy as a straightforward audience-directed revelation that, in frequenting the tavern and becoming a companion to Falstaff, the prince is engaged in a calculated effort to cultivate a reputation for irresponsibility for the sake of achieving future political advantage, and their interpretation of motive in this one speech colors their entire experience of the play. To cite but one influential contemporary example, Stephen Greenblatt asserts:

Hal is a "juggler," a conniving hypocrite, [whose] characteristic activity is playing [parts, including] himself as prodigal, and himself as penitent—and [who] fully understands his own behavior . . . as a role that he is performing, [thereby demonstrating that] theatricality . . . is one of power's essential modes [and revealing that 1 Henry IV presents an image of power that] involves as its positive condition the constant production of its own radical subversion and the powerful containment of that subversion.

(41, 46)2

In taking the soliloquy's account of Hal's motivation at face value, such readings disregard the extraordinary implausibility of the strategy the prince professes to be following. When stripped of its trite but powerful rhetoric, that strategy is so palpably unsound that the notion that anyone might seriously and steadily pursue it seems to me psychologically fantastic. It requires one to accept the premise that a young man, in anticipation of almost certainly one day holding a position of great social power and responsibility, might reasonably conclude that it would be shrewd to first convince his future subordinates of his utter incompetence and unsuitability for his destined role so that he can later surprise them by his diligence. The modern political expedient of intentionally lowering public expectations of one's performance is one thing; but deliberately to sow doubt, distrust and even contempt in those whom one would lead surely displays a most remarkable lapse in common sense. But does this blunt formulation of Hal's scheme distort or omit anything of importance from either his circumstances or his reasoning? Let's examine the prince's own words (1.2.168-90), first the analogy to the sun and holidays.3

It seems true enough that, just as the sun and holidays are "more wondered at" and more keenly "pleaseth" for their prior absence, responsible behavior may "show more goodly and attract more eyes" when performed by someone previously perceived as inadequate. But for Hal's scheme to have the least credibility, it must go beyond producing such transient effects as astonishment, appreciation, or relief to a reasonable expectation of some more substantial and lasting advantage, such as the enhancement of his ability to command the respect and loyalty he will require as king. But Hal's analogies to the sun and holidays do not even begin to support any such tenuous inference. For instance, Hal's personification of the sun as deliberately absenting itself so that we will the more admire its glory when it reappears does not take into account the skepticism as to its future reliability its willful withdrawal would inspire. And even if one supposes that Hal imagines the sun as able to dispel all such skepticism with a single timely burst of its radiance, what grounds can this idle, untried youth, possibly have for believing that he will have either the ability or the opportunity for deeds soglorious as to do likewise, much less for equating himself now to the very sun? It is more likely that his ascension to the throne would be attended instead, just as his father fears, with national contempt capable of undermining the integrity of the state.

In this last regard, it is instructive to compare Hal's soliloquy with his father's advice to him on the same subject (3.2.39-91). As is often noted, both speeches strongly rely on the notion that absence or deprivation of a good thing enhances appreciation for it, and both, by way of example, invoke the sun's reappearance after an absence. They also share not only a general pattern of imagery but specific words and phrases ("seldom," "rare," "clouds/cloudy," "wondered at," "eyes"). But the two speeches reach quite opposite pragmatic conclusions. For whereas the strategy Hal describes involves making himself common in the eyes of his countrymen and peers (the very same sort of behavior that Henry expressly cites as contributing to the downfall of Richard II), Henry advises his son to follow the example of his own ascension and achieve admiration, respect, and loyalty by maintaining an august distance from those he would lead, because, in a word, familiarity breeds contempt. The fact (as I take it) that Henry's cliché advice is both sounder and more often followed than the bizarre plan propounded by his son suggests that the repetition in the king's speech of concepts, images, and words used earlier by Hal may be intended to remind us of the soliloquy and to underscore the speciousness of its reasoning.

The weakness of its reasoning is not the only reason to distrust the notion that the soliloquy provides a factual explanation for Hal's biding his youth in the tavern with Falstaff. For in its opening lines Hal says:

I know you all, and will awhile uphold
The unyoked humor of your idleness.
Yet herein will I imitate the sun. . . .

(1.2.168-70; emphasis added)

That is, he does not say: "I know you all, and do awhile uphold (or have awhile upheld) the unyoked humor of your idleness. Yet herein do I imitate the sun," which would be more natural and appropriate if Hal were here reciting to himself (for the audience's benefit) a rationale for his time in Eastcheap. Of course, the first "will" could be elliptical for "I will awhile longer." But while it could, there is no reason to suppose it must be. The second "will" might be thought to reflect the fact that Hal is beginning to contemplate his "reformation," which will of course occur in the future. However, he is not there referring to his reformation, but to his imitation of the sun and, specifically, the cloud-hidden sun. While that imitation will not be complete until Hal's reformation has occurred, if the act of imitating has itself been going on for some considerable time, why refer to it as something that he will do rather than as something he all along has been and is now doing? The soliloquy's closing lines are still more telling:

I'Ll so offend to make offense a skill,
Redeeming time when men think least I will.


Here the future tense ("I'Ll so offend" rather than "I so offend") plainly suggests that Hal is contemplating some offense(s) he has yet to commit. Rather than being descriptive of past and current conduct, these words have the ring of affirmative resolution, and they impart that ring to the entire speech. But if Hal has long thought of himself as offending in this way, why should he need to resolve to do so now? As I will explain shortly, I take the tense of the three verbs I have cited to be indicative of what Hal is principally thinking about in his soliloquy and of the fact that he is not there describing something so much as doing something.

Finally, a further obstacle to accepting the soliloquy as an accurate statement of Hal's motivations is the stubborn impression, shared I believe by many readers and spectators of the play and actors and directors of the part, that the prince's enjoyment of and affection for both Falstaff and Eastcheap are neither feigned nor alloyed with any ulterior motive but are wholly genuine and fully sincere.

Even if one shares such discomforts as I have described, one could of course simply throw up one's hands and conclude that, in order to account for the incredible transformation of a truant prince into a glorious king to which he felt himself bound by the popular legend surrounding the youth of Henry V, Shakespeare "resorted to a most unpsychological explanation . . . but evidently he thought it sufficient" (Shaaber 16). Or one could follow the lead of those commentators who, in what strike me as little more than veiled versions of the same despair, appear to conclude that we are somehow meant to shut out of our minds the implausibility of the proposed explanation. Attempting to take Hal's words, as it were, out of his own mouth and heart, these commentators characterize the soliloquy as a kind of choric commentary (Tillyard 270-71) or prologue-like convention (Wilson 41) or assert that "[i]t is not a character speech at all . . . but a timesaving plot device, rather on the clumsy side, deliberately to remove from the audience any suspense that Hal was actually committed to his low-life surroundings" (Bowers 56). If, this being Shakespeare, one is reluctant to rest in such conclusions as these, then one is left with little choice than to search for an altogether different reading of Hal's speech.

Such a reading can be found in those commentators who, perceiving 1 Henry IV as a richly developed and highly nuanced successor to the traditional morality play, construe the soliloquy as chiefly intended to assure the audience of the prince's awareness of the error of his ways and to announce his determination to reform, an announcement that serves to prepare us for a genuine reformation that is thereafter depicted.4 The problem with this reading, however, is simple and bald: it completely ignores, and thus likewise fails to provide any satisfying explanation of, the improbable scheme set forth in the speech. Moreover, while Hal does indeed acknowledge his present behavior as "loose" and imagine himself in the future throwing it off and paying the debt he never promised, these accomplishments are neither the focus of his speech nor does he refer to them in language expressive of determination or resolution. He speaks of them, instead, as events whose eventual occurrence he takes for granted (or is resigned to): "So, when this loose behavior I throw off / And pay the debt I never promised. . . ." In contrast, he begins by saying "I . . . will awhile uphold / The unyoked humor of your idleness" and concludes with "I'Ll so offend to make offense a skill." Then, true to his word, his speech is followed by his participation in the Gad's Hill robbery. In short, while this speech may be construed as evidence of Hal's future good intent, it is at least equally evidence of his immediate intention to persist in "offending." And that is the intent that requires explanation. But if the moralityplay reading of the soliloquy is at best incomplete and the politically oriented one is psychologically implausible, how else may that speech be understood? To answer this question we first need to recall the circumstances under which it is made.

Prince Hal, heir apparent to the throne of England, has just been asked by his closest companions to join in a highway robbery. He immediately declines: "Who, I rob? I a thief? Not I, by my faith" (1.2.120). Then, under the importuning of Falstaff, he momentarily relents: "Well then, once in my days I'Ll be a madcap" (1.2.124). . Or perhaps he has not really relented but is only jovially pretending to have accepted Falstaff's typically sophistic argument that the prince's reluctance to join in his friends' endeavors is no mark of good character. In either event, he immediately once again declines: "Well, come what will, I'Ll tarry at home" (1.2.126). In the end, however, he is persuaded to involve himself by Poins's idea for turning the whole affair into a grand practical joke on Falstaff. His soliloquy immediately follows his agreeing to Poins's plan.

Hal has not lent himself to the Gad's Hill robbery for the purpose of enriching either himself or his companions, he is not himself to join in the actual theft, and one may even suppose that it has already occurred to him that he can later redeem the crime by making restitution, as he in fact will do. Hal might thus tell himself, with a measure of justice, that what he has really committed himself to is not a crime but a practical joke. On the other hand, it seems unlikely that he would now be wholly untroubled by the prospect of becoming complicitous in an act in which, just a moment before, he indignantly refused to participate. Taking my cue from that initial note of indignation—where he emphasizes not so much the illegality or impropriety of the robbery as its inconsistency with his upright character and royal status—I am proposing that it is reasonable, at the very least, to assume that Hal's sense of his own integrity continues to be troubled by his acquiescence in a criminal enterprise out of his love of a practical joke. I am speculating, in short, that at the moment of his soliloquy Hal is contemplating his role in the Gad's Hill adventure not so much with anticipatory guilt as with anticipatory shame.

And if it is reasonable to imagine him troubled, then what could be more natural than for Hal to want somehow to explain away to himself the conduct in which he proposes to indulge? That, I submit, is what he is really doing in his soliloquy. As Hotspur does elsewhere (4.1.43-52 and 75-83), though in a less elaborate manner and unfortunately with total success, Hal is attempting to rationalize away misgivings, in part no doubt about the life he leads generally in Eastcheap but most especially a sense that the specific act he is about to perform crosses the boundary between defensible frivolity and the genuinely shameful. (Samuel Johnson, to my knowledge uniquely among commentators, likewise construes this speech as an act of rationalization, saying that it "exhibits a natural picture of a great mind offering excuses to itself, and palliating those follies which it can neither justify nor forsake" [170].)5 Those who hear in Hal's soliloquy a calculating scheme are therefore not mistaken, but it is mistaken, I believe, to imagine that that scheme theretofore has been the actual ongoing premise of Hal's life and that what he is doing here is reciting that premise to himself and thereby informing the audience of it and explaining himself to them.

Instead, I suggest, the scheme is only just now, even as he speaks, taking shape in his mind. That is why he formulates it as something he will do rather than as something he has all along been doing. And, considered in the light of Hal's dubious circumstances, the speciousness of the reasoning behind that scheme flags its function as a rationalization. The political "strategy" described in his speech has therefore no more been a motive for Hal's companionship with Falstaff than it is a motive for his participation in the robbery; the real motive of both is just his love of the fun. I in no way mean to discount the probability of other, less conscious, motives, such as might be felt by any son of any father or by anyone who knows he must one day pay an enormous debt he never promised. But by interpreting himself to himself as playing the part of a prince secretly endeavoring to enhance his future authority as king, Hal fends off his shame by dressing up his conduct with a loftier purpose more befitting his youthful notion of how a prince ought to behave. Preposterous as the role in which he casts himself is, it projects a self-image he understandably might prefer to hold at this moment rather than feel obliged to forgo the Gad's Hill adventure or consider whether his attraction to it and his entire existence in Eastcheap are indicative of a genuinely dishonorable nature. To see all this more clearly, let us consider how Hal's lines might be read in light of my claim that they amount to an elaborate rationalization.

In that speech Hal is not speaking to us, the audience, for the purpose of (Shakespeare's) providing us with a highly implausible explanation for what might otherwise seem to us a highly implausible later transformation of his character. Nor is he pronouncing his judgment that his current companions and way of life are deserving of rejection and expressing his resolution to repudiate them and reform himself. He is a young prince who naturally fears that his complicity in a robbery will bring dishonor not only on himself but on the crown and who, speaking to himself, is engaged in an understandable attempt to persuade himself that it will not, ultimately, have any such consequence. When he begins by saying "I . . . will awhile uphold the unyoked humor of your idleness," he is thinking particularly (though probably not exclusively) about and reaffirming his commitment to the Gad's Hill escapade. From "Yet herein will I imitate the sun" through his speech's penultimate line he rationalizes that indulging himself now will make his inevitable later assumption of royal responsibilities seem more of an accomplishment and thereby redound to his own and his nation's greater good. By likening himself to the (hidden) sun, he is simultaneously striving to reassure himself of his fundamentally honorable nature and to persuade himself that the robbery and his "loose behavior" generally merely temporarily obscure his true merit, rather than constitute something by which it should be judged. And, beginning that strand of his rationalization that culminates in the soliloquy's final line, he is starting to comfort himself with the promise and fantasy that however he behaves now he will one day not only act worthily but will shine like the sun itself. His comparison of Falstaff, Poins, and the rest to "base contagious clouds" and "foul and ugly mists of vapors" may, in this context, be understood as more self-serving than sincere.

When he goes on to say "when [rather than "if" ] this loose behavior I throw off / And pay the debt I never promised," he is neither prophesying to us his own destiny nor resolving to reform. He is simply acknowledging what he has always known will eventually be required of him and assuming (as the nature of his rationalization requires him to assume) that he will be equal to doing it. In characterizing his assumption of his future responsibilities as his "reformation," he is not conceding that he actually needs to reform but anticipating (correctly) how the outward change in his behavior will look to others. Although, as this speech shows, Hal's conviction as to the adequacy of his native character to his destined role currently requires shoring up, if he genuinely believed he needed to reform, he would hardly be likely to compare his current status to that of the (hidden) sun. (For reasons that will become evident, by the time of his audience with his father [3.2], Hal's conviction will have become complete. For there, while accepting such censure as may be his due for "some things true wherein [his] youth / Hath faulty wandered and irregular" [3.2.26-27], he humbly but affirmatively defends himself against Henry's remonstrances by maintaining that his reputation exaggerates his faults, by asking to be judged not by what he is reputed to be but by what he really is, and by promising not that he will amend himself but that he will thereafter be more himself.) Finally, having for the moment become fully persuaded by his argument, Hal spurs himself on in his commitment to Poins's plan ("I'Ll so offend to make offense a skill") and concludes by augmenting his principal rationalization with one of the most common excuses of all: that he will make up tomorrow for the shameful thing he does today.

Construing Hal's soliloquy in this way immediately reveals several of its principal functions and features. First, the speech serves to disclose to the audience the acuteness with which Prince Hal, uniquely among the cast of 1 Henry IV, internalizes, or mirrors, the tension between the two comic and morally serious perspectives, placed in opposition by the play. Second, the speech does not (unlike the previously described conventional readings) undercut in an oddly undramatic fashion whatever suspense the audience may be feeling as to the prince's true character. On the contrary, it is a device for creating suspense, or arousing false expectations. It either leaves the question of Hal's real nature open or suggests what will ultimately prove to be the wrong answer. For it leaves the audience to wonder: if this young man is capable of rationalizing his way into indulging himself now, may he not continue to do so later, even as king? Third, the soliloquy itself affords an instance of the prince's much noted proclivity for playing roles and illustrates what I shall maintain is generally true of Hal's "performances," at least throughout Part 1: that, contrary to the view of many commentators, they are primarily put on not for others but for himself. And finally, when heard as the temporization of a deeply divided youth, Hal's speech sheds its initial resemblance to those essentially self-descriptive soliloquies in which the speaker more or less directly expresses or reports his or her thoughts, emotions, ambitions, motives, or other interior life principally for the edification of the audience. (Consider, for example, Falstaff's soliloquy on honor [5.1.127-39].) Hal's speech emerges instead as an example of those dramaturgically more sophisticated soliloquies and other speeches that exhibit the speaker in the act of, say, trying to assimilate a particularly intense or painful experience (Troilus's "This is, and is not, Cressid"), or reaching for an understanding of how he or she has come to a particular pass (Macbeth's "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow"), or groping to explain himself to himself (Richard Gloucester's "Love foreswore me . . .") The speech emerges, that is, as a specimen of the kind of playwriting that is capable of conjuring up what Janet Adelman aptly describes as "the voice of a fully developed subjectivity, the characteristically Shakespearean illusion that a stage person has interior being, including motives that he himself does not fully understand" (l).6

For those who may feel that Hal's initial refusal to join in the Gad's Hill robbery is the most slender of evidence from which to infer a seriously troubled state of mind, much less to use as a foundation for interpreting that important speech, I add the considerable evidence of 2.4, which is the first time we see Prince Hal after the Gad's Hill episode. That is the scene which takes place at the Boar's Head Tavern, where Hal and Poins are awaiting Falstaff's return from the robbery, and that opens with Hal soliciting Poins (in a reversal of their Gad's Hill roles) to play a practical joke on the drawer Francis. The playing of this extended joke involves Poins's stationing himself, as it were, off-stage and hidden in a private room, from which he periodically calls out for service while Hal engages Francis in a "conversation" largely incomprehensible to the hapless drawer. The beleaguered Francis is thereby torn between attending to his customer and rudely breaking away from the Prince of Wales. In the end the prince finally releases him to respond to Poins's calls, only immediately to summon him back, leaving Francis standing amazed and not knowing which way to turn. It is a bizarre and disquieting episode and when, after the joke has been played, Poins asks Hal, "But hark ye; what cunning match have you made with this jest of the drawer? Come, what's the issue?" (2.4.82-84), one may well feel that Poins is standing in for ourselves, who likewise may feel like asking the playwright, "So, where's the humor and what's the point of this long joke on poor Francis?" Hal answers Poins (and Shakespeare us):

I am now of all humors that have showed themselves humors since the old days of goodman Adam to the pupil age of this present twelve o'clock at midnight.


As I understand Hal's cryptic reply, the point of his "joke" lies precisely in its indefensibly gratuitous cruelty, or, more specifically, in its having enabled its perpetrator to have engaged in one of the most shameful forms of humor and hence to have plumbed one of the basest of temperaments. But why should Hal here seek so to debase himself? I can think of no better explanation than that, the actual crime having defeated his rationalization for participating in it, his shame is now wallowing in itself, brazening it out, as it were, by indulging in yet another shameful act. No other supposition seems to me to account so well not only for Hal's vile treatment of Francis but for the uncharacteristically haughty attitude he displays earlier at the very opening of this scene. Let me, then, describe that opening upon the assumption that my supposition is correct.

Hal has come from Gad's Hill to the tavern burning with shame. He passes some time there "[w]ith three or four loggerheads amongst three or four-score hogsheads" (2.4.4-5) in an unsuccessful effort to drown his disgrace in drink. "To conclude," he thereafter reports to Poins, "I am so good a proficient in one quarter of an hour that I can drink with any tinker in his own language during my life" (2.4.15-17). Upon first rejoining Poins in the tavern, the prince is, accordingly, both bitterly ashamed of himself and reasonably drunk.7 His bitterness, unleashed rather than checked by drink, then leads this normally unassuming youth and sometime companion of Bardolph and Peto suddenly to stand on his royal status and to recount to Poins, with haughty and therefore wholly uncharacteristic sarcasm, that he has just endured the convivial fellowship of three common drawers, who have been pleased to inform him that, notwithstanding his being Prince of Wales, he is after all just a good boy, a lad of mettle and certainly no proud Jack like Falstaff. In other words, reacting to the salt unknowingly rubbed in his wounded self-esteem by the drawers' innocent testimonials to his character, Hal self-defensively falls back on his hereditary class and station, taking offense at the drawers' temerity in presuming to pass judgment on him.

In this same spirit of uninhibited shame he goes on to reward poor Francis, who has pathetically bestowed on the heir apparent the favor of a pennyworth of sugar, by playing on him his cruel practical joke. But just as his expressions of scorn for the drawers have been born not from any genuine contempt for them but from his self-lacerating contempt for himself, so the true motive of his trick is not the mockery of Francis but that further humiliation of himself that he feels he so richly deserves. Ashamed for having participated in the robbery even as a practical joke, he now perversely seeks to repeat his shame for that defensible act by committing, in a second practical joke, what he this time knows full well to be the truly indefensible act of toying with a social subordinate for his sport. Excessive as his self-condemnation may be, it should not, in this light, be difficult to imagine how Hal might be moved to say that he has now acquainted himself with all humors known to mankind since its first experience of shame in the Garden of Eden.

After Hal's practical joke, Francis, having exited, momentarily reappears. Hal asks him the time and receives in reply only Francis's customary "anon, anon, sir" (2.4.89). The prince thereupon resumes his mocking of Francis's limited talents:

That ever this fellow should have fewer words than a parrot, and yet the son of a woman! His industry is upstairs and downstairs, his eloquence the parcel of a reckoning. 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 to-day?" "Give my roan horse a drench," says he, and answers, "Some fourteen," an hour after; "a trifle, a trifle."


As is often remarked, Hal here performs a most stunning and puzzling conversational leap by proceeding from mocking Francis directly to mocking Hotspur. But the leap may seem less puzzling, even natural, when taken in conjunction with his earlier characterization of himself as Adam's pupil and when viewed as displaying the self-contempt he has been exhibiting from the start of this scene. That is to say, Hal's words here no more express his true opinion of Hotspur than his contemptuous references to Francis and the other drawers express his true feelings about them. Hal's real opinion of Hotspur is spoken at Shrewsbury over his corpse, and there, as in the prince's references to him during his interview with his father (3.2), his words express nearly unqualified admiration. I am suggesting that the figure of Hotspur suddenly springs to Hal's mind precisely because Hotspur represents to him someone approaching a paradigm of devotion to honorable conduct and that, by deriding Hotspur, Hal is adopting another defensive stratagem typical of shame—he is lashing out with derision both at the ideal he feels he himself has failed to live up to and at the person who for him most fully embodies that ideal.

In addition to supporting my interpretation of the soliloquy, this reading of the Francis episode provides an immediate dramatic motivation for certain additional features of Hal's interaction with Francis that have been brought out by others. For instance, in a fine essay on this remarkably rich and overdetermined little episode, J. D. Shuchter observes that, in probing the drawer's willingness to "show . . . a fair pair of heels and run from" his indenture (2.4.42-43), Hal is quite clearly probing the extent to which others experience conflicts similar to his, and thereby probing himself; that Hal. as tempter and Poins as customer "are playing roles . . . with respect to Francis [that] are functionally the same as those of Falstaff and King Henry with respect to Hal"; and that by causing Francis to feel irreconcilably pulled in two directions at once, Hal reproduces in him the stalemate in which he then finds himself (130-31). S. P. Zitner further points out that Francis's perpetual "anon, anon" serves something like the temporizing function of Hal's soliloquy (67). (That Francis functions in general as a surrogate for Harry of Monmouth is all but expressly announced in the prince's very first reference to him: "Sirrah," he tells Poins, "I am sworn brother to a leash of drawers and can call them all by their christen names, as Tom, Dick, and . . . Francis" [2.4.6-8; ellipsis added].) By considering the foregoing observations in light of my own contention that, at the time of his by-play with Francis, Hal is experiencing the conflicts associated with his life in Eastcheap with an intensity sharpened by the Gad's Hill robbery, one can more readily understand why the prince is engaging in such semi-intoxicated soul-searching at just this juncture of the play.

If my readings of the soliloquy and the Francis episode are convincing, what can be learned from them? For one thing, they highlight the particular kind of writing that is contained in 1 Henry IV, at least in the role of Prince Hal, and therefore the nature of the demand such writing makes on its audience or readers. It is writing in which, as I alluded earlier in connection with the soliloquy, a character's complex interior life is made known to the audience not by its being described or reported but by its being immediately manifested, or projected, moment by moment as it occurs, in the character's speech and behavior—projected in ways as fully complex and "indirect" as those one encounters outside the theatre. The soliloquy and the Francis episode thus exemplify a kind of writing in which a stage character's words and behavior "demand, for their full effectiveness, an understanding of, or at least our assumption that the character possesses, an interior life which is developing its own energies sub-textually," writing that consequently requires us to "consider the [character] as knowing and feeling neither more nor less at any given moment in time than his experience of the play, so to speak, allows him to have at that moment."

Considered as instructions or working hypotheses for reading such a play as 1 Henry IV, these last two quotations seem to me as sound advice as any I know of. They are drawn from an essay by Daniel Seltzer, entitled "Prince Hal and Tragic Style" (26, 23), that is informed by a remarkable combination of scholarship and practical theatrical experience. Seltzer's object in that essay is to characterize and trace the evolution in Shakespeare's plays of a "technique" for the self-presentation of character which bears a strong resemblance to the kind of writing I have tried to elucidate. Suggesting that "it was in the histories that Shakespeare learned to focus upon the developing experience of a single character" (18), and finding the requisite technique for dramatizing that developing experience fully rendered in a sustained manner for the first time in the part of Prince Hal in 1 and 2 Henry IV, Seltzer contends that Hal is "the stage character whose 'personality' is one of the most pivotal in the playwright's career, for in its composition he acquired the ability to make a character change internally" (14), an ability without which he "could never have carried Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, or Lear to their ultimate moments of inner perception" (26).

While my particular readings of the soliloquy and the Francis episode are not those offered by Seltzer,8 they point us toward an understanding of Prince Hal that is consonant with Seltzer's view of him as a figure who "is represented—in the writing—as constantly in touch with his own conflicted needs, whose acted expressiveness is in terms of those conflicts—as the life of the play develops" (22-23), a figure "the depths of [whose] character [therefore] correspond in interesting ways to depths which the center of tragic focus must achieve" (21). On such a view of the prince, his "playing of parts"—for instance in 2.4, first as Francis's tempter, then as Hotspur, and finally as both himself and his father in his mock interviews with Falstaff—constitutes, as Shuchter puts it, "a way of knowing, [a] dramatising [of] a situation [as] a way of clarifying the various positions within [a] conflict or of learning what the conflict really is" (133) and a device for "sifting, sorting and comparing" (135) with the object of discovering what he truly cares about, and how much. My readings point us, in other words, away from those interpretations of 1 Henry IV in which Prince Hal is seen as an essentially "static," aloof, and manipulative character whose penchant for role-playing evidences that his conduct and demeanor are always studiedly adapted to his private purposes and consequently cannot be relied upon as expressive of his real inner nature (whether that is felt to be attractive and noble or meanly calculating). They direct us, instead, toward those readings which see the role of Prince Hal as a depiction of the development of a personality.

The common description of that development as the "reformation" of Prince Hal not only ignores the fact that the prince himself nowhere appears to regard his character as in need of reformation, but also does a great disservice by promoting a conception of him as a royal black sheep faced, at the outset of the drama, with the simple morality-play task of overcoming proclivities and renouncing companions that both he and we can readily recognize are wholly unworthy and deserving of outright rejection. The Hal of Eastcheap whom we observe in Acts 1-3 is not drawn to the disreputable life of the tavern because he is personally prone to the excesses of the flesh, or because he is altogether lacking in a sense of propriety, or because of corrupt desires or ambitions for himself or his companions. Like his involvement in the Gad's Hill escapade, which serves as its emblem, Hal's existence in Eastcheap and everything he does there have their source and reveal their meaning in his attraction to Falstaff. And Hal is attracted to Falstaff for the same reason we are.

To my knowledge, no one has articulated the source of Falstaff's appeal to us better than Bradley, who writes:

The bliss of freedom gained in humour is the essence of Falstaff. . . . he is the enemy of everything that would interfere with his ease, and therefore of anything serious, and especially of everything respectable and moral. For these things impose limits and obligations, and make us the subjects of old father antic the law, and the categorical imperative, and our station and its duties, and conscience, and reputation, and other people's opinions, and all sorts of nuisances. I say he is therefore their enemy; but I do him wrong; to say that he is their enemy implies that he regards them as serious and recognizes their power, when in truth he refuses to recognize them at all. They are to him absurd; and to reduce a thing ad absurdam is to reduce it to nothing and to walk about free and rejoicing. This is what Falstaff does with all the would-be serious things of life. . . . These are the wonderful achievements which he performs, not with the sourness of a cynic, but with the gaiety of a boy. And, therefore, we praise him, we laud him, for he offends none but the virtuous and denies that life is real or life is earnest, and delivers us from the oppression of such nightmares, and lifts us into the atmosphere of perfect freedom.


For each reference to Falstaff in this passage one could substitute the word "comedy," for Bradley's magnificent account of Falstaff is equally an account of comedy itself, and so of what it means to have a capacity for seeing things comically. (Falstaff likewise identifies himself with the capacity for a comic perspective when he says, in Part 2, "I am not only witty in myself, but the cause that wit is in other men" [1.2.9-10]). As Bradley's account registers, particularly in its concluding words, the hallmark of Falstaff/comedy is its ability to establish, or draw upon our natural capacity for achieving, that peculiar detachment from ourselves and our lives which, so long as it lasts, disengages the disapproval and intolerance with which we otherwise greet what we regard as morally unacceptable. (Which is perhaps why high comedy so often expressly directs our attention to the moon and the stars.) To say that Hal's life in Eastcheap has its source in his attraction to Falstaff is therefore to say that it expresses his enormous capacity for entertaining the very same perspective that we ourselves adopt when we are able to step back and contemplate with tolerant amusement matters we otherwise regard with the utmost gravity. Outside the theatre we continually slip in and out of this comic perspective, prizing it but also feeling that it must be kept in its place, though we are not always sure exactly what that place is. By alternating comic with historical scenes 1 Henry IV elicits, inside the theatre, that shifting between comic and morally serious perspectives, together with the discomfort it can sometimes occasion, a feature I will later examine in greater detail.

Framed in these terms, the central question about Prince Hal with which the play opens is whether his appetite for seeing things comically has, through feeding on Falstaff, grown so boundless as to have wholly devoured his ability to respond and act in what he himself perceives to be a responsible and morally serious manner. That is the question the opening dialogue between Hal and Falstaff (1.2) seeks to raise in the mind of the audience, that Hal's soliloquy encourages, and that provides much of the suspense driving the drama. It also, of course, mirrors the question that so preoccupies Falstaff as he persistently tries to tease out of the heir apparent some explicit assurance that his hope for a future rule of license is well-founded. For the exact nature of Falstaff's uncertainty about the prince is revealed by the tactic by which he attempts to resolve it. His tactic throughout, from his opening dialogue with the prince through the play extempore, is never to appeal to Hal's baser instincts (since he knows he has none), but continuously to test and foster the prince's comic sensibility, as by portraying, say, thievery in an appealingly comic light: "Marry, then, sweet wag, 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 . . ." (1.2.20-23). Hal is, of course, well aware that such a question is Falstaff's constant preoccupation, as he signals in his opening lines when he chides Falstaff, who has just asked him the time of day, for having "forgotten to demand that truly which thou wouldest truly know" (1.2.4-5). The fact that the prince then responds to Falstaff's subsequent probing only with evasive repartee shows, I believe, not merely that he enjoys the sport of keeping the fat rogue in doubt but that, at this point in the play, he himself is no more certain of the answer to that question than are Falstaff or we.

My reason for emphasizing that Hal's life in Eastcheap is an expression of his attraction to Falstaff/comedy is this. However much one may feel that attraction has led him astray, unless one believes that the capacity for a comic perspective is in itself objectionable and requires suppression, one will not conclude that the task facing Hal at the start of the play demands a morality-play renunciation of that part of himself given reign in Eastcheap. Hal's task in this drama, as I understand it, is not to stop seeing things comically and start taking them seriously but to stop seeing them so comically and start taking them more seriously. While I do not wish to split hairs, that difference seems to me to make all the difference. It means that what is required of the prince is not that he make a binary choice, thereby suppressing one part of himself in favor of another, but that he find the means for accomplishing a personally and socially acceptable accommodation of the two.

By depicting the prince in Acts 4 and 5 as rising without hesitation to the defense of his father's crown and as comporting himself in political conflict and martial combat with both nobility and valor, 1 Henry IV ultimately leaves no room for doubt as to Hal's ability to put aside his comic perspective and assume a morally serious one. But in making this shift, doesn'T he in fact repudiate outright his own former self? This brings us, of course, to what is commonly referred to as the rejection of Falstaff, the event that occurs literally and publicly only in the coronation scene of Part 2, but which is prefigured at the conclusion of the play extempore in Part 1. By actually banishing Falstaff in Part 2, and by privately expressing his preparedness to do so in Part 7, isn'T the prince obviously rejecting everything Falstaff represents and so renouncing his own former attraction to him? That seems to be the entrenched opinion, whatever the figure of Falstaff is taken to represent and whether Hal's banishment of him is seen as an unambiguously healthy step toward personal maturation and political regeneration or as a perhaps necessary but nonetheless regrettable act of self-mutilation. I am not at all sure that the question of the interior significance of the banishment to Prince Hal/Henry V can be definitively answered; but I do believe that the two plays invite reconsideration, and the response with which I am personally most comfortable requires that further discussion of Falstaff that is contained in the next part of this essay. With these provisos in mind, however, I will propose the following concerning the play extempore. The Gad's Hill escapade is not merely Shakespeare's way of fleshing out the popular legend of Henry V's wild youth. It is a critical event, a turning point, in the prince's development.

When, in the emotional aftermath of that event, and in reply to Falstaff's plea and warning, "Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world!" (2.4.427-28), Hal replies simply and flatly, first from within his role as King Henry, "I do," and then for himself, "I will" (2.4.429), he is for the first time answering the question about himself with which the play began, not only for the audience and for Falstaff (who of course proves unable or unwilling to hear the answer), but for himself as well. Despite his long-standing awareness that he must one day forsake Falstaff and Eastcheap, only now, in the act of uttering these words, while imagining himself to be his father and therefore his nation's king, with the news of open rebellion and the knowledge that he must shortly confront Henry at court fresh in his mind, and in the wake of his recent sense of his own self-disgrace, does he achieve the conviction that he possesses the inner resources actually to do it. In other words, despite arguments to the contrary (Gottschalk), I think there can be no serious doubt that this particular moment signifies a turn in the prince toward moral seriousness. As to whether that turn amounts to a full turnabout, let me for now merely say, first, that I can find no evidence, at least in this play, that the prince ever altogether loses that capacity for a comic perspective with which he begins and, second, that it does not diminish the dramatic significance of this moment to understand it as one of those small inward turnings which, while not a complete reversal of compass, is nonetheless definite and forever. In Hal's case it is a turning more fully toward a morally serious perspective by a youth in whom a comic perspective has until now predominated.

I want to conclude this portion of my discussion of Prince Hal by proposing a way in which many salient features of his situation and personality during the first three acts may collectively be comprehended. Hal's feeling torn between seeing things comically and taking them seriously; his finding himself chastised by his father and his falling into popular disrepute because his predilection for the former is mistaken for an incapacity for the latter, if not a native disposition to vice; his relish for idle raillery; his feeling burdened by the prospect of a heavy responsibility he never voluntarily assumed; his both wanting and fearing the responsibility for which he is destined; his being in any event socially precluded from assuming it, despite his physical and intellectual preparedness for doing so; his penchant for working through his conflicts and their attendant emotions by "acting out" or "trying on" a variety of possible solutions and selves; and his presentation as someone who, through continuous observation and assessment of both himself and others, is actively engaged in forming his values and thereby shaping his identity—all of these are, I think, characteristic of that stage of life we think of as distinctively adolescent. One will recall that at the time of the events chronicled in 1 Henry IV the prince is only about 15 years old.

If this identification of Hal as an adolescent is a fair one, then his movement from immersion in the comic world of Eastcheap to prominence in the morally serious world of Henry and Hotspur may be understood as outward confirmation of the inward step he takes in the play extempore toward the resolution of his essentially adolescent "predicament" at the start of the play. Moreover, viewing the figure of Prince Hal in this light removes any inconsistency in character one might otherwise feel between the Hal of Eastcheap and the prince at Shrewsbury and with it the need for reconciliation of that inconsistency traditionally found in the prince's soliloquy. For seen in this way, the emergence of the staunch defender of his father's crown from the irreverent practical-joking companion of Falstaff constitutes neither the working out of the conscious design of a dissembling prince nor the reformation of a prodigal son. It marks a transition to adulthood by a young man who, so long as his circumstances permit, gives sway to his high spirited love of low fun, but who, when confronted with responsibilities commensurate with his status and abilities, displays that previously inchoate sensibility to duty and honor that has always equally been part of his native character.9 (In the prince's reconciliation scene with the king [3.2] one may now begin to hear the commonplace voice of an anxious father expressing his fear that his adolescent son's persistence in irresponsible frivolity signifies that he will never really grow up, and the son's equally commonplace reassurances that such worries are unwarranted.) I am proposing, in sum, that, as a foundation for whatever other levels of interpretation or criticism this play can bear, what might be considered the most simplistic view of 1 Henry IV—that it shows us a young man "growing up"—may also be the best. I am proposing that Shakespeare has construed and presented the historical record of the youth of Henry V as providing heightened examples of both the elemental predicament of adolescence and of an otherwise ordinary passage from adolescence to adulthood.10 Whether that passage is wholly successful, or whether in negotiating it Hal unhappily sacrifices something of value in himself, requires a fuller appreciation of who, or what, Falstaff is and of how the prince comes to understand him.


1 Henry IV poses the question of Falstaff's real nature as the question of whether he is a coward. The question is raised in the second scene by Poins's scheme for turning the Gad's Hill robbery into a prank on Falstaff, and thereafter the subject of cowardice is kept before us through the end of the play. Thus, at the scene of the crime, when Falstaff, learning that the thieves will be outnumbered by their intended victims, exclaims " 'Zounds! Will they not rob us?," Prince Hal retorts, "What, a coward, Sir John Paunch?" (2.3.57-58). To Falstaff's reply, "Indeed, I am not John of Gaunt, your grandfather, but yet no coward Hal," the prince responds, "Well, we leave that to the proof" (2.3.59-61). Then later, after the thieves have regrouped at the tavern and Hal's "plain tale" has exposed Falstaff's "incomprehensible lies," the prince continually rubs Falstaff's nose in the fact and manner of his flight at Gad's Hill, returning to the topic even after the interruption of the play extempore and with the sheriff at the door. And after Hal's own overt preoccupation with the matter has ended, we listen throughout the battle scenes to Falstaff's repeated expressions of fear and, finally, watch him sham death upon Douglas's engaging him in combat.

The most striking thing about the issue of Falstaff's cowardice is that it should command so much attention as it does (I mean within the play, though the degree of attention it has commanded among commentators is equally noteworthy ).11 The list of deficiencies in Falstaff's moral character seems so long, why should it matter much one way or the other whether cowardice may be added to it? I want to propose that the imputation of cowardice is raised by the play because of its peculiar suitability as a starting point for revealing exactly how extraordinary a character Falstaff is. I will further claim that the unproductive old scholarly debate over whether Falstaff is really a coward is, in fact, fully answered in 1 Henry IV, though not within the terms of the debate itself. I am going to argue that, like Prince Hal, Falstaff fully and outwardly reveals what he is only in passing from Eastcheap to Shrewsbury and that both the significance of the question of Falstaff's cowardice and its answer may be discovered by considering his behavior in the play's military scenes.

Falstaff's first appearance in those scenes (4.2) finds him recounting how he has abused his infantry commission for his profit. Subsequently, we learn that he has led his scraggly recruits to their death, discover that he has abandoned his pistol for a bottle of sack, and see him promptly feign death upon the onslaught of Douglas. Falstaff's persistence in flippant and wholly unprincipled behavior even after he has entered the morally serious dimension of the play suggests that, if Hotspur's problem is that he is unable (or unwilling) to put his regard for his own personal honor in perspective, that where he feels that a principle is at stake he will go to battle against all odds and cavil on the ninth part of a hair, Falstaff's problem is that he is unwilling (or unable) to put his comic persona aside when his circumstances demand that he do so—that he does not know, so to speak, when (or how) to stop being Falstaff.

The reason he does not stop is disclosed, at least for me, when Falstaff, prompted solely by some vague dream of uncertain reward for himself, rises from his pretense of death to stab Hotspur's fresh corpse in the thigh. However much I may remind myself that Hotspur is, after all, already dead, Falstaff's gratuitous stabbing of the corpse of an honorable man, who never in any way offended him personally, seems a surpassingly vile and contemptible act. And it is hard to conceive a greater desecration of Hotspur and all that he represents than the sight of his corpse being carried off as a trophy of battle by someone who has proclaimed honor to be just a word. (That Falstaff stabs Hotspur in the thigh, rather than, say, the heart, keeps his act from seeming not merely contemptible but malicious or evil. And if, as I am told, stabbing someone in the thigh is a traditional act of the Vice figure, then the fact that it is a corpse that Falstaff so stabs tends to show just how far beyond a conventional Vice figure Shakespeare's Falstaff is.)

Coming as it does immediately after Prince Hal's stirring tribute to the soul he has just taken in battle (a tribute that Falstaff, lying "dead" on stage, has himself overheard), Falstaff's defilement of Hotspur inspires the thought that only someone wholly insusceptible to any feeling of shame could commit such an act. And if one shares such a thought one may come to realize both why the play poses the question of Falstaff's character as the question of his cowardice and what the answer to that question is. One may see that it is indeed inaccurate to think of Falstaff as a coward. For cowardice is not merely fleeing from danger, however slight; what such flight reveals is, at most, excessive timidity. To be a coward one must first value or believe in something—believe, that is, that some person, property or principle is worth risking one's own person, property or (even) principles to obtain or defend. And then one must shrink out of fear from trying to obtain or defend it. (I do not, of course, say that such shrinking is always cowardice.) But Falstaff believes in nothing. There is no other person and there are no principles or property for which Falstaff would risk his own person or property, and he would not risk his person to defend his person if he could instead flee. So, in effect, there is nothing for him to be either courageous or cowardly about. Falstaff does not certainly display cowardice at Gad's Hill, if only because he cannot with any assurance be called cowardly for declining to risk injury or his life in defense of his ill-gotten booty. As in most thefts, it is (as it were, morally) entirely up to the thief s own discretion to what extent he will risk himself to obtain or retain his prize. (Don'T robbers in movies, for instance, often flee immediately upon the appearance of the police or any other significant threat to their success? Do we typically regard them as cowards for doing so?) But Falstaff's falling dead before Douglas likewise is not evidence of cowardice, because Falstaff simply has no belief in the justice (or injustice) of his side's cause in the conflict and no loyalty (or disloyalty) to his king or the prince. No more is at stake for Falstaff in his encounter with Douglas than would be at stake for you or me if we were suddenly to find ourselves in the path of a runaway horse. (In this sense Falstaff is indeed, as he says, a coward "on instinct" [2.4.246-47].)

Poins is therefore correct when he distinguishes Falstaff from Bardolph and Peto—not because Falstaff (as some would have it) is more courageous than they, but because to think of him as capable of displaying either cowardice or courage is to misunderstand what he is. Poins alleges that Bardolph and Peto are "as true-bred cowards as ever turned back" (1.2.158-59), whereas of Falstaff he says, "if he fight longer than he sees reason, I'Ll forswear arms" (1.2.159-60). The clear implication is that under no circumstance where he perceives any genuine risk will Falstaff see reason for long, for if that is not Poins's meaning, one would have to understand him as implying that one acquits oneself admirably only if one fights longer than one sees reason. And if Falstaff is likely to see reason for as long as anyone else might, how is Hal to take comfort from Poins's words, as he is obviously meant to, that in robbing the robbers he will have nothing to fear from Falstaff? In other words, when confronted with any real risk, Bardolph and Peto, Poins gives us to believe, will fly out of fear despite their feeling they ought to stand, and so will prove (and may feel themselves) ordinary cowards. Whereas Falstaff, Poins in effect tells us, will fly out of fear because he does not, or will not long, experience the object he happens to be pursuing, or any other consideration, as constituting a reason for which he ought to stand, and so will not be (and will not feel himself) a coward. Poins apparently intuits this fact about Falstaff, and that is why he himself never conceived his practical joke with a view to exposing Falstaff as a coward. "The virtue of this jest," he says, "will be the incomprehensible lies that this same fat rogue will tell us when we meet him at supper" (1.2.160-62).

Those "incomprehensible lies," I would add, are similarly revealing of Falstaff's real nature. For the transparency of his account of himself at Gad's Hill, like the lame incredibility of his fabrications generally, suggests that Falstaff tells his lies compulsively and with little or no regard for their plausibility, in an almost naive hope of catching from them whatever benefit he can. Indeed, the most notable thing about Falstaff's lies is their very pervasiveness. He seldom utters a plain statement of fact. Apart from asking questions concerning matters intimately affecting his personal self-interest, it is almost solely in the hope of gaining some benefit to himself that he speaks at all. For Falstaff, like ourselves, words are tools; only it is as if Falstaff is wholly oblivious of their having any use whatever other than in the service of his personal interests and wishes. It is, for example, as if Falstaff never so much as entertains the notion that when he utters a statement of fact what he says ought to be true.

Falstaff's "catechism" on honor (5.1.127-39) is therefore no shrewdly observant unmasking of an outdated chivalric code or hypocritical or callously elitist notion of honor. It is a speech about honor in the everyday sense in which it is used throughout this essay and in which one feels honorable for living up to, and shame at falling short of, whatever standards one accepts for one's conduct in one's various roles as citizen, soldier, parent, teacher, host, . . . and so on. And the speech's misguided evaluation of honorable behavior in terms of whether or not it serves one's self-interest confirms its speaker's utter incomprehension of what honor is about. Falstaff's soliloquy thus merely makes express what is implicit in his conduct throughout and made manifest in the military scenes—12 that (as in Bradley's previously quoted account of him ) Falstaff is just wholly insensible to any standards or ideals of conduct whatever. And being, consequently, literally and completely shameless, honor—to him—is indeed just a word.13

But if Falstaff is so wholly devoid of any internalized standards of personal conduct, then no matter how much we may enjoy him, what are we to make of him? Should we, can we, regard him as being fully human at all? The juvenile epithets continually hurled at Falstaff by others, and by Falstaff at himself, suggest that we may indeed be meant to regard him as something less than ordinarily human. He is, among other things: chops, ribs, tallow, clay-brained guts, bed-presser, horseback-breaker, sweet beef, huge hill of flesh, tun of man, trunk of humors, bolting hutch of beastliness, swollen parcel of dropsies, huge bombard of sack, stuffed cloakbag of guts and roasted Manningtree ox with the pudding in his belly. All of these terms are used by Hal, and most are taken from his speech when playing the part of the king to Falstaff's prince (2.4.397-409). All of them point, of course, to Falstaff's grotesque obesity. I do not mean to insist that our common association of great corpulence with an extraordinary largeness of spirit, particularly comic spirit, is wholly out of place in the case of Falstaff. But the crude terms applied to Falstaff focus our attention instead on the literal fact of his enormous dripping flesh, and many raise an image of him as being entirely "stuffed" with corporeal matter.14

The play's continual harping on Falstaff's monstrous bulk, and its persistent characterization of him in terms of sheer physical mass, are intended, I think, to lead us to regard Falstaff as being comprised, as Stanley Cavell has hinted (398), of nothing but flesh. They are meant to lead us to believe that Prince Hal, whether he himself then knows it or not, speaks the literal truth when he says to Falstaff: ". . .there's no room for faith, truth, nor honesty in this bosom of thine. It is all filled up with guts and midriff (3.3.137-38). Or, to use the term whose recurrence marks a major preoccupation of 1 Henry IV, they are intended to show us that Falstaff is a stage character whose lack of any capacity whatever for moral seriousness renders him a "counterfeit" of a man. ("Dost thou hear, Hal?" Falstaff pleads after he knows that his behavior at Gad's Hill has raised questions in the prince's mind about the nature of his companion, "Never call a true piece of gold a counterfeit" [2.4.439-40].) This notion of Falstaff as counterfeit suggests, in turn, a further reason why Falstaff with Hotspur's corpse slung across his back is so breathtakingly devastating a sight. For it implies that Falstaff also speaks the literal truth when he assures the astonished Prince Hal that what he sees before him is "not a double man" (5.4.134). Falstaff with Hotspur's corpse on his back is, rather, a horrific parody of one single man, of that union of flesh and spirit of which each authentic human being is comprised. For there stands Falstaff, this creature who is all flesh, who is nothing but his flesh, monstrously coupled to the corpse of a man who, if he was not composed solely of spirit, was possessed of a spirit (however flawed) so large as to make it seem that even "a kingdom for it was too small a bound" (5.4.89).15

Can we, however, seriously and steadily imagine that any creature who, like Falstaff, walks (no matter how poorly) and talks (after all, so wittily) and otherwise so clearly resembles an ordinary person might actually be so lacking in any standards of personal conduct as to be utterly without any capacity for honor and shame? I believe that Falstaff is intended as an approximation to such a creature. (Bloom voices much the same view in venturing the judgment that "Shakespeare's Falstaff was a successful representation of what Freud thought impossible, a human being without a superego" [l].)16 And it is as some such fantastic creature that Prince Hal himself ultimately comes to regard Falstaff. I say "ultimately" because I think that the prince, like ourselves, does not fully appreciate what Falstaff is until witnessing his conduct in the play's military scenes. Like us, he begins by responding to him as if he were an ordinary person, construing the Gad's Hill episode, for example, as raising the question of his cowardice. But at some point during those military scenes the prince does, I believe, achieve a kind of understanding of Falstaff. Perhaps he reaches it when he passes over in near silence the spectacle of Falstaff's pitiful recruits. Or perhaps it is later when, finding Falstaff's holster contains a bottle of sack, he refrains from much more than an expression of silent disgust. But if not on these earlier occasions, then certainly when he is subjected to Falstaff's outrageous claim to have vanquished Hotspur himself. For how better explain the mild magnanimity of the prince's response to Falstaff's desecration of the man Hal himself so fairly eulogized only moments before?

Come, bring your luggage nobly on your back.
For my part, if a lie may do thee grace,
I'Ll gild it with the happiest terms I have.


And having ourselves no ready label to describe a Falstaff,17 we should not be surprised that Prince Hal, even after having seen for himself what he is, is able to describe him no better than he does to his brother after they have listened to Falstaff's account of his conquest of Hotspur:

JOHN: This is the strangest tale ever I heard.

PRINCE: This is the strangest fellow, brother John.


That may be as great an understatement as exists in all of literature.

We now have the foundation for considering the interior significance to Henry V of Falstaff's banishment. I proposed earlier that Bradley is correct in implicitly identifying Falstaff with (the capacity for) a comic perspective. To wish to banish plump Jack on account of what he affirmatively represents is indeed, therefore, to wish to banish, if not all the world (as Falstaff would like one to believe), nothing less than the claims of the flesh and a perspective enabling one to transcend, or at least temporarily step outside, a life otherwise relentlessly governed by the untempered demands of duty and honor. But as such an account of Falstaff/comedy implies, comedy is not just occasionally and incidentally, but is pervasively and inherently, morally subversive. And Falstaff, I have just argued, is an embodiment not merely of a comic perspective but of an exclusively comic perspective. May it not then be for that reason that he is banished by Henry V? May we not imagine that in banishing the particular stage character called Falstaff, Henry V is not so much rejecting what that character chiefly represents, and thereby rejecting that part of himself expressed in Eastcheap, as proclaiming the depth of his own commitment, as the new leader of his nation, to those qualities that character so completely lacks—proclaiming it as decisively as he can and for all the world to hear? I am conjecturing that in the coronation scene of Part 2 we have yet another of Hal's famous performances, only now, and for the first time, one that is put on more for others than for himself.


By way of conclusion, I want to explain my opening observation that perhaps the most inventive of the techniques employed in 1 Henry IV is one by which the play elicits in the audience itself a mirroring of the tension between comic and morally serious perspectives one finds within a single character (Prince Hal) and between characters (e.g., Hal and Falstaff.).

So long as Falstaff is confined to the world of eastcheap we are able to enjoy his antics largely free of indignation at their impropriety. But as we listen to him boasting, on the road near Coventry amid the preparations for battle, how he has turned his commission to his financial advantage, leaving himself with a regiment comprised solely of the infirm and malnourished, a genuinely sour note may for the first time intrude upon our enjoyment of him. Our feeling of discomfort may continue when we later learn that, though unscathed himself, he has led those pathetic troops to their slaughter and when we witness him fall down dead before Douglas, only to rise up to mutilate Hotspur's corpse. In view of our affection for Falstaff and the delight we previously have taken (and obviously been intended to take) in him, we may wonder if such feelings are appropriate and even try to suppress them. But I believe we do feel them. I am claiming, in other words, that, while it may come at a different point for some of us than for others, at some point during the play's military scenes our attitude toward Falstaff is likely to alter. We are likely to pass from experiencing him as an unambiguously and profoundly comic figure, whose frank and unmalicious disregard for everything respectable and morally serious would distress only a prig, to becoming sufficiently troubled by his behavior as to be made uncomfortable by our continued affection for him.

But what has changed? Clearly not Falstaff. Perhaps then it is the nature of what he does. But, surely, abusing one's military commission for profit or lack of enthusiasm for swordplay are not somehow inherently graver improprieties less susceptible to comic treatment than are, say, highway robbery or attempting to defraud one's hostess with false allegations of theft. How, then, explain our finding ourselves suddenly repelled by Falstaff, or at least no longer certain exactly how to respond to him, during those military scenes?

Acknowledging the possibility of such negative feelings toward Falstaff, but believing that Shakespeare means him always to have a purely comic effect, Bradley concludes that any opprobrium we may feel cannot be intended. Instead, he maintains, it must stem either from our misunderstanding of his conduct or from our inappropriately allowing our everyday moral seriousness to intrude, rather than attending, as Bradley thinks we are meant to throughout the play, solely to the comic aspects of Falstaff's "misdeeds." Our failure to maintain a purely comic perspective toward Falstaff "would," he says, "destroy the poet's whole conception" (265). Bradley's notion of Shakespeare's conception is, I submit, in this respect too narrow. He is wrong to dismiss our feelings of repulsion at Falstaff and to suppose that Shakespeare does not really intend them. The introduction of Falstaff into the historical dimension of 1 Henry IV is the final step in a technique deliberately perpetrated by the playwright on his audience. By first shuttling us back and forth during the first three acts between scenes of comic low-life and scenes of solemn royal councils and sober conspiratorial deliberations on rebellion, the play successively elicits in us those scenes' opposed perspectives. By then wresting Falstaff—the very center and source of our comic focus—from his native Eastcheap and casting him into the morally serious world of Henry and Hotspur, the play produces in ourselves a collision between comic and morally serious perspectives that mirrors the one Prince Hal has himself been experiencing.

Accordingly, only by freely acknowledging both our affection and our repugnance for Falstaff are we likely to appreciate that part of Shakespeare's achievement in 1 Henry IV is to cast the light of wonder on the everyday and familiar by forcing his audience to confront its two competing perspectives—without, however, requiring, or even inviting, it to reject one in favor of the other. Our repugnance at Falstaff's behavior in the play's military scenes is evidence of our inability wholly to detach ourselves from a morally serious perspective. Our persistent affection for Falstaff, despite that repugnance, is evidence of our unwillingness to forgo our capacity for a comic perspective as well. Our wish, like Bradley's, to find a way not to disapprove of Falstaff in order to continue to enjoy him—like our tendency to imagine that the emergence of the dutiful prince from the truant Hal must constitute a reformation of his character or be explained by the latter persona's having been a mask for the former—is evidence of the extent to which these two perspectives mutually eclipse one another. By propelling Falstaff onto the battlefield at Shrewsbury, Shakespeare leaves us, like poor Francis, amazed and uncertain which way to turn.


1 Bevington provides no citation for, or other elucidation of, his cryptic suggestion that some commentators have construed the soliloquy as "whistling in the dark." See, however, the comments on the speech by Samuel Johnson and Daniel Seltzer (quoted, respectively, later in the text of this essay and in note 8) and by Edward Dowden (cited in note 9).

2 The quotation is a composite of phrases from two portions of the text. For similar, and not always more charitable, assessments of the prince, each likewise grounded in a reading of his soliloquy, see Frye 76-78; Traversi 57-58; Goddard 171-75; Masefield 112-13; and Bradley 256-59.

3 All citations of the text of 1 Henry IV are to the second Norton edition.

4 See, for example, Dickinson; Wilson 17-25; and Tillyard 265-69.

5 For another commentator who comes close to such a reading, see note 8.

6 The characterization of Richard Gloucester in the prior sentence is borrowed from Adelman.

7 To whom other than himself is the Prince referring as "the drunkard" when learning of Falstaff's arrival at the end of this episode, he cries out. " 'Rivol' says the drunkard. Call in ribs, call in tallow" (2.4.100-01)? But perhaps the fact of the prince's intoxication is now so well accepted as not to require demonstration.

8 I think our readings are, however, mutually consistent. Seltzer, for example, comes extremely close to reading the soliloquy as a rationalization when he describes its analogies as being "platitudes . . . which are to some extent alibis" (23) and characterizes the speech generally as "a shoring up of personal defenses" (24).

9 For a similar view, see Dowden 210-12.

10 The OED (2nd ed.) dates the words "adolescence" and "adolescent" to circa 1430 and to 1482, respectively. Lawrence Stone's brief discussion of adolescence (375-77) also tends to allay any qualms one may have about transporting the modern concept and experience of adolescence to Elizabethan England. Observing that "[t]he problem of adolescence . . . [was] familiar enought [sic] to Europeans since the fifteenth century . . . [that] the shepherd in Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale must have struck a familiar chord when he remarked, 'I would there were no age between sixteen and twenty-three, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting,' " Stone asserts that a well-defined adolescent subculture existed throughout the period and concludes that "[t]he idea that adolescence, as a distinctive age-group with its distinctive problems, was a development of the nineteenth century is entirely without historical foundation." However, even if it were established that the modern experience of adolescence was not a sufficiently familiar fact of Elizabethan life to warrant my assumption that Shakespeare could have dramatized such an experience and expected his audience to recognize it as such, I would nevertheless be inclined to maintain that Hal is portrayed as undergoing, as a consequence of his own unique circumstances as heir apparent, an experience and a predicament that may appropriately be understood as precursors of those we now think of as distinctively adolescent.

11 For a summary of the debate among commentators through the middle of this century over whether Falstaff is a coward, see Sprague.

12 Bradley fails, however, to carry that account to its logical conclusion. Despite remarking at one point that Falstaff is "a character almost purely humorous, and therefore no subject for moral judgments" (260), he goes on to try to exonerate him from imputations that he is a liar and coward in a manner appropriate to an ordinary person, arguing that Falstaff seldom, if ever, intends his lies actually to deceive and never shows the craven fear Bradley takes as the mark of true cowardice (264-68).

13 This paragraph was prompted by a conversation with John Zilliax. In continuing that conversation here, I want to emphasize that by discounting the cogency of any debunking of the concept of honor that comes from the mouth of Falstaff I do not mean to deny that other aspects of 1 Henry IV raise provocative questions about appeals to individual or national honor as a motive or justification for destructive personal or social conflict.

14 Much as I am indebted to Jonathan Grossman for calling my attention to the frequency with which Falstaff is specifically characterized as being "stuffed" with material substance, I am still more grateful for his patient advice and encouragement as I worked my way through drafts of this essay.

15 Harold E. Toliver informs us that, in Elizabethan times, "a rider's control of his mount was a common figure for the soul's control of its body" (75). When this significance of a mounted rider is combined with the notion that Falstaff is comprised purely of flesh, it becomes clearer why both Hal and Hotspur are represented as accomplished horsemen, whereas Falstaff must have a charge afoot and go always uncolted.

16 The most fully elaborated conception of Falstaff closest to that developed here is perhaps Franz Alexander's. Paralleling other themes developed in this essay, Alexander also notes that "[t]he double structure of [1 Henry IV] permanently forces us to look alternately at two different aspects of life which are in steady contradiction to each other," that Prince Hal "stands between" them and that the audience continually shifts during the play between identifying with each (596-97).

17 Due to its conventional restriction to matters of conscience and duty, "amoral" is too narrow for the task, though it might be adequate in a culture with a shame-based Aristotelian concept of morality embracing not merely matters of right and wrong but the full range of standards by which one assesses oneself and others as acting well or ill, honorably or shamefully, in the multitude of one's daily roles. In addition to the psychoanalytic explications of Falstaff offered by Bloom and Alexander, one way to try to understand him might be by analogy to a very young, pre-socialized and incorrigible, child. Falstaff's childlike qualities are well brought out in Brooks and Heilman.

Works Cited

Adelman, Janet. Suffocating Mothers. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Alexander, Franz. "A Note on Falstaff." Psychoanalytic Quarterly 2 (1993): 592-606.

Bevington, David, ed. Introduction. Henry IV, Part I. By William Shakespeare. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1987. 1-110.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Introduction. Falstaff. New York: Chelsea House, 1992. 1-4.

Bowers, Fredson. "Shakespeare's Art: The Point of View." Literary Views. Ed. Carroll Camden. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1964. 45-58. (Rpt. in part as "The Structural Climax in Henry IV, Part I" in Shakespeare, Henry the Fourth, Part I 309-16.)

Bradley, A. C. "The Rejection of Falstaff." Oxford Lectures on Poetry. 1909. London: Macmillan, 1963. 247-73.

Brooks, Cleanth, and Robert B. Heilman. "Notes on Henry IV, Part I." Understanding Drama. New York: Henry Holt, 1945. 376-87. (Rpt. as "Dramatic Balance in Henry IV, Part I" in Shakespeare, Henry the Fourth, Part I 215-29.)

Cavell, Stanley. The Claim of Reason. New York: Oxford UP, 1979.

Dickinson, Hugh. "The Reformation of Prince Hal." Shakespeare Quarterly 12 (1961): 33-46.

Dowden, Edward. Shakespere: A Critical Study of His Mind and Art. 3rd ed. 1875. New York: Barnes, 1967.

Frye, Northrop. Northrop Frye on Shakespeare. New Haven: Yale UP, 1986.

Goddard, Harold C. The Meaning of Shakespeare. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1951.

Gottschalk, Paul A. "Hal and the 'Play Extempore' in 1 Henry IV." TSLL 4.4 (1974): 605-14.

Greenblatt, Stephen. "Invisible Bullets." Shakespearean Negotiations. Berkeley: U of California P, 1988. 21-65.

Johnson, Samuel, Selections from Johnson on Shakespeare. Ed. Bertrand H. Bronson and Jean M. O'Meara. New Haven: Yale UP, 1986.

Masefield, John. William Shakespeare. New York: Henry Holt, 1911.

Seltzer, Daniel. "Prince Hal and Tragic Style." Shakespeare Survey 30. Ed. Kenneth Muir. London: Cambridge UP, 1977. 13-27.

Shaaber, M. A., ed. Introduction. The First Part of King Henry the Fourth. By William Shakespeare. Baltimore: Pelican-Penguin, 1957. 15-25.

Shakespeare, William. Henry the Fourth, Part I. Ed. James L. Sanderson. 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 1969.

——. The Second Part of King Henry the Fourth. Ed. Allan Chester. Baltimore: Pelican-Penguin, 1957.

Shuchter, J. D. "Prince Hal and Francis: The Imitation of an Action." Shakespeare Studies III (1967): 129-37.

Sprague, Arthur Colby. "Gadshill Revisited." Shakespeare Quarterly 4 (1953): 125-37. (Rpt. in Shakespeare, Henry the Fourth, Part I 278-95.)

Stone, Lawrence. The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800. New York: Harper, 1977.

Tillyard, E. M. W. Shakespeare's History Plays. 1944. London: Chatto and Windus, 1980.

Toliver, Harold E. "Falstaff, the Prince, and the History Play." Shakespeare Quarterly 16 (1965): 63-80. (Rpt. with revisions in Shakespeare, Henry the Fourth, Part I 169-93.)

Traversi, Derek. Shakespeare from Richard II to Henry V. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1957.

Zitner, S. P. "Anon, Anon: or, A Mirror for a Magistrate." Shakespeare Quarterly 19 (1968): 63-70.

Literary Genre

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 12501

Harry Levin (essay date 1981)

SOURCE: "Falstaff's Encore," in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 32, No. 1, Spring, 1981, pp. 5-17.

[In the following essay, originally presented in 1980, Levin examines the relationship between 1 and 2 Henry IV, and concludes that 2 Henry IV's function as a sequel is less important than its role in highlighting Shakespeare's shift from history plays and comedies to tragedies, noting that Falstaff's presence in the play signals this change of genre.]

Any single work which entitles itself The Second Part starts from something of a disadvantage.1 The compensating advantage is that it has been instigated by the widespread success of some forerunner, like The Godfather. But any sequel, necessarily presupposing a first part, is confronted by problems of autonomy. It is much easier for a novelist—a Dumas, a Proust, a Trollope, or a Fenimore Cooper—whose roman-fleuve can flow from book to book at the convenience of the reader. For a dramatist, well, the second part of Faust, one of the masterworks of the world's literature, rarely gets presented upon the stage. Cyclical presentation, as of Wagner's Ring at Bayreuth, has been rather the exception than the rule. Sophocles' three plays constituting the Oedipus trilogy were not composed in chronological sequence or produced at the same time. Dover Wilson believed that The Second Part of Henry the Fourth had been, and should be, performed within twenty-four hours of the first. A more recent playgoer and critic, Richard David, raises an objection to this continuity, insofar as it involves sitting through so much duplication and recapitulation. In general the critics seem to be equally divided, voicing strong opinions in both camps, on the composition of Part Two, its relationship with Part One, the inclusion of the pair in a trilogy with Henry V, and of all three into a tetralogy with Richard II, coexisting in synoptic unity. Samuel Johnson heads the roll of unitarians, who favor one grand overarching design. S. B. Hemingway, the Varorium editor of The First Part, speaks very forcefully on behalf of the pluralists, when he describes the two plays as "mutually exclusive."

Ambiguity is further clouded by the fact that Part One was not so designated until the First Folio, though it went through several more quartos than Part Two. The latter might today have been more aptly christened Son of Henry IV. The three parts of Henry VI were first numbered in the Folio, Part One making its maiden appearance there, whereas Parts Two and Three had previously been published in bad quartos under different titles. This and other Elizabethan examples do not really sustain the retrospective presumption that Shakespeare must have studiously planned and carefully executed a Henriad at long range. There are too many incidental disparities, readily traceable to the conditions of theatrical authorship. The second part of Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine had been prompted—so the prologue tells us—by "the general welcome" accorded to the first, and there would be an interval of twenty-six years between the first and second parts of Dekker's Honest Whore. We are promised and denied a reunion with the living Falstaff in Henry V; and we have instead the fortuitous caricature of him* in The Merry Wives of Windsor. In the theatre it is not difficult to imagine a situation where an experimental playwright, like Marlowe, has been broaching a novel treatment of a broad subject, and relies upon the public reaction to encourage him toward continuance. In that respect, the New Arden editor, Arthur Humphreys, building on a study of Harold Jenkins, seems well warranted in characterizing the process as an "organic evolution." Shakespeare could have early contemplated the whole conception, but it remained to be worked out through his step-bystep artistic development.

He was working in a genre peculiar to the Elizabethans, which he made peculiarly his own, the historyplay. This had its great run during the patriotic decade heralded by England's defeat of the Spanish armada in 1588. Covering the succession of British kings all the way back to the legendary Brut, drama served the forensic functions of propaganda and pedagogy. Formally it had to be episodic, depending upon the miscellaneous nature of annals and reigns and royal personalities. A weak but long-reigning monarch, Henry VI, could preside inertly in the background, while the foreground was animated by such episodes as the witchcraft of Joan La Pucelle, the rebellion of Jack Cade, and the usurpation of the Yorkists. The weakness of Richard II, under Shakespeare's lyrical touch, could become a theme for tragedy, following the venture of Marlowe in Edward IL The sinister force of Richard III could unify a play in the manner of Marlowe's more dynamic protagonists. However, Shakespeare found his most effective historical subject-matter in Henry IV—not so much in the uneasy crown of the self-made king as in the romance of Hotspur's losing cause, on the one hand, and the comedy of Falstaff's unpredictable presence, on the other. Just as he had taken comic conventions and moved them into the area of the tragic with Romeo and Juliet, so within the framework of history he created his greatest comic figure. Plot had been advanced by Aristotle as the first principle of poetics; yet it is character that predominates in Shakespeare; and for Hazlitt, as for many other readers and playgoers, Falstaff is "the most substantial character that ever was invented."

Hazlitt was playing upon the word substantial, to some extent; paranomasia is hard to resist in Falstaff's company. What surprises us is that Shakespeare, whose light-fingered way with source-materials has made heavy the hands of Shakespearean scholars, had so little to go by in this case. Henry V was perhaps the most popular ruler before the Tudors, having reconquered parts of France in the Hundred Years' War and then died prematurely. His popularity did not suffer from the rumors that he had led a prodigal youth and had reformed on acceding to the throne. Intangible gossip had crystallized into an anecdote, best known through Sir Thomas Elyot's Book of the Governor. One of his rowdy companions is sentenced for thievery; whereupon the Prince threatens to strike the judge, and in turn is sentenced for contempt; he gracefully accepts and duly serves the sentence. That is pure exemplum, demonstrating that no Englishman stands above the law, and that the Lord Chief Justice personifies regal power. It is interesting that Shakespeare ignores the episode in Part One and touches on it merely by offstage allusion in Part Two. The rumored wildness of Hal, from the pledge of reformation set forth in his first monologue, is consistently toned down. The dissolute playboy seems at heart to be a fun-loving boy-scout. In conquering Hotspur he seems to take over some of his rival's traits—even, occasionally in Henry V, the militant tone of voice. Harry's youthful fraternization with Tom, Dick, and Francis will have made him more humane as head of state than his aloof and crafty father has been. It completes his Bildung, his education, his kingly formation, as Warwick advises Henry IV: "The Prince but studies his companions . . ." (Part One, IV.iv.68).


If you care to witness the princely box on the judicial ear, you should turn back to Shakespeare's crude old anonymous precursor, The Famous Victories of Henry V. There the chief comic persona was a clown named Dericke, played by the leading comedian, Richard Tarleton. Among the hangers-on of this unmistakably raffish prince is a silly old man addressed as Jockey. His given name is Sir John Oldcastle. Now it is common knowledge that Shakespeare originally used that appellation, was reminded that it had belonged to an actual person with ironically puritanical leanings, thereupon adopted "Sir John Falstaff from a craven minor character in 1 Henry IV, and offered an apologetic disclaimer in the Epilogue to 2 Henry IV. The name's degree of resonance has been measured statistically by G. E. Bentley, in his monograph comparing the reputations of Shakespeare and Jonson during the seventeenth century. Professor Bentley finds that Falstaff was mentioned by other authors far more often than any other character (131 times, more than twice the number of the next figure on the list). If we have anyone in mind, it is he, when we talk of personages who walk out of books into our lives. (Indeed he led an independent existence in the clandestine theatre of the Commonwealth: one of Francis Kirkman's Drolls is simply patched together from Falstaff's scenes in Part One.) Critical formulation, in failing to pin him down, confesses with Dr. Johnson that he is "unimitated and inimitable." Numerous and various archetypes, from drama, literature, folklore, and anthropology, have been cited to throw light on his charisma. Frequently they do: he is a Braggart, a Parasite, a Trickster, a Scapegoat, a Fool, a Vice—all of these, and hence more than their sum.

He was the overwhelming surprise of Part One; he is the main attraction of Part Two, where he deliberately upstages everyone else and—at least until the put-down he seems to be asking for—all but runs away with the show. With a page as stooge, he shamelessly mugs; he appeals to the audience directly; he moves in and takes over situations, like The Man Who Came to Dinner on Broadway or his Hollywood counterpart, W.C. Fields. He behaves with atrocious rudeness and no respect for persons of high standing; the "sneap" (or snub) that he receives from the Lord Chief Justice is smartly returned "tap for tap," though it turns out to be a portent of the ultimate come-uppance (II.i.122, 193). Sociable and anti-social at once, he can be delightfully amusing and flagrantly immoral. We identify with him, in a kind of dionysiac empathy, because he invites us vicariously to shed our own inhibitions. The actor who plays the role faces the double task of commanding our sympathies while remaining a consummate rogue.

From the outset he is conscious that all eyes are fixed upon him: "The brain of this foolish-compounded clay, man, is not able to invent anything that intends to laughter more than I invent or is invented on me" (I.ii.7 ff.). In his pompous and peremptory letter to the Prince, he subscribes himself "Sir John with all Europe" (II.ii.134). He has become so famous that Coleville of the Dale surrenders to him without a fight, though Prince John's dry comment is scarcely a tribute to Falstaff's courage, and the entire engagement is anti-heroic. He has claimed the rewards for his "day's service at Shrewsbury," which—as the Justice acknowledges—has "a little gilded over your night's exploit on Gadshill" (I.ii.148-49).

Looking at the sources, A. L. Attwater suggested that Part Two was conceived as an encore to Part One, "hastily written" to exploit the fresh impact of Shakespeare's stunning characterization. We could admit the importance of that motive, without overlooking the arguments that support a more considered procedure. For one thing, Part Two runs about 250 lines longer than Part One, and Falstaff has the same proportion of lines (roughly twenty percent) in both parts. The roles of the King and the Prince have both been diminished under transition, the Prince's by just about half, while the Hostess has more than tripled her volubility and a variety of new comic characters has been recruited. The absence of Hotspur is emphasized by the false start, briskly linking the scene with the Battle of Shrewsbury through a misleading report, as well as by the choric lamentations of the Percies, bringing home the sense of an aftermath. Later on, instead of a heroic climax at Shrewsbury, we have the anticlimax at Gaultree Forest: a parley which leads not to battle but to betrayal. Thus history gets short shrift in Part Two. Three quarters of the Dering Manuscript, a conflation of both parts which is historically focused, derive from Part One. Though Holinshed's Chronicle included no lack of subsequent material, this was too discursive to be dramatized as Shrewsbury had so effectively been. Part Two is therefore centrifugal, where Part One had been centripetal; the cast of the second is twice as large as that of the first. Part One manages to balance the historic and comic elements, and to sound with Hotspur a tragic note. History, in Part Two, is outdistanced by comedy most of the way, yet ends by humbling comedy with a vengeance.


Honor, as a military virtue, sets the ethical standard of Part One, weighed in the equipoise between Hotspur's magniloquent apostrophe and Falstaff's reductive catechism. Justice is the civic virtue prevailing in Part Two, where misrule must capitulate to rule. Lacking a fit antagonist for outward historical rivalry, the Prince's conflict becomes a psychomachia, a morality-play in which the wavering hero must choose between the guidance of two surrogate fathers: Falstaff, "that reverent Vice" (Part One, II.iv.453), and that newly authorized counselor, the Lord Chief Justice: "You shall be as a father to my youth" (V.ii.118). As a result, the moral paradigm is more expressly underlined, but it remains essentially the same—which has caused some commentators to remark that Part Two is rather an imitation than a continuation. After all, the Prince has made good his pledge and won his spurs on the battlefield. After that exploit of reformation, plus his reconciliation with the King, he can do little except repeat the performance at his father's death. No wonder he declares, on his belated entrance in Act II (for he is not onstage in Acts I and III), "Before God, I am exceeding weary" (II.ii.l). His half-hearted role-playing, his temporary backsliding among the riffraff, foreshadows the last line of the Epilogue: "My tongue is weary; when my legs are too, I will bid you good night." Erich Auerbach's Mimesis has a chapter whose starting-point is Hal's introductory dialogue, entitled "The Weary Prince." But it is not, like Auerbach's other chapters, an explication de texte; rather, it seizes the occasion to illustrate his theory deriving realism from the intermixture of grand and humble styles. "From a prince to a prentice? a low transformation!" (II.ii.l74).

The interrelationship of the two plays is further complicated by the problematic interposition of The Merry Wives of Windsor. Evidence would seem to suggest that the writing of 2 Henry IV was interrupted by the queenly command and courtly circumstance that evoked the Falstaffian comedy, although certain links with Henry V betoken a possible rewriting for public production. At any rate, The Merry Wives of Windsor sags with signs of having been written to order. Queen Elizabeth's wish to see Falstaff in love proved an unhappy inspiration, as it transpired, possibly because—as Dr. Johnson put it—"Falstaff could not love without ceasing to be Falstaff." He himself had explained the discrepancy by his exordium in Part Two: "I am not only witty in myself, but the cause that wit is in other men" (I.ii.9-10). In The Merry Wives of Windsor he is less of a wit than a butt, more laughed at than laughed with, repeatedly discomfited not by other men but by women, whose practical jokes fend off his clumsy advances. Insofar as he must momentarily dress as a woman, and two boys must compound the trickery by transvestism, the play may all too etymologically be considered a travesty. Falstaff suffers more of a comedown at Windsor than he does when the crowned Henry V rejects him. We are even tempted to surmise a connection between his unforeseeable reappearance in this play and his failure to reappear in Henry V, despite the Epilogue of Part Two. The happiest consequence of Elizabeth's idea, as W. H. Auden pointed out, would be the libretto for Verdi's last and most delightful opera. Yet we hesitate to chide Shakespeare with the stricture, which might well apply to Victor Hugo's melodramas, that foolish-sounding words may be redeemed by being set to music.


Let us then revert from the Garter at Windsor to the Boar's Head in Eastcheap, and consequently to the invidious and unavoidable comparison between the two parts of Henry IV. The second part is held by H. N. Hudson to represent a "falling off; for R. G. White, at the opposite pole, it achieves "unsurpassed perfection." Critical judgment has ranged across that long-drawn-out spectrum, though much of it has come out somewhat closer to Hudson's view than to White's. Not only was Shakespeare daring enough to take us back again to the Boar's Head and vie with himself in the setting of a former triumph, but John Masefield has boldly asserted that this reprise is "the finest tavern scene ever written." It should serve accordingly as our touchstone, while we remember its longer and earlier model: the joke on the drawer Francis, the showdown between the Prince and Falstaff over the foray at Gadshill, the play-acting by way of celebration and rehearsal for serious business, the culminating apologia of Falstaff, and—after the interruption of the Sheriff—the reckoning in the form of the snoring Falstaff's unpaid bill. To this we should add our remembrance of a second scene taking place in that locale: Falstaff's hangover on a morning after, a change of tempo with the Prince's call to arms, and—after the others have marched off heroically—an ambivalent couplet, with Falstaff imaginably sitting down and pounding on the table:

Rare words! brave world! Hostess, my breakfast, come!
O, I could wish this tavern were my drum!


Honor will soon enough be reduced to a word; breakfast must come before everything else, and the tag-line leaves us wondering whether he wants to convert the tavern into a drum or a drum into the tavern, whether or not he would rather be taking his ease at his inn than be marching off to war.

As for the tavern, it has held a significance of its own in relation to the stage. It has been a continual hangout for playwrights, the alcoholic stimulus probably meaning less to them than the opportunities for confraternity and the chances to observe. We have heard a good deal more than we know about the Mermaid, much of it too easily sentimentalized. When Robert Herrick refers to the Sun, the Dog, and the Triple Tun, we gather that Ben Jonson and his disciples engaged in pub-crawls; yet Jonson's lively tavern scenes include—in The Staple of News—one at the Apollo room in the Devil, where he was particularly fond of holding forth. Another scene that stands out is in the collaborative Eastward Ho, where Captain Seagull spins a Utopian fantasy about the Virginia colony. But the tradition has older and deeper roots.

From the standpoint of medieval homiletics, as expressed in The Agenbite of Inwit: "The tavern is the school of the Devil where his disciples study." As a licensed and licentious dispensary for the sensual pleasures of this world, it was regarded as an entry to the everlasting bonfire. It was the favorite haunt of those wayward clerks, the Goliards, whose major interests have been brazenly flaunted in the title of J. A. Symonds' translations, Wine, Women, and Song. In recoil from Christian asceticism, their Carmina Burana blasphemously set the tavern above the church: "Magis quam ecclesiam / Diligo tabernam." This matches, in cadence and sentiment, the well-known distich from another of their bibulous lyrics: "Meum est propositum / In taberna mori." Falstaff would be realizing that ambition to meet one's end in a pothouse.

In the morality plays, when the Vice did his damnedest to lead Everyman astray, the den of temptation was usually a tavern, which was often constructed as an aedes (or mansion) on the platea (or playing space). In the oldest vernacular miracle play, the thirteenth-century Jeu de Saint Nicolas of Jean Bodel, couriers rushing to and from the Crusades stop to refresh themselves at such a place, where there is dicing and brawling as well as drinking. While the thieves are roistering there, the saint makes his epiphany to reveal the stolen treasure. In the Digby Mary Magdalene, half-mystery and half-morality, the heroine is seduced on her harlot's progress by a gallant known as Curiosity in a tavern at Jerusalem. In the moralistic interlude, Mundus et Infans, Folly lures Mankind away from Conscience long enough to dine in Eastcheap and drink at the Pope's Head. To audiences, these machinations for lapsing into sins of the flesh may have been the most attractive stations on pilgrimages didactically conducted, just as the most dashing roles were those of Herod, the Devil, and the Vice. Just as the murder of children in Richard III and Macbeth can be put into perspective by recalling The Slaughter of the Innocents, so the tavern scenes of Shakespeare have behind them a rich backlog of dramatic convention. Not unlike his trial scenes, which reflect the institutional structure of English society and the legal nurture of English drama, tavern scenes were likewise displayed as set-pieces, testing the worldly wisdom of the dramatist. Moreover, they traditionally connoted the sobering assumption that rounds of festivity would be sooner or later offset by seasons of penitence.


The tavern scene of Part One is more single-mindedly a carousal, to the point where Falstaff must sleep it off. Food suffuses the aura of imagery that surrounds his person, as when he is likened to a "roasted Manningtree ox with the pudding in his belly" (II.iv.452-53); but on his bill the "half-pennyworth of bread" is swamped by an "intolerable deal of sack" (1.540).

This emphasis on drink, like that on war, intimates that the field of action is perforce a man's world, as Hotspur pointedly reminds his wife. I am not suggesting that there is any drouth of liquor in Part Two. In lieu of his catechism on honor, Falstaff will recite his panegyric on sherry, which is praised as a sovereign instigator of wit. More specifically, he will credit it with making a better man of Prince Hal by warming up his cold Lancastrian blood. The contextual irony is that Prince John, through his deception of the rebels, has just shown a truly Falstaffian contempt for honor. There had been a few allusions to wenching in the first part, mainly with regard to Falstaff himself; but his accusation to the Hostess—"This house has turned bawdy-house" (III.iii.99-100)—was no more justified than Othello's frenzied denunciation of Emilia as a bawd. Shakespeare would not deal at first hand with the humors of the brothel until Measure for Measure and Pericles. Yet in 2 Henry IV he introduced an unflinching component of illicit sex. No longer a baffled onlooker, the Hostess takes the initiative with a lawsuit; her complaints to the Chief Justice allege both unconscionable sponging and breach of promise. Falstaff charms her into not only pawning her goods to lend him more money, but procuring him another woman.

The tavern scene of Part Two is centered on that farewell assignation. It opens with an atmospheric quip, echoed in the talk of the drawers as they set the table. The Prince once teased Sir John, we hear, by placing a dish of six apple-johns (wrinkled winter apples) before him, then rising with a flourish to depart, and saying "I will now take my leave of these six, dry, round, old, withered knights" (II.iv.7-8). Verily, he will be taking his leave of this elderly lecher. Meanwhile the Hostess enters, clucking like a motherly hen, coddling and supporting the toughest of Shakespeare's heroines. The characterization of Mistress Quickly, we noted, has been much more fully developed. She already had a flair for mistaking the word, two centuries before Mrs. Malaprop, for abusing God's patience and the Queen's English, and for stumbling into many an off-color double-entendre. Malapropisms begin to charge the air as she comforts Doll Tearsheet, with whom we are making our first acquaintance. She had been signalized when the Page reported the rendezvous to the Prince, who suspected that she must be "some road," and Poins added, "as common as the way between Saint Albons and London" (II.ii.166-68). Coleridge, reading the Prince's epithet literally and chastely, proposed to emend Doll's surname to "Tearstreet." He must have skipped the passage where Falstaff threatens to toss Pistol in a blanket, and Doll encourages Falstaff by promising to canvass him "between a pair of sheets" (II.iv.225). But at the start she is in a contrary mood, tipsy, queasy, and truculent, having "drunk too much canaries" (1.26). When the Hostess inquires how she is feeling, her ambiguous reply—"Better than I was. Hem!" (1.30)—thereby terminates with a hiccup.

Falstaff makes a loudly mock-heroic entrance, singing a snatch of an Arthurian ballad. But his own first words are "Empty the jordan" (1.34)—an injunction which Hugo would admire for its extroverted shamelessness. He had called for a cup of sack on entering the tavern in Part One and at every other opportunity, though he had ended in that play by vowing to "purge and leave sack" (V.iv.164). Now we find him calling for a chamber pot. It is rather uncomfortably consistent with the opening query he put to his diminutive page: "Sirrah, you giant, what says the doctor to my water?" (I.ii.l). Falstaff has been commonly numbered among the celebrants of Dionysus, in an intermingled cult of the vine and of the theatre. We think of him too as an oracle of Rabelais' Holy Bottle, imparting its monosyllabic message of good fellowship, the sound of clinking glasses, trinc. But, here in Part Two, his attention seems to be shifting from the ebullition of wine to its physiological end-product. His initial preoccupation with flagging health has continued into his dialogue with the Chief Justice, where his sanguine effort to stay young is countered by his interlocutor, listing the symptoms of old age: "a moist eye, a dry hand, a yellow cheek, a white beard, a decreasing leg, an increasing belly" (I.ii.l80-82). Falstaff, after striving impudently and vainly to borrow a thousand pounds, has come away from the interview determined to "turn diseases to commodity" (1.248), to profit from malaise. Afflicted by the malady that goes with high living, the gout, he has cursed it and immediately realized that his curse itself is another affliction contracted by the habits of venery: "A pox of this gout! or a gout of this pox!" (11.243-44).

When he encounters Doll in her qualm of indisposition, she greets him with a similar curse: "A pox damn you" (II.iv.39). He is not slow in reminding her that the pox is more likely to be one of her professional hazards. She, a seasoned veteran of the stews, absolves herself and blames his state on "gluttony and diseases" (1.42). The diagnosis of Falstaff as an individual has been macrocosmically projected when the rebel spokesman, the Archbishop of York, criticized the body politic:

The commonwealth is sick of their own choice,
Their over-greedy love hath surfeited.


And, in apostrophizing the fickle multitude that had transferred its loyalties from Richard II to Henry IV, he pursued the metaphor from overeating through collective nausea to vomiting:

Thou, beastly feeder, art so full of him,
That thou provok'st thyself to cast him up.


As usual, the comic underplot runs parallel to the historic overplot, and thematic images connect Falstaff's revelry with the Archbishop's rebellion. "We are all diseased" (IV.i.54), the latter will repeat, in summing up his cause before the King's emissaries. The dying King himself, conferring with Warwick after his sleepless soliloquy, will compare his illness with that of his realm:

Then you perceive the body of our kingdom
How foul it is, what rank diseases grow,
And with what danger, near the heart of it.


Throughout, the concern for healthy appetite and sensuous fulfillment seems to be yielding to a clinical approach and a valetudinarian outlook. That the paragon of jesters should make his bow by inquiring about a urinalysis seems to bring Shakespeare uncharacteristically close to the medical vein of Molière.


Doll's and Falstaff's repartee is spiced with sexual innuendoes, which may help Mistress Quickly to reconcile these reproachful lovers, albeit with an unromantic and malapropistic reminder of their infirmities: "you cannot one bear with another's conformities" (H.iv.56-57). That, with ulterior wordplay on bear, has a melting effect upon Doll: "Come, I'Ll be friends with thee, Jack. Thou art going to the wars, and whether I shall see thee again or no, there is nobody cares" (11. 65-68). Her subtext is a heartcry of loneliness from the stray lives of a prostitute and a soldier of fortune. At this juncture, the intrusion of a new character provokes an unruly incident. The mere announcement of Pistol's arrival is greeted by Doll's vituperative opposition: "Hang him, swaggering rascal . . . it is the foul-mouth'd'st rogue in England" (11.71-72). The Hostess becomes suddenly concerned for the good repute of her house, having been warned by neighbors whom she quotes, with her habitual command of circumstantial detail and total recall. Falstaff resolves the dilemma by drawing a nice semantic distinction between swaggerers and cheaters; the newcomer is not a professional bully, he is just a confidence-man. Admitted on those credentials, aggressively drunk, Pistol attempts a toast—the byword is discharge, punning both on his own cognomen and on his more lascivious intentions. Doll will have nothing to do with him: "Away, you mouldy rogue, away! I am meat for your master" (11.125-26). Mistress Quickly, who has abstained, tries to appease his pride by calling him captain, whereas he is no more than an ancient, Falstaff's ensign. "You a captain?" Doll goes on, "you slave, for what? for tearing a poor whore's ruff in a bawdy house?" (1.44).

Though she can be as foul-mouthed as he, she is a purist with him: "A captain! God's light, these villains will make the word as odious as the word 'Occupy,' which was an excellent good word before it was ill sorted" (11.157-60). Yet occupation has its double meaning for her. Even the lowest characters exhibit a Shakespearean consciousness of language, and Bardolph will impress Justice Shallow by using the word "accommodated" (III.ii.66-67). As Pistol, venting his fury, speaks of being revenged on Doll, he dramatically changes his style. Damning her "to th' infernal deep," his rodomontade invokes the idiom of Thomas Kyd's tragedy of revenge and the theatrical school of night, "with Erebus and tortures vile also" (II.iv.157-58). When Mistress Quickly beseeches him to "aggravate" (1.162) his choler, of course, she means the reverse; but he takes her at her word and proceeds to garble the mightiest lines of Marlowe's Tamburlaine:

Shall pack-horses
And hollow pamper'd jades of Asia,
Which cannot go but thirty mile a day,
Compare with Caesars and with Cannibals
And Troiant Greeks?


Pistol, it seems, is more than a roaring boy; he is an avid and impressionable playgoer; and, from this moment through Henry V, his idiolect will be a blank verse strung together with shreds and patches from the theatre. When the Hostess negatively answers his refrain from a lost play of George Peele—"have we not Hiren here?" (1.175)—he interacts by garbling a quotation from Peele's Battle of Alcazar: "Then feed and be fat, my fair Calipolis" (1.179). The histrionics wax louder and louder until, at Doll's insistence, Falstaff draws his sword and forces Pistol out and into a fall downstairs. He must content himself with his stoic maxim, spoken in a lingua franca of Italian and Spanish (or is it Esperanto?): "Si fortune me tormente, sperato me contento" (1.181).

Doll has rightly termed him a "fustian rascal" (1.189). Fustian, a coarse fabric, like bombast, which was padding, had come to be associated with playhouse ranting. When Falstaff impersonated the King in Part One, he had undertaken to rehearse "in King Cambyses' vein" (II.iv.387)—the rhetoric of an antiquated tragicomedy. But the speech he made from his joint-stool throne parodied the elegant Euphuistic prose of John Lyly. Part Two was enacted a decade after the Armada year, and its parodic echoes orchestrate the realization that Marlowe, Kyd, and Peele are dead and that their dramas of exotic conquest are outmoded. In less than another decade, with Francis Beaumont's Knight of the Burning Pestle, even Hotspur's speech on honor could be burlesqued into "a huffing part." Pistol, an anticlimactic replacement for Hotspur, is a more comformable braggart captain than Falstaff. Unwittingly he marks the trend of fashion by exclaiming: "These be good humors indeed!" (1.163). The year 1598 saw the opening of the Globe Playhouse, though he must have preferred the old-fashioned productions at the Rose. That same year saw the rise of a literary movement exemplified by the sharply satirical comedy of Ben Jonson, Every Man in His Humour. Shakespeare would not be unaffected by it. Corporal Nym repeats Pistol's very words in Henry V (III.ii.26), and his personal watchword is "That's the humor of it" (passim). Though this third Henrician play was preordained to reach an epic conclusion, Part Two seems overshadowed beforehand by a Hogarthian strain which would be developed in dark comedies like Measure for Measure, and antic moods in the tragedies. The burlesque of theatricality in both parts of Henry IV, especially the second, heightens the reality of the dramatis personae.


After Falstaff's victory over Pistol, the pace relaxes and the climate warms, moving from the bellicose to the amatory. Doll is ready to reward his valor, wherein she avows he has multitudinously outshone the Homeric heroes and the Nine Worthies. She sits on his lap, and they fondle and kiss, while Sneak's noise—an actually recognizable band of strolling musicians—suscitates their mutual caresses. "When wilt thou leave fighting a' days and foining a' nights," she asks him, "and begin to patch up thine old body for heaven?" (11.231-33). He balks at this memento mori ("do not bid me remember mine end" [1.235]), but presently confesses "I am old, I am old," to which she consolingly responds: "I love thee better than I love e'er a scurvy young boy of them all" (11.271-73). In the life of the senses, so keenly felt by the Renaissance, at such times the carnal aspect comes poignantly near to the charnel. The bodily appetites, eating, drinking, and sexuality, are sensitively edged by the prospect of death. So it is with this fat and bawdy old man, fighting and foining his way to the next world. In the meantime Bardolph has been making up to the hostess, while the Prince, with Poins, has sneaked in to listen and comment behind their billing and cooing. He is present during less than half of the scene, the only one where he and Falstaff are together, and the final one, except for their confrontation at the end. He and his fellow jokester go through a variation on their prank with the drawer in Part One. Both, who are dressed like Francis, appear and cry "Anon, anon, sir," when Falstaff calls for more sack. He has the laugh on them with his quick retort: "Ha? a bastard son of the King's? And art not thou Poins his brother?" (11.282-84).

But they have overheard him freely and pungently disparaging them, and he must still extricate himself from this embarrassment, as he did from his prevarication about Gadshill. His excuse again is a piece of Pharisaical casuistry: it is an act of friendship to dispraise one's friends before the wicked. Rising to a height of effrontery, he denounces the wickedness of Doll and Bardolph, and—himself the incarnation of carnality and carnival—accuses the hostess of breaking lenten restrictions by serving meat. "All vict'Lers do* so." Her rejoinder, like Sir Toby's to Malvolio, is a plea for good living and for a sense of proportion. "What's a joint of mutton or two in a whole Lent?" (11.346-47). Yet it leaves us with the feeling that we have survived a season of plenty and somehow lived on into leaner days. As in Part One, the ending is precipitated by knocking from outside, and tidings of the alert break off the tryst. The Prince, resuming the dignity of blank verse, regrets his idling in the shadow of duty, takes up his cloak and sword, and makes his exit. Falstaff, his self-importance reinforced by the news that a dozen captains await him, makes his farewells: "You see, my good wenches, how men of merit are sought after. The undeserver may sleep when the man of action is call'd on" (11.375-77). Mistress Quickly, who in the morning was denouncing and suing him for his knaveries, breaks down: "I have known thee twenty-nine years come peascod-time, but an honester and truer-hearted man—well, fare thee well' (11. 382-84). Doll is in tears and can hardly speak. But there may yet be, as in Part One, a brief respite for dalliance. Falstaff sends Bardolph back for Doll, and the hostess despatches her to him: "O, run, Doll. . . . She comes blubber'd" (11. 389-90).

Mrs. Inchbald thought that, whereas men liked Falstaff, women did not. But she was an eighteenth-century bluestocking, whose tastes obviously had little in common with those of Doll Tearsheet and Ursula Quickly. The continuing question—a question also raised, for example, about the reading of Rabelais—is what appeal he may hold for feminine sensibilities in a century which has tended to neutralize disparities between the sexes. Falstaff, at all events, must abandon his women for the manly sphere of martial action. There we watch him engaging not so much in soldierly exploits as in his old tricks of coney-catching. His round trip between London and Gaultree Forest is leisurely and rambling, since it stops off in Gloucestershire before and after the non-battle. His method of employing conscription to line his pockets was recounted by a monologue in Part One. It is just as well that we had no first-hand view of his ragged regiment, since later we are callously informed that all but two or three of them have been killed off. Part Two is resourcefully amplified by acting out the recruitment. One by one, five rustic types are called up and, as their names are pricked upon the roll, Falstaff makes* an appropriate comment on each. During a short absence while drinking with his hosts, the recruits have a chance to buy their way off by bribing Bardolph. Those who can afford to, Bullcalf and Mouldy, do so; those who cannot, Shadow, Wart, and Feeble, must be courageous by default. As it happens, when Falstaff re-emerges, two stout fellows get excused, while three seedy weaklings are drafted into his battalion. Ensuing scenes will not bring us much nearer to genuine warfare than the inept preliminary drill that Bardolph puts them through.


The theme of justice is mocked in the Gloucestershire episodes, where we are in the venue of the two doddering justices of the peace, opposites of Falstaff in all respects save age. Justice Shallow is as thin as Sir John is fat, as tame and timid as he is wild and brash. You might rate him the feeblest of Shakespearean characters, if Shakespeare had not outdone his feebleness in creating Justice Silence. Shallow's evocations of salad days, of youthful escapades with Sampson Stockfish and Jane Nightwork, contribute to the elegiac strain. But, as Falstaff soliloquizes, they are the fantasies of a dotard who was always a ninny. Bored by Shallow's prattle, he has listened politely for self-serving reasons. His response is succinct and noncommittal: "We have heard the chimes at midnight, Master Shallow" (III.ii.214-15). Like the Wife of Bath, Falstaff has had his world in his time; unlike Shallow, he has no need for nostalgia; he lives in the present, so long as he is alive. Ever with an eye for the main chance, he revisits Gloucestershire to borrow his thousand pounds from the foolish justice. Shallow's garden becomes an al fresco tavern for a last bout of conviviality, wherein Silence becomes surprisingly vocal. Davy, that "justice-like servingman," influencing Shallow's decisions to "bear out a knave against an honest man," is a comic role-model for what Falstaff soon expects to be: a friend at court who has the ear of the ascendant King (V.i.68, 48-49). This rural drinking scene is broken up by the arrival of Pistol, more welcome than at the Boar's Head for the information he now conveys: Henry IV is dead, long live Henry V! His bombastic diction affords the perfect medium for inflating the hollow expectations of Falstaff as he posts to the coronation.

We need not linger over the deflation. Many critics have been pained by the non-recognition scene, and have censured Henry for meeting his responsibilities, which could never have been fulfilled without the gesture of repudiation that he had explicitly anticipated all along. Given the groundwork, the ethos, the actualities involved, it could not conceivably have been otherwise. Henceforth he and Falstaff will go their separate ways, and each will be less engaging without the other. A. C. Bradley blamed not Henry but Shakespeare himself for overshooting the mark, for having permitted Falstaff to run away with our sympathies and hallowed him with that "touch of infinity" which Henry lacked. But infinity is by definition undefinable, and it seems more natural to envisage Falstaff as an innately corporeal creature. What would have occurred if the Chief Justice had been subjected to his tender mercies? "O God, that right should thus overcome might!" Mistress Quickly has exclaimed—a characteristic reversal of what she intended, but true enough under the circumstances (V.iv.24-25). These are genuinely compromising, for they disclose aspects of a connection with the underworld that we have too long overlooked. Officers accompany the Hostess in her last scene as in her first; but she began, in seeking the arrest of Falstaff, with the law on her side. Here she is being arrested herself, along with Doll, and the charges are grave and grim. "Come, I charge you both go along with me," says the beadle, "for the man is dead that you and Pistol beat amongst you" (11.15-17). Struggling and vituperating, pretending to be pregnant, Doll assails her officer: "Come, you thin thing, come, you rascal" (1.30). We are well aware of her preference for more corpulent men.

"Tavern on the Volcano" is the title of a suggestive essay on Henry IV by the Russian film-director, Grigori Kozintsev. From this vantage-point, the Boar's Head looks more like a Brechtian cabaret than a Shakespearean play-within-a-play. In Henry V we are given one receding glimpse of it, and the declination has been sealed by the marriage of Ursula to Pistol, who calls her Nell and is understandably ill at ease as mine host. Falstaff, now "in Arthur's bosom" (II.iii.9), is well out of the continental flurry and clangor. Instead of the "fat meat" (1.27) prefigured by the Epilogue to Part Two, we are given her famous account of his delirium and death. Inevitably, as the men confirm, "He cried out of sack . . . And of women" (11.27, 29). It is best remembered that " 'A babbl'd of green fields" (11.16-17). This was Lewis Theobald's emendation of a meaningless crux, a brilliant conjecture which leaves us with an untypical impression of pastoral pathos. But Mistress Pistol babbles on:

"How now, Sir John?" quoth I, "what, man? be a' good cheer." So 'A cried out, "God, God, God!" three or four times. Now I, to comfort him, bid him 'A should not think of God: I hop'd there was no need to trouble himself with any such thoughts yet. So 'A bade me lay more clothes on his feet. I put my hand into the bed and felt them, and they were as cold as any stone; then I felt to his knees, and so up'Ard and up'Ard, and all was as cold as any stone.


Apart from the worldliness of the casual impiety, it has escaped much notice that she concludes with an outrageous pun. The coldness has settled into his most vital organs. Criticism, alienated from the Prince Hal who had become Henry V, and inspired by Maurice Morgann to rely upon "secret impressions" of character, has generally been more sentimental than Shakespeare in treating Falstaff. Not so Bradley's revisionist, L. C. Knights, who observes: "The second part of Henry IV, a tragicomedy of human frailty, is about the varied aspects of mutability, age, discontent, and decay." That is not the whole story; it is about some more spirited and vivacious matters withal; but its enormous vitality is posited upon its intimations of mortality, its attitude toward life as a unique performance which has no encores. Thus it points Shakespeare's direction from history and comedy toward tragedy. Its complex modality is that of the Duke—disguised as a friar—in Measure for Measure, when he advises Claudio to "Be absolute for death" (III.i.5) and admonishes each of us:

Thou hast nor youth nor age,
But as it were an after-dinner's sleep,
Dreaming on both. . . .



1 This paper was presented as the annual Shakespeare's Birthday Lecture on 23 April 1980 at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Catherine M. Shaw (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: "The Tragic Substructure of the Henry IV Plays," in Shakespeare Survey: An Annual Survey of Shakespearian Study and Production, Vol. 38, 1985, pp. 61-7.

[In the following essay, Shaw asserts that in 1 and 2 Henry IV Shakespeare makes use of the genre of tragedy to settle the scores and tie up the loose ends that remain at the end of his history play Richard II as the result of Henry 's rebellion against the state.]

In reporting Queen Elizabeth's conversation with William Lambarde, the Keeper of the Records in the Tower of London, about the staging of Richard II on Saturday, 6 February 1601, most scholars emphasize the Queen's words. 'I am Richard II, know ye not that?' Less often repeated but of much greater significance to the play which gave rise to the exchange and those that followed it, are the Queen's next words which, in referring to Essex, make significant comment on the dramatic role into which she cast the treacherous earl. 'He that will forget God,' she said, 'Will also forget his benefactors . . . '1 And Francis Bacon, who was one of the crown prosecutors at the trial which followed the unsuccessful insurrection, left no question as to the ultimate condemnation of any who would defy divine authority. In speaking of Sir Gilly Meyrick, one of Essex's supporters, Bacon said, 'So earnest hee was to satisfie his eyes with the sight of that tragedie which hee thought soone after his lord should bring from the stage to the state, but that God turned it upon their owne heads.2 Both of these speakers seem less concerned with Shakespeare's hero than they are with the nature of Elizabeth's antagonist and with divine providence. 'That tragedie' which was to have been brought from 'The stage to the state' would seem to refer as much to the usurpation of Richard's throne as to his downfall and death, perhaps more. Their words, however, in addition to suggesting a tacit acceptance of Richard's fate, imply an impending dramatic aftermath ripe with potential for further tragic enactment—as if somehow, the play of Richard II is not yet over—and they are right. Shakespeare's Richard II ends in scenes which only partially fulfil the play's dramatic obligations; scenes which promise that the full tragic resolution will come only in the plays which follow—those titled with the name of the usurper king.

It is true that the tragedy of Richard II himself is, to all intents and purposes, over at the end of act 5, scene 5. Aumerle, Richard's last noble ally, has taken to his knees before the new king, and the playwright can now turn full dramatic attention to the death of Richard of Bordeaux. To use the metaphors of the play itself, Richard, having abused that divinely ordained time within which he should have been the caring gardener of the realm, must, in a kind of continuation of that strong morality theme dominant in the first tetralogy, pay for his errors against the state; for what Holinshed calls, 'Wrongfull doings'.3 And pay he does; one king falls and another takes his place.

As well as King Richard's private tragedy, these happenings also take care of the on-going narrative of the history plays; what A. P. Rossiter has referred to as the 'story-matter' gleaned from 'Historical records to show that the course of events has been guided by a simple process of divine justice, dispensing rewards and punishments'.4 We also know, however, from these records and the dramatization of them in the Henry VI plays and Richard III, that national tragedy has not yet run its course. And that is not all. Although divine ordination may have shortened Richard's days as king, human ordination shortened his physical life, and for this the wicked may not thrive. It is a deed, says Exton, 'chronicled in hell' (Richard II, 5.5.116).5 Regardless, then, of what Shakespeare might owe to his audience in terms of a continuing historical narrative with all its political implications, he also must complete the artistic and moral obligations which tragedy demands. And Shakespeare pays these obligations in the Henry IV plays which, in many ways, are a return of the dramatic concerns of Richard II—only the actors who play the central parts are different. The roles played by protagonist and antagonist in Richard II are in the Henry IV plays reassigned to a larger cast of principals who, against a suitably expanded setting, continue the saga of misrule and insurrection. I am not referring here to the replaying of banishments and rebellion and the like; although scholars have long noted that Shakespeare emphasizes the parallel historical events in each reign. I mean that the potential for tragedy spills over from the last scenes of Richard II in which all four of the major figures of the next play are assembled, if not in person then in the conditioned mind of the audience, and operates subliminally in the Henry IV plays.

The 'unthrifty son' of the new King, however, the 'young wanton' Prince of Wales, already holds a special place in English hearts and indulgent smiles are the only reactions to references in act 5, scene 3 of Richard II to the undisciplined boy and his 'unrestrained loose companions' (5.3.7). Nothing disastrous can happen to England's favourite prodigal son who will one day wear the crown in victory at Agincourt. On the other hand, reason dictates that his lewd companions and, in particular, one fat knight, will be by then a youthful though sad memory. It is also fitting that young Harry Percy, the prince's rival in honour, be the person who responds to the King's question about his profligate son's reaction to summons to court. The prince's answer, repeated by the valiant Hotspur, was that

he would unto the stews,
And from the common'st creature pluck a glove,
And wear it as a favour; and with that
He would unhorse the lustiest challenger.

(Richard II, 5.3.16-19)

Although Hal's response is couched in appropriate gutter language (taking 'unhorse' as a pun on 'un whores') the words, heavy with irony, so prophesy Hal's strategy in 1 Henry IV that one suspects the playwright went back and inserted them after the initial and overall planning of the second tetralogy had progressed well along into actuality. Be that as it may, it is Hal who redeems the nation from the moral bankruptcy which faces it at the end of Richard II and movement towards this redemption which has its climax under God's hand at Agincourt is the 'story matter' of the Henry IV plays. Besides that, if historical familiarity has not separated Hal from the others, then the dramatic Hal does it for himself in the soliloquy at the end of act 1, scene 2 of 1 Henry IV Unlike the others, Hal is made the conscious actor who creates a role which he will play until he 'please[s] again to be himself (1 Henry IV, 1.2.195).6

Setting the future king aside then, as' already having been given his role by history and by the playwright who was dramatizing it, we have at the end of Richard II his 'Lustiest challenger', young Harry Percy, his 'unrestrained' companions later personified in Sir John Falstaff, and his father, the solemn guilt-ridden Henry IV; the three characters, I might add, who are in turn left behind when Hal moves on into his own play—prisoners of history within plays in which at the same time as they act and interact within the historical process, each pursues his own line of dramatic action. It is these new players who act out the subliminal substructure for the Henry IV plays and which effect the necessary purgation, national and dramatic, before Henry V's reign of unexampled triumph can proceed.

Of these characters, Hotspur displays most clearly the potential for tragedy in the traditional sense of that word. Although introduced early in Richard II as 'Tender, raw, and young', by the end of that play Harry Percy has already moved into a very firm position at Bolingbroke's side; almost, one might say, in the position of a son. Certainly Henry would wish that relationship, seeing in Hotspur valiant and princely traits in the opening scenes of 1 Henry IV and later as a mirror image of himself when he arrived at Ravenspurgh. Hotspur is, however, more like the King than Henry might care to admit. Richard's words of Bolingbroke, that he is 'High stomach'd' and 'Full of ire, / In rage, deaf as the sea, hasty as fire' (Richard II, 1.2.18-19), characterize that angry nobleman in the same way as do Northumberland's to his son, 'Wasp-stung and impatient fool . . . / Tying thine ear to no tongue but thine own!' (1 Henry IV,1.3.233-5). There is little doubt that both Henry and Hotspur say and do foolish things in anger. Once he is King, Henry does try very hard to control his temper and most times he succeeds, as when he defers judgement when prisoners are refused him after Holmedon. 'For more is to be said and to be done', he says at that point, 'Than out of anger can be uttered' (1 Henry IV,1.1.105-6). When he does not, however, he makes provoking statements and commits rash actions just as Hotspur later does. Indeed, that very 'Ire' coupled with conviction of personal injury and family dishonour is what leads Hotspur to rebellion and attempted usurpation just as surely as it had previously led Henry.

Henry, however, won and Hotspur does not. Why? For Henry it is because history wills it so; for Hotspur it is because Shakespeare wills it so. It is true, Holinshed records that 'The lord Percie' did die at Shrewsbury but the Hotspur in 1 Henry IV7 is almost totally of Shakespeare's creation and Shakespeare's Hotspur dies because his 'High stomach' and his 'Ill-weaved ambition', characteristics which he holds in common with his king as surely as he holds bravery and valour and courage, lead him to rebel against that king and to his own disaster. And in this, Hotspur is acting out a tragedy in which the hero might just as well have been Henry Bolingbroke; their crimes are, after all, the same.

Hotspur's tragedy, however, is also personalized and his wilfulness is made the cause of peevish as well as dangerous actions. His uncle Worcester's exasperated words emphasize the flaws in the young man's nature:

You must needs learn, lord, to amend this fault.
Though sometimes it show greatness, courage, blood,
—And that's the dearest grace it renders you—

Yet oftentimes it doth present harsh rage,
Defect of manners, want of government,
Pride, haughtiness, opinion, and disdain,
The least of which haunting a nobleman
Loseth men's hearts and leaves behind a stain
Upon the beauty of all parts besides,
Beguiling them of commendation.

(1 Henry IV, 3.1.174-83)

And after his death, it is not only Hal who acknowledges the tragic fall of a noble gentleman, but one of his own associates in the rebel cause, Lord Bardolph, confirms that for all his greatness, Hotspur

with great imagination
Proper to madmen, led his powers to death,
And winking leap'd into destruction.

(2 Henry IV, 1.3.31-3)8

The fact remains, however, that the origins of rebellion, attempted usurpation, and national disorder lie in Richard II As Herschel Baker has pointed out, in addition to Richard II recording 'The deposition of a king who showed himself unfit to rule', the play also dramatizes 'with indignation the course and outcome of insurrection'.9 Warning after warning has occurred in Richard II of what will be the inevitable outcome of 'gross rebellion and detested treason'. Someone must pay for these crimes as Richard paid for his errors and misgovernment and if history disallows Henry Bolingbroke from the role then someone else must be his understudy: that understudy is Harry Hotspur. Thus, Hotspur is part of the tragic substructure of this play on two levels. At the same time as his personal tragedy is independently significant, Hotspur's fall acts out within the historic scheme of things in 1 Henry IV what could and perhaps should have happened to Bolingbroke had history not willed otherwise.

Sir John Falstaff is also a major actor in this tragic subtext of the Henry IV plays and his roles are without doubt the most complex of the play. In the opening scene of 1 Henry IV, the new king may speak of the peace which, he says, has united 'Acquaintance, kindred, and allies' (1.1.16), but the words are no sooner out of his mouth than the issues which are to become the dramatic conflicts of both Henry IV plays take the stage. These are not, however, new issues but a continuation of old ones. The realm is, in fact, no better off for Richard's overthrow and murder. Rather, to that national disharmony for which Henry must now share the fault with Richard has been added dynastic disordering for which he is alone guilty. As Richard Plantagenet is dead, the responsibilities for national chaos and for the disorder of familial descent should fall on Henry Bolingbroke. History, however, let me repeat, has placed Henry as head of state and thus, within the drama, he may intone with great gravity that royal 'We' which symbolizes the union of rightful king and nation. That dual role which personifies both national and dynastic disordering now passes to Sir John Falstaff. Both men, as James Winny has seen, have 'The semblance and manner of a king without the stamp of divine authority' and 'The farcical and disrespectful posture by Falstaff [in the play-within-a-play scene] gives visible form to the moral reality of Bolingbroke's kingship'.10

As Hotspur is the dramatic heir to that 'Harsh rage', that 'Want of government' in Henry's private nature that led him to challenge the King and embroil the nation in civil war, so Falstaff and Eastcheap are the visual representations of the public results of such actions. Falstaff's realm may be Eastcheap and his castle the Boar's Head Inn but the fat knight lords it both in misrule and in familial disruption. His very credo is lawlessness and he has at his side as devoutedly a wished-for heir in Hal as ever Hotspur is for Henry.

That such a realm has any permanence, however, is denied from the moment it is presented on stage. Like those of its king, the chief of 'Diana's foresters', its fortunes, although at the flood at the beginning of 1 Henry IV, will also 'ebb' as Hal prophesies for the 'gentlemen of the shade', being 'governed as the sea is, by the moon' (1.2.26-33). The world of the stews represents in miniature the nation which Henry brought to further disorder by violating fealty and primogeniture. Lawlessness breeds lawlessness and history, at least Shakespeare's version of it, demands the reassertion of natural and familial unity. And, although Falstaff is a creation of the Shakespearian imagination, his fate in the role of king of Eastcheap is determined by the same historical factors as control the King for whom he provides a dramatic substructural counterpart.

Within this larger and historic scheme of things, Falstaff's fall outlines as clearly as does any Shakespearian tragedy how the abuse of power and position can lead to personal and national disaster and that only by repudiation of the perpetrator can the ordered state be reestablished. As for the concerns of lineal disordering, Falstaff's pseudo-parental authority too must go. At the end of 2 Henry IV, Hal chooses a new father in the Lord Chief Justice—Falstaff's and Bolingbroke's antithesis—the man who represents the time-honoured traditions of order and loyalty and justice. The new king expresses the dual transformation which has taken place both in himself and in the nation by picking up the earlier metaphor:

The tide of blood in me
Hath proudly flow'd in vanity till now.
Now doth it turn, and ebb back to the sea,
Where it shall mingle with the state of floods,
And flow henceforth in formal majesty.

(2 Henry IV, 5.2.129-33)

As does Hotspur, however, Falstaff also acts out his own personal tragedy and his part within the subliminal tragic enactment of the Henry IV plays also has a multiple complexity. History may will that the nation must suffer and then be purged of treason, of chaos, and of dynastic discord, but Shakespeare wills that Falstaff's fall, like Hotspur's, be motivated by characteristics inherent within the very nature of his creation. And as Hotspur's weaknesses mirror those of Henry Bolingbroke, ironically, Falstaff's mirror those of Richard of Bordeaux who, like Falstaff, tries to perpetuate a mode of existence which is in direct conflict with the historical process of which he is a dramatic part. I say ironically because Richard's 'skipping' qualities (1 Henry IV, 3.2.60) which Henry lays to his son are in truth Falstaff's and not the Prince's. It is Falstaff's 'Fattest soil' (2 Henry IV, 4.4.54) that, like Richard's, nurtures weeds. Both live off their realms, not for them. Both are egocentric. Both charm others and themselves with words. Both appear to move toward their dramatic expulsions refusing to see the danger signals so obviously there. Richard acknowledges the 'High pitch' to which Bolingbroke's 'Resolution soars' (Richard II, 1.1.109) but proceeds not only to ignore it but also to add momentum to it. And who except Falstaff could ignore Hal's 'I do, I will' (1 Henry IV, 2.4.475) after the eloquent plea not to banish fat Jack from the Prince's world and then proceed to behave even more outrageously? And look to their endings. Richard has with him an unidentified groom to recall a regal past; not one of his noble subjects is left. Indeed, Richard's personal tragedy is, as many of Shakespeare's tragic heroes' are, one of progressive isolation. And so is Falstaff's. Isolated as he is already from his former world, Sir John has with him Shallow and Silence, lean-witted remnants of a past glory with whom he has been able to establish briefly another king-subject relationship. Pistol is there, and Bardolph who has escaped the purging of Eastcheap only because he hurried out of the city toward Gloucestershire. But they, like Aumerle, the last of Richard's royal associates, finally also become followers of a new king.

Both. Richard and Falstaff also come to public humiliation and private self-recognition. These confrontations for Richard, however, come separately. Richard is first rendered defenceless against the new political world of Bolingbroke; then in the prison scene, stripped of previous misconceptions, he gains a majesty of self of magnificent proportion. For Falstaff, the exposures of public and private self come at the same time and the sudden abutting of the historical and the comic worlds is such that the personal tragic moment can be and indeed is most often overlooked.

The words which Falstaff calls out to Hal as he passes in the coronation procession are progressively more intimate: 'King Hal, my royal Hal!', 'My sweet boy!' and then 'My heart!' and they encourage the expectation of confrontation on a personal level. There is nothing intimate, however, in the King's response. Even the overture of an instinctive comic gesture is cut short by the King's abrupt 'Reply not to me with a foolborn jest' (2 Henry IV, 5.5.41-5). Intellectually, of course, ample preparation has been made for this moment. And visually, in the scene itself, the strewing of rushes in the street, the coronation procession which passes over the stage, all the grandeur of the royal regalia insist upon the public and ritualistic nature of the event. Historic reality not only breaks through the comic world as it has done on numerous occasions before in these plays, but this time it stays in full view. For the first time, says Robert M. Torrance in his study of the development of the type, 'A comic hero has met irrevocable defeat. . . . Death Falstaff could outwit, but from the righteous judgement of a Christian king there is no reprieve; he stands defenseless, as no pagan or heretic comic hero ever stood, against his anointed antagonist's monopoly of moral authority.' All this is true, but surely there is more.11 Intellectual moral justification for the expulsion of Falstaff can be accepted as can the historical actuality, but the disquietude which greets the end of 2 Henry IV is not intellectual; it is emotional.

As Falstaff stands staring after the departing King and his rag-tag band begin to shuffle their feet in the rushes, there is something quietly heart-rending in the way the fallen knight tries to gather about himself the shreds of his shattered dignity. To say that Falstaff really believes that Hal will call for him once out of the public eye is to misread every confrontation between the two in both plays. In a brief moment and in his own strange way, there is a splendid simplicity in Falstaff's attempt to assert a positive sense of self. The old man's words, 'I will be the man yet that shall make you great', have about them the same sense of desperate majesty as Lear's 'I will do such things;—/ What they are, yet I know not' (King Lear, 2.4.283-4). Words, however, the weapons which served him so well in the past, are not enough to save him now any more than Richard's defence was able to ward off historic inevitability. Symbolically, Falstaff dies at this instant. No prison scene in Fleet allows further exploration of the tragic moment. All that is left is a sense of emptiness as the great girth moves from the stage. Torrance explains this emptiness and links it to a previous fallen knight. 'A kingdom', he says, 'That has lost first Hotspur, then Falstaff, along with all that they embodied, has been irreparably diminished, even though the excision be a condition for its survival.'12

King of Eastcheap—King of England: the parallels between these two are so obvious that it seems only fitting that on the national level Henry Bolingbroke should share with Falstaff the roles of Richard II. Each king faces similar political crises, as I suggested earlier, but there is more to being a king than merely acting out historical events. In his own plays, however, Henry is no longer the author of these events but their victim and, as such, he is forced into Richard's role. In addition, not only is the role of victim Henry's, so is the language. In act 4, scene I of Richard II, Richard hands over his crown to Henry; then in act 5, scene 1, he prophesies the cares and insecurities that will come with it. Once Henry's role changes from perpetrator to threatened victim and confidence in loyal allies 'converts to fear' (Richard II, 5.1.66), those very insecurities lead Bolingbroke to the same verbalizing of despair that Richard was prone to:

Let all the tears that should bedew my hearse
Be drops of balm to sanctify thy head,
Only compound me with forgotten dust.
Give that which gave thee life unto the worms;
Pluck down my officers; break my decrees;
For now a time has come to mock at form—
. . . Up, vanity!
Down, royal state!

(2 Henry IV, 4.5.113-20)

The voice here is Henry's but the words might well be Richard's.

Shakespeare, however, denies to Henry Richard's heroic ending. The sense of loss at the death of Richard II is not felt when Henry dies. For one thing, unlike Richard's, and indeed unlike Hotspur's and Falstaff's, Henry's departure from the dramatic and historic world is underplayed. Warwick's news that the King has 'Walk'd the way of nature' (2 Henry IV, 5.2.4) quickly turns to concern for the future of the Lord Chief Justice. M. M. Reese would add to this that 'Long before the end the proud and confident Bolingbroke has shrunk into a sleepless neurotic'.13 I'M not sure that this is true but if it is, the description refers to the private Henry; the Henry that has been for so long the source of sickness in the realm; the Henry that has hidden throughout his plays behind the role granted him by history while others act out what should have been his parts. At this Henry has been remarkably successful. Even at Shrewsbury he had 'Many marching in his coats' (1 Henry IV, 5.3.25).

From the time he landed at Ravenspurgh, the public Henry is a winner. He achieves a crown and, although he gains little honour from either, his forces continue to be triumphant at Shrewsbury and Gaultree Forest. It is true that privately he is plagued by guilt but he is eventually able to dispel any fears he may have had of his son's capabilities to rule, to blame his sleeplessness on the heavy duties of wearing a crown, and to convince himself that he had committed treason because 'necessity so bow'd the state'. Warwick is also by to soothe him with platitudes when his mind runs to Richard's prophecy of a time when 'Foul sin, gathering head, / Shall break into corruption' (2 Henry IV,3.1.73, 76-7). Finally, although he admits to the 'bypaths and indirect crook'd ways' that took him to the crown, he also assures Hal that 'The soil of the achievement' will go with him into the earth (4.5.184-90).

Dramatically, however, the soil of the achievement has passed to surrogates—Hotspur and Falstaff—and their demises, real or symbolic, are the prices paid for Henry's crimes against the state. But there remains 'One most heinous crime' for which Henry must pay his own piper—the murder of Richard Plantagenet. By Exton's use of direct quotation when he reiterates the king's words, 'Have I no friend will, rid me of this living fear?' (5.4.2), Shakespeare gives to Henry a scene in which he commits the grave error of allowing political expediency to hold sway over moral judgement. In other words, a quality which in all other regards has stood Henry in good stead and as a quality of kingship can be admired in him all the more because Richard so clearly lacks it, becomes in this instant a 'Mole of nature'. I mean here that quality of knowing when to seize the moment, of knowing exactly when and how to motivate men and events to pursue his own ends. It is the dominant characteristic of Henry IV the political realist that emerges from the Chronicles. The Bolingbroke within the hollow crown in the Henry IV plays, however, is the playwright's artistic creation and Henry's decision not to abide Richard Plantagenet alive, whether made as the result of policy or in a fit of pique is, in Shakespeare's play, a tragic mistake in judgement.

The facts of history only deny Henry a Crusader's death but for this grave error Shakespeare's dramatic metaphor suggests another punishment. Although it is to the instrument of murder that Henry directs his biblical intonations at the end of Richard II:

With Cain go wander thorough shades of night,
And never show thy head by day nor light,


Exton completely disappears from the dramatic progression. Shakespeare refuses to pass this crime on to a surrogate. Rather, Henry himself must bear the mark of Cain and live and ultimately die with the blood of Richard on his hands. Henry's plea, 'How came I by the crown, O god forgive' (2 Henry IV,4.5.218), involves his treason and his violation of dynastic succession; Richard's death is parricide, linked by the Cain metaphor to the 'eldest primal sin,' and for this he is denied the true Jerusalem. This is the tragedy of Henry Bolingbroke.

Of Henry's former adversaries, Richard II had died weapon in hand, prophesying, 'Mount, mount, my soul! thy seat is up on high' (Richard II, 5.5.111); Hal's words over the fallen Hotspur at Shrewsbury indicate that the Prince's praise will go 'To heaven' with the fallen warrior (1 Henry IV, 5.4.98); and Falstaff 'Went away an it had been any christom child' (Henry V, 2.3.11-12). Even the loyal knight, banished Thomas Mowbray, after valiant years 'In glorious Christian field', gave up 'His pure soul unto his captain Christ, / Under whose colours he had fought so long' (Richard II, 4.1.93-100). But not so for Henry Bolingbroke. 'Then said the king,' reports Holinshed, 'Lauds be given to the father of heaven for now I know that I shall die heere in this chamber, according to the prophesie of me declared, that I should depart this life in Jerusalem.'14 The words which Shakespeare gives to Henry carry no such tone of thanksgiving; no such surety of destiny. Rather, they are heavy with irony and the recognition of God's judgement and his own vanity:

Laud be to God! Even there my life must end.
It hath been prophesied to me, many years,
I should not die but in Jerusalem,
Which vainly I suppos'd the Holy Land.
But bear me to that chamber; there I'Ll lie;
In that Jerusalem shall Harry die.

(2 Henry IV, 4.5.235-40)

Thus, by the end of 2 Henry IV, the crimes unpunished in the action of Richard II have all been accounted for in the tragic substructure of the Henry IV plays. It is true that in 'small time' civil war will again pitch Englishman against Englishman in the Wars of the Roses, but for the dramatic present, debts are paid and 'civil swords and native fire' (2 Henry IV, 5.5.106) may turn toward France and Agincourt.


1 E. K. Chambers, William Shakespeare, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1930), vol. 2, pp. 326-7.

2 Chambers, vol. 2, p. 326.

3 Geoffrey Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, 8 vols. (1957-75), vol. 3 (1960), p. 388.

4Angel with Horns (1961), pp. 1-2.

5 William Shakespeare, Richard II, The Arden Shakespeare, ed. Peter Ure (1956). All references to Richard II are from this edition.

6 William Shakespeare, 1 Henry IV, The Arden Shakespeare, ed. A. R. Humphreys (1960). All references to 1 Henry IV are from this edition.

7 Bullough, vol. 4, p. 191.

8 William Shakespeare, 2 Henry IV, The Arden Shakespeare, ed. A. R. Humphreys (1966). All references to 2 Henry IV are from this edition.

9 Introduction to Richard II, The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans (Boston, 1974), p. 801.

10The Player King (1968), pp. 100, 107.

11The Comic Hero (Cambridge, Mass., 1978), p. 142.


13The Cease of Majesty (New York, 1961), p. 312.

14 Bullough, vol. 4, p. 278.

Further Reading

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Berry, Edward I. "The Rejection Scene in 2 Henry IV." Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 XVII, No. 2 (Spring 1977): 201-18.

Examines the ways in which critics have misread Hal's rejection of Falstaff in 2 Henry IV suggests methods of interpreting the scene more fully.

Bevington, David. "Introduction." In The Oxford Shakespeare: Henry IV, Part I, edited by David Bevington, pp. 1-110. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987.

Provides an overview of 1 Henry IV, including the play's sources, structure, and tensions between characters, as well as performances of the play and its place in history.

Candido, Joseph. "The Name of King: Hal's 'Titles' in the 'Henriad.' " Texas Studies in Literature and Language 26, No. 1 (Spring 1984): 61-73.

Looks at how Prince Hal's political savvy and respect for the past are linked in his efforts to solidify his right to the throne.

Cox, Gerard H. " 'Like a Prince Indeed': Hal's Triumph of Honor in 1 Henry IV." In Pageantry in the Shakespearean Theater, edited by David M. Bergeron, pp. 130-49. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1985.

Downplays the problematical aspects of Prince Hal's character, urging instead an evaluation of the Prince based on the conventions of chivalric pageantry.

Greenfield, Thelma N. "Falstaff: Shakespeare's Cosmic (Comic) Representation." In Acting Funny: Comic Theory and Practice in Shakespeare 's Plays, edited by Frances Teague, pp. 142-52. Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1994.

Defines the classic comic figure and then demonstrates the ways in which Falstaff is far more complex than this definition allows for.

Knowles, Ronald. "Honour, Debt, the Rejection and St. Paul." In The Critics Debate: Henry IV Parts I & II, pp. 73-86. London: The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1992.

Provides an overview of the contrasting opinions of literary critics regarding Hal's rejection of Falstaff.

Leggatt, Alexander. "Henry IV." InShakespeare's Political Drama: The History Plays and the Roman Plays, pp. 77-113. London: Routledge, 1988.

Presents an overview of1 and2 Henry IV, including their relationship to Shakespeare's other history plays and the interaction between the comedic world of Falstaff and the political world of the Court.

Paris, Bernard J. "Prince Hal." InCharacter as a Subversive Force in Shakespeare: The History and Roman Plays, pp. 71-90. Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1991.

Traces the development and contradictions of Hal's character inI Henry IV, through2 Henry IV, and up to the beginning of his rule inHenry V.

Prior, Moody E. "Comic Theory and the Rejection of Falstaff." Shakespeare Studies IX (1976): 159-71.

Looks at the nature of comedy in relationship to the character Falstaff and describes Hal's rejection of Falstaff in2 Henry IV as "the triumph of the embodiment of power over the embodiment of the free spirit of comedy."

Rees, Joan. "Falstaff, St. Paul, and the Hangman." The Review of English Studies XXXVIII, No. 149 (February 1987): 14-22.

Suggests ways in which Shakespeare makes full use in1 and2 Henry IV of the textual ambiguity of biblical quotes.

Salingar, Leo. "Falstaff and the Life of Shadows." In Shakespearean Comedy, edited by Maurice Charney, pp. 185-205. New York: New York Literary Forum, 1980.

Examines why audiences laugh at, or with, the character of Falstaff.

Somerset, J. A. B. "Falstaff, the Prince, and the Pattern of 2 Henry IV" Shakespeare Survey 30 (1977): 35-45.

Argues that2 Henry IV should receive more attention as a play in its own right rather than simply as a sequel to 1 Henry IV.

Spiekerman, Tim. "The Education of Hal:Henry IV, Parts One and Two." In Shakespeare's Political Pageant: Essays in Literature and Politics, edited by Joseph Alulis and Vickie Sullivan, pp. 103-24. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1996.

Traces Hal's development into a legitimate king and how this development is affected by Hal's relationships with his father and with Falstaff.

Stewart, Douglas J. "Falstaff the Centaur." Shakespeare Quarterly 28, No. 1 (Winter 1977): 5-21.

Compares the relationship of Hal and Falstaff to that of the heroes of Greek mythology and Chiron, the centaur/tutor.

Williams, Robert I. "Comic/Serious, Serious/Comic." In his Comic Practice/Comic Response, pp. 114-34. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1993.

Defines comedy of the absurd and applies this definition toI Henry IV.

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