Student Question

In Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 2, has Hal, by banishing Falstaff, effectively banished the world? If so, how?

Falstaff says, "banish plump Jack, and banish all the world" (1H4, 2.4.479-480), and Hal, pretending to be the king, says "I do, I will"; in Part 2, Hal, who is now the king, does just that (2H4, 5.5.64).

Expert Answers

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Hal has banished “all the world” in the sense that he has revoked the common world for a royal one. Falstaff was his father figure, a fun-loving criminal and braggart. In spite of his numerous flaws, including cowardice and duplicity, many audiences are drawn to him. He represents life and laughter. Still, Hal must become king. He can no longer be one of the people; he must be above them.

In Henry IV (Part Two), Henry IV famously utters, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” He falls ill and has difficulty sleeping, worrying about the safety of his country and crown, which he got through violence. Hal calls the crown “so troublesome a bedfellow,” one that robs its wearer of sleep. By rebuking Falstaff, Hal keeps the kingdom in order but abandons his careless youth for a life of adult responsibilities.

Hal renounces Falstaff as as dream that he once loved but now despises. He chooses reality, or kingship, over this fanciful dream. However, he continues to struggle with kingship in Henry V. While disguised, he tells several soldiers that “the king is but a man.” The men argue that the king is to blame for any deaths under his service. Henry is clearly bothered by this:

Upon the king! let us our lives, our souls,
Our debts, our careful wives,
Our children and our sins lay on the king!
We must bear all. O hard condition
Twin-born with greatness …
… What infinite heart's-ease
Must kings neglect, that private men enjoy!

The burdens of the king are sometimes too heavy for him. Henry can feel as though he has abandoned the joys of the world in order to rule England. In this way, Henry has dismissed both Falstaff and the world.

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