Analysis Of Henry Iv Essay, Research Paper
A Man of the Moon or Not at All?
In Act I, Scene II of William Shakespeare s Henry IV, Part I, Prince Henry of Wales, a.k.a. Hal, delivers a monologue that has profound effects on both the perception of his character, and on the entire plot of the play.
Prior to his monologue in scene II, the Prince plots mischief with his mutinous friends, Falstaff and Poins. We think the Prince to be somewhat easy to read. He seems to be merely a rebellious young heir to the throne who spends all his time with highwaymen, robbers and whores on the bad side of London, all to the disdain of his father, the King. This is not to say he is a flat character; In fact, he is extremely witty and brilliant with language.
But, as usual, Shakespeare demonstrates that all is not as simple as it seems. When the Prince s friends have gone, the mood and tone of the scene immediately change from mischievous sarcasm to dark and insidious treachery.
I know you all, and will a while uphold
The unyoked humour of your idleness:
The Prince is saying that for a while, he will maintain an air of acquiescence to the shady activities of his friends. Suddenly, we realize we have been deceived in some way, but we know not to what degree. It s as if the sound of the door closing behind Poins triggers a switch inside the Prince. We now know there is much more to this seemingly waggish and rebellious young rogue, and one can easily imagine his devious grin slowly revealing itself upon his face as his speech moves forward.
Yet, herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wonder d at,
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapours that did seem to strangle him.
Again, we are confronted by yet another surprise; whereas the meter of the first two lines of the monologue is iambic pentameter, characterized by a rather musing sinisterity, the third line Yet, herein will I imitate the sun, is injected with a troche followed by dactylic pentameter. This signals another change in tone. Even though the piece goes back to iambic pentameter in the fourth line, the result is an exceptional increase in forcefulness.
Here, the Prince is comparing himself to the sun, and his disreputable associates to the clouds. With this first of several metaphorical comparisons, he is revealing his master plan to make his father and the people of England believe without question he is hopelessly sinful, so that when he reforms himself, the new Prince will stand in marked contrast to the old Prince.
The language in this passage is seething, using such words as contagious, smother, foul and ugly, and the final phrase, vapours that did seem to strangle him. This paints a very nasty picture of the company he keeps. These are not merely bad influences to which he is referring; they are straightjackets on the glory he has yet to reveal.
Now we are left wondering, why? Why would the Prince resort to such extreme measures to win the admiration of his people? Our answer comes in the very nature of the lines that follow comparison.
If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work;
But when they seldom come they wish d for come,
And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.
The Prince explains that if every day were vacation, it would be as boring and contemptuous as work, but when vacation days come few and far between, they are special and set apart from the rest of the year, and nothing pleases people more than surprises. He believes that because his reformation will be completely unexpected, the degree of reverence he will receive will far surpass what he would have received had he always been a good boy.
As he nears the end of his monologue, it appears the Prince finds himself to be quite a good boy. He begins these last lines with yet another troche to signal the change in mood and tone. Now he is full of pride and self-importance, making bold statements regarding the glory of his plan.
So, when this loose behavior I throw off,
And pay the debt I never promised,
By how much better than my word I am,
By so much shall I falsify men s hopes;
And like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation, glittering o er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
Again, his speech is rich with metaphor the bright metal on a sullen ground. Moreover, as the Prince describes what he foresees as the fruits of his plan, it is as if he sees this event on the same level as the resurrection of Christ. More specifically, he is the Prodigal son another metaphor. Another factor that distinguishes this part from the preceding lines is its meter. It is all over the place. The diction causes accentuation upon accentuation in order to make bold, grandiose statements, such as when he begins two consecutive lines with the word, By, and he makes an utter monument of the phrase, My reformation.
Finally, we learn the Prince is through ranting and raving when he makes the shift from blank verse to the cheerfully rhymed verse of his last two lines. As he leaves us to ponder this complicated situation, it is more than clear he finds himself to be quite a guy.
I ll so offend, to make offence a skill;
Redeeming time when men think least I will.
The Prince has given us great insights into his character. It can now be inferred that much of the playful sarcasm he exchanges with his friends is actually a foreshadowing of sorts. However, though he has revealed a great deal, the last two lines leave us hanging. He does not tell us how or when his reformation will occur, only that it will come when it is least expected.
The most important peculiarity of this monologue is the moral ambiguity of the Prince s plan; on one hand it is a movement toward the honorable conduct that his father and the other noblemen want for him, while on the other it is quite deceitful. He is concealing the truth form both his current comrades and the English people.
The final question is where does the Prince s character stand on the moral continuum that seems so prominent a feature of this play? Shakespeare has most certainly succeeded in making things complicated. What is clear is that the Prince s monologue does its duty to fuel the continuity of the play by raising these questions and fueling an intense curiosity of what is to come.