King Henry Iv Part 1 Essay, Research Paper
February 7, 2000
Although most people find it hard to climb out of a whole they have dug themselves into, Prince Hal in Henry IV Part I is able to redeem himself even after the English King and nobility view him as a derelict with no future. He proves himself true to the Royal Throne when he defeats his young rival, Henry Percy. Through the exorcism of his immature ways, he earns himself the succession to the throne.
In the opening scene of the play, King Henry hears news from the Earl of Northumberland that Henry Percy, “the gallant Hotspur” (1.1.52), is leading a successful campaign against Mortimer in Wales. The King reflects on how he wishes his own son were more like Hotspur:
Yea, there thou mak’st me sad and mak’st me sin
In envy that my Lord Northumberland
Should be the father to so blest a son (Hotspur)
A son who is the theme of honor’s tongue.
Whilst I, by looking to praise him,
See riot and dishonor stain the brow
Of my young Harry. (1.1.77)
The King is envious of Northumberland’s son, who does not waste his days like Prince Hal. The King is not proud to be the father of such a person. His son is wasting his days away with the fat-faced drunk, Falstaff. The two, along with others, spend their days robbing devout people on their pilgrimages and drinking old sack. Prince Henry does, however, make clear that he intends to surprise the world by standing forth in his true character:
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 wondered at
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapors that did seem to strangle him.
If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as work; (1.2.204)
This statement implies that Falstaff is preventing Hal from maturing into the mature royalty that he inevitably must become. The “foul and ugly mists of vapors” refer to Falstaff, who is constantly surrounding Prince Hal.
King Henry, attempting to transform his son into a son he can be proud of, censures his son for participating in “barren pleasures” (3.2.16) with his vulgar cohorts. At this point the King makes it clear that he is disgusted with his son and that the throne will go to Hal’s younger, more responsible brother. What the prince earlier soliloquized about, he now communicates to his father. He assures his father that he has been underestimated and he will “redeem all this on Percy’s head” (3.2.137). His greatest enemy is Hotspur, not the Northern rebels and Mortimer. The King, exceedingly pleased, places his son in command of the royal forces. Here, the transformation of Prince Hal takes place. He has shed his persona of Falstaff’s “sweet wag” and developed into Henry, Prince of Wales.
The Prince heads to Eastcheap Tavern to recruit the “hill of flesh” (3.3.104), Falstaff to lead foot soldiers in the conquest to smash Percy’s rebellion. They all go and at the end of the Battle of Shrewsbury, Prince Henry has fulfills his promise of redeeming himself by killing Hotspur.
Clearly, up until Hal first meets with his father, he and Falstaff are two derelicts that serve no purpose to their country. When battle approaches, these men take two different paths. Hal is willing to risk his life for his family and country as proved in challenging Hotspur to a one-on-one duel and by saving his father from regicide. On the other hand, Falstaff acts like a coward on the battlefield. He soliloquizes on the subject of honor and finds no profit in being a dead hero. Unlike his success in evading the bill at the tavern, he might wind up failing to evade a sword and die. Falstaff declares that if Hotspur shows his face he will be slain by the comic, but he has no intention of going out of his way to find the valiant warrior. Later, he fakes his own death in a duel with Douglas and lays motionless until no one is around. He sticks his knife in the dead body of Hotspur, puts the body over his shoulder, and walks up to Prince Henry and his brother, John, and asks for his reward for slaying the great leader. The brothers ignore him and retreat to find their comrades. The Prince was able to transform himself into the great leader that he knew he was capable of being regardless of what everyone else thought of him. On the other hand, Falstaff had no intention of changing who he was and probably would not be able to accomplish that task, either.
Prince Hal dug himself a huge hole in life by enjoying the company of criminals and disgracing his family. Fortunately, he knew exactly how to solve his problem. By defeating Hotspur, he was able to earn the respect of the throne and the country. He fully exorcises his past through chivalry and his emergence as a war hero. Not only did he fight for his family, he fought for his beloved country. Thus went the valiant transformation from Hal to Prince Henry IV.