Speech Analysis On Henry Iv Part One

Speech Analysis On Henry Iv, Part One – Act 3, Scene 2 Essay, Research Paper

Henry IV’s lecture to Hal in 3.2 provides the audience with much more than an example

of Henry’s relationship with his son. It also serves as an examination of the kingship and its

changing role. Henry’s attempts to criticize Hal inadvertently draw many parallels between him;

his son, and his predecessor, Richard II, and while he intends to reveal Hal’s shortcomings, he

primarily reveals his own.

He begins by criticizing Hal’s choice of associates, namely the rogues who inhabit the

tavern. He claims that if he had been close friends with such people, Richard would still be King

of England. In fact, he blames Richard’s poor choices of advisors for his downfall. By flattering

Richard for their own ends, instead of letting him know the true state of affairs in England, they

kept him oblivious to the growing dissatisfaction of the populace.

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 profan d with their scorns

And gave his countenance, against his name,

To laugh at gibing boys and stand the push

Of every beardless vain comparative (3.2.61-67);

While Falstaff and his companions may be “vulgar company” (3.2.41), however, they are, in fact,

exactly the type of company with which Henry was associated by Richard, who greatly feared

Henry’s “courtship to the common people” (Richard II, 1.4.24). Rather than avoiding people like

Falstaff, he sought them out and won their hearts. This disparity serves to undermine Henry’s

argument that Hal should separate himself from the common people as much as possible.

The contradiction between Henry’s elevation to the throne by public opinion and his

suggestion that Hal avoid becoming involved with the lower classes can be interpreted in a

number of ways. One cynical view might claim that Henry subconsciously fears his son becoming

popular enough with the people to be able to overthrow his own father, but this is unlikely when

we consider that Hal has shown no desire to take on the responsibilities and power of the kingship

thus far in the play. Another possibility is that Henry is seeking to legitimize his son’s future

kingship by returning the role of the king to that of an isolated god. While he was forced to revert

to other means to ascend to the crown, he desires that his son and the rest of his line will be

viewed as elevated nobles who are fit to rule England. The most likely possibility, however, given

the rest of the speech, is that Henry, like Richard before him, is blind to his true situation.

Richard refused to acknowledge, until it was too late, that it might be possible to rule without

divine authority, and while Henry, by necessity, realizes that it is possible, he ignores the true

implications of this and clings to the notion that the king must be somehow different from the rest

of the populace.

Once again, however, his own words deny what he is saying. Immediately after arguing

that Hal must, in order to prove himself a king, set himself apart from people such as Falstaff, the

king acknowledges that it was only the opinion of such people that prevented him from being left

. . . in reputeless banishment,

A fellow of no mark nor likelihood (3.2.44-45).

Had he tried to keep himself isolated from the lower classes, he would have been forced to join

them, because, at heart, he is no different from any other person, regardless of their social status.

As Richard eventually realized at the end of Richard II, the king, just like a peasant, is no more,

and no less, than a human being.

Henry then addresses his own personal history with a passage which closely mirrors Hal’s

earlier speech in 1.2. Yet a comparison between the two speeches reveals many differences which

help to distinguish Henry from Hal. Both speeches place great importance on, “being seldom

seen” (3.2.46), but they do this in different ways. Henry cites this as another reason for Richard’s

downfall, claiming that his overexposure to the public forced them to become, “glutted, gorged,

and full” (3.2.84) of him. On the contrary, Henry, by remaining out of general sight, was able to

remain, “fresh and new . . . ne’er seen but wond’red at” (3.2.55,57). Henry was limited,

however, by his failure to realize the extent to which the kingship was changing. It was no longer

determined by the will of God, but by the skill of an actor. Henry, however, clings to the one,

accepted role of God’s chosen messenger and refuses to accept the possibility of a king with many

faces. Hal, on the other hand, has realized the potential to use many roles to increase his power.

His father was forced to leave the country in order to be seldom seen, but Hal is able to create

different roles to hide himself behind. Thus, his “Henry V” self is seldom seen behind the “Hal”

role he portrays in the tavern. This is merely another example of the changing role of the

monarchy, and it is made even more explicit when we examine the differences between how

Henry and Hal view themselves.

The best gauge for this is the standard royal metaphor of the king as the sun. This was

used extensively by Richard, who claimed that the obstacles he faced were like clouds temporarily

obscuring his royal glory. Both Henry and Hal steal this image, but in different ways. Henry

implies that he possesses, “sunlike majesty” (3.2.79), but he never specifically compares himself to

the sun. The closest comparable metaphor is that of another celestial body, a comet. This is an

interesting image for many reasons. A comet serves as a type of false sun. It is greatly admired,

but not nearly as bright as the true sun. It is also temporary, often not reappearing for years at a

time. Hal, however, does compare himself extensively to the sun, despite the fact that he has not

yet become king. His return to the use of Richard’s metaphor is not meant to imply that he has

returned to Richard’s beliefs about the kingship, but rather that he has formed a definite system of

beliefs regarding whom the king really is. Richard’s beliefs, as well as those of the kings before

him, were based on the idea of the divine right of kings. Hal has based his beliefs on the idea that

the kingship is a role to be played by an actor. Henry, however, is caught in the middle, as he

struggles to reconcile the traditions of the past with the reality of his current situation as a usurper

king. Of the three, he is the odd man out. Richard and Hal both inherited their thrones

legitimately, but Henry

. . . stole all courtesy from heaven,

And dressed 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 crown d King (3.2.50-54).

His actions lack the nobility typically associated with a king. His promises to participate in the

Crusades go unfulfilled, and when he is faced with battle, he hides behind others. Of the three, he

is the only king to truly hide. When Richard is faced with capture by Henry’s troops, he boldly

goes to meet them, and while Hal hides his true self, he is merely hiding behind another version of


Henry concludes his lecture by attacking Richard’s reign. For the most part he continues

to warn Hal that mingling with common folk will prove detrimental to his kingship by claiming

that Richard’s insistence on surrounding himself with unworthy people was responsible for his

downfall. As before, his emphasis on Richard’s popularity with the peasantry rings false when the

audience remembers that it was Henry who was the favorite of the lower classes, while Richard

was considered a tyrant. Even as he faults Richard, however, Henry manages to preserve the

sanctity of the monarchy. Regardless of his obvious dislike for Richard, he refuses to completely

discredit him. As a former King of England, he deserves some portion of the respect that goes

with the title, and as a result, Richard remains a “great name” (3.2.64), and a surfeit of “honey”

(3.2.71). If Henry were to discredit the monarchy, he would risk discrediting himself and his son,

and while he does wish to discredit Richard, he must be sure to walk the fine line between where

Richard ends and the monarchy begins.

One of the most important reasons we use language is to convey the truth, and often this

purpose will be accomplished whether the speaker is aware of it or not. Henry’s concern for his

son and for his kingdom are clearly evident in this passage, but what is most surprising about this

passage is how little we learn about Hal and how much we learn about Henry himself. He has

changed since the moment we first encountered him in Richard II as the idealistic young

Bollingbroke, but in some ways, he is exactly the same. In both plays, including the play named

after him, he is a secondary character, or an instrument rather than the main focus of the play. He

serves primarily as a counterpoint and measuring stick by which we examine Richard and Hal, and

it is only through a close examination of some of the things he says that we are truly able to gain

an insight into his own character.


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