Appearance vs. Reality in Henry IV

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Appearance vs. Reality in Henry IV

 
    Shakespeare's play Henry IV begins with a king (King Henry) beginning a

pilgrimage after killing King Richard II.  Henry believes that by gaining the

throne of England he has done an honourable deed, yet he admits that the

fighting and bloodshed could continue, A. . .   ill sheathed knife . . . @

(I.1.17).  He, also, admits  that his own son, Prince Hal,  is not honourable

enough to occupy the throne, Asee riot and dishonour stain the brow of my young

Harry"  (I.1.17).

 

     Shakespeare continues the topos of honour and redemption into Act three,

scene two, where he uses elements such as anaphora, topos, imagery and rhetoric

in a meeting between King Henry and Prince Hal that is both  crucial and

climatic to the overall structure of the theme of honour.

 

     At the beginning of Act III  sc. ii,  Shakespeare clears all other

characters from the stage to allow King Henry=s first meeting, face to face with

Prince Hal, to be focused and intense.  King Henry is the first to speak and

sets a sombre tone as he begins to unmask himself to his son A. . .  some

displeasing service I have done @  (3.2.5).   As well Shakespeare allows King

Henry to bring Prince Hal=s mask to attention by using anaphora:

 

          Could such inordinate and low desires,

          Such poor, such bare, such lewd, such

          mean attempt, such barren pleasures,

          rude society as there art matched withal . . . (3.2.12-15).

 

The word such is used to emphasise his [Henry]  displeasure of Hal=s friends and

the image they  portray around him causing Hal in the eyes of Henry to lose his

princely image.

 

     Shakespeare, then allows Prince Hal to defend himself to his father's

interpretations of his (Hal) character.  Again, there is a contrast between what

King Henry perceives and what is reality.  The king is obviously distressed over

Hal=s choice of friends  and how they affect this  'Princely image'.   Hal  on

the other hand asks for Apardon on my true submission @ (3.2.27), claiming that

such people (friends) tell stories that may not always be true Aaft the ear of

greatness must hear @ (3.

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2.24).

 

     It seems that King Henry still has some reservations about Prince Hal=s '

appearance' and how that effects his (Hal=s) place on the throne; which may be

some what ironic coming from a king that truly bases popularity, Aopinion that

did help me to the crown @ (3.2.42), on public opinion though a rebellion is

organising  around him.

 

     During the King=s speech to Hal, Shakespeare employs many elements of style

to review and parallel King Henry=s mask to Prince Hal=s appearance and

foreshadow a possible outcome for Prince Hal, A. . . prophetically do forethink

thy fall @ (3.2.38).  By using the imagery of a comment Shakespeare is trying to

impress on Prince Hal that in the eye of the public Alike a comet I [he] was

wondered at "  (3.2.47).  King Henry had to  keep himself Afresh and new, my

presence like a robe pontifical @ (3.2.55-56), while in public.  In contrast

Shakespeare uses the image of a A cuckoo in June @ to show that Prince Hal is

Aheard, not regarded, seen, but with such eyes, as sick and blunted with

community @ (3.2.76-77).

 

     As Prince Hal answers,  Shakespeare reminds the reader that the intention

of this meeting is reconciliation of both King Henry and Prince Hal.  In act one,

King Henry states AI will from henceforth rather be myself @ (1.3.5).  To

parallel the king=s remarks Shakespeare has Hal repeat the same idea AI shall

hereafter, my thrice gracious lord, be more myself (3.2.92-93).

 

     Though there is a saying that Athe eyes are windows into a man=s soul@

Shakespeare uses the rhetoric of A eyes @ and A sight @ to be negative in that

it is what the eyes of other people see that makes a person honourable.  Some

examples of this rhetoric used by Shakespeare are: Aafford no extraordinary gaze

. . . admiring eyes . . . eyelids down @ (3.2.78,80,81), indicating that through

these public eyes Prince Hal does not demand the respect needed to be as

successful a king as King Henry believes he himself is.  Then, Shakespeare uses

A sight @ in the same passage to give insight to the  'mask' Henry wears that

must make him blind:

 

          . . . save mine, which hath desired to see thee more,

          which now doth that I would not have it do,

          make blind itself with foolish tenderness.  (3.2.89-91)

 

Again Shakespeare is using this act to play out the King=s idea of how his son

Hal appear to be less honourable than Hotspur, but, will put aside his

honourable mask  towards some of the misdoing by his son for the sake of saving

his (Hal=s) princely image.

 

     Another aspect of Shakespeare's style is the long passages at the end of

each scene that are, usually,  given to the main (or most important) figure on

stage at the time.  In this scene, however, much of what King Henry is saying to

Prince Hal is contained in a long passage.  Although these passages by the king

are not at the end of the scene, but, contained within the scene it could be

that Shakespeare wants to show that the king is indeed an important character

until Hal begins his own pilgrimage of reconciliation.  As well these long

passages give King Henry a chance to repeat and parallel a large amount of

information to Prince Hal.

 

     In his last long speech to Hal, King Henry repeats his disfavour in his son=

s ability to be king stating that Ahe (Hotspur) bath more worthy interest to the

state than thou the shadow of succession@ (3.2.98-99).   Also King Henry uses

this opportunity to explain what he thinks are the honourable qualities he feels

Hotspur has over Prince Hal:

 

          Leads ancient lords and reverend bishops on

          To bloody battles and to bruising arms.

          What never-dying honour hath he got

          Against renowned Douglas  ( 3.2.104-107)!

 

     Finally, Shakespeare allows Prince Hal to answer to all the allegations

presented by King Henry.  One element of Shakespeare's style here is the long

passage which denotes Prince Hal as an important character gaining respect from

the king.  First Hal tells King Henry that AGod forgive them that so much have

swayed Your Majesty's good thought away from me @ (3.2.130-131).  Hal then goes

on to say that he wants to announce his right to be king as the son of King

Henry by proving his honour and loyalty to the king though the only honourable

thing left to Aredeem all this on Percy=s head@ (3.2.133).

 

     This last passage summarises Prince Hal=s feelings that up until now he has

been seen through a mask unworthy of his father=s honour.  Like the king before

him Hal wishes to cast off this mask and earn respect through the forth coming

rebellion; much as did King Henry gain respect and honour by going into battle

with Richard II.

 

     In conclusion, Shakespeare uses elements of style such as topos, and

anaphora, as well as imagery and rhetoric to parallel and contrast King Henry's

honour with Hal's perceived lack of honour.  This scene in act three is a

critical moment between a father and son set up by Shakespeare to enable both

character to "cast off" their masks and show the reality of their true selves

and asks the question of whether honour is truly what we say it is.

 

Works Cited and Consulted

Bloom, Harold. Henry IV, Part One: Bloom's Notes. New York: Chelsea House, 1996.

Cruttwell,Patrick. Hernry IV. Shakespeare For Students, Vol. II. Detroit: Gale Publishing, 1999.

Kantor, Andrea. Henry IV, Part One. London: Baron's Education Series, Inc, 1984.

Princiss, G.M. Henry IV Criticism. Shakespeare For Students, Vol.II. Detroit: Gale Publishing, 1999.

Shakespeare, William.   1Henry IV.  In The Norten Anthology of English

Literature. Eds.  M.H. Abrams et all.  5th Ed. New York: Norton, 1987.  Pg.  505-574

 


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