The Passing of the Crown by Shakespeare's Henries

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The Passing of the Crown by Shakespeare's Henries

In his histories from Richard II through Henry V to Richard III, Shakespeare depicts the English monarchy as a game between family and friends of vying for a gold ring -- the crown. Shakespeare gives his reader a central metaphor through which to see this equation in King Henry IV part one. The prank Prince Hal, later King Henry V, and his friend, Poins, play on their friends, particularly Falstaff, parallels the plot's focal passing of the crown.

In the first act, Poins outlines his plan to play a prank on Falstaff and their other friends to Prince Hal, "They [Falstaff and others] will adventure upon the exploit [of stealing money from travelers] themselves, which they shall have no sooner achieved but we'll set upon them" (I.ii.169-71). This exactly represents the larger action that takes place in this same piece. King Henry IV, previously Bolingbroke, usurped the crown from King Richard II in Shakespeare's play of that title, and now, in this King Henry Hotspur is trying to take from "Bolingbroke," the name he contemptuously insists on using for the king, the crown which the king 'rightfully' stole already. Hal's prank can, in fact, be seen as the summarizing play within the play so popular in Elizabethan drama. Not only does Hal's light-hearted game sum up the events of this history, it also works as a microcosm of the events in King Richard III, a tragedy wherein Richard steals the throne from his brothers, Edward and George, who, in turn, stole it from Henry VI. The metaphor becomes even more obviously applicable when we hear Falstaff's self-defense for giving up the stolen money so easily, "Was it for me to kill the heir apparent?"...

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...taining the position and participating in its ceremonies is a game. However, I don't think this means that the role is an impossible one to actually possess, that it's always simply an unreachable construct that everyone pretends at. I think it just means that Shakespeare sees the crown as not being as serious a thing to possess as is commonly thought. It's a joke, a gag, a prank, always a gold ring made of cardboard. Where there's "a kingdom for a stage," so too can there be 'a stage for a kingdom' (Henry V, prologue line 3). Being King means playing.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. Henry IV: part one. Ed. P. H. Davison, New York: Penguin Books, 1996.

Shakespeare, William. Henry IV: part two. Ed. P. H. Davison, New York: Penguin Books, 1997.

Shakespeare, William. Henry V. Ed. A. R. Humphreys, New York: Penguin Books, 1996.
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