Shakespeare's genius in character and plot development is exemplified in two of his most complex history plays, Richard II and Henry IV, Part I. With these sequential plays, Shakespeare vividly develops characters and sets up complicated plots by juxtapositioning people with others. Specifically, he first creates a binary opposition between Richard and Bolingbrook in Richard II, and then, recalls the plot and carries out an almost mirror image character contrast with Hal and Hotspur in Henry IV, Part I. However, in typical Shakespeare fashion, the seemingly mirror-image binaries of Richard/Bolingbrook and Hal/Hotspur break down with Shakespeare's character complexity.
A major reason why these character parallels do not perfectly hold up is because of the marvelous character of Falstaff. Absent from Richard II, Falstaff is introduced in Henry IV to create intricacy and ambiguity regarding likenesses among these characters. Falstaff significantly complicates the Hotspur-is-to-Bolingbrook-as-Hal-is-to-Richard II assumption because Falstaff has so much in common with the King. Therefore, as opposed to Hotspur's becoming the Bolingbrook persona, it is the drunken and disorderly Falstaff who becomes the character most parallel to the King. However, the King associates himself with Hotspur, who, as his name suggests, is a relentless warrior. The King puts forth a sense that Hotspur will act as Bolingbrook did in Richard II, by challenging the Prince's right to the throne; he feels that Bolingbrook's rivalry with Richard is reflected in Hotspur's position as Hal's challenger.
In the first scene of Henry IV, Part I, King Henry immediately ...
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...tspur seems unfitting. Adding complexity to characterization through his comical action, Falstaff is a crucial character in Henry IV, Part I, and it is through the character of Falstaff that we see the parallel between Hotspur and Bolingbrook breaks down.
Works Cited and Consulted
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. H.C. Robinson's Memoranda Henry IV, Signet Classic, pp. 236-237.
Goldman, Michael. Shakespeare and the Energies of Drama Henry IV, Signet Classic, pp. 260-261.
Johnson, Samuel. The Plays of William Shakespeare Henry IV, Signet Classic, pp.234- 235.
Kahn, Coppelia. Man's Estate: Masculine Identity in Shakespeare Henry IV, Signet Classic, pp.262-266.
Shakespeare, William. Henry IV, Part I, ed. M.A. Shaaber, Penguin Books (NY: 1985).
Wilson, John Dover. The Fortunes of Falstaff Henry IV, Signet Classic, pp.238-243.
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