In I Henry IV and II Henry IV, William Shakespeare brings together drama and comedy to create two of the most compelling history plays ever written. Many of Shakespeare's other works are nearly absolute in their adherence to either the comic or tragic traditions, but in the two Henry IV plays Shakespeare combines comedy and drama in ways that seem to bring a certain realism to his characters, and thus the plays. The present essay is an examination of the various and significant effects that Shakespeare's comedic scenes have on I Henry IV and II Henry IV. The Diversity of Society
Perhaps the first and most obvious effect of Shakespeare's use of comedy in the two Henry IV plays is the resulting diversity of characters. The plays can be seen to be divided into three general scenes or settings, the court, the tavern, and the rebel's camp, and it is largely the tavern scenes which introduce characters not found in the plays' historical bases. In doing so, Shakespeare of course draws in a more diverse audience, who can perhaps see something of themselves in the full variety of society's characters found in I Henry IV and II Henry IV. Shakespeare's mastery of language and dialect help to acheive this, for his characters' speech resounds with realism. The tavern crowd's lines, for example, are filled with colloquialisms and double-entendres:
Falstaff. Welcome, Ancient Pistol. Here, Pistol, charge you with a cup of sack. Do you discharge upon mine hostess.
Pistol. I will discharge upon her, Sir John, with two bullets.
Falstaff. She is pistol-proof, sir; you sha...
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...in themes similar to those found in the two Henry IV plays, such as usurpation, rebellion, and the issue of lineage of royal right. But Richard II and King Henry V are decidedly more serious in tone, and in comparing them to I Henry IV and II Henry IV, the argument can be made that it is these two latter plays which resound with greater realism with the broader spectrum of life which they present. Shakespeare carefully balances comedy and drama in I Henry IV and II Henry IV, and in doing so the bard gives us what are perhaps the most memorable characters in all of English literature.
Bevington, David, ed. The Necessary Shakespeare. 2nd ed. New York: Pearson Education Inc., 2005.
Shakespeare, William. "The First Part of King Henry the Fourth." The Necessary Shakespeare. By William Shakespeare and David M. Bevington. New York: Longman Group, 2004.
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