One of the most important aspects of 1 Henry IV is the development andtransgressions of Hal who is the Prince of Wales and heir to the throne. Theplay’s focus on the family reminds us that the struggles England endured throughits growth were largely struggles inside the royal family. Hal’s character is ata point where he is unable to define who he will be; a responsible part of themonarch, as his father would like to see, or a rogue as is John Falstaff. Throughout the play the prince keeps company with Falstaff, who is indeed aknight but hardly acts as one would hope. He lies, robs travellers and frequentsthe bar and whorehouse owned by Mistress Quickly.
By scene iv of the fifth actit is clear that the Prince will fulfil his role and embrace his noble birth bystanding with his father to fight against the rebels. At the end of the battleHal makes it clear to himself but also to Falstaff that he will no longer beamongst his clan of rabble rousers. Undoubtedly Prince Hal is a noble characteron a small scale and as early on as the second scene in the first act he ishinting at his uncertainties about his role in the state. He states: “Sowhen this loose behavior I throw off / and pay the debt I neverpromised” In this “loose behavior” refers to his dealing withFalstaff and the low life of the tavern and the “debt” he “neverpromised” is upholding the lineage of the monarchy.
However, it is notuntil the battle when Hal puts his selfish, albeit true, loyalty behind him anddefends his father who is being attacked by Douglas. Although he does not killDouglas, Hal shows that he has become a man of honour and dignity. His fatherrecognises this: “In this fair rescue thou hast brought to mesome tenderof my life. ” This shows that Hal’s decision to change is outwardly apparentto others, but most importantly, to his father.
Another aspect of Hal’scommitment to change can be seen in the lines that Shakespeare has given him. Most of the audience members would already be well acquainted with the story ofHenry IV so it was especially important that the language be varied and colorfulenough to keep the audience interested. In Act V, scene iv Hal is given linesthat seem extraordinarily defiant but masking an internal struggle. Hotspur If Imistake not, thou art Harry Monmouth. Prince Thou speak’st as if I would deny myname. Hotspur My name is Harry Percy.
Prince Why, then I see A very valiantrebel of the name. I am the Prince of Wales; and think not, Percy, To share withme in glory any more. Two stars keep not their motion in one sphere; The Prince,rather than hastily disregarding his former ways, still holds respect forHotspur even though it is apparent by this time that he will defeat the rebel ashe promised his father. Hal speaks respectfully towards Hotspur but proclaimsthat he will no more “deny his name” as he has done up until thispoint in regards to his duty. This shows the audience that he has come to termswith his identity. Hals use of language throughout the scene furtherexpresses his acceptance of rank.
Until this scene, Hal has spoken in verse onlyin the company of other nobility and in prose when with his friends in thetavern. The shift in his method of speech reveals to the audience that Hal felthe could move between the two spheres of society, between his father andFalstaff without having to have a static identity. His acceptance of his placein society can be seen in that he decides, for the first time, to speak in versewhen addressing Falstaff: “I prithee, speak; we will not trust our eyesWithout our ears: thou art not what thou seemst. .
Shakespeare makes Hal’stransgressions all the more important because it takes place during the firsttime that all the characters, from both the palace and the tavern, are in thesame scene. In a sense, Hal is forced to choose a side. There is such a dynamicsocial contrast that the “royalty” and “low life” seem allthe more on the fringes. In addition, there is the added presense of a climatethat fosters nobility and morality.
The true nature of the individual charactersare bound to show themselves. When put in this predicament, the princesgravitation toward maturity and acceptance of his place comes a forth and hisfathers distinction from the other characters becomes clear. For the firsttime Hal recognizes that there is a rift between himself and Falstaff, and theirlast interaction can be interpreted as a slightly disdained farewell. Towardsthe end of the scene, there can be no doubt to the audience that the Prince willnot turn kindly to Falstaff and his gang again. Hal’s decision to speak in verseindicates that he has moved beyond the tavern-dwellers and found himself in anew caste.
Shakespeare has put Hal through a rite of passage on the stage inorder that the audience be more familiar with his character. Whether or not Halin 1 Henry IV is to be seen in isolation of the second part of the history or asmerely a major development within the two parts is still up for interpretation. The different type of speech exemplifies that Hal has moved on from needingFalstaffs friendship as a reflection of his identity, and has accepted hisplace as the future King. The last thing that the Prince says to Falstaff is,Come, bring your luggage nobly on your back: For my part, if a lie may dothee grace, Ill gild it with the happiest terms I have.
For the Audienceas well as Prince Hal, this declaration reinforces that Hal is acting inaccordance with his title and his father’s wishes and that he has moved beyondfeeling a bond with Falstaff. Earlier on in the play, he might have tried toexpose Falstaffs lie but this line shows that the prince accepts Falstaff asa liar and feels no need to challenge him or to deal with him on Falstaff’slevel. Not only does he accept Falstaff as a liar, and thus expect no better ofhim, he is also aware that because of the difference in character and statusbetween them, Falstaff needs the recognition for having killed Hotspur. For Hal,performing the deed was enough; he does not need the outward appearance ofhonour that comes with glory in battle.
For Hal to accept that Falstaff relieson lying to promote the outward appearance of a noble character is for him toaccept that the friendship between them is over, that they no longer haveanything in common and no longer need one another. With his fathersrecognition and a feeling of self-assurance, Hal does not need Falstaff and thisscene represents his realization that he has learned what he can from him. Thefarewell between Hal and Falstaff though unspoken and subtle is by no meanshostile. Hals agreement to lie on Falstaffs behalf is almost a token ofgratitude toward him for the benefit he has gained from their friendship. Theend of the relationship does not come out of unfriendly feelings for one anotherbut rather from the fact that Hal has undergone a transition that Falstaff willnever undergo.
Though the last we see of Falstaff in the first part of KingHenry IV is a series of empty promises to make what he interprets to be the sametransition that Hal has made. The change that takes place within Henry, Princeof Wales is exemplified through his language and his actions. This change isfinalised in the second to last scene, leaving only one brief interaction withhis Father, the King, between his break away from his previous lifestyle and theend of the play. Hals acceptance of his role within his family as well askingdom is indicative of finding the reality of honour within himself.
The factthat this epiphany comes so near the end of the play brings Hals journey toan end, giving the play a sense of closure and resolve. Hals decision alsoserves to give his character psychological depth, and thus further differentiatehim from the tavern characters. Hals discovery of princely honour functionsto fulfil the concept of honour as an inherent trait of nobility and thus makeshis separation from Falstaff an inevitability.Shakespeare