Play: Henry IV, Part 1

All right, I haven’t actually seen this play. But for some reason, I felt compelled to read it today, and when it comes down to doing actual homework on a Friday night and reading a Shakepeare play, well, the Shakespeare will win every time.

As implied by the “Part 1” at the end, this play doesn’t have much of a resolution. Additionally, the main protagonist doesn’t seem to be King Henry IV at all, but his son, the Prince of Wales, the soon-to-be Henry V, who is usually called Harry or Hal by his lowlife friends. There are two rivalries, personal and private, that the play addresses. The first is the threat posed by the Scottish and Welsh nobles under Douglas and Glendower (or Glyndwr, depending on translation) and some northern English nobles, led by Northumberland and Worcester. This conflict is only partially resolved during the play: the English component of the rebellion is mostly defeated, but the Scottish and Welsh sides still offer resistance, and Northumberland, who fell ill at the last moment and thus didn’t bring himself or any soldiers to the climactic Battle of Shrewsbury, remains to be dealt with. The second, more personal conflict is, in my opinion, more interesting, and seems to be the main focus of the play. It deals with the contrasting characters of Prince Harry/Hal and Harry Percy, son of Northumberland, who is nicknamed “Hotspur” for his valiant war deeds on horseback. The two are linked from the beginning of the play, through an extremely depressing monologue in which the king wishes that his son and Hotspur had been exchanged at birth, so he would have a valiant son with whom he could relate, as opposed to the apparently lazy, dishonored son who likes to hang around with thieves. This rivalry develops and becomes a major focus of the play, as Prince Harry takes up his role as a leader and warrior in order to help lead the king’s faction to victory.

You see, as Harry reveals in a soliloquy, he isn’t really a drunken lowlife, he’s just acting like one and hanging out with them in order to lower the public’s expectations of him, so that when he finally steps up to his responsibilities, his maturity will be all the more impressive. This and other actions on the prince’s part set him up as an interesting counterpart to Hotspur. While Prince Harry is subtle, diplomatic, and able to manipulate people into getting what he wants, Hotspur is brave and fearless on the battlefield, but equally hot-tempered impatient with his allies off the battlefield.

…I don’t want this to turn into another Doctor Who review, so I’ll just say that I really like the parallels and rivalry between Hal/Harry and Hotspur. It’s an awesome play and I can’t wait until the mood strikes me to read the sequel.

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