Henry IV, Part 1
Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
HENRY IV, PART 1
Worcester and Vernon visit the King’s camp, where Henry, Hal, Prince John, Blunt, and Falstaff are gathered. Henry remarks that the rebellion has made him “doff our easy robes of peace” and “crush our old limbs in ungentle steel” (V.i.12-13). Worcester reviews the history of Henry’s usurpation, using a conceit in which Henry operates like a cuckoo: he “did oppress our nest, / Grew by our feeding to so great a bulk” (V.i.61-62). Henry dismisses all this as an excuse to rebel,
To face the garment of rebellion
With some fine color that may please the eye
Of fickle changelings and poor discontents,
Which gape and rub the elbow at the news
Of hurly-burly innovation….
(Worcester’s words might aptly have been those of a Vere ancestor to Henry VII.)
Henry shoots down the idea of single combat between Hotspur and Hal, the latter acknowledging, “I have a truant been to chivalry” (V.i.94). Henry’s deal is that he’ll pardon the rebels if they lay down their weapons. Hal anticipates Hotspur and Douglas rejecting this offer.
Falstaff requests that Hal stick close to him. He offers a soliloquy on the ridiculousness of the notion of honor when Hal remarks that he owes God a death/[debt]:
‘Tis not due yet; I would be loath to pay him before his day. What need I be so forward with him that calls not on me? Well, ’tis no matter; honor pricks me on. Yea, but how if honor prick me off when I come on? how then? Can honor set to a leg? No. Or an arm? No. Or take away the grief of a wound? No. Honor hath no skill in surgery, then? No. What ishonor? A word. What is in that word honor? What is that honour? Air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it? He that died a’ Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No. Doth he hear it? No. ‘Tis insensible, then. Yea, to the dead. But will[‘t] not live with the living? No. Why? Detraction will not suffer it. Therefore I’ll none of it, honor is a mere scutcheon. And so ends my catechism. (V.i.127-141)
Worcester recommends to Vernon that they remain silent about the King’s offer — it’s all over for the older rebels politically anyway:
For treason is but trusted like the fox;
Who, ne’er so tame, so cherished, and lock’d up,
Will have a wild trick of his ancestor.
This is “a statement clearly suggestive of the line of Howards” (Clark 694; cf. Ogburn and Ogburn 93, 715). In particular, “hare-brain’d Hotspur, govern’d by a spleen” (V.ii.19), should not be informed. “We as the spring of all shall pay for all” (V.ii.23).
Hotspur, momentarily dreading that Worcester asked King Henry for mercy, is made to believe that the King is resolved for war. Vernon mentions the aborted plan for single combat with Hal, and Hotspur snorts at his report of Hal’s noble bearing and dignity:
If he outlive the envy of this day,
England did never owe so sweet a hope,
So much misconstrued in his wantonness.
Although it is time for a rallying speech, Hotspur claims not to be a man of words:
Better consider what you have to do
Than I, that have not well the gift of tongue,
Can lift your blood up with persuasion.
With Hotspur’s cries of “Esperance!” (the Percy family motto) and “Percy!,” the rebels embrace and depart for battle.
Trumpets announce the battle. Douglas has killed the Lord of Stafford who was armed in the likeness of King Henry. Now Blunt is similarly dressed and Douglas thinks this is Henry. They fight and Blunt is killed. Hotspur comes by and tells Douglas it isn’t the King: “The King hath many marching in his coats” (V.iii.25). Douglas vows, “Now by my sword, I will kill all his coats; I’ll murder all his wardrop, piece by piece, / Until I meet the King” (V.iii.26-28).
Falstaff could do without all this danger. All but a few of his men have been killed and the few survivors have turned to begging in town. Prince Hal is a model of seriousness and asks for Falstaff’s sword. Falstaff claims to have bested Hotspur, but Hal knows this isn’t true. So Falstaff keeps his sword but offers to lend his encased pistol: “’tis hot, ’tis hot” (V.iii.53). Hal pulls out a bottle of sack instead, so he pitches a fit: “is it a time to jest and dally now?” (V.iii.55). He throws the bottle at Falstaff and rushes off. Falstaff resolves not to court death and end up like Blunt: “I like not such grinning honor as Sir Walter hath. Give me life, which if I can save, so; if not, honor comes unlook’d for, and there’s an end” (V.iii.58-61).
Henry wants Hal and John to rest but Hal won’t. Douglas encounters Henry and asks, “What art thou / That counterfeit’st the person of a king?” (V.iv.27-28). “The King himself,” responds Henry (V.iv.29), acknowledging that Douglas until now has met only “shadows” (V.iv.30). They do battle, and Henry is in trouble when Hal enters, challenges Douglas, and sends him running. Henry is pleased and returns to battle. The reference to a “Nicholas Gawsey” may indicate the relevance of Nicholas Dawtry to the play as part of the inspiration for Falstaff (Clark 699).
Hal then encounters Hotspur:
I am the Prince of Wales, and think not, Percy,
To share with me in glory any more.
Two stars keep not their motion in one sphere,
Nor can one England brook a double reign
Of Harry Percy and the Prince of Wales.(V.iv.63-67)
They fight, Hal cheered by Falstaff, until Douglas returns and fights with Falstaff, who fall down pretending to be dead. Douglas leaves and Hotspur falls, beginning his own eulogy — “O, I could prophesy, / But that the earthy and cold hand of death / Lies on my tongue. No, Percy, thou art dust, / And food for –” (V.iv.83-86). “For worms, brave Percy” (V.iv.87), finishes Hal, adding a noble tribute to Hotspur’s valor.
“In Hotspur’s sense, ‘honor’ passes from loser to victor…. And it is the title of champion that Hotspur bewails the loss of, not life itself” (Asimov 377). Historically, we don’t know who killed Hotspur at the Battle of Shrewsbury on 21 July 1403 (Asimov 378).
Hal then sees Falstaff lying as if dead and offers a eulogy for him too: “could not all this flesh / Keep in a little life? Poor Jack, farewell! / I could have better spar’d a better man” (V.iv.102-104).
Hal leaves and Falstaff gets up, rationalizing about his cowardice.
‘Sblood, ’twas time to counterfeit, or that hot termagant Scot had paid me scot and lot too. Counterfeit? I lie, I am no counterfeit. To die, is to be a counterfeit, for he is but the counterfeit of a man who hath not the life of a man; but to counterfeit dying, when a man thereby liveth, is to be no counterfeit, but the true and perfect image of life indeed. The better part of valor is discretion, in the which better part I have saved my life. ‘Zounds, I am afraid of this gunpowder Percy, though he be dead. How if heshould counterfeit too and rise? By my faith, I am afraid he would prove the better counterfeit. Therefore I’ll make him sure, yea, and I’ll swear I killed him. Why may not he rise as well as I?Nothing confutes me but eyes, and nobody sees me. Therefore, sirrah[stabbing him], with a new wound in your thigh, come you along with me. (V.iv.113-129)
“In peace Falstaff is an immensely beguiling figure, but war reveals a darker side to his opportunism, as if Shakespeare were helping us to sympathize with the Prince’s inevitable rejection of his values” (Wells 145). Falstaff hoists the dead Hotspur onto his back just as Hal and John enter. John is surprised to see Falstaff alive, given Hal’s report a moment ago. Falstaff takes the credit for killing Hotspur and expects this will earn him a title: “If your father will do me any honor, so; if not, let him kill the next Percy himself” (V.iv.140-142). Hal says he’ll not refute Falstaff’s lie: “For my part, if a lie may do thee grace, / I’ll gild it with the happiest terms I have” (V.iv.157-158). They all leave, Falstaff saying,
I’ll follow, as they say, for reward. He that rewards me, God reward him! If I do grow great, I’ll grow less; for I’ll purge, and leave sack, and live cleanly as a nobleman should do. (V.iv.162-165)
The rebellion quelled, Henry chides Worcester for failing to deliver word to the rebels of his offer of peace. He orders Worcester and Vernon killed. Hal requests mercy for the valorous Douglas (who is not an Englishman anyway) and it is granted. Henry sends Prince John and Westmoreland with one army to fight Northumberland and Archbishop Scroop. Henry and Hal will take another army to Wales to fight Glendower and Mortimer. Rebels never prosper.
Rebellion in this land shall lose his sway,
Meeting the cheque of such another day,
And since this business so fair is done,
Let us not leave till all our own be won.
Although Hal seems to have shaped up by the end of this play, he’ll regress in order to provide some interest to Henry IV, Part 2. Despite his reputation, reputation, reputation in Part 1, Hal is never shown by Shakespeare to be drunk, and “Most of all, he is never tarred with sexual immorality. Shakespeare never shows him as anything worse than a young man with a keen sense of humor and a liking for horseplay” (Asimov 331). But, do we ever even see Falstaff drunk?
“From the targeting of particular constituencies to the learning of regional languages and customs, the artful insinuations about ‘character’ and fitness for office, and the prodigal-son trajectory of a wastrel-turned-patriot-and-hero, the story of Prince Harry, or Hal, who will become the legendary Henry V, is a model of the making of a national icon” (Garber 314). So goes the critical insistences, but if Hal gradually “shapes up,” he shapes up into what?