Henry IV: RedemptionIn Shakespeare’s Henry IV, the character Hal, the Prince of Wales,undergoes a transformation that can be characterized as a redemption.Shakespeare introduces Hal, in the opening act as a renegade of the Court. Hisavoidance of all public responsibility and his affinity for the company of theBoar’s Head Tavern, have caused serious concern for the King, because Hal isheir to the throne.
The King realizes that to keep order, a ruler and his heirmust prove to be both responsible and honorable; from the outset Hal possessesneither quality. The King even testifies to his own advisor, that he would haverather traded Hal for Hotspur, the son of the Earl of Northumberland. In theKing’s eyes Hotspur, not Hal, is the “theme of honor’s tongue” (1.1. 80),because he has won his glory through his merits in war. Thus, Shakespeare hasset Hal and Hotspur in opposition: Hal, the prodigal prince, versus Hotspur,the proper prince. Hal understands that he has been branded with the label,”truant to chivalry,”(5.
1. 95) and as the heir to the throne, he realizes thatit is imperative that he redeem himself not only for himself, but also for hisfather and his people because life will not always be a holiday , for “If allthe year were playing holidays, To sport would be as tedious as work” (1.2. 211-212).
However Hal needs some type of strength to make his realization come true.Luckily Hal’s father, the King is willing to lend several comments that enragehim and provide him with the necssary motivation. It also seems thatShakespeare has included the foil for Hal, the valiant Hotspur, in order toprovide the callow Prince of Wales with another source of motivation, fromwhich Hal can begin constructing his redemption.
In a plea to his father, Halvows that he will redeem his tarnished identity at the expense of Hotspur,saying “I will redeem all of this on Percy’s head,” (3.2.137).However, theact of redemption does not only occur as the result of realization andmotivation. Redemption needs for these ideas to be put into action. At the endof Act 5.
4, using his realization and motivation as a basis for his actions, Halconsummates his transformation, by physically saving his father from Douglasand defeating Hotspur in a single combat at the Battle of Shrewsbury. Thus, thePrince of Wales has performed, what he had originally promised to do in hisopening soliloquy, to redeem his reputation. The phases of, realization,motivation and action, mark important facets in Hal’s transformation. However,Hal’s redemption occurs only as the product of all three phases, and as a result,it causes a significant change in the character of the Prince.The first phase of Hal’s transformation is marked by realization. Halrealizes that his life of truancy must end. This realization in turn, provideshim with a basis for redemption, which is marked by Hal’s soliloquy at the endof Act 1.2.
However, Hal’s soliloquy is not the result of a strikingrealization. Rather, it is apparent that Hal has given much thought to hisriotous lifestyle and to the importance of being an earnest and honorable prince.In response to participating in the up-coming robbery with Falstaff and Poins,Hal says “Who, I rob? I a thief? Not by my faith” (1.2 144). Hal ishesitant to be solely member of this riotous world (meaning he wants to be amember of both worlds, the Tavern and the Court) . The only reason Hal enlistsin the robbery is in order to dupe Falstaff and to later hear the”incomprehensible lies that this same fat rogue will tell” (1.2. 193).
In theTavern scene at the end of Act 2.4, Hal admits that even though he went throughwith the robbery, he promises to return all the money he stole from thetravelers (Hal stole the purses from Falstaff, who had stolen the purses fromthe travelers), because he is not a thief. Hal, in these early scenes of theplay, typifies the all too familiar tradition that many adolescents go through,that of youthful rebellion against the establishment of order and responsibility(usually that is symbolized by parents).
As a result of rebellion, in allcases, including Hal’s, it is important to remember that the subsequentreformation that follows, has always been a necessary step. Hal’s callowbehavior is of great concern to the King, not only because Hal is the heir tothe throne and lacks the respect of his own people, but also because the King’shonor and respect are at stake as well. Therefore, the King proclaims that hewould rather have the valiant Hotspur as his son, because Hotspur characterizesthe proper honor and respect a prince ought to receive.These are the forces that lead to Hal’s soliloquy, and more importantly,his realization. In his speech, Hal makes clear that he fully understands thathis Tavern companions are like “contagious clouds” (1.2. 205). Thus, hepromises to remain with them only until the time arises, when he will have toshow the world his true self.
“So when this loose behavior I throw off / Andpay the debt I never promised,” (1.2. 214-215). Hal even mentions that hissubsequent reformation will be more praised when juxtaposed with his old riotouslifestyle in Eastcheap, because his new character will be all the moreimpressive.My reformation, glitt’ring over my faults,Shall show more goodly and attract more eyesThan that which hath no foil to set it off.In subsequent scenes, Hal shows a natural reluctance to his proclamationof reformation. During much of the humorous Tavern scene, Act 2.
4, Hal shows noinclination seeking reform; as Hal says, “I am not yet of Harry Percy’s mind,”(2.4. 104). Hal continues to engage himself in mischief. With the assistanceof Poins, Hal engages in a robbery of his Eastcheap companions, namely Falstaff,Peto, Bardolph and Gadshill. Later when the sheriff arrives at the Tavern insearch of Falstaff, Hal uses his princely to get rid of the sheriff, therebyconcealing his friend Falstaff. It is not until the very end of this scene,during the play extempore with Falstaff (2.
4. 400-504), that Hal finally alludestowards his possible reformation. During that brillant exchange of words, Hal,playing the role of King, declares, “I do. I will,” (2.
4. 499), in referenceto banishing Falstaff. In this remark, Hal seems to foreshadow that when he iscrowned king, he will have the courage to banish not only Falstaff, but hisrioutous Tavern life altogether. Even though there might possibly be some hopefor Hal’s reformation, Hal is nevertheless, a truant of the court.The second phase of Hal’s redemption is thus, the motivation necessaryto initiate Hal’s reformation, from realization to action.Hal can’t seem tobegin his reformation alone; he is reluctant to change because it is so easyand natural to want to remain the same(i.e, his actions in the Tavern scene).Therefore Hal needs the help of someone else in order to begin his reformation(almost like a slight nudge from behind).
Conveniently, Hal and his father,King Henry, meet in Act 3.2, and in their discussion Hal finds his father’swords an inspiration for his action. King Henry begins by expressing he greatdisappointment in Hal.
He says that Hal’s delinquency is a result of “somedispleasing service I (king) have done (to God),” (3.2. 6). The King thenstates that because Hal has been absent from council, “Thy place in council thouhast rudely lost,” (3.2. 34) and has been with such “vulgar company,” (3.
2.42), Hal has thus, lost the honor and respect of his people, and must find a wayto win it back. In greater detail the King compares Hal to the Hotspur,explaining that Hotspur has a greater claim to the throne than Hal simplybecause of his prowess and merit, “He hath more worthy interest to the statethan thou, the shadow of succession.,” (3.2. 101-102).Hal, vexed afterhearing such disparaging comments, fires into an emotional rebuttal.
He pleadsto his father that the King has misjudged him, for the accounts of his behaviorwere truly exaggerated. Hal passionately adds that he will now forego his lifewith his Eastcheap companions and redeem his tarnished reputation, by fightinghis foil, Hotspur in a single combat:HALDo not think it so. You shall not find it so.And God forgive them so much have swayedYour majesty’s good thoughts away from me.I will redeem all of this on Persia’s head,..
And that shall be the day, whene’er it lights,That this same child of honor and renown,This gallant Hotspur, this all-praised knight,And your unthought-of Harry chance to meet. (3.2. 134-146)The King’s words, especially his comparison between Hal and Hotspur,gave Hal the necessary motivation (the slight nudge), to finally move from therealization of a need for redemption to the action of actually redeeminghimself. Hal will thus prove himself worthy of being Prince(i.e.
redemption) byfighting Hotspur. The King overjoyed (for the first time in the play) that hisson will now be a true prince, puts Hal in charge of the army and declares, “Ahundred thousands rebels die in this (war),” (3.2. 164).With realization and motivation firmly established in Hal’s mind, Halcan finally go through the actual act of redemption, which culminates with thetransformation of Hal’s self. The redemption occurs throughout Act 5.4, at thebattle of Shrewsbury, where much of the action in this play lie.
In twosequential actions, the defeat of Douglas and then the climatic defeat ofHotspur, Hal finds himself a hero, despite earlier being considered the King’sderelict son and “truant to chivalry,” (5.1. 95).At the battle of Shrewsbury, King Henry finds himself on the verge ofdefeat. The King finds himself at the mercy of Douglas’ hands, until Hal, in avery noble fashion, rescues his father and single-handedly defeats Douglas.
TheKing is so much in awe by his son’s actions that he declares (to Hal) that “thouhast redeemed thy lost opinion,” (5.4. 46). Moments later Hal finally meetsHotspur, his foil, in a one-on-one combat. Hal quickly deposes of the valiantHotspur, the greatest opponent in the land, thereby deeming Hal the greatesthero in the land, and finally making him worthy of his title as Prince.
Hal has undergone a remdemption. That is, he has performed the actionsnecessary to justify his prior promise, to become a Prince. Therefore, bt theend of the play, Hal is a different individual. The witty, relaxed Hal fromthe Tavern is no more. Because he has redeemed himself, Hal is now a Prince andtherefore, a member of the Court. He must act as a noble and disregard histavern ties that gave him such a riotous reputation.In Act 5.3, after thedeath of Blunt, it is affirmed that Hal of the Tavern is lost forever.
Insteadof joking(playing) with Falstaff, as he would have earlier in the play, Halscolds Falstaff for trying to joke with him, “What is it time to jest and dallynow?,” (5.3. 57). Hal, as a Prince, does not have the same time to foolaround as he did when he did not accept his duty as Prince. He has becomeserious because of the great responsibility he gained from redeeming himselfprince. Therefore, Hal has lost connection with his ‘former’ Tavern self, and isnow and forever a noble.The three distinct phases: realization, motivation, and action, eachhelp characterize the transformation of Hal’s self throughout the play.
Halmakes the realization in his soliloquy that he will have to redeem himselfsooner or later. Hal is provided with motivation from his father’s words, thatgive fuel to his later action. Finally Hal completes his redemption through theactions of defeating Douglas and slaying Hotspur. Hal has transformed himselffrom an undisciplined member of the Tavern to a hero of Court.
By redeeming thehonor and responsibility of being Prince, Hal has consequently had to cut loosehis Tavern ties, because he can not be a witty and relaxed individual if hewants to someday rule the nation.