Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Henry Explications - Part H

The following is one in a series of mini-articles resulting from an exercise I had my St. Paul Academy 2011 Shakespeare students complete. The articles focus on selected speeches spanning Shakespeare’s Richard II, 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV, and Henry V.

(Hal has tried on his dying father's crown when his dad comes to and scolds him.)

I never thought to hear you speak again.
Thy wish was father, Harry, to that thought:
I stayed too long by thee, I weary thee.
Dost thou so hunger for mine empty chair
That thou wilt needs invest thee with my honors
Before thy hour be ripe? O foolish youth,
Thou seek'st the greatness that will overwhelm thee.
(2 Henry IV 4.5.91-97)

Hal's action, trying on his father's crown, tells us he is impulsive, anxious to become king. and without the respect or sense of propriety that he claims to possess. Hal seemingly cannot wait for his father to die to put on the crown, although his father's catching him would result in shame and hurt feelings, and clearly treasures the crown as a sign of kingdom, although it is only a symbol.

While his desire to take on the power that he rejected throughout 1 Henry IV shows that he has changed and grown into his title of prince, his actions are still juvenile, like those of any son trying on his father's clothes in an attempt to be more like him. Hal shows some kingly feelings, but lacks the sense of what is socially acceptable and what is honorable that his father so desires to see in him.

The king, when he wakes and sees his crown on Hal's head, is disappointed and angry. Hal does not acknowledge that he has committed a transgression and instead attempts to calm the situation by saying "I never thought to hear you speak again," an ambiguous sentence that could show his caring for the king and his gladness at his father's recovery, but one that could also simply mean that Hal thought his father unable to recover, certifying his ascension into the role of king.

His father takes the latter view of this statement, despite Hal's previously voiced good intentions, and accuses him of wishing for his death: "Thy wish was father, Harry, to thy thought." Not only does this accusation communicate his belief in Hal's ambition, it also puns on the word "father." As Hal would prematurely step into his father's role, so are his wishes usurpatious. And those wishes, in turn, sire rebellious thoughts, much as Henry fears he has sired a rebellious son.

Despite his harsh attitude toward Hal's indiscretion, the king also still cares for him. While he speaks of the king's role as something that Hal cannot fill, he does this seemingly out of fear for Hal's happiness and health, saying that Hal is looking to take it on "before [his] hour be ripe" and that Hal will inevitably become overwhelmed by the duties involved.

The passage as a whole highlights the reemergence of the differences in outlook between the king and Hal that seemed to be resolved in 1 Henry IV. The king's language indicates a reverence for kingship; he speaks of kinghood as something honorable, majestic, and incredibly powerful, in an almost spiritual way. Hal, by his previous actions and current action, does not seem to feel this same reverence. Instead, as we see in his reaction to King Henry's "recovery," he is unrepentant and does not acknowledge that he has done anything wrong, yet another sign that he does not yet possess the necessary maturity and consideration that his father expects. And King Henry's disappointment in Hal is amplified by his realization that he is entirely powerless to change him.

Hannah Lutz (SPA '11)

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