Friday, June 3, 2011

The Henry Explications - Part J

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.

You are right justice, and you weigh this well,
Therefore still bear the balance and the sword,
And I do wish your honors may increase,
Till you do live to see a son of mine
Offend you and obey you, as I did.
... You did commit me;
You shall be as a father to my youth,
My voice shall sound as you do prompt mine ear,
And I will stoop and humble my intents
To your well-practic'd wise directions.
(2 Henry IV 5.2.102-121)

Shakespeare begins this passage with a play on words. "Justice" can be a judge (he's speaking to the Chief Justice), but it can also mean "fair" or "right," ideas symbolized by "the balance and the sword." In a way, we can see Hal find balance, or rightness, in his own life by the end of 2 Henry IV. This passage shows his transformation since "Part 1." In the first play, he is very laid back, lazy, unready to be king, and scheming to manage his image and create an insincere metamorphosis. Here, he shows himself to be the true self he projects in "Part 1." He has emerged as a very honorable man, one who has matured and is ready for the responsibility of being king.

Shakespeare emphasizes this transformation and maturity with his use of imagery that evokes fatherhood and the implication that King Henry IV's influence on Hal has been significant. In the first play we see his struggle to maintain (or regain) his father's approval in his declaration: "I shall hereafter, my thrice gracious lord, be more myself" (1Henry IV, 3.2). In 2 Henry IV, Hal's true "self" has emerged. He mentions to the Chief Justice that he hopes the Justice will be able to see Hal's sons "offend you and obey you, as I did." This shows Hal taking on his father's role, as he is trying to act and discipline people how his father would have, with fairness. In addition, he is arriving at the balance between his youthful behavior (which he understands definitely influenced who he is now) and his future responsibility. He expects no special treatment for his son, but he also acknowledges that youthful rebelliousness is part of the equation.

Calvin Va Her (SPA '12)

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