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Turning in the last place from outward form to inner meaning, we may briefly consider the political significance of the play. Both parts of Henry IV present a study in the working of Nemesis. Richard II's deposition was in the interests of the country a necessary act, and the deposer was in every way a man more fit to rule. Yet the stigma of usurpation clings to Boling broke, renders his rule insecure, and embitters his life. The prophecy of the aged bishop of Carlisle (see Richard II, iv. 1) is fulfilled to the letter, and in the two parts of Henry IV we follow the course of those tumultuous wars which “kin with kin and kind with kind confound ”. Nor is this all: not only is there open warfare in the country and discord within the king's family circle, but there is also the working of remorse in his own soul. This is brought home to us most forcibly in the Second Part (see Act iv. scene 5), but it is present already in the First Part. The king sees in his son's "wildness” divine vengeance for his own “mistreadings”. That this Nemesis should be called into play here may seem paradoxical. Henry IV is the deliverer of his country from the hands of a weak tyrant, and as such merits reward rather than punishment. But Shakespeare seems to have regarded the kingly office as something sacred. It is true that as a patriot he placed the welfare and safety of England high above the welfare and safety of any individual monarch; yet he saw evil in usurpation. Just as in the trilogy of Aeschylus, Orestes, though he does right in slaying his murderess - mother Clytemnestra, is nevertheless pursued by the Furies, so Bolingbroke, though he frees England from extortion and misgovernment, has to expiate the crime of usurpation. Shakespeare even makes Henry V feel a sense of the wrong his father committed when, on the field of Agin court, he prays:

“ Not to-day, O Lord,
O, not to-day, think not upon the fault
My father made in compassing the crown!"

-iv. 1. 277

A king as king is in Shakespeare's eyes

“ The figure of God's majesty, His captain, steward, deputy, elect”;

(Richard II, iv. 1. 125),

and accordingly Nemesis overtakes the man who dethrones him. But though the usurper has to expiate his crime, yet, inasmuch as he too becomes the anointed head of his people, he acquires a sacred nature. The loyal Blunt, when Hotspur reproaches him that he is his enemy, replies:

“ And God defend but still I should stand so,
So long as out of limit and true rule
You stand against anointed majesty".

Blunt's loyalty to Henry IV is not a merely personal matter: he sees in the king, usurper though he be, “anointed majesty", and for this he lays down his life.


Hazlitt was writing of Henry IV when he said of Shakespeare: He appears to have been all the characters, and in all the situations he describes”. Though the play is deficient in female characters, it is second to none in the rich variety and lifelikeness of its characterization. We are introduced to a world of full activity; the court, the tavern, and the camp are the scenes of action, and in each of them the pulse of life beats strongly. Most of the historical characters are drawn from the pages of Holinshed, but whereas in the Chronicle they are often devoid of individuality, they receive at Shakespeare's hands full individualization. Holinshed is content to tell us what his characters did, but Shakespeare lays bare the motives of their action.

The characters fall naturally into two groups, which correspond to the two centres of action—the historic plot and the Falstaffian comedy. The central figure in the former group is Hotspur; in the latter, Falstaff: but the true hero of the play, and the man who unites the two spheres of action, is the Prince of Wales.

King Henry, though an imposing, is not an attractive figure, and his character in the play is a natural develop

ment of his character as Bolingbroke in Richard Henry IV.

II. Holinshed's Henry IV is a martial figure, who distinguishes himself as much on the field of battle as in the council - chamber; but Shakespeare, while he reveals his promptness and decision of action in taking steps to quell the Percy rebellion, makes little of his prowess in the fight. He won the crown from Richard by diplomacy, and not by shock of arms, and Hotspur, who scorns diplomacy, calls him a “vile politician” and a "king of smiles”. We come into closest contact with the King when, in his private interview with the Prince of Wales, he lays bare the devices which he used in winning the throne:

“And then I stole all courtesy from heaven,

And dress'd myself in such humility
That I did pluck allegiance from men's hearts,
Loud shouts and salutations from their mouths,
Even in the presence of the crowned king”.

-iii. 2. 50-54.

There is a singular correspondence between these words placed on the lips of Henry and those which Richard uttered years before when Bolingbroke was being driven into exile:

“Ourself and Bushy, Bagot here and Green,

Observed his courtship to the common people:
How he did seem to dive into their hearts,
With humble and familiar courtesy,
What reverence he did throw away on slaves,
Wooing poor craftsmen with the craft of smiles
And patient underbearing of his fortune,
As 't were to banish their affects with him".

- Richard II, Act i. sc. 4.

Henry IV has won the crown by subtle contrivings, and no man knows better than he the insecurity of his position. Looked at from one point of view, both parts of Henry IV represent the fulfilment of the aged Bishop of Carlisle's prophecy:

And if you crown him, let me prophesy;

The blood of English shall manure the ground,
And future ages groan for this foul act;
Peace shall go sleep with Turks and infidels,
And in this seat of peace tumultuous wars
Shall kin with kin and kind with kind confound ".

- Richard II, Act iv. sc. 1. The insecurity of his position renders Henry suspicious and jealous. He is jealous of Hotspur's victory over Douglas, suspicious of Mortimer, whose right to the throne is better than his own, and it is this suspicion and jealousy which foment the Percy rebellion. His growing sense of suspicion bears its own Nemesis with it; it dulls his understanding, and renders his life lonely. He fails to understand the character of his eldest son, suspects his loyalty, and drives him from the court to the tavern. The atmosphere of that court is chill and numbing; no gracious womanly figure, like that of Richard's consort, appears there, and the King looks upon all with mistrust. The Percy rising brings out what is best in him, and in his plans for the campaign we see once again the far-seeing, practical man that won the throne from the hapless Richard. He forms a plan of action wisely and swiftly, is generous in his offers of mercy before the battle, and shows that he has the welfare of his people at heart. It is in the Second Part of Henry IV that we fully see how hard the kingly crown has pressed upon his brow. Anxiety and sleeplessness have rendered him prematurely old, remorse for the evil that he has done in compassing the crown pricks him, and his life is lonely and loveless. In every act of Henry we see the success and the failure which attend upon the calculating, diplomatic nature.

In opposition to Henry IV stands Henry Percy, the

Hotspur of the North. Shakespeare's love of charactercontrasts was very great when he wrote Henry IV, and

in the person of Hotspur he has presented us Hotspur.

with a contrast both to the King and to the Prince of Wales. Hotspur is an heroic figure, a representative of the vanishing age of chivalry. His character is composed of apparently antagonistic elements. Rough in speech, and affecting a contempt for "mincing poetry", he is at the same time full of the imaginative power which makes for poetry, and some of the most poetic speeches in the play fall from his lips. Placing the quest of honour above all things, it seems to him

“an easy leap
To pluck bright honour from the pale-faced moon",

and then a moment later he talks of having the Prince of Wales “poison'd with a pot of ale”. Again, ardent and emotional as his nature is, he opposes a cold scepticism to the superstitious arrogance of Glendower, and adopts towards his wife, Lady Percy, a bantering tone which appears to conceal his deep affection for her. This inconsistency springs from a nature which is, before all things, impulsive. Hotspur is indeed swayed by impulse, as the King is swayed by calculation. In word and in act he expresses the thoughts and feelings of the moment, and by so doing betrays his lack of self-restraint and tact. Thus he offends Glendower by his scornful ridicule of his pretensions, brooks no opposition in the division of the land, and cannot endure the thought of postponing the battle of Shrewsbury until his forces are all on the field and ready for action. Hotspur delights us with his candour, his high spirits and valiant manliness, but we are forced to confess that his nature is not profound. Even his love of honour is superficial when compared with that of the Prince of Wales. He will leap to the moon or dive to the bottom of the sea in quest of honour, provided that he may bear about with him, for all to see, the “ dignities" of the honour he has won; but the Prince of Wales, having

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