Shakespeare’s play Henry IV begins with a king (King Henry) beginning a pilgrimage after killing King Richard II. Henry believes that by gaining the throne of England he has done an honourable deed, yet he admits that the fighting and bloodshed could continue, . . . “ill sheathed knife” . . . (I.1.17). He, also, admits that his own son, Prince Hal, is not honourable enough to occupy the throne, “riot and dishonour stain the brow of my young Harry” (I.1.17).
Shakespeare continues the topics of honour and redemption into Act three, scene two, where he uses elements such as anaphora, imagery and rhetoric in a meeting between King Henry and Prince Hal that is both crucial and climatic to the overall structure of the theme of honour.
At the beginning of Act III scene ii, Shakespeare clears all other characters from the stage to allow King Henry’s first meeting, face to face with Prince Hal, to be focused and intense. King Henry is the first to speak and sets a somber tone as he begins to unmask himself to his son. . . “some displeasing service I have done” (3.2.5). As well Shakespeare allows King Henry to bring Prince Hal’s mask to attention by using anaphora:
Could such inordinate and low desires,
Such poor, such bare, such lewd, such
mean attempt, such barren pleasures,
rude society as there art matched withal . . . (3.2.12-15).
The word such is used to emphasize his [Henry] displeasure of Hal’s friends and the image they portray around him causing Hal in the eyes of Henry to lose his princely image.
Shakespeare, then allows Prince Hal to defend himself to his father’s interpretations of his (Hal) character. Again, there is a contrast between what King Henry perceives and what is reality. The king is obviously distressed over Hal’s choice of friends and how they affect this ‘Princely image’. Hal on the other hand asks for a “pardon on my true submission” (3.2.27), claiming that such people (friends) tell stories that may not always be true, “oft the ear of greatness must hear” (3.2.24).
It seems that King Henry still has some reservations about Prince Hal’s ‘appearance’ and how that affects his (Hal’s) place on the throne; which may be somewhat ironic coming from a king that truly bases on popularity, “opinion that did help me to the crown (3.2.42)” from public opinion though a rebellion is organizing around him.
During the King’s speech to Hal, Shakespeare employs many elements of style to review and parallel King Henry’s mask to Prince Hal’s appearance and foreshadow a possible outcome for Prince Hal. . . “prophetically do forethink thy fall” (3.2.38). By using the imagery of a comment Shakespeare is trying to impress on Prince Hal that in the eye of the public “Like a comet I [he] was wondered at” (3.2.47).
King Henry had to keep himself afresh and new, “My presence like a robe pontifical” (3.2.55-56), while in public.
As Prince Hal answers, Shakespeare reminds the reader that the intention of this meeting is a reconciliation of both King Henry and Prince Hal. In act one, King Henry states “I will from henceforth rather be myself” (1.3.5). To parallel the king’s remarks, Shakespeare has Hal repeat the same idea “I shall hereafter, my thrice gracious lord, be more myself” (3.2.92-93).
Though there is a saying that the eyes are windows into a man’s soul. Shakespeare uses the rhetoric of eyes and sight to be negative in that it is what the eyes of other people see that makes a person honorable. Some examples of this rhetoric used by Shakespeare are: “Afford no extraordinary gaze . . . admiring eyes . . . eyelids down” (3.2.78,80,81), indicating that through these public eyes Prince Hal does not demand the respect needed to be as successful a king as King Henry believes he himself is. Then, Shakespeare uses sight in the same passage to give insight to the ‘mask’ Henry wears that must make him blind:
. . . save mine, which hath desired to see thee more,
which now doth that I would not have it do,
make blind itself with foolish tenderness. (3.2.89-91)
Again, Shakespeare is using this act to play out the King’s idea of how his son Hal appears to be less honourable than Hotspur, but, will put aside his honourable mask towards some of the misdoings by his son for the sake of saving his (Hal’s) princely image.
Another aspect of Shakespeare’s style is the long passages at the end of each scene that are, usually, given to the main (or most important) figure on stage at the time. In this scene, however, much of what King Henry is saying to Prince Hal is contained in a long passage.
Although these passages by the king are not at the end of the scene, but, contained within the scene it could be that Shakespeare wants to show that the king is indeed an important character until Hal begins his own pilgrimage of reconciliation.
As well these long passages give King Henry a chance to repeat and parallel a large amount of information to Prince Hal.
In his last long speech to Hal, King Henry repeats his disfavour in his son’s ability to be king stating that he (Hotspur) “Hath more worthy interest to the state than thou the shadow of succession” (3.2.98-99). Also, King Henry uses this opportunity to explain what he thinks are the honorable qualities he feels Hotspur has over Prince Hal:
Leads ancient lords and reverend bishops on
To bloody battles and to bruising arms.
What never-dying honour hath he got
Against renowned Douglas ( 3.2.104-107)!
Finally, Shakespeare allows Prince Hal to answer to all the allegations presented by King Henry. One element of Shakespeare’s style here is the long passage which denotes Prince Hal as an important character gaining respect from the king. First Hal tells King Henry that “God forgive them that so much have swayed “Your Majesty’s good thought away from me” (3.2.130-131).
Hal then goes on to say that he wants to announce his right to be king as the son of King Henry by proving his honor and loyalty to the king though the only honorable thing left to “redeem all this on Percy’s head” (3.2.133).
This last passage summarises Prince Hal’s feelings that up until now he has been seen through a mask unworthy of his father’s honour. Like the king before him Hal wishes to cast off this mask and earn respect through the forthcoming rebellion; much as did King Henry gain respect and honour by going into battle with Richard II.
In conclusion, Shakespeare uses elements of style such as topos, and anaphora, as well as imagery and rhetoric to parallel and contrast King Henry’s honour with Hal’s perceived lack of honour. This scene in act three is a critical moment between a father and son set up by Shakespeare to enable both characters to cast off their masks and show the reality of their true selves and asks the question of whether honour is truly what we say it is.
Shakespeare, William. 1Henry IV. In The Norten Anthology of English Literature. Eds. M.H. Abrams et all. 5th Ed.
New York: Norton, 1987. Pg. 505-574