In Shakespeare’s Henry IV, the character Hal, the Prince of Wales, undergoes a transformation that can be characterized as redemption. Shakespeare introduces Hal, in the opening act as a renegade of the Court.
His avoidance of all public responsibility and his affinity for the company of the Boar’s Head Tavern, have caused serious concern for the King, because Hal is heir to the throne.
The King realizes that to keep order, a ruler and his heir must prove to be both responsible and honorable; from the outset, Hal possesses neither quality. The King even testifies to his own advisor, that he would have rather traded Hal for Hotspur, the son of the Earl of Northumberland.
In the King’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 has set 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 that it is imperative that he redeem himself not only for himself, but also for his father and his people because life will not always be a holiday , for “If all the 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 enrage him and provide him with the necessary motivation. It also seems that Shakespeare has included the foil for Hal, the valiant Hotspur, in order to provide the callow Prince of Wales with another source of motivation, from which Hal can begin constructing his redemption.
In a plea to his father, Hal vows 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, the act of redemption does not only occur as the result of realization and motivation.
Redemption needs for these ideas to be put into action. At the end of Act 5.4, using his realization and motivation as a basis for his actions, Hal consummates his transformation, by physically saving his father from Douglas and defeating Hotspur in a single combat at the Battle of Shrewsbury. Thus, the Prince of Wales has performed, what he had originally promised to do in his opening 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. Hal realizes that his life of truancy must end. This realization, in turn, provides him with a basis for redemption, which is marked by Hal’s soliloquy at the end of Act 1.2. However, Hal’s soliloquy is not the result of a striking realization. Rather, it is apparent that Hal has given much thought to his riotous 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 is hesitant to be solely a member of this riotous world (meaning he wants to be a member of both worlds, the Tavern and the Court) . The only reason Hal enlists in 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 the Tavern scene at the end of Act 2.4, Hal admits that even though he went through with the robbery, he promises to return all the money he stole from the travelers (Hal stole the purses from Falstaff, who had stolen the purses from the travelers), because he is not a thief. Hal, in these early scenes of the play, 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 all cases, including Hal’s, it is important to remember that the subsequent reformation that follows, has always been a necessary step. Hal’s callow behavior is of great concern to the King, not only because Hal is the heir to the throne and lacks the respect of his own people, but also because the King’s honor and respect are at stake as well. Therefore, the King proclaims that he would rather have the valiant Hotspur as his son, because Hotspur characterizes the 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 that his Tavern companions are like “contagious clouds” (1.2. 205). Thus, he promises to remain with them only until the time arises, when he will have to show the world his true self. “So when this loose behavior I throw off / And pay the debt I never promised,” (1.2. 214-215).
Hal even mentions that his subsequent reformation will be more praised when juxtaposed with his old riotous lifestyle in Eastcheap, because his new character will be all the more impressive. My reformation, glitt’ring over my faults, Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes, Than that which hath no foil to set it off. In subsequent scenes, Hal shows a natural reluctance to his proclamation of reformation. During much of the humorous Tavern scene, Act 2.4, Hal shows no inclination 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 assistance of Poins, Hal engages in a robbery of his Eastcheap companions, namely Falstaff, Peto, Bardolph and Gadshill. Later when the sheriff arrives at the Tavern in search of Falstaff, Hal uses his princely to get rid of the sheriff, thereby concealing 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 alludes towards his possible reformation. During that brilliant exchange of words, Hal, playing the role of King, declares, “I do. I will,” (2.4. 499), in reference to banishing Falstaff. In this remark, Hal seems to foreshadow that when he is crowned king, he will have the courage to banish not only Falstaff, but his riotous Tavern life altogether. Even though there might possibly be some hope for Hal’s reformation, Hal is nevertheless, a truant of the court.
The second phase of Hal’s redemption is thus, the motivation necessary to initiate Hal’s reformation, from realization to action. Hal can’t seem to begin his reformation alone; he is reluctant to change because it is so easy and 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’s words an inspiration for his action.
King Henry begins by expressing he great disappointment in Hal. He says that Hal’s delinquency is a result of “some displeasing service I (king) have done (to God),” (3.2. 6). The King then states that because Hal has been absent from council, “Thy place in council thou hast 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 way to 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 simply because of his prowess and merit, “He hath more worthy interest to the state than thou, the shadow of succession.,” (3.2. 101-102).
Hal, vexed after hearing such disparaging comments, fires into an emotional rebuttal. He pleads to his father that the King has misjudged him, for the accounts of his behavior were truly exaggerated. Hal passionately adds that he will now forego his life with his Eastcheap companions and redeem his tarnished reputation, by fighting his foil, Hotspur in a single combat: HAL Do not think it so. You shall not find it so.
And God forgives them so much have swayed Your 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 the realization of a need for redemption to the action of actually redeeming himself. Hal will thus prove himself worthy of being Prince(i.e. redemption) by fighting Hotspur.
The King overjoyed (for the first time in the play) that his son will now be a true prince, puts Hal in charge of the army and declares, “A hundred thousands rebels die in this (war),” (3.2. 164). With realization and motivation firmly established in Hal’s mind, Hal can finally go through the actual act of redemption, which culminates with the transformation of Hal’s self.
The redemption occurs throughout Act 5.4, at the battle of Shrewsbury, where much of the action in this play lie. In two sequential actions, the defeat of Douglas and then the climatic defeat of Hotspur, Hal finds himself a hero, despite earlier being considered the King’s derelict son and “truant to chivalry,” (5.1. 95).
At the battle of Shrewsbury, King Henry finds himself on the verge of defeat. The King finds himself at the mercy of Douglas’ hands, until Hal, in a very noble fashion, rescues his father and single-handedly defeats Douglas. The King is so much in awe by his son’s actions that he declares (to Hal) that “thou hast redeemed thy lost opinion,” (5.4. 46). Moments later Hal finally meets Hotspur, his foil, in one-on-one combat. Hal quickly deposes of the valiant Hotspur, the greatest opponent in the land, thereby deeming Hal the greatest hero in the land, and finally making him worthy of his title as Prince. Hal has undergone a remdemption.
That is, he has performed the actions necessary to justify his prior promise, to become a Prince. Therefore, bt the end of the play, Hal is a different individual. The witty, relaxed Hal from the Tavern is no more. Because he has redeemed himself, Hal is now a Prince and therefore, a member of the Court. He must act as a noble and disregard the tavern ties that gave him such a riotous reputation.
In Act 5.3, after the death of Blunt, it is affirmed that Hal of the Tavern is lost forever. Instead of joking(playing) with Falstaff, as he would have earlier in the play, Hal scolds Falstaff for trying to joke with him, “What is it time to jest and dally now?,” (5.3. 57). Hal, as a Prince, does not have the same time to fool around as he did when he did not accept his duty as Prince. He has become serious because of the great responsibility he gained from redeeming himself, prince. Therefore, Hal has lost connection with his ‘former’ Tavern self, and is now and forever a noble.
The three distinct phases: realization, motivation, and action, each help characterize the transformation of Hal’s self throughout the play. Hal makes the realization in his soliloquy that he will have to redeem himself sooner or later. Hal is provided with motivation from his father’s words, which give fuel to his later action. Finally, Hal completes his redemption through the actions of defeating Douglas and slaying Hotspur. Hal has transformed himself from an undisciplined member of the Tavern to a hero of the Court. By redeeming the honor and responsibility of being Prince, Hal has consequently had to cut loose his Tavern ties, because he can not be a witty and relaxed individual if he wants to someday rule the nation.
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