Father Issues

Despite what Henry might think in The First Part of Henry the Fourth, he and Hal are more alike than different.

Where Henry usurped Richard in the previous play, Hal “depose(s)” (II.iv.420) Falstaff in their play-within-a-play.

While Richard had dismissed the then Bolingbroke for “wooing poor craftsmen with the craft of smiles” (Richard the Second, I.iv.28) and doffing his cap to “oyster wench(es)” (Richard the Second, I.iv.31), Hal is able to “drink wth any tinker in his own language” (II.iv.18).

If speaking like their subjects isn’t enough, the two mirror each other in the diction as well.

When Hal delivers his first soliloquy in the tavern, he says,

Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wondered at,
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapors that did seem to strangle him.

— I.ii.190-196

When Henry tries to counsel his son (hypocritically) to avoid “vulgar company” (III.ii.41), he tells Hal of himself:

Thus did I keep my person fresh and new,
My presence, like a robe pontifical,
Ne'er seen but wondered at: and so my state,
Seldom but sumptuous, showed like a feast
And won by rareness such solemnity.

— III.ii.55-59

Wondered at. They use the same words, each in reference to himself. They even refer to themselves in similar ways. In Act One, Scene Three, when Henry begins to speak to and chide what he considers to be the rebellious Percies, he says, “I will from henceforth rather be myself, // Mighty and to be feared” (I.iii.5-6). It’s a statement of personal purpose and transformation, and wonderfully foreshadowing Hal’s statement to his father, “I shall hereafter, my thrice gracious lord, // Be more myself” (III.ii.92-93).

I find this mirroring, not only of character but of speech as well, amazing. In a play where so much critical opinion has been voiced on the Hal/Hotspur foil-ing and the surrogate fatherhood of Falstaff to Hal, I find it very interesting that it’s this familial father/son relationship that is center-stage in the text itself.

Is this really a play about succession?