24 October 2014
How sweet is defeat? : Analysis of Henry lV part one William Shakespeare is an important landmark in English literature. He is known not only for his timeless language, but his ability to use just the right combination of words to create a certain scene. With his use of prolific language and immaculate sense of self, Shakespeare has derived a way to surpass the test of time. In Henry IV part one, Shakespeare utilizes the word “discomfited” to forge a connection between King Henry IV and the Earl of Douglas. “Comfit-maker” is also used as a counter word to support this relation. The word “discomfit” and “comfit” bear great significance to the play examined through the ideas of Shakespeare’s irony, tone, and diction. The word “discomfited” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, can be defined as “Defeated in battle; beaten, routed; vanquished.” There is no doubt that this definition of the word is the one in which Shakespeare was applying to the play. A few decades before the play was written, the word was stemmed in 1538 making it slightly before Shakespeare’s period of writing this play. This word is spotted a mere two times in the play. It may be overlooked as significant, yet if it is investigated by the mirroring correlation taking place between these characters, there is a strong connection. Both times the word appears in the play it is said by King Henry referring to The Earl of Douglas. The first occasion King Henry says the word it is in 1.1 “The Earl of Douglas is discomfited” (67). The second instance the word is used is in act 3.2 “Discomfited great Douglas; ta’en him once;” (114). Whenever the word “discomfited” is used, it is to describe the defeat of Douglas. Whenever the King refers to Douglas in the lines that “discomfited” is used, he applies the title of “Earl of Douglas” displaying honor to his name or refers to him as “great Douglas” giving the sense that he is renowned. Shakespeare does this to show that Henry does not in fact believe Douglas to have any honor. He uses these references to convey his own honor by the defeat of such a ruthless rebel that he mocks the notability of Douglas. The King exercises a heightened, glorified use of language describing Douglas when proclaiming the defeat of great Earl, giving the audience a sense he doesn’t really deserves those names. King Henry IV uses this language correlated with “discomfit” to show that this great figure cannot withstand the same honor as himself. In the opening scene Sir Walter Blunt, a loyal friend to the King, is the one to announce the discomfiture of Douglas, “Sir Walter Blunt, new lighted from his horse, / Stained with the variation of each soil/ Betwixt that Holmedon and this seat of ours; / And he hath brought us smooth and welcome news. / The Earl of Douglas is discomfited” (1.1.63-67). Irony flows through the concept of this statement because of course, the Earl of Douglas is not really defeated in sense that he has given up. Later, it is discovered that Hotspur does not intend on turning over Douglas and the rest of rebels, however, he devises a strategy to use Douglas as a weapon against the King. Therefore, when King Henry IV exclaims his prestige position against the rebels now that Douglas is “discomfited” he ironically gives the rebels more power because he has overlooked Hotspur’s ability to go against him and keep the prisoners for himself. Irony identifies itself with this scene because Sir Walter Blunt is not only the one to see Douglas’s defeat, Blunt is the one to report to the King the “welcomed news” of Douglas’s discomfiture. In the end Blunt’s loyalty kills him by none other than Douglas, himself. It is ironic that Blunt satisfies the King into believing Douglas is out of the picture, when in reality, Douglas is so much of a threat to the throne that it will be the reason Blunt is dies.
The second time “discomfited” is used King Henry is aware of