Essay about Shakespeare: William Shakespeare and Falstaff

Submitted By bing282709935
Words: 1623
Pages: 7

In Shakespeare’s The First Part of King Henry IV, several characters emerge as potential leaders of England. Although the ruling ability of King Henry is touched upon in the play, the principal focus is on the abilities of Prince Hal, Falstaff, and Hotspur. As these characters are examined, a picture of what Shakespeare considers to be a good ruler emerges. The first of these three characters that the reader encounters is Prince Hal. In this initial moment Hal appears an irresponsible joker, carousing with Falstaff and making snide remarks about his companion’s laziness (I.ii.3) and fondness for wine (I.ii.2). Hal’s fun-loving makes him seem, in his father’s eyes, unworthy of his title (III.ii.86-88). But right away, through Hal’s words, a different picture emerges. He is honest; he refuses to take part in Falstaff’s robbery scheme (I.ii.108). Hal is also clever. He understands how to create a good image for himself in the public eye. Hal explains that his roguishness is simply meant to be a contrast to his valiant actions in the future. When he ceases his “loose behavior” (I.ii.163) and takes responsibility for the welfare of the common good, the people will admire his ability to change and reform himself. Hal sees the benefit in doing what is not expected of him (I.ii.152-172). Hal has made a connection with the lowest of the British class system. He has “sounded the very bass string of humility,” (II.iv.5) and it has provided him with a unique outlook: he has the ability to see the points of view of people in both extremes of society. The fact that he would be “sworn brother” (ii.iv.6) to the poorest and commonest of people shows his true appreciation for everyone—not just those who have something to offer. It also demonstrates his shrewd political sense: he will have less opposition as king if he achieves popularity with the entire kingdom, from the top of the social ladder to the very bottom. Perhaps the most important characteristic of Hal’s is his true courtesy. When the sheriff comes looking for Falstaff because of the money he stole, Hal protects his friend. He then decrees that the “money shall be paid back again with advantage.” (II.iv.445). The interest seems to be a delicate apology for the victims’ misfortune. Another example of Hal’s courtesy occurs at the end of the play. He has just killed Hotspur and joined his brother John when Falstaff limps up, lugging Hotspur’s dead body. Falstaff claims to have killed Hotspur. Initially Hal protests: “Why, Percy I killed myself and saw thee dead.” (V.iv.138). Falstaff explains that neither he nor Hotspur was dead, and that they both arose from their faints and fought. Whether Hal believes this story or not, he says nothing more about it and allows Falstaff to be recognized for Hotspur’s defeat. Why does Hal do this, after what he went through to make himself look good? Perhaps he realized that he had accomplished his goal, and that the honor from killing Percy benefited Falstaff more than it did him. Hal’s drawback, however, is the influence of his friend Falstaff, who presents a rather dishonest picture of what a king should be. Falstaff himself is an intriguing character. Far from the honesty and courtesy of his friend Hal, he seems to take a more practical view of power. He says that he is governed by the moon, a quality of whom is movement back and forth (perhaps a metaphor for changing one’s views depending on the circumstances?) (I.ii.22-27). He also tells Hal outright that refusal to take part in the robbery is a poor reflection on his ability to rule: “There’s neither honesty, manhood, nor good fellowship in thee, nor thou camest not of the blood royal, if thou darest not stand for ten shillings.” (I.ii.109-111). “Standing for ten shillings” might represent the risks and dares Falstaff believes a man must take to be a good and effective ruler. This outlook is antithetical to Hal’s intrinsic honesty and courtesy.