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INTRODUCTORY THEMES IN SHAKESPEARE'S "HENRY IV PART I"
As in all the Shakespearean plays, the first Act of Henry IV is also extremely significant as it introduces us not only to the main characters of the play but is also used as a platform by Shakespeare for bringing to light the themes that are to be built upon in the play.
Right in the opening of the play Shakespeare introduces the themes of war and peace by presenting King Henry IV building upon his utopian dream of a peacefulEnglandwhich is then caught in strife and civil war. War remains to be the pivotal governing theme of the play through out.
The next most dominant theme that is put forh is the contrast of good and vice presented through the characters of Hotspur, Hal (Prince Henry), and Falstaff. Hotspur is a warrior full of valor living for nothing else but honor, and opposed to him is Prince Henry (Hal), the would be king of England who should be the epitome of excellence but is a thieving, ideal and corrupt perosonalty found in the wrong company of Falstaff.
Honor and dignity is yet another major theme that drives the play. This is what hotspur lives and dies for. it ultimately gets to this head, makes him impulsive and brings his downfall. Similarly, honor is also what Hal acquires and manipulates most appopriatly to his advantage, later in the play.
The theme of reformation has also been hinted at by Shakespeare in the opening Act. We are introduced to Prince Hal as someone steeped in crime but soon afterwars he admits having all the capabilities required for a King and vows to reveal them at the right time.the very drastic and dramatic change that occurs in his personality later in the play is a manifestation of this very theme of the reformation and change. It is this very change that enables Hal to reestablish himself as an able and legimitage King of England and crush all the forces of opposition, including Hotspur.
The theme of comedy is also evident in the Act, incorporated into it by shakespear through the very interesting and popular character of Falstaff. He is perhaps the sole source of comic relief in this very grave and serious play, creating humor through his wit, manipulation of language and absolute mastery at punning.
As would be typial in a historic play, the themes of treachery, lust, greed and usurpation also play their part. We see Hotspur, Earls of Northumberland and Worchester all plotting to overthrow the King, after having felt neglected by him.similarly Falstaff also forshadows being a traitor when hal becomes a king, even though not seriously, but it relay does happen when hal accends the throne. Meanwhile King Henry is also seen repentant and guilty for having desposed Richard II and tries to make up for it by planning for the crusades.
All these themes introduced in the introductory Act of the play are later built and expounded upon very beautifully and professionally by Shakespeare. These themes put forth not only aim at introducing the audience to the plot but also captivate their interest and transport them to the times of King Henry IV.