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THEMES AND ACTION IN SHAKESPEARE'S "HENRY IV PART I"
WHERE AND WHEN DOES THE ACTION IN THE PLAY TAKE PLACE
Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part I is extremely diverse in terms of the literal geography of England. It has been set perfectly in various locations including Rochester, Warkworth Castle, Bangor, Coventry, the London Palace, Eastcheap Tavern and the military camps in Shrewsbury. The playwright has blended the essence of the plot with the locations very well to bring about originality into the play.
All the important political decisions and stately matters are discussed and decided upon in the London Palace, which is shown to be the centre and the stronghold of the then English monarchy. While on the other hand, all the plotting done against the state and the entire planning phase of the rebellion happens either in the court itself, or Bangor and Warkworth’s Castle. Almost all the comic relief and the lighter moments spring from the Boar’s Head Tavern in Eastcheap where Hal socializes with Falstaff and other vagrant friends. The most intense action and perhaps the most decisive moments of the play occur during the practical military combat in Shrewsbury. This action is the actual climactic moment and the decisive conclusion of the drama wherein Hal manages to emerge as the worthy prince.
WHAT TYPE OF ISSUES DOMINATE THE PLAY
Through the course of the play Shakespeare allows us to peek into the domestic or personal lives of various characters thereby highlighting their familial issue. We see King Henry IV as a disappointed and almost hopeless father while Prince as a not very able sort of son and the mistrust between them. Prince Hal is a son constantly struggling to come up to the expectations of his father. Another shade of family life or rather conjugal life is seen between Hotspur and Lady Percy where Hotspur’s extreme obsession with honor and the brewing rebellion at hand make him ignorant of his duties towards his wife. We see the clash between the couple arising due to Hotspur’s lack of attention towards his wife and frustration.
Shakespeare’s perfect choice of strikingly contrasting settings like the court and the Boar’s Head Tavern are significant in bringing to light the vast social gaps of the then English social structure. Using Prince Hal as a connector of the two diverse worlds of the high class and the lowly, the audiences have been informed of the incalculable difference between the two. The elite live in a world of luxury, converse in fluent blank verse and are sophisticated down to the core. While the lowly which include Hal’s friends and also Falstaff are found spending time in taverns, drinking, cracking base jokes in a rough prose and distant from the world of opulence, power, glory and honor. We are also introduced to the vices that have corrupted the society and weakened the morals of the citizens especially when the Prince himself is involved in robbing the state treasures.
The concept of honor and chivalry is yet another captivating theme of the drama. We see Hotspur, who initially, is full of potential-a valiant warrior and an able man. But due to his wrong perception of honor and attaining glory, he later becomes impulsive and narrow minded and his egotism finally becomes a cause of his downfall. Whereas, there is also Prince Hal who begins as a vagrant and corrupt individual but due to his flexible nature is able to mould himself well in his pursuit of honor and glory; and eventually attains it. This philosophical complication over the subject of honor forms a vital part of the drama.
Above all, however, remains to be the political action of the play; the struggle for power and the complications and challenges of the rules of England and those ruled. This perhaps is the major theme of the play. The very opening of the play shows a forlorn King Henry disturbed over the bloody civil war and is later beset with the issue of facing a strong storm of rebellion. The military and political tactics employed to overcome the troubles at hand are of great significance. We also see shades of lust and usurpation when the King is shown repenting his act of over throwing his predecessor and when Worcester, Northumberland and Hotspur devise the plan of overthrowing King Henry.
Shakespeare has very articulately incorporated different political, philosophical, moral and social theme into the play yet by choosing Prince Hal to be the protagonist, he has emphasized more on the political and social concerns of the time through his personality. Not only is Prince Hal the one to put an end to the rebellion which endangered the might of his father by making use of his hidden capabilities and thereby bringing to the fore the correct version of honor but also is the one responsible for bringing to light the great social divides in the society. By travelling through both the court, which is his home, and the taverns, where he spends time socializing with this friends he has also let the audiences see for themselves both the worlds and feel the difference for themselves.