Kingship and Counterfeit: Shakespeare’s Deconstructionist Vision in Henry IV

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Journal of the College of Liberal Arts, NCHU, 31 (2001, 6)

Kingship and Counterfeit: Shakespeare’s Deconstructionist Vision in Henry IV


Kingship and Counterfeit:

Shakespeare’s Deconstructionist Vision in Henry IV

Chung-hsuan Tung

Unlike its supposed sources, Henry IV does not uphold “the Tudor myth,” the providential view of historical causation. Instead, it advocates the Machiavellian view of interpreting history in terms of practical politics. Shakespeare agrees with Machiavelli that to gain power and keep it the prince needs to be both a lion and a fox. Within the two parts of Henry IV, Shakespeare has shown a pervasive deconstructionist vision based on this view. He has deconstructed the logocentrisms connected with such ideas as kingship, honor, justice, truth, order, and name. And he has torn down a good number of “violent hierarchies”: serious/comic, work/play, Rule/Misrule, order/disorder, court/tavern, statesmen/highwaymen, father/son, sovereign/subjects, friend/foe, name/substance, truth/falsehood, patriot/traitor, sword/word, strength/skill, martial/rhetorical, genuine/counterfeit, etc. But all his deconstructive ideas can be summed up in the vision of a political jungle, where the most foxy lion reigns, believing kingship is no other than counterfeit.

Key words and phrases:

  1. Tudor myth 2. Providentialism 3. Machiavellianism 4. Deconstruction

5. Logocentrism 6. Presence 7. Violent hierarchy 8. Gram 9. Trace

10. Diffèrance 11. Dissemination 12. Supplement 13. Aporia 14. Lion

15. Fox 16. Sword war 17. Word war 18. Name-calling 19. Closure

Kingship and Counterfeit:

Shakespeare’s Deconstructionist Vision in Henry IV
I. From History to History Play

It is sometimes jokingly said that “history” is a portmanteau word made up of “his” and “story,” and that it indicates that the world’s histories have been male stories, that is, stories told by male historians mainly about male figures and male “businesses.” This joke may, of course, sound pretty credible to those feminists who are constantly taking pains to find more evidence of “patriarchal” dominance and oppression in our society. But I am not one of those feminists. I do not believe in such an etymological “story.” Still, however, I must admit that although a joke is seldom considered a truth, it can at times contain some partial truth if only we are willing to give it a second and serious thought. Take the present case for example. If only we think of such historians as Herodotus, Thucydides, Gibbon, etc., in the West or Ssu Ma-ts’ien, Pan Ku, Ssu Ma-kuang, etc., in our country, we cannot but agree that as most famous historians, East and West, have been male, it is likely that the world’s histories have been written in male perspectives, thus focusing chiefly on affairs of male interests. This fact can be applied to writers of history plays. Henry IV, for instance, is written by a famous male playwright (Shakespeare) chiefly on such male concerns as war and power.

In fact, history is not only mainly a male story. It is often seemingly a particular male individual’s story. This particular male individual is what we call the monarch, the single supreme ruler of a state, e.g., a king or an emperor. Just call to mind Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, etc., or Ts’in Shih-huang, Han Wu-ti, T’ang T’ai-chung, etc. Aren’t their “personal stories” hardly distinguishable from the stories of their states? The same is true of history plays. Take Henry IV again for example. It is surely Henry IV's story or, as we will discuss below, actually a story of Henry V.

We know the word “history” is an ambiguous word. It denotes both a series of events and the record of such a series of events. History in the first sense refers to the true beings and true happenings in time; history in the second sense refers to the spoken or written account or report of history in the first sense. The former is the origin or the cause of the latter. All historians are narrators of the first-sense history although their narratives (histories) are often based on others’ narratives (the second-sense histories).

It is well-known that Plato regards literature (especially dramatic poetry) as twice removed from reality; for him literary works are at best nothing but imitations of appearances, copies of copies, or counterfeits of lies. Plato’s disciple Aristotle thinks more favorably of literature. For him the poet is not only imitative but also creative. He even treats poetry as a more philosophical and higher thing than history because the historian writes of what has already happened; the poet writes of what could happen—one tends to express the particular while the other tends to express the universal. Today, however, most people still presume that literature is mostly fictive while history is factual. Thus, they deem it a joke to say history has nothing real except names of persons and places whereas literature is all real except, again, names of persons and places.

Seriously considered, the joke is not wholly untrue. Today, the so-called New Historicists have repeatedly emphasized that history can be available to us only in the form of “representation”; all historians’ histories are textualized narratives; history is no other than literature in terms of its creative process: both are products of imagination, thus neither is purely objective and neither is absolutely “true.” Take our present topic for example. Can we say Shakespeare’s Henry IV plays are historical counterfeits or lies while their supposed “sources” are historically genuine facts?

In his Shakespeare the Historian, Paola Pugliatti thus remarks interestingly:

For the Tudor historian, history-writing was not the outcome of enquiry; rather, it almost implied the obligation not to enquire further once what was taken to be the acceptable tradition was established. Almost invariably, writing about history was considered a matter of re-writing and telling a matter of re-telling. Strategies were elaborated to present uncertain facts or to offer different versions of the same event. (32)

…Consequently, historical truth ended up being a side-effect of certain texts, established by their declarations of orthodoxy and of ethical engagement, but above all by their practice of reproduction, and validated by frequent quotation of the chosen model. The guarantee of the text’s reliability, therefore, was entrusted to openly declared intertextuality rather than to engagement in historical research. (33)

If Pugliatti has said the truth, what can we say of Shakespeare’s history plays and their supposed sources?

It is often noted that the main sources of Shakespeare’s Henry IV are Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland, Samuel Daniel’s The First Four Books of the Civil Wars Between the Two Houses of Lancaster and York, and an anonymous, popular play called The Famous Victories of Henry V. Now, if we examine these supposed main sources carefully, we will find at least these facts: first, Daniel disagrees with Holinshed on some important points of detail—for example, “Holinshed has Glendower fighting at Shrewsbury, whereas Daniel says that the Welsh were absent” (Smith 13). Second, “Daniel, and following him Shakespeare, made Hotspur a generation younger, and the Prince of Wales a little older, so that they could be shown as rivals of about the same age” (Morris 8). Third, from the Famous Victories Shakespeare took the tale of Hal’s misspent youth and the name “Oldcastle” for Hal’s disreputable misleader, but, owing to the strong objection from the descendents of the real Oldcastle’s widow, Shakespeare “changed the name in the first printed copy to Falstaff” (Smith 13). These facts suggest: first, history books tend to give different versions of history and, therefore, a history play has to choose a version to base its material on (in the Glendower case and in that of Hotspur, Shakespeare chose to follow Daniel rather than Holinshed). Second, external power is liable to force any writer to lie about a certain fact (in the Oldcastle case Shakespeare had to use a counterfeit name). So, history is full of contingencies. Playwrights as well as chroniclers often cannot stick to a single truth. They are often equally flexible fabricators.

In truth, both chroniclers and playwrights often envision certain guiding truths when they write histories/plays. Holinshed, for example, is said to interpret history from a Tudor standpoint. His Chronicles, it is said, “stresses the disastrous consequences for England of the deposition and murder of Richard II by Henry Bolingbroke” (Smith 13). In accordance with Holinshed, E. M. W. Tillyard in his The Elizabethan World Picture holds that the literature of the Elizabethan period has for its center the ideas of divine order, the chain of being, and the correspondences between earthly and heavenly things. Hence, for Tillyard Shakespeare’s English history plays helped to build up “the Tudor myth,” which saw a “universally held” and “fundamentally religious” historical “scheme” governed by divine providence in the history beginning with the “distortion of nature’s course” by deposing and murdering Richard II, through “a long series of disasters and suffering and struggles,” to end with the restoration of legitimacy and order under the Tudors (Tillyard 1962, 362).

But did Shakespeare really intend to uphold the Tudor myth? There have been, to be sure, quite a number of scholars adhering to the providential theory.1 Nevertheless, opponents to Tillyard and his followers have been as numerous and strong. According to Phyllis Rackin, rebellion against the Tudor myth has taken two forms: either to refuse any ideology or political propaganda by reminding us of Shakespeare’s universal qualities of human nature and experience, or to demonstrate that the myth never existed or that Shakespeare was actually debunking rather than dramatizing the myth (40-41). “Both new historicism and cultural materialism reject the Tudor myth school’s assumption that there was an ‘Elizabethan mind’ whose thinking was everywhere conditioned by a conservative ‘world picture’” (Rackin 42). Surely, in recent decades, very much of the criticism of Shakespeare’s English history plays “has centered on various versions of an issue framed in Shakespeare’s time as a conflict between providential and Machiavellian theories of historical causation”: the former “looked backward to an older feudal world and upward to transcendent spiritual authority to oppose change and justify hereditary privilege,” while the latter, “by contrast, validates change, mobility, and individual initiative” (Rackin 43). But, obviously, “the newer generation, in our time as in the sixteenth century, prefers the Machiavellian version of historical causation, explaining history in terms of force, fortune, and practical politics” (Rackin 43).

Here I must confess that I am one of “the newer generation.” I agree that in his history plays generally, and in the two parts of Henery IV particularly, Shakespeare shows a provable advocacy of the Machiavellian view of historical causation. Yet, in the meantime I must also acknowledge that Shakespeare was a patriot, he did share with many of his contemporaries the fear of disorder coming from civil strife due to unsuccessful succession to the throne, and he might therefore be reluctant to argue openly and clearly against the divine-right theory associated commonly with royal privilege. In effect, as I will discuss below, we will find there is a deconstructionist vision embedded in Shakespeare’s political understanding, whether we choose to review his chronicles in terms of providentialism or Machiavellianism.

II. The Deconstructionist Vision
To discuss Shakespeare’s deconstructionist vision we need an introduction to deconstructionist ideas first. But, deplorably, deconstructionism as a school of thought is most difficult to define, and deconstructionist ideas often involve terms, some of which being neologisms, very hard to explain satisfactorily. What follows is just a simplified summary for our present purpose.

Deconstruction as a term is usually said to originate in the writings of the French philosopher Jacques Derrida in the late 1960’s. As a philosophical activity, it is said to be “a critique of concepts and hierarchies” (Fowler 54). According to Derrida, Western philosophy has been led by a partiality which he calls “logocentrism.” “Logos is a Greek term that can specifically mean ‘word,’ but also carries implications of rationality and wisdom in general, and is sometimes reified as a cosmic intellectual principle” (Fowler 54).2 To be logocentric is to construct a system of thinking on the basis of a term as its structural center and to venerate it much as one venerates the Word of God, not knowing that to stick to the certainty, identity or truth of that central term is to “repress or forget other elements which thus become the un-thought, and sometimes the unthinkable, of Western philosophy” (Fowler 54). Examples of such logocentric terms include being, essence, substance, truth, form, beginning, end, purpose, consciousness, man, God, and so on (Selden & Widdowson 144).

Logocentrism is accompanied by the “metaphysics of presence,” which is the idea of taking an extra-system entity, a point of reference or a center of authority for the ultimate fundamental or principle, or the last invariable origin or source, not knowing that nothing in the world is ever so self-sufficient, so unqualified and so unmediated as to be able to serve as absolute knowledge, original truth, or determinate signification. Such a metaphysics is a delusion, a mistaking of being for presence. In his “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences,” Derrida says, “all the names related to fundamentals, to principles, or to the center have always designated an invariable presence—eidos, archē, telos, energeia, ousia (essence, existence, substance, subject) ale-theia, transcendentality, consciousness, God, man, and so forth” (1978, 279-80).

If no “presence” can be found in this world of signification, what is there in our thinking systems? All ways of thinking involve concepts and terms, that is, involve language as a symbolic system. In de Saussure’s view, words are signs made up of two parts: a mark, either written or spoken, called a “signifier,” and a concept (what the mark causes to exist in one’s mind) called a “signified.” The relation between signifier and signified is arbitrary. In the system of signification, all signifiers as well as all signifieds are different in that they are distinguished from one another by certain opposites or contrasts. Now, in expanding de Saussure’s linguistic thinking to the thinking of all thinking systems, Derrida tells us that in thinking we are really forever using certain concepts with their supposedly equivalent terms to represent or signify some other concepts with their also supposedly equivalent terms. But now, since no “presence,” that is, no ultimate, original, and permanent signified can be found to serve as the center of the logos (because in practice every concept or signified can serve as a signifier to signify some other concept or signified), the only invariable in all thinking systems is the phenomenon of diffèrance. As we know, diffèrance is a portmanteau term coined by Derrida to denote in its French original both difference and deferment. This neologism, therefore, aims to suggest at least two things: the use of signs based on differences in the course of signification, and the endless deferment of meaning since meaning is “always relational, never self-present or self-constituted” (Hawthorn 43). In fact, Derrida identifies three main meanings for the term in his Positions:

First, diffèrance refers to the (active and passive) movement that consists in deferring by means of delay, delegation, reprieve, referral, detour, postponement, reserving. … Second, the movement of diffèrance, as that which produces different things, that which differentiates, is the common root of all oppositional concepts that mark our language, such as, to take only a few examples, sensible/intelligent, intuition/signification, nature/culture, etc. … Third, diffèrance is also the production, if it can still be put this way, of these differences, of the diacriticity that the linguistics generated by Saussure, and all the structural sciences modeled upon it, have recalled is the condition for any significant and any structure. …From this point of view, the concept of diffèrance is neither simply structuralist, nor simply geneticist, such an alternative itself being an “effect” of diffèrance. (8-9)

Derrida himself has used other terms to refer to, signify, represent, or explain the phenomenon of diffèrance in Positions and elsewhere. The term trace, for instance, takes from Freud (in “Note on the Mystic Writing Pad”) the idea that the written message can still be left in the trace of writing (just as that imprinted on the wax of children’s writing pad). But the term is “radicalized and extracted from the metaphysics of presence” (Derrida 1978, 229), only to mean “the erasure of selfhood, of one’s own presence” because it is “constituted by the threat or anguish of its irremediable disappearance, of the disappearance of its disappearance” (Derrida 1978, 220). So, in thinking, all concepts are but traces of traces.

The idea of “trace” is connected with the idea of “gram.” For Derrida, the gram is the most general concept of semiology, and he prefers to call this science of signs “grammatology.” In his Of Grammatology Derrida attacks the classical type of logocentrism which he calls “phonocentrism” because it privileges speech over writing and treats writing merely as a contaminated form of speech. In fact, just as Freud conceptualizes the unconscious mind as “constituted by writing in the form of an arche-writing or ur-writing in the brain which precedes all physical writing and, even, all speech—both phylogenetically and ontogenetically,” so Derrida asserts that “no perception is virginal or direct, but is given meaning by a pre-existing arche-writing” (Hawthorn 8). It follows, then, that for Derrida all thinking systems are after all grammatological systems; all concepts are “grams” displayed in diffèrance.

Besides diffèrance, Derrida also uses the term “supplement” to designate the unstable relationship among signs, concepts, traces, or grams. In French, “supplèer” means both “to add something to” and “to take the place of.” Thus, supplementality is the phenomenon of addition plus substitution. Now, in Derrida’s view all thinking systems involve the addition/substitution of one thing to/for another. For instance, one may, as does Rousseau, consider writing as merely a supplement to speech. But for Derrrida writing is also a substitute for speech, just as a sign is taken to stand for another sign, a trace for another trace, a gram for another gram.

Once we understand the possibility of making all signs “supplement” other signs, of tracing all traces to other traces, or of writing all grams about other grams, we will realize that we are in a world of semiological or grammatological “dissemination,” where the seeding and potential growth of meaning is endless because in the absence of stable signifieds all signifiers can be freely adopted to serve as seeds of meaning. Indeed, we can all become “players of signs.” Only that by “play” we mean not only play as in “to play a game,” but also play as in “to play the piano,” “to play a fish,” etc. In other words, the play of signs for dissemination can be “playful” or “non-playful,” depending on the nature of the “play.”

Playful or not, our play with signs often betrays our propensity towards constructing “violent hierarchies.” To assert, for instance, that speech precedes writing, or nature precedes civilization, or good precedes evil, is to privilege one concept/term over another while upon close examination we will find the two opposing/contrasting concepts or terms are mutually defined and thus should be placed on the same plane instead of being violently placed one above another to form a “violent hierarchy.” Without hierarchical thinking we will be able to say speech is a species of writing, nature is a state of civilization, and good is a degree of evil, just as we can say writing is a species of speech, civilization is a state of nature, and evil is a degree of good.

To deconstruct a logocentrism, a thinking system, or a violent hierarchy is to find an/the “aporia” therein. An “aporia,” as we know, is an apparently irresolvable logical impasse. As Alan Bass, the English translator of Writing and Difference, has explained, Derrida has adopted the Greek term to indicate the situation we find “once a system has been ‘shaken’ by following its totalizing logic to its final consequence”; it is often “an excess which cannot be construed within the rules of logic, for the excess can be conceived as neither this nor that, or both at the same time—a departure from all rules of logic” (Derrida 1978, xvi-xvii). For example, in trying to deconstruct J. L. Austin and John Searle’s speech act theory that a performative utterance must be a “serious” statement rather than a joke or something said in a play or poem, Derrida can argue that both a real courtroom oath and an oath people play in a film or book belong to a repeatable sign-sequence. Since they come from the same source of “reiterability,” we can hardly say any is “parasitic” upon the other, or any is logically prior to the other. Therefore, a joke or a Hollywood court oath can be as “serious” as a “serious” pledge made anywhere.

The deconstructive method, as shown in seeking an aporia, is certainly rather sophistic in nature. In trying to find an aporia, a deconstructionist views a thinking system as essentially a matter of rhetoric: “thinking is always and inseparably bound to the rhetorical devices that support it” (Norris 61). Consequently, the maneuvering of "tropes” is all important and necessary, as such American deconstructionists as Paul de Man, Harold Bloom, Geoffrey Hartman, and J. Hillis Miller may agree. Yet, as Barbara Johnson has also observed, “Deconstruction is not synonymous with destruction.” “It is in fact much closer to the original meaning of the word analysis, which etymologically means ‘to undo’—a virtual synonym for ‘to de-construct.’ The de-construction of a text does not proceed by random doubt or arbitrary subversion, but by the careful teasing out of warring forces of signification within the text itself. If anything is destroyed in a deconstructive reading, it is not the text, but the claim to unequivocal domination of one mode of signifying over another” (5).

On the basis of the above summary, we may now proceed to discuss Shakespeare’s deconstructionist vision in the two parts of Henry IV. We will see that Shakespeare’s texts not only show his critical difference from the historians who have provided sources for him, but also, either explicitly or implicitly, try to undo or deconstruct many logocentric thoughts by displaying the myth of presence, the violent hierarchies, the apparent aporias, etc., in signs, traces, etc., which are reiterably kept in a state of dissemination and diffèrance, while the playwright together with the players or characters in the plays “play” the game of language or rhetoric to the extent of almost unthinkable ingenuity with revisionary insights.
III. The Prince and the Prince
In the first section of this paper I have suggested that Shakespeare leans towards Machiavellianism rather than providentialism in respect to the problem of historical causation. Now, in this section, I will further clarify that Shakespeare’s Machiavellianism, as shown in the Henry IV plays, is a deconstructionist stance directed against the authoritative doctrine of providentialism. But, before I do that, I must clarify first the Machiavellian ideas, lest we should be misled by detractors of Machiavelli, who have been abundant among people, East and West, since the Renaissance Period.

It is said that no fewer than 395 references to Machiavelli were catalogued in Elizabethan literature (Lewis 65), and yet very few biographers of Shakespeare, if ever, have been bold enough to claim Machiavelli’s influence on Shakespeare. That Shakespeare did know Machiavelli’s name is out of question. In Henry VI, Part3, he lets Richard (afterwards Duke of Gloucester) mention Machiavelli in a monologue that comes to these lines:

I’ll drown more sailors than the Mermaid shall;

I’ll slay more gazers than the basilisk;

I’ll play the orator as well as Nestor,

Deceive more slyly than Ulysses could

And, like a Sinon, take another Troy.

I can add colors to the chameleon,

Change shapes with Proteus for advantages,

And set the murderous Machiavel to school.

(III, ii, 186-93)

In these lines Machiavel is indeed an incarnation of the Evil One himself. This understanding, pronounced by Richard, is not necessarily Shakespeare’s only understanding of Machiavelli. But, regrettably, even distinguished scholars would equate Shakespeare’s with Richard’s understanding. That is why although so many scholars, among them T. S. Eliot, have seen the Machiavellian influence on Shakespeare, yet they have almost univocally asserted that Shakespeare’s Machiavellian figures are restricted to such wicked ones as Edmund, Iago, and Richard the Third, forgetting that a good king can be a Machiavellian as well.

In fact, in Machiavelli’s mind, only a successful (hence “good”) ruler can live up to his standards of the prince. A failure fit for tragedy is never a rightful Machiavellian. We must know that the Renaissance Period was teeming with various “conduct books” (including Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier, Thomas Elyot’s The Book Named the Governor, and of course Machiavelli’s The Prince), which were intended to teach different ranks of people, especially high-ranking powerful men, how to conduct themselves so as to ensure their success and the benefit of the state. So, as a conduct book, Machiavelli’s The Prince was to teach how a prince should conduct himself. The teachings concerning political means therein might sound “horrible” to many moralists. Yet, its purpose was a moral one: to let the prince recognize the true political reality. We admit that Machiavelli’s virtù should be distinguished from the moralist’s virtue. But I cannot agree that “what is good in the world of politics is entirely unrelated to and generally the opposite of what makes for goodness in the moral life” (Charlton 90, italics mine). I must maintain that a politically strong king can be a good king, and Prince Hal in Henry IV is indeed “the Machiavel of goodness” (Danby 91).

What are most impressive and offensive in Machiavelli’s The Prince are these most often-quoted statements:

… a prince must know how to make good use of the nature of the beast, he should choose from among the beasts the fox and the lion; for the lion cannot defend itself from traps and the fox cannot protect itself from wolves. It is therefore necessary to be a fox in order to recognize the traps and a lion in order to frighten the wolves. Those who play only the part of the lion do not understand matters. A wise ruler, therefore, cannot and should not keep his word when such an observance of faith would be to his disadvantage and when the reasons which made him promise are removed. … he who has known best how to use the fox has come to a better end. But it is necessary to know how to disguise this nature well and to be a great hypocrite and a liar. (58-59)

Here Machiavelli is telling a truth no experienced politician can deny. If we consider the “princely” figures in the Henry IV plays in the light of this truth, we will soon understand the role-relationship among the four principal characters: King Henry IV plays both the lion and the fox, but Prince Hal, “the lion’s whelp” (Pt. 1, III, iii, 146)3, plays both roles even better than the King, while Hotspur, the “child of honor and renown” (Pt. 1, III, ii, 139), poses only as the lion and Falstaff, who has been called “the king of companions” and “the prince of good fellows” (Goddard 25), poses only as the fox. This accounts for Prince Hal’s success in contrast to others’ failure, but this in no way lessens the Prince’s honor. We respect him as much as the Elizabethans or the Prince’s contemporaries.

If Shakespeare agrees understandably with Machiavelli that the prince must act as both the powerful lion and the cunning fox, he is by the way proposing that powerful kingship is necessarily connected with hypocrisy and cheating, not just with divinely-ordained right or inherited royalty. So the problem of succession—allegedly a problem very much in most Elizabethans’ mind—is to be solved not by providential privilege but by “natural selection,” that is, by contest (as seen in the jungle) among opponents who vie by strength and by craftiness into the bargain.

Thinking in this line, we will realize that Shakespeare has deconstructed the medieval faith in the “sacred kingship” of a God-anointed monarch. Meanwhile, he has also deconstructed the Elizabethan belief (and often our belief, too) that order is the norm; disorder is the exception. As we can witness in all Shakespeare’s English history plays, power struggle among the mighty and the wily never ceased for long: “Disorder was the natural state of man, and civilization a matter of pure expediency,” although “such a way of thinking was abhorrent to the Elizabethans (as indeed it always has been and is now to the majority)” (Tillyard 1962, 28, italics mine). Henry IV, Part I, let us recall, opens with King Henry IV wishing for peace and for a chance to go “as far as to the sepulcher of Christ” (I, i, 19). But no sooner were the wishes uttered than the tidings of more rebellious battles everywhere came to worry the king. And from then on, even after the decisive Shrewsbury Battle, the Lancaster House had to face one trouble after another. In the end of Henry IV, Part 2, Prince John forebode that “ere this year expire,/We bear our civil swords and native fire/As far as France” (V, v, 105-7). To make wars abroad, as we know, is but a political strategy to make temporary peace in one’s own nation. Indeed, as far as Shakespeare’s history plays are concerned, disorder in the form of riot or war, rather than order in peace, definitely occupies the central stage.

In the Henry IV plays, however, it is the Prince rather than the King that figures most importantly on the central stage. Prince Hal, the future Henry V, is actually the prince who plays the lion and the fox most successfully not only in facing the rebellious camps but also in dealing with his father, his brothers, his riotous company, and all others. It is owing to his disguised prowess that he could defeat Hotspur, to his seeming earnestness that he could win his father’s final approval and his brothers’ trust, to his cheating wisdom that he could associate with and get rid of Falstaff’s gang, and to his gesture of uprightness that he could win the hearts of all his subjects. He is unquestionably “Shakespeare’s studied picture of the kingly type: a picture to which his many previous versions of the imperfect kingly type lead up” (Tillyard 1943a, 110). Apparently, the Henry IV plays show Prince Hal’s “progress from dissolute heir apparent to responsible monarch” (Traversi 4). In actuality, the Prince knew clearly from the beginning what he was doing: “I’ll so offend, to make offence a skill,/Redeeming time when men think least I will” (Pt. 1, I, ii, 211-2). What a subtle fox he already was!

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