The Attractive Complexity of Human Relationships in the Play King Henry IV

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To capture the audience’s interest in this text, Shakespeare applies an in-depth, prolonging text set up upon human relationships. In William Shakespeare’s, King Henry IV, Part 1 he uses human relationships to speak to his audience not only in the Elizabethan period but also for the future generations. The most common human relationship emphasised by Shakespeare in King Henry IV is the father and son relationship displaying themes like honour, loyalty and power. The protagonist and his father are the most crucial people, with the text mainly built around their relationship.

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Throughout the play, Shakespeare captures the complexities of human relationships by showing the correlation between father-son relationships and honour. This is emphasized through the several comparisons by individual characters in the text. King Henry believes that “dishonour stain the brow of my young Harry,” (Act 1, Scene 1) by associating himself with Falstaff, on the other hand Hotspur thinks by having a reputation of bravery on the battlefield it would give him all the honour. King Henry in fact lost so much respect for Prince Hal that he would have wished “that some night-tripping fairy had exchanged our children where they lay” (Act 1, Scene 1). This quote demonstrates the King’s attitude towards Henry and shows that by not having honour it would play an impact to the father – son relationship. However Prince Hal realises his wrongdoings and changes whereas Hotspur gets progressively worse. Hotspur’s tendency to chase after honorific morals, instead of practically thinking, making Northumberland call him a “wasp-stung and impatient fool”(Act 1, Scene 3). The imagery of “wasp-stung” is to symbolise him being blinded by the greed to attain honour. Later on the play the greed for honour is shown when Hotspurs monologue in Act 4, Scene 2 in comparison to Prince Hal’s soliloquy in Act 1, Scene 2 captures the similarity between the old Hal who was foolish and stubborn and the current Hotspur. This creates irony as the once role model child to King Henry is know the equal to the dishonourable Hal. By capturing the complexity of the father-son relationship of who is the honourable one, Shakespeare utilises this to engage the reader through irony, contrast and imagery.

The father-son relationship in this texts captures the complexities of human relationships by linking it with loyalty. Hal’s ability to deceive others allow him to practice a valuable skill, diplomacy and nobility so that he claims the throne clothed in ‘sun-like majesty’(Act 3, Scene 2). By pretending to be disloyal to his father, King Henry and being ‘sworn brothers’ to the ‘good lads of Eastcheap’ (Act 2, Scene 4) he wins the loyalty of the lower class who will go into war with him and be under his rule, another strategic play for kingship. Falstaff was Hal’s key of fooling King Henry as Falstaff is the worst of the bunch. Falstaff’s role in the play is be the misleader, as in his name, ‘false staff’ and is the counterbalance to drama. Falstaff is incapable of fooling anyone and speaks ‘not in pleasure but in passion’(Act 2, Scene 4). Hal’s adoption of this quality to pretend to be disloyal and deceit nearly the vast majority of main characters: King Henry to see him ‘rise from the ground like feathered mercury,’(Act 4, Scene 1) Hotspur as his ‘foil’ and Falstaff to look like the polar opposite of him would make him look like an honourable young prince and successor to the throne. Whence Hal gets confronted by King Henry, he unveils his plot and says that ‘I will die a hundred thousand deaths / Ere break the smallest parcel of this vow’(Act 3, Scene 2) shows the exaggeration yet loyalty to his father and kingdom to save his dignity but to also save the kingdom from the rebellion. The dramatic irony created by the audience being aware of the strategic plan being undergone by Hal would interest readers to see how the plot would suffer by it. Shakespeare captures the complex structure of the interrelation of loyalty and the father-son relationship to further tempt the already unstable human relationships.

Shakespeare captures the complexity of human relationships by showing how power can influence a father-son relationship. King Henry believes that those with power should separate themselves from the lower class. For King Henry a king’s appearance should be ‘seldom, but sumptuous’(Act 3, Scene 2). The simile of comet and imagery of the brightness of a comet in the quote, ‘by being seldom seen like a comet (he) was wondered at’(Act 3, Scene 2) further emphasises the point that power creates a respectful aura and must be prestigious to the lower society. Power is also sickly portrayed by Falstaff in Act 4, Scene 2 where power is wrongfully used and the lower class is forced into war saying they are nothing but, ‘food for powder, food for powder’(Act 4, Scene 2). The meaning behind it means that they are merely just expendables to be put into war. The repetition behind this further emphasises the lack of care from Falstaff about the wellbeing of the men. Power is depicted as a tool for misconduct, which is why Hal rejected his father’s decision to be part of the lower class. The tense atmosphere created by the numerous irresponsible acts going on creates suspense and excitement for the audience. The impact power plays on the father-son relationship show how one act may effect the other shows the complexity of the relationship.

Shakespeare asserts the complexity of the human relationship is built upon pillars. Honour, power and loyalty all work together to keep the father-son relationship stable. If you use your power wrongfully, you loose your honour and by loosing honour you loose the loyalty of those closest to you. King Henry IV, Part 1 captures the complexity of human relationships through the previous themes to make the plot engaging for the audience.

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