Henry Iv – Moral Centre

Hanh-Thy Chau 2M N. Wittlin February 25, 2003 ENG2DB-02 A Revision of Morality in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part One Who is the moral centre in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part one? This will ceaselessly be a question challenging the intentions of Shakespeare’s literature. However, [didn’t Wittlin say don’t start with however else its after a semi-colon] the question in this revision of morality in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part one is, is there even a moral center in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part one?
Humanity is incapable of absolute goodness; therefore, there is no moral centre in Henry IV, Part one since the three major characters, King Henry, Prince Hal, and Sir John Falstaff, are all somewhat morally flawed. Shakespeare reveals the imperfection of human nature through the behaviour of his [these] characters. First of all, King Henry sets a presumed reputation as the religious, loved and strong leader of England in Henry IV, Part one for his subjects. However, his supposed virtues are only results of his concealed faults. Ironically, the King can be quite blasphemous, despicable, and pathetic.
Throughout the play, Henry is evidently repenting for his conduct in his acquirement of the British thrown. This is shown in his belief of “whether God will have it so, /…To punish my [King Henry’s] mistreadings” (III. ii. 4-11) and that “God pardon” (III. iii. 29) Hal for his unpunished sins of his bad company. Furthermore, King Henry’s disgraceful conduct clearly reveals the false reception of love from his subjects. This is especially revealed in his relationship based on conditional love with Prince Hal. His opinion of Hal, which changed from a state of “riot and dishonour” (I. i. 4) to one of “charge and sovereign” (III. iii. 161), is only established on restricted affection and Hal’s social image, rather than a personal benevolence between parent and child. In addition, another of King Henry’s loathsome features is again shown through his attainment of the throne: deceitful behaviour. Furthermore, the King’s pathetic nature is revealed by his insecurity. The play begins with the King expressing his paranoid worries, being “so shaken” and “wan with care” (I. i. 1-2), accordingly presenting the audience with its first impression of the supposedly strong leader.

King Henry deceitfully attempts to use the “chase” of the “pagans in these holy fields/…for our [England’s] advantage” (I. i. 24-27) to distract the “civil butchery” (I. i. 13) back home in England. Overall, the life events of King Henry IV’s does not present a very moral reputation for a man of worthy of such power and prestige. Secondly, Prince Hal clearly shows both positive aspects and negative aspects, as his character undergoes great change in Henry IV, Part one. Hal gives the audience the impression of his intentions to “throw off” (I. iii. 05) his uncouthly behaviour moral to please the King, the alleged victim in Henry IV, Part one. Hal believes he can “find pardon on” his “true submission” (III. ii. 28) by satisfy his father’s expectations for the throne’s heir and discard the values of his loving surrogate father, Falstaff. As revealed in the previous quotation of pardoned submission, one of Hal’s admirable aspects is his open ability to accept his faults; however, it seems his judgement regarding the class, justice, and honour system remains stereotyped by knightly tradition.
Although Prince Hal’s resultant persona is traditionally considered positive, Hal’s most commonly shown qualities in the play are characterized as manipulative, superficial and unemotional, all of which further reveal his immoral faults. Hal’s manipulative nature is exposed throughout Henry IV, Part one. Prince Hal’s manipulative intelligence is first revealed in his soliloquy, where he vows to “falsify men’s hopes/ and…so offend to make offense a skill” (I. iii. 205-211).
Hal’s aptitude for manipulating is further proven in his sudden abandonment of Falstaff and his low class company, as foreshadowed when Hal symbolically states that “by breaking through the foul and ugly mists…my [Hal’s] reformation…shall show more goodly” (I. ii. 196-). In this quote, the clouds represent Falstaff and company and the beauty in reference [to…] is the reformed Hal. An addition to Hal’s [im] amoral traits is his superficiality. Hal’s superficiality is shown in his judgement of physical image.
This is shown in his constant vulgar references to Falstaff’s obesity: a “fat-witted with drinking of old sack” (I. ii. 2) and his abandonment of Falstaff’s role in his life after his reformation. Hal’s commitment [to] the traditional expectations of honour results in the betrayal of Falstaff’s hedonistic approach on life and his only endeavour is to please the man who had offered a pitiful excuse of love incomparable to what Falstaff had to offer: unconditional love. These examples of Hal’s superficiality also support Hal’s lack of sympathy for others.
Hal’s cold behaviour towards others is shown in his hypocritical approach for Falstaff’s hedonistic [maybe use self-gratifying] attitude. Hal is unaware of his own form of intemperance: he strives to improve his own self-image at the expense of others. Despite Hal’s admirable traits as a respectable member of court, as a human being, Prince Hal’s amorality is quite apparent by the distinction of his actions. Lastly, despite Sir John Falstaff’s self-gratifying lifestyle, he seems to be the most moral character in Henry IV, Part one, although not wholly moral because as previously addressed, human nature is inept of utter goodness.
Due to Sir John Falstaff’s philosophies, many have claimed to be fond of his self-indulging ways but admit the ridicule behind paying formal respect to such a person. Falstaff cleverly manipulates others for his own welfare; however, it is only in good nature. This is proven in Act III scene iii, when Falstaff distorts the situation of his debt to Mistress Quickly into one of an accusation of her being the thief of his “picked…pocket” [wasn’t he really pick pocketed? ](III. iii. 53), and more wittingly forgives her in the end as she goes to prepare his meal, intending no spite upon the hostess.
Falstaff deceives, cowards [not an action; cannot be used in this senctense], drinks “of old sack” (I. ii. 2) and commits virtually every sin. Shakespeare masterfully moulds these negative aspects into unusual forms of virtue in Falstaff’s character by showing that Falstaff means no harm. In doing this, Shakespeare cleverly twists the faults upon the regal members of society by building the play upon the disputes between themselves; thus, showing the power of such subtle issues, barely considered sinful, causing “civil butchery” (I. i. 13), whereas the sinful ways of “Old Jack Falstaff” (II. iv. 72) has no such effect. Although Falstaff’s pleasure priorities may be rather farfetched, his “gift…is youthful irresponsibility, which must be cherished even though it cannot last” (p. xx). Falstaff’s commonly repeated idea that “young men must live” (II. ii. 90) emphasizes his belief in the value of youthful irresponsibility and luxury. Shakespeare grants Falstaff the embodiment of human nature itself, excluding extreme wicked sins, leaving Falstaff’s childlike benevolence untouched; this is shown as he pompously states, “I have more flesh than another man, and therefore more frailty” (III. ii. 167-169). Falstaff serves as a bringer of human nature as he serves to foil all other characters therefore revealing everyone moral flaws yet remaining the most moral character due to his youthful benevolence. In conclusion, Shakespeare brilliantly provokes the audiences’ involvement in his plays by presenting them with intellectual trials to the mysteries of life. Because [r u sure that u want to start a sentence with that] absolute morality is unachievable, Shakespeare does not put forward a definite moral center in Henry IV, Part one.
There will always be a balance of both positive and negative forces as the faults and virtues of King Henry, Prince Hal and Sir John Falstaff were discussed. This is very good. You explained your points well just a couple of minor mistakes but I think you’ll get a good mark. Sorry for not responding I was eating dinner sorry. Talk to you later ok. Bye Word Count: 1 189 Works Cited Shakespeare, William. Henry IV, Part one. Toronto: Bantam Books, 1988

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