“How I came by the crown, O God, forgive! And grant it may with thee in true peace live.”

Henry IV Part Two

Act Four

By Dennis Abrams

—————————

Act Four:  York, Mowbray and Hastings, commanding the rebel forces in Gaultres Forest, are unimpressed by Northumberland’s flight to Scotland.  When they address their grievances to Hal’s brother, Prince John of Lancaster, he promises to remedy them – but as soon as they agree and lay down their arms, he arrests them for treason.  Falstaff, surprisingly, has achieved success on his own in capturing some enemy troops.  The King, meanwhile, is in such poor health that news of his victory causes him to collapse.  Arriving at court, Hal believes that his father has died and sadly (or is it really sadly?) takes up the crown.  The awakening King angrily thinks that Hal covets the throne form himself, but Hal convinces him otherwise and the two are quickly reconciled.  The old King dies, hoping that his son’s reign will be more peaceful than his own.  (Or…is that really the case as well?)

———————

Well, here we are.  The death we’ve all been waiting for.  But…that one central death does prove more complicated than all those repeated dramatic premonitions of death might suggest.  Hal is spending less time than before in Eastcheap – his main visit is with Points, setting up Falstaff for yet another comedown – and is being drawn more and more to the court.  Everyone knows why – following the news that Prince John has managed to capture the ringleaders of the rebellion, the King is seized not by joy, but sickness, and rapidly worsens to the point where his closest advisors fear for his life.  Coming across his slumbering father, Hal (naturally?) assumes the worst – that Henry is dead.  “By his gates of breath/There lies a downy feather which stirs not,” the Prince exclaims,

   My gracious lord, my father! –

This sleep is sound indeed.  This is a sleep

That from this golden rigol hath divorced

So many English kings. – Thy due fro me

Is tears and heavy sorrows of the blood,

Which nature, love, and filial tenderness

Shall, O dear father, pay thee plenteously.

My due from thee is this imperial crown,

Which, as immediate from thy place and blood,

Derives itself to me.

     He puts the crown on his head

Lo where it sits,

Which God shall guard; and put the world’s whole strength

Into one giant arm, it shall not force

This lineal honour from me.  This from thee

Will I to mine leave, as ‘tis left to me.

This moment is, nominally at least, the climax of the play (I lean towards act five for reasons which you shall soon see), but it is a scene fraught with all kinds of meanings – t teasing meta-theatrical moment for an actor feigning deathlike sleep onstage.  It is also a most resonant reconstruction of a past event, the deposition scene in Richard II, in which the very same crown is handed from one monarch to the next, and with it all the power of the throne.  What is fascinating is that Hal, at this moment, is openly (at least to the audience) every bit as calculating as his father had been; though invoking “God” as he takes up the crown in his hands, his words are still undeniably legalistic in tone.  His part of the bargain is “tears and heavy sorrows of the blood;” his father’s is far more tangible, “this imperial crown.”

But Hal’s spontaneous celebration is premature.  The King is still alive – barely – and when he wakes he is furious at seeing his crown “usurped” as it were, until Hal persuades him of his honest intentions.  (Did he learn how to do that from Falstaff?)  As the two are finally reconciled, Henry turns again to reminiscence:

God knows, my son,

By what bypaths and indirect crook’d ways

I met this crown; and I myself know well

How troublesome it sat upon my head.

To thee it descend with better quiet,

Better opinions, better confirmation;

For all the soil of the achievement goes

With me into the earth…

“For all my reign,” he goes on, “hath been but as a scene/Acting that argument.”  The pageant – and Shakespeare’s play – will only be halted with his death.

Just before Henry dies, he comments, “and now my death/Changes the mood,” but if we expect a comic conclusion like that in Part I we are to be disappointed.  Falstaff’s fate, obliquely hinted at throughout the Henry IV plays, is fast approaching.

———————–

There is, obviously, much taking place in Act Four, and a wide array of ways of looking at those events.  Two different perspectives:

From Tony Tanner:

“Everywhere, expectation is mocked, and people disillusioned into ruin and death.

Nowhere more graphically and shockingly than at Gaultree, when John of Lancaster (Hal’s younger brother) promises the rebels that, if they ‘discharge’ their armies (‘as we will ours’), their ‘griefs shall be with speed redressed.  ‘I…swear her, by the honor of my blood,’ he says.  The Archbishop accepts the pledge:  ‘I take your princely word for these redresses.’  John says, ‘Let’s drink together friendly and embrace’ to celebrate ‘our restored love and amity.’  They duly drink, and the rebels discharge their man who are soon dispersed.  At which point, John, whose army has remained in place, arrests the rebel leaders on charges of ‘capital treason,’ and orders their immediate execution – adding, with supreme pious hypocrisy:

God, and not we, hath safely fought today.

Much the Bolinbrokes have ever cared about ‘God.’

Now all this is clearly appalling.  Mowbray’s complaint, ‘Is this proceeding just and honorable?’ seems mild indeed.  Some critics commend John for being a good Machiavel; others says he is just playing by the stern laws of ‘necessity’ which are constantly invoked.  (‘Construe the times in their necessities’ – says Westmoreland, in justification of all the King’s crimes.  Henry himself says, ‘Are these things then necessities?/then let us meet them like necessities.’  ‘Necessity’ rules all; explains all; excuses all.  Henry’s ‘necessitarianism’ might argue him a pragmatist; but it can serve as an amoral, self-exculpating creed.)  I have even read one who maintains that Shakespeare would probably have approved of John’s trick – on the grounds, roughly, that with rebels, anything goes.  I find the suggest utterly extraordinary.  I have no doubts that Shakespeare shared the general Elizabethan horror of rebellion and civil war, and that, quite apart from his need to defer to historical fact, he would have thought that Henry, no matter how illegitimately he came by the crown, had to contain the thread of civil disorder.  But the ‘defeat’ – the deceit, the betrayal, the smooth, unperturbed ruthlessness – is shocking; and if we find it shocking, then we may be sure that Shakespeare found it so too, and wrote it to be so.  A Prince foresworn; the ‘princely word’ broken; the rites of reconciliation and amity profaned; God blasphemed – it is a sorry day’s work. What trust in these times indeed?  (One interesting change Shakespeare made to the account of this event in his source – Holinshed had Westmoreland entirely responsible for the whole treacherous trick, whereas Shakespeare makes John of Lancaster the only begetter of the shameless strategy.  Why?  Perhaps he wants to show another Bolingbroke as a cool, unprincipled operator.  Henry’s handling of Richard; Hal’s treatment of Falstaff; the way ‘sober-blooded’ John deals with the rebels – by this time, we may begin to think it runs in the family!)

We must conclude by considering the Prince-now-King, since clearly the end of the play celebrates a ‘high’ transformation – not exactly from a bull to a God; but at least from an apparent (and in Shakespeare only apparent) madcap rioter capable of boffing the Lord Chief Justice, to a perfect King, implacable upholder of the Law.  (To make the metamorphosis seem more sudden and miraculous, Shakespeare omits any reference to the fact that Prince Henry was active in national politics from 1410-1413, and, on his accession, was already an experienced administrator.  He was also clearly ambitious and something of a schemer, trying to force his father’s abdication in 1411 – Shakespeare leaves that out, too.)  In short, errant Hal must now emerge, as from a chrysalis, as the glorious Henry V.  The prince in waiting need kick his heels no longer.  For good or bad, good and bad perhaps, there can, and will, be no more tavern-house regressions.

Henry IV, weary and seemingly conscious-plagued has become a brooding pessimist:

O god, that one might read the book of fate,

And see the revolution of the times

Make mountains level, and the continent,

Weary of solid firmness, melt itself

Into the sea!  And other times to see

The beachy girdle of the ocean

Too wide for Neptune’s hips.  How chances, mocks,

And changes fill the cup of alteration

With divers liquors!  O, if this were seen,

The happiest youth, viewing his progress through,

What perils past, what crosses to ensue,

Would shut the book, and sit him down and die.

There is more than a hint of tragic feelings in these lines – more King Lear than King Henry.  At the very least, we can say that Henry IV is losing his taste for history, and the making of history.  But the last thing his son can do is ‘sit him down and die.’  His father is a dying king reigning over a dying world:  England needs a new king, a new start, a new ‘mood.’  And this is promised.  On this death-bed, Henry says to Hal:

And now my death

Changes the mood, and what in me was purchased

Falls upon thee in a more fairer sort,

So thou the garland wear’st successively.

For Henry, the crown has always sat ‘troublesome’ on his ‘uneasy’ head.  Because it was ‘purchased’ – i.e., not acquired by inheritance, as crowns should be.  His hops is that ‘succession’ is hereby restored, and his son will enjoy ‘better quiet,/Better opinion, better confirmation.’  Of course, legitimate succession has not really been restored – and the Wars of the Roses are less than fifty years away.  But for now, the death of Henry IV ‘changes the mood.’  And Hal has converted, apparently, to true kingliness.

As a prince, he shows no very evident desire for the crown, no usurping or parricidal hunger to take his father’s place (here, again, one suspects that Shakespeare is deliberately keeping his record rather cleaner than a fuller ‘history’ would allow; grooming him, perhaps, for repentance, conversion, and the great things to come – which will be more plausible if he was never really that bad).  He insists that he feels genuine sorrow at his father’s sickness (‘my heart bleeds inwardly’), but explains that he would  be thought a hypocrite if he made a display of grief – as well he might.  The testing moment is his legendary taking of the crown from the pillow while his father is asleep.  This is usually taken as a fairly unequivocal sigh of his eagerness to be king.  In Holinshed, when the King wakes up and asks the Prince what on earth he thinks he is doing, the Prince – ‘with a good audacity’ – simply says:  I though you were dead and thus the crown was mine.  At which point, the King shruggingly relinquishes it with a remark to the effect that he didn’t have much right to it in the first place.  Shakespeare makes much more out of the episode.  First, the Prince mediates on the ambivalences, the paradoxes of the crown and all it implies – ‘O polished perturbation!  Golden care!:

O majesty!

When thou dost pinch thy bearer, thou dost sit

Like a rich armor worn in heat of day,

That scald’st with safety.

Then, thinking his father dead, he takes the crown as his ‘due,’ and shows all his father’s tenacity of power in his articulated resolve to hold on to it, come what may:

And put the world’s whole strength

Into one giant arm, it shall not force

This lineal honor from me.

The King, on waking, reads the worst into the Prince’s premature and stealthy purloining of the crown (which he himself, you may remember, had ‘snatched,’) and feels it as a death blow.  This, he says:

Helps to end me.  See, sons, what things you are!

How quickly nature falls into revolt

When gold becomes her object!

which leads onto a powerful speech on filial ingratitude.  This is followed by some forty lines of uninterrupted kingly rebuke to his son, ending with the bitter prophecy that, under him, England will ‘be a wilderness again.’  The Prince protests that he sincerely thought his father dead, and that he was actually ‘upbraiding’ the crown for ‘eating  up’ his father.  Then:

Accusing it, I put it on my head,

To try with it, as with an enemy

That had before my face murdered my father,

The quarrel of a true inheritor.

He insists that he felt not a trace of ‘pride’ when he put on the crown, nor did he give it a hint of ‘welcome.’  Whether this is all said ‘with a good audacity’ or with an unfeigning heart, we can scarcely decide – the Prince has always been the master of his words, as well as the owner of his face.  He certainly seemed glad enough to put it on.  But the remarkable thing is that the King instantly believes him (his previous contritions have not been notably reliable), giving the act an amazing gloss.

O my son,

God put it in thy mind to take it hence,

That thou mightst win the more thy father’s love,

Pleading so wisely in excuse of it!

‘God’ again; only invoked by the Bolingbrokes, it seems, when a highly dubious act is to be ascribed to a higher authority.  Of course, it is entirely understandable that the dying King should desperately want to believe his son, and the reconciliation is made to seem genuine; just as, I make no doubt, we are intended to believe in the Prince’s genuine conversion to just rule and good government – the fruits of which conversion, and his taking on the burdens and responsibilities of office, we duly see in Act V.  But Shakespeare has shown up so many of the ambiguities involved in the taking and handling of power (purchased or inherited, eagerly snatched or reluctantly accepted), that I hardly supposed he intends us suddenly to start reading his complex Prince in a monocular way.  Whatever else he may have done, the Prince has not converted to an undimensional simplicity.  He has decided to put on, or accept, the role of good kingship, and being such a cool and clear-eyed operator, he will do it very well.  (In Henry V, Shakespeare seems to show that he has become a good king – but that is another play.)  I don’t think Shakespeare’s Hal has, really, changed at all; and that, indeed, it is Shakespeare’s intention (and wonderful achievement) to show how this might be so, through all the apparent ‘transformations’ of the Prince, from tavern to battlefield to court.  He knows them all – all the time.  All this will be good for England; but what might be the cost to the Prince in terms of humanity is much more of an open question – and I think Shakespeare shows that too.”

——————

Perhaps not surprisingly, Harold Goddard sees it very differently:

“In the fourth scene of the fourth act of the second part of the play, King Henry, surrounded by his lords, returns to his earlier proposal of a crusade to Jerusalem. If God crowns our arms with success in our present quarrel, he promises,

We will our youth lead on to higher fields

And draw no swords but what are sanctified,

a way of phrasing is that suggests a buried doubt about the sanctity of the sword he has drawn against the Percys.  The scene is the Jerusalem Chamber in Westminster.  As the King’s confession,

Only, we want a little personal strength,

reveals, the hand of death is already on him.

Meanwhile, things have been happening in Yorkshire, John of Lancaster, a younger brother of Hal, has been guilty of the most despicable piece of treachery recorded anywhere in these plays.  Just after berating the Archbishop of York for misuing his office

As a fatal favourite doth his prince’s name,

In deeds dishonorable,

he proceeds, in the King’s name, to an act of dishonor of exactly the same kind.  By a cold-blooded lie, a promise he makes and breaks in a breath, he tricks the leaders of the rebellion into laying down their arms, condemns them to the block as traitors, and gives credit for the fraud to God:

God, and not we, hath safely fought today.

Safely, indeed!  One more example of ‘honour.’

News of this ‘victory’ is brought to the King in the ironical line,

Peace puts forth her olive everywhere.

But the good tidings are too much for Henry.  He is stricken with sudden illness and we next see him in another room to which he has been borne, lying in bed listening to music.  He calls for his crown.  It is placed beside him on his pillow.  Music, a dying king, and a crown:  it is a symbolic picture.

Prince Henry enters.  And then comes one of those little scenes, that seem at first reading utterly superfluous, wherein Shakespeare was so fond of dropping the clue as to what is coming.  Whoever would understand the critical crown scene that is to follow must attend to its preface in these eleven apparently casual lines.

‘Who saw the Duke of Clarence?’ the Prince demands as he comes in.  The Duke, his brother, is in the room at the moment, but overcome with grief at his father’s illness has apparently withdrawn into a corner.  He is weeping.

How now! rain within doors and none abroad!

exclaims the Prince, catching sight of him.  The jest in the circumstances is poor enough and is not much improved even if the King is too weak to her it.  Henry inquires for his father and, being told that he is ‘exceeding ill,’ declares that he will recover without medicine if he is sick with joy over the good news.  Warwick reprimands him for speaking too loudly:

Sweet prince, speak low;

The king your father is dispos’d to sleep.

Clarence suggests that they all retire into another room.  The Prince says he will remain and watch by the King.  Such is Shakespeare’s introduction to one of the most critical scenes of the play.

Left alone with the sick man, the Prince immediately spies the crown upon the pillow and breaks into an apostrophe to it.  In the midst of it he notices that a father near his father’s lips does not sir and concludes that the King has suddenly expired.

My gracious lord!  my father!

This sleep is sound indeed; this is a sleep

That from this golden rigol hath divorc’d

So many English kings.  Thy due from me

Is tears and heavy sorrows of the blood,

Which nature, love, and filial tenderness

Shall, O dear father, pay thee plenteously:

My due from thee is this imperial crown,

Which, as immediate from thy place and blood,

Derives itself to me.  Lo, here it sits,

        (Putting it on his head)

Which God shall guard:  and put the world’s whole strength

Into one giant arm, it shall not force

This lineal honour from me.  This from thee

Will I to mine leave, as ‘tis left to me.

We wonder why Henry, on the discovery of his father’s death, did not instantly recall his brother and the nobles who have just gone out.  Yet even after his address to the dead man is done, the Prince, now self-crowned king, does not do so, but passes into an adjoining chamber with the symbol of his new power still on his head.

But his assumption of the crown turns out to have been premature.  His father is not dead, and waking at the moment and missing the crown, calls out in dismay, ‘Warwick!  Gloucester!  Clarence!’  They come, and when they tell him that they left the Prince watching by him, he realizes that it is he who has taken the crown and breaks into lamentations over what he is convinced is the Prince’s craving for his death:

Is he so hasty that he doth suppose

My sleep my death?

Warwick, who has gone in search of the missing heir, returns to report that he found him weeping in the next room,

Washing with kindly tears his gentle cheeks.

(Whether he was, or not, we shall never know.)  But the King, unsatisfied, asks again:

But wherefore did he take away the crown?

I never thought to hear you speak again,

protests the Prince.  He has entered at the moment and overheard.

Thy wish was father, Harry, to that thought

          …O foolish youth!

Thou seek’st the greatness that will overwhelm thee,

cries the disillusioned servant of Commodity.

Thou hast stol’n that which after some after few hours

Were thine without offence…

What! can’st thou not forbear me half an hour?

Then get thee gone and dig my grave thyself,

and he goes onto forecast the undoing of the realm under his son’s coming reign when ‘apes of idleness,’ ruffians and the scum of the earth will

commit

The oldest sins the newest kind of ways,

until England is finally reduced to a wilderness, peopled with wolves, its old inhabitants.  The self-pity of the speech has the exact accent of Richard II.  The wheel has come full circle.  Henry has become the image of the man he injured.

Under his father’s indictment the Prince has stood speechless?  What can he say?  His conduct in putting on the crown at such a moment is indefensible.  And so he does what anyone is likely to do in such a predicament:  he swears, he promises, he exaggerates, he lies, he calls God to witness, and, in general, ‘doth protest too much.’  Now we see why Shakespeare was at pains to contrast the conduct of the Prince’s younger brother with the Prince’s.  Clarence melts into tears and near silence at the sight of his father’s illness.  Henry, at the sigh of what he supposes his death, is dry-eyed (we cannot but infer) and able to make a perfectly self-controlled speech (I almost said oration) in which he declares that his father’s sue from him is tears which he ‘shall’ weep, while his due from his father is the crown that ‘sits’ by his own immediate act on his head.  Why the careful discrimination in tenses?  Why the postponement of the emotion?  Why The question in our minds whether in our minds whether Warwick did find Hal in tears in the next room – whether his report that he did may not be an exaggeration, or even a lie, to comfort the dying man?  That there are tears in Henry’s eyes when he comes back and finds his father still alive we need not go so far as to question.  There must have been mixed emotions back of them, however, vexation at himself being one of them.  But the culminating proof of the Prince’s duplicity is the account he gives his father of his apostrophe to the crown while he was watching by the beside.  His father did not hear his word.  But we did.  It is revealing to put what he said beside what he says he said.

Why doth the crown lie there upon his pillow,

Being so troublesome a bedfellow?

O polish’d perturbation! golden care!

That keep’st the ports of slumber open wide

To many a watchful night!  Sleep with it now!

Yet not so sound and half so deeply sweet

As he whose brow with homely biggen bound

Snores out the watch of night.  O majesty!

When thou dost pinch thy bearer, thou dost sit

Like a rich armour worn in heat of day,

That scalds with safety.  By his gates of breath

There lies a downy feather which stirs not;

Did he suspire, that light and weightless down

Perforce must move.  My gracious lord! my father!

Etc.

And here’s what he says he said:

I spake unto the crown as having sense,

And thus upbraided it:  ‘The care on thee depending

Hath fed upon the body of my father;

Therefore, thou best of gold art worst of gold:

Other, less fine in carat, is more precious,

Preserving life in medicine potable;

But thou, most fine, most honour’d, most renown’d,

Hast eat thy bearer up.’  Thus, my most royal liege,

Accusing it, I put it on my head,

To try with it, as with an enemy

That had before my face murder’d my father,

The quarrel of a true inheritor.

The changes Henry quietly slips into his account of his own humiliating blunder are quite human and understandable.  But if we want to understand Henry we cannot overlook them.  Actually, the address to the crown is half over before he discovers the supposed death of his father.  But he tells the King he realized he was dead as soon as he came into the chamber and for that reason denounced the crown:

God witness with me, when I here came in,

And found no course of breath within your majesty,

How cold is struck my heart!

Bringing God into the matter is in itself suspicious, and when a moment later he repeats what he has just said, we know that a bad conscience is back of the double protestation:

Coming to look on you, thinking you dead,

And dead almost, my liege, to think you were,

I spake unto the crown…

The theme of the actual apostrophe is the crown as a disturber of slumber – of royalty in general it might almost seem.  Its theme, as Henry recounts it, is the crown as murderer – specifically of ‘my father.’  The tone of the real speech is meditative and reflective – not unlike that of Henry IV’s own address to sleep.  The tone of the supposed one is that of an upbraiding or accusation (the Prince’s own words), and the act of putting the crown on his head a trial with an enemy

That had before my face murder’d my father.

He even inserts new details.  Where, for instance, in the original is the reference to potable gold that he says he made?  No, the revised version is doubtless what Henry now wishes he had said.  What he did say was something quite different.  And the vehemence with which he denies at the end – for we interrupted him – that he had any selfish motive in what he said or did is enough in itself to convict him.  If he were innocent, words like these would be superfluous:

But if it did infect my blood with joy,

Or swell my thoughts to any strain of pride;

If any rebel or vain spirit of mine

Did with the least affection of a welcome

Give entertainment to the might of it,

Let God forever keep it from y head

And make me as the poorest vassal is

That doth with awe and terror kneel to it!

‘I didn’t take any cake,’ the guilty child protests even before he is accused, putting the hand that holds the cake behind him.  Quite as boldly, if not quite so naively, the Prince puts behind him the words he spoke but a moment before.  What he expressly declares he did not say or feel fits what he did say and obviously did feel with a damning neatness.  In substance, he protests:  ‘I, Prince Harry, feel any pride or offer the least welcome to the might of the crown!  God keep it from me if I did.’  Yet this is what he said:

   put the world’s whole strength

Into one giant arm, it shall not force

This lineal honour from me.  This from thee

Will I to mine leave, as ‘tis left to me.

If that is not dynastic pride and the poison of power, what is it?  Infection:  we have the Prince himself to thank for the one word that describes it best.  And there comes to mind by way of contrast, as Shakespeare must have specifically intended it would, the vow of Faulconbridge with which King John concludes:

Come the three corners of the world in arms,

And we shall shock them.  Naught shall make us rue,

If England to itself do rest but true.

So similar, yet so antipodal!  Such is the difference, Shakespeare seems to say, between love of country and family pride, between an uncrowned and a self-crowned king…Years afterward the poet passed judgment on Prince Henry’s conduct in this scene in a singular and possibly unconscious way.  The feather!  Every lover of Shakespeare will instantly think of another feather that did not stir, the one King Lear held to the lips of Cordelia.  The depth and genuineness of the emotion there become a measure of its absence here.

But the Prince’s explanation and apology (to come back to the scene) assuage the dying King.  Begging his son to sit by him on the bed, he tells him of the ‘indirect crook’d ways’ by which he came to the crown, of the disillusionment of power and the futility of his reign.  He even admits that the long-planned crusade to the holy Land was a political blind designed to distract the attention of the overinquisitive:

Lest rest and lying still might make them look

Too near unto my state.

So the long and pious address on peace with which the first of these two dramas opens turns out to have been a piece of political-religious duplicity.  If ever the end of a work altered its beginning, it is this one.  (Yet there are those who tell us that Shakespeare was concerned only with what the ordinary Elizabethan playgoer could take in at first performance!)

But whatever his former words were, the King’s present ones sound like a deathbed repentance, with entreaties from the father to the son to make his reign as different from his own as possible.  But no! men generally die as they have lived, and just as we are ready for a miracle Henry reverts to his normal selfish self and concludes:

Therefore, my Harry,

Be it thy course to busy giddy minds

With foreign quarrels; that action, hence born out,

May waste the memory of the forer days.

More would I, but my lungs are wasted so

That strength of speech is utterly denied me.

How I came by the crown, O God, forgive!

And grant it may with thee in true peace live.

Was there ever such a ‘therefore?’  ‘My reign was a futile one; therefore, go thou and do likewise.  Use the trick I planned to use.’  Or to put it even more cynically, ‘Make war, dear boy, and God grant your reign may be a peaceful one.’  It sounds so incredible, so like a parody, that it is necessary to requote the text to substantiate its meticulous accuracy:

Therefore, my Harry,

Be it thy course to busy giddy minds

With foreign quarrels…

How I came by the crown, O God, forgive!

And grant it may with thee in true peace live.

The end forgets the beginning.  Such is the level to which a fine brain may be reduced by a life of lies.  Such is a king’s idea of peace.  And the new king, standing where his father formerly did, gives no sign that he so much as notices this typical piece of monarchial hypocrisy, but calmly replies:

My gracious liege,

You won it, wore it, kept it, gave it me;

Then plain and right must my possession be:

Which I with more with a common pain

‘Gainst all the world will rightfully maintain.

The son’s ‘then’ is like an antiphony to his father’s ‘therefore.’  And immediately the stage direction reads:  ‘Enter John of Lancaster.’  ‘Enter the Prince of Liars,’ it might as well have been, ‘fresh from the blackest act of treachery on record.’  It is one of those symbolic entrances that are better than pages of criticism.

Thou bring’st me happiness and peace, son John,

whispers the dying King.  This entire family seems to have a curious conception of peace.

Turning to Warwick, the King asks the name of the chamber in which he was stricken.

‘Tis call’d Jerusalem, my noble lord,

And the fast-failing monarch at his own request is carried into it that the prophecy may be fulfilled that he should die in Jerusalem.  His crusade has at last begun – and ended – in a bitterly ironical sense.  We are reminded of Tolstoy’s story of The Two Old Men who set out for Jerusalem.  They both arrived, one literally, but not spiritually, the other spiritually, but not literally.  Henry IV arrived neither literally nor spiritually.”

So…what do you think about Henry IV and the soon to be Henry V now?

—————————————-

Our next reading:  Henry IV Part Two, Act Five

My next post:  Tuesday evening/Wednesday morning.

 

Enjoy.

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