Henry IV: Redemption


In Shakespeare\'s Henry IV, the character Hal, the Prince of Wales,
undergoes a transformation that can be characterized as a redemption.
Shakespeare introduces Hal, in the opening act as a renegade of the Court. His
avoidance of all public responsibility and his affinity for the company of the
Boar\'s Head Tavern, have caused serious concern for the King, because Hal is
heir to the throne. The King realizes that to keep order, a ruler and his heir
must prove to be both responsible and honorable; from the outset Hal possesses
neither quality. The King even testifies to his own advisor, that he would have
rather traded Hal for Hotspur, the son of the Earl of Northumberland. In the
King\'s eyes Hotspur, not Hal, is the "theme of honor\'s tongue" (1.1. 80),
because he has won his glory through his merits in war. Thus, Shakespeare has
set Hal and Hotspur in opposition: Hal, the prodigal prince, versus Hotspur,
the proper prince. Hal understands that he has been branded with the label,
"truant to chivalry,"(5.1. 95) and as the heir to the throne, he realizes that
it is imperative that he redeem himself not only for himself, but also for his
father and his people because life will not always be a holiday , for "If all
the year were playing holidays, To sport would be as tedious as work" (1.2. 211-
212). However Hal needs some type of strength to make his realization come true.
Luckily Hal\'s father, the King is willing to lend several comments that enrage
him and provide him with the necssary motivation. It also seems that
Shakespeare has included the foil for Hal, the valiant Hotspur, in order to
provide the callow Prince of Wales with another source of motivation, from
which Hal can begin constructing his redemption. In a plea to his father, Hal
vows that he will redeem his tarnished identity at the expense of Hotspur,
saying "I will redeem all of this on Percy\'s head," (3.2.137). However, the
act of redemption does not only occur as the result of realization and
motivation. Redemption needs for these ideas to be put into action. At the end
of Act 5.4, using his realization and motivation as a basis for his actions, Hal
consummates his transformation, by physically saving his father from Douglas
and defeating Hotspur in a single combat at the Battle of Shrewsbury. Thus, the
Prince of Wales has performed, what he had originally promised to do in his
opening soliloquy, to redeem his reputation. The phases of, realization,
motivation and action, mark important facets in Hal\'s transformation. However,
Hal\'s redemption occurs only as the product of all three phases, and as a result,
it causes a significant change in the character of the Prince.
The first phase of Hal\'s transformation is marked by realization. Hal
realizes that his life of truancy must end. This realization in turn, provides
him with a basis for redemption, which is marked by Hal\'s soliloquy at the end
of Act 1.2. However, Hal\'s soliloquy is not the result of a striking
realization. Rather, it is apparent that Hal has given much thought to his
riotous lifestyle and to the importance of being an earnest and honorable prince.
In response to participating in the up-coming robbery with Falstaff and Poins,
Hal says "Who, I rob? I a thief? Not by my faith" (1.2 144). Hal is
hesitant to be solely member of this riotous world (meaning he wants to be a
member of both worlds, the Tavern and the Court) . The only reason Hal enlists
in the robbery is in order to dupe Falstaff and to later hear the
"incomprehensible lies that this same fat rogue will tell" (1.2. 193). In the
Tavern scene at the end of Act 2.4, Hal admits that even though he went through
with the robbery, he promises to return all the money he stole from the
travelers (Hal stole the purses from Falstaff, who had stolen the purses from
the travelers), because he is not a thief. Hal, in these early scenes of the
play, typifies the all too familiar tradition that many adolescents go through,
that of youthful rebellion against the establishment of order and responsibility
(usually that is symbolized by parents). As a result of rebellion, in all
cases, including Hal\'s, it is important to remember that the subsequent
reformation that follows, has always been a necessary step. Hal\'s callow
behavior is of great concern to the King, not only because Hal is the heir to
the throne and lacks the respect of his own people,