Henry IV Part 1
How we cite our quotes:
It is a conquest for a prince to boast of. (1.1.3)
Westmoreland agrees with King Henry that the valiant young Hotspur, a decorated war hero, seems better suited for kingship than Prince Hal, who is next in line for the throne but spends all of his time carousing with his degenerate friends. Prince Hal's wild ways are a major concern because Henry's own claim to the throne is so tenuous. (Remember, his legitimacy has been questioned by the Percys.) And, even though the audience knows how things play out (history shows that Prince Hal becomes a beloved and competent ruler), the play generates a good amount of anxiety surrounding King Henry's heir.
History Snack: At the time Shakespeare wrote Henry IV Part 1 (around 1597), an aged Queen Elizabeth I was nearing the end of her reign. (She was in her 60s when the play was written and performed.) Elizabeth never married and never produced an heir to the throne, which was pretty stressful for those who worried about who the next monarch would be. It seems that, for Shakespeare's Elizabethan audience, the question of legitimacy and succession raised by the play would have been particularly relevant.
It's also important to note the way Shakespeare pits Hotspur against Hal here and throughout the play. By setting up the "honourable" Hotspur as a foil to wild child Prince Hal, the play invites us to consider what qualities make one fit to govern.
I know you all, and will awhile uphold
The unyoked humour of your idleness:
Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wonder'd at,
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapours that did seem to strangle him.
If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work;
But when they seldom come, they wish'd for come,
And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.
So, when this loose behavior I throw off
And pay the debt I never promised,
By how much better than my word I am,
By so much shall I falsify men's hopes;
And like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation, glittering o'er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
I'll so offend, to make offence a skill;
Redeeming time when men think least I will. (1.2.29)
This is arguably one of the most important passages in the play. (It's certainly one of the most famous.) Up to this point in Henry IV Part 1, we've seen the prince carousing with his loser pals and we've also heard his father's complaints about Hal's "dishonourable" behavior. Here, Prince Hal turns to the audience and claims that he's not actually the degenerate he appears to be. Rather, he has merely been pretending to be a sordid wild child so that he can stage a dramatic "reformation" that will shock and amaze his countrymen (and his father) when he reveals himself to be a stand-up guy.
There's a whole lot more to be said about this great soliloquy, and we talk about Hal's use of the "sun" metaphor in "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory" so be sure to check it out.
The point we want to make here is this – Hal seems to realize that being an effective king requires strategy and what we now call public relations skills. (His father, King Henry IV, has already proved that a king can be knocked off his throne by unhappy and rebellious subjects.) As the man who stands to inherit the throne from his father, Prince Hal's got to figure out a way to keep his people loyal and in line.
History Snack: Critics generally agree that this speech makes Prince Hal seem like a "Machiavellian" figure. Italian philosopher and poet Niccolò Machiavelli wrote a book called The Prince (published 1532), a "how to" guide for rulers about the maintenance of power. (Elizabethans couldn't get enough of this book – they had a love/hate relationship with The Prince, which also influenced Shakespeare's character Richard III and Christopher Marlowe's c. 1589 play, The Jew of Malta.) According to Machiavelli's popular theory, being a successful leader has nothing to do with being a nice person or doing the right thing. Instead, it's about being inventive, manipulative, charismatic, crafty, and willful – basically, all the things that make Hal who he is.
Sirrah, I am sworn brother
to a leash of drawers; and can call them all by
their christen names, as Tom, Dick, and Francis.
They take it already upon their salvation, that
though I be but the prince of Wales, yet I am king
of courtesy; and tell me flatly I am no proud Jack,
like Falstaff, but a Corinthian, a lad of mettle, a
good boy, by the Lord, so they call me, and when I
am king of England, I shall command all the good
lads in Eastcheap. (2.4.2)
When Hal brags to Poins about getting chummy with a "leash of drawers" (a bunch of waiters) who have sworn allegiance to him before he has even become king, he suggests that slumming with the commoners is a shrewd political move. We get the sense that Hal's time in the taverns is not, as his father suggests, a waste of time, but a kind of education by experience. Hal's capacity to understand and win the loyalty of the men he will eventually rule (and also lead into battle) is an invaluable step in the road to kingship. On the one hand, one could say that Hal seems to genuinely enjoy the sense of camaraderie he shares with the common folk. On the other hand, we can read passages like this as evidence that Hal is merely a cold and calculating figure, the embodiment of Machiavelli's ideal ruler (see previous above). If you wanted to make this argument, we'd encourage you to consider that, immediately after Hal brags to Poins about being on a first name basis with the waiters, he plays a mean practical joke on Francis the drawer.