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Henry IV Part 1

Henry IV Part 1

The Sun

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

King Henry and Prince Hal sure do like their references to celestial bodies – what's the deal? Let's take a peek at some specific moments in the play. When Prince Hal confides in the audience that he's not actually the naughty boy he appears to be, he compares himself to the "sun" and suggests that he's intentionally allowed his bad boy behavior and his low-life friends to "cloud" or "smother up" his true nature, which just happens to be dazzling, like the sun:

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.
(1.2.29)

The sun, of course, is a symbol commonly used by monarchs, and here, Hal puns on his status as the king's "son" who stands to inherit the crown. According to Hal, when he reveals his true "beauty" by "breaking through the foul and ugly mists," the kingdom will be stunned (in a good way) by his seeming transformation. The idea is that his future subjects will be amazed, awestruck and, therefore, more loyal and obedient, when Hal is king. This strategy reveals Hal to be a rather shrewd and crafty politician, no?

Hal's father, King Henry, uses a similar metaphor to describe his political strategy before he became king:

By being seldom seen, I could not stir
But like a comet I was wonder'd at;
That men would tell their children 'This is he;'
(3.2.2)

Here, King Henry claims that, by limiting his public exposure, the people "wonder'd" at him as though he were a "comet." (Wow. This guy sure thinks highly of himself, doesn't he?) A few lines later in the play, Henry also says he could exhibit a "sun-like majesty" when he finally appeared before his needy little subjects as the king (3.2.2). Throughout the whole speech, of course, Henry scolds his son for hanging with the commoners and overexposing himself in a way that's dangerous to his public image. The thing is, Henry has no idea how much he and his son share in common. Both men are hyperaware of the necessity of political strategy and controlling their images. We see a very bright future in public relations for both these guys. (Silly pun intended.) In a world where kings are challenged by rebellious subjects like, all the time, shrewd political tactics and outright manipulation are a necessity. Check out our discussion of "Quotes" on "Power" for more on this.

There's much, much more to say about this topic. As you read the play, be on the look-out for other celestial references, like when King Henry tells the rebellious Worcester to give up the rebellion and once again "move in that obedient orb" (5.1.2), or when Prince Hal tells Hotspur that "[t]wo stars [cannot] keep not their motion in one sphere" (5.4.8). Now open your book and get crackin'.

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