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Father/son Relationship in Henry IV and V

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Shakespeare deals with a parent-child relationship in the historical plays of Henry IV Parts One and Two in the characters of Henry Bullingsworth (Henry IV) and his son Hal (Prince of Wales, later Henry V). The fact stands clear in the development of the son, Hal: the son's success in life is not dependent on his relationship to his father politically, but success is demonstrated when there is a realization of both parties on the level of parental love. Hal is not living up to his name, but also to blame in his father's failure to love. Our discussion is based solely on the text itself, based primarily on three main dialogues between Hal and his father.

The first dialogue demonstrates the father as he is concerned about the family name and general confrontation with the son regarding his unruly life style (I Henry IV, III, ii). Two items of background need to be mentioned. First, Hal's unruly lifestyle includes spending much time with the inevitable Sir John Falstaff. It is generally accepted that the substitute "father" figure of Hal's prodigal youth is found in the character Falstaff. Second, the father's argument finds its way back to his struggle to get where he is today.

The King asks the rest to leave so that he and the prince may talk. In his first speech, we see the father trying to cope with the lifestyle of one of this very own. His speech includes such questions as: what have I done to make you this? ("I know not whether God will have it so/For some displeasing service I have done" III, ii, 5-6); do you realize that you are not a ting like a prince? How can you live such a lewd life (Tell me else,/Could such inordinate an low desires, ...Accompany the greatness of they blood,/And hold their level with thy princely heart?" 11,17, 18). We se the parent trying to retain some sort of respect that he feel has been lost. Hal, in his estimation, is living a double standard. Hal is trying to comprise the life of a prince and the pleasures of the lewd. (This is correct in some respect, yet there needs to be realization of the question: Why?)

The prince's response to these accusations is an honest one. There is no denial of his life style, and he shows general respect for what the king has said.

So please your Majesty, I would I could/Quit al offenses

With as clear excuse...I may for some things

True, wherein my youth/Hath faulty wand'red and

Irregular,/Find pardon on my true submission.

(I Hen. IV iii, ii 18,19, 26-28).

Hal's response shows the formality of the relationship with his father. This is where the fact of the shared responsibility of Hal's condition comes to life. The fact of the father's background helps us to realize that the King got where he is by sacrificing a few things, one of them his relationship with is older son. And perhaps it may be stated tritely: like father, like son. Hal is coping with not having a father figure, and acting perhaps as his father would. Perhaps this initial confrontation could be a "Cat in the Cradle" theme, where the father suddenly realizes that his "boy is just like me, my boy is just like me".

The father responds "God pardon thee!" in the continuing awkwardness of the situation. The king promotes the informalness to the talk. He lists specific failures that he sees in Hal's life and reactions to the situation. They include: losing his place in the Council to his younger brother (32,33), alienating himself from the rest of the family (33,34), losing the respect and hope of the people for a good successor to the throne (36-38), and making a mockery of all the king worked for (46-84). Then the "kicker" by the frustrated father:

And in that very line, Harry standest thou,/For thou

hast lost they princely privilege/With vile

participation. Not an eye/But is a-weary of they common

sight,/Save mine, which hath desir'd to see thee more,/

Which now doth that I would not have it do,/Make blind

itself with foolish tenderness (85-91).

It is like Henry is saying, "So what do you have to say for yourself? You have really messed up my reputation and the family's with that people wouldn't have known of your foolishness. You were the hope of the people, you had all the potential of building on the foundation that I left. Now it is in shambles."

Hal's response is an understandable one: "I shall hereafter, my thrice-gracious lord,/Be more myself" (92, 93). Again there is not much intimacy in Hal's statement. It is more of "I will behave myself

for you king". No promise of change, just an outward conformity to the king's request. Hal's comment is what the king asked for, as seen by the next speech by the king which picks up where he left off. It is almost as if the king did not really hear Hal. There is not a challenge to the shallowness of Hal's comments, no plea for intimacy with the son. After the king rehearses some of his problems about his enemies, he realizes the futility of it all: "But wherefore do I tell these news to thee?/ Why, Harry, do I tell thee of my foes,/ Which art my nearest and dearest enemy?"(121-123). The king makes the ultimate statement of separation of father and son: Why am I telling you this? You don't care!

Hal's response is one that says, "Yes, I do care." Hal swears his allegiance to the cause at hand, (saving the throne,) but that seems to be the extent of his speech. A note can be made here in regard to Shakespeare's use of the pronouns you and thou. It is apparent that there is a distinction that was made between the two. Thomas Cable states: "The th- forms of the singular (thou, thee, thy, thine) were regularly used by persons of higher rank addressing an inferior, by parents speaking to a child, and by lovers or spouses in situations of intimacy" (Cable 90). The point becomes graphic when one looks at Hal's use of the pronoun and Henry's usage. Hal makes use of the you form throughout his next speech, while Henry has been using the thou from the outset. This syntactical note is not a rigid, flawless rule, but it does depict the conflict of the struggle for intimacy between father and son. A note could be made that after the reconciliation, Hal begins to use the thou form.

The second major dialogue is found in

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