February 25, 2003
A Revision of Morality in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part One
Who is the moral centre in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part one? This will ceaselessly be a question challenging the intentions of Shakespeare’s literature. However, [didn’t Wittlin say don’t start with however else its after a semi-colon] the question in this revision of morality in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part one is, is there even a moral center in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part one? Humanity is incapable of absolute goodness; therefore, there is no moral centre in Henry IV, Part one since the three major characters, King Henry, Prince Hal, and Sir John Falstaff, are all somewhat morally flawed. Shakespeare reveals the imperfection of human nature through the behaviour of his [these] characters.
First of all, King Henry sets a presumed reputation as the religious, loved and strong leader of England in Henry IV, Part one for his subjects. However, his supposed virtues are only results of his concealed faults. Ironically, the King can be quite blasphemous, despicable, and pathetic. Throughout the play, Henry is evidently repenting for his conduct in his acquirement of the British thrown. This is shown in his belief of “whether God will have it so, /…To punish my [King Henry’s] mistreadings” (III.ii.4-11) and that “God pardon” (III.iii.29) Hal for his unpunished sins of his bad company. Furthermore, King Henry’s disgraceful conduct clearly reveals the false reception of love from his subjects. This is especially revealed in his relationship based on conditional love with Prince Hal. His opinion of Hal, which changed from a state of “riot and dishonour” (I.i.84) to one of “charge and sovereign” (III.iii.161), is only established on restricted affection and Hal’s social image, rather than a personal benevolence between parent and child. In addition, another of King Henry’s loathsome features is again shown through his attainment of the...