Father Figures in 1 Henry IV
In William Shakespeare’s 1 Henry IV, Falstaff and King Henry IV share father-figure relationships with Henry “Hal,” Prince of Wales. The former, a drunk and cavalier knight, acts as a surrogate father to the prince, while the latter, a determined and distanced monarch, is his blood. Yet, who is the better father-figure to Hal? Although Falstaff and Prince Henry share a strong, quasi father-son relationship, the former’s manifestation of the tavern atmosphere, venality and dishonor are obstacles to the Prince’s goals; King Henry IV, on the other hand, is the better father-figure because he motivates his son to realize his ambitions, and embodies the setting of the court and the monarchy in which the Prince belongs and will one day inherit.
According to Professor David Ball, “A play’s conflict is between what someone wants and what hinders the want: the obstacle” and “an obstacle is any resistance to [one] having what [one] wants” (28). Prince Henry has three main and interrelated “wants” in the play: to restore his image, kill Hotspur and become King. He tells us from the beginning that he wishes to avenge his wanton behavior in the tavern:
So, when this loose behavior I throw off / And pay the debt I never promisèd, / By how much better than my word I am, / By so much shall I falsify men’s hopes (Shakespeare 14).
This early declaration in soliloquy establishes the prodigal son’s primary goal and the overall trajectory for the story: to return home from his wayward departure of responsibility. Related to that objective is killing Hotspur, who has organized a rebellion against the King. After being rebuked by his father in Act III, Hal seizes the opportunity to begin his reformation with a rousing oath of atonement and reparation:
And God forgive them that so much have swayed / Your majesty’s good thoughts away from me. / I will redeem all this on Percy’s head / And ... Be bold to tell you that I am your son (Shakespeare 72).
Ultimately, the crowning end of the Prince’s aims is to become King. Although never stated, readers can infer this from his sun-related metaphorical rhetoric, which King Henry IV frequently uses (“Afford no extraordinary gaze, / Such as is bent on sunlike majesty”):
Yet herein will I imitate the sun / ... / By breaking through the foul and ugly mists / Of vapors that did seem to strangle him (Shakespeare 14, 70).
Also, Shakespeare and his audiences knew that the initially misguided Hal historically becomes Henry V after the death of his father. In the Prince’s path to redemption, however, lie obstructions: the bloodthirsty Henry Percy (“Hotspur”) and the alcohol-fueled tavern setting’s leader, Falstaff.
The dramatic conflict in 1 Henry IV centers around the tension between the Prince and Hotspur, “Mars in swaddling clothes,” and also between the Prince and Falstaff, “that trunk of humors, that / bolting hutch of beastliness...” (Shakespeare 53, 72). Each is an obstacle to the Prince’s...