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MonkeyNotes-Henry IV, Part 1 by William Shakespeare
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Notes

The king urges his son to leave the battlefield as he is wounded. However, Hal stays on, and his presence and bravery saves the monarch’s life. King Henry is deeply moved by this incident. He realizes how worthy his son is and regrets having believed all the exaggerated rumors about the prince. Hal, in turn, assures his father that he cared for him all along, otherwise he would not have come to his aid.

While Douglas runs away when faced by Hal, Hotspur fights bravely and dies an honorable death at the hands of Hal. By the time he dies, Hotspur has gained the audience's sympathy. One almost feels here is a wasted resource whose energies were spent against the crown rather than for it. His death is tragic, for he sacrificed his life for the wrong cause.

Hotspur's death speech and Hal's eulogy are somewhat stock, but no less eloquent. Hotspur, though he regrets the wound to his pride, recognizes the transitory nature of life.

“Thoughts, the slaves of life, and life, time's fool, And time, that takes survey of all the world, Must have a stop.” (83-5)

Hal echoes these thoughts and praises Hotspur's bravery. He is not, however, overly sentimental over death (nor would Shakespeare's audience have been). Percy is "food for worms," after all. Hal's lament for his friend Falstaff is equally measured. "I should have a heavy miss of thee / If I were much in love with vanity" (107-8).

His comment that he "could have spared a better man" (106) could equally suggest that there are no better men or that there were plenty of better men whose lives could have been spared in his place.


Falstaff is completely back to form in this scene. He fakes his death at Douglas' hands, then engages in an elaborate justification for it. "To die is to be a counterfeit, for he is but the counterfeit of a man who hath not the life of a man; but to counterfeit dying...is to be no counterfeit, but the true and perfect image of life" (117- 121). His reasoning for "killing" Percy is equally ludicrous: "Why may not he rise as well as I?" (128) When Hal swears that he saw Falstaff dead, he uses that to justify his lie. After all, if Hal was wrong about that, could he not also be wrong about killing Percy? He is even willing to swear on his life that he caused the wound in Percy's thigh! The prince, happy to see Falstaff alive, indulges him: "If a lie may do thee grace, / I'll gild it with the happiest terms I have" (161-2). Now that the crisis is ended, Hal is willing to let Falstaff be Falstaff; every king, after all, needs his jester.

Critical interpretation of Falstaff has varied widely. Is he a representative of the misspent youth that Hal must leave behind or does he serve to keep the prince honest and humble? Is he a comic everyman, serving as a foil for orthodox Elizabethan behavioral codes? Is he the true hero of the play, or is he an unheroic figure, the embodiment of what a prince or knight should not be, and thus deserving of the rejection he will later receives when Hal is king? Perhaps Falstaff should not be judged at all, merely accepted as the necessary random factor in life. Whatever his eventual fate, for now, he is welcomed into the fold of the victors, grumbling all the way.

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