The Player Prince: Hal in 'Henry IV Part 1'

David Boyd


Henry IV Part 1 might reasonably be expected to be the subject of even more intense critical disagreement than other major Shakespearean plays. For one thing, it belongs to a genre, the history play, for which there exists no critical tradition comparable to those devoted to tragedy and comedy. And for another, the world of the play offers so sweeping a prospect of private life and public, high life and low, war and peace, that almost any critical reading seems likely to do an injustice to some part of the panorama and so invite challenge. Curiously, though, the play actually enjoys an unusually strong critical consensus. Differences of opinion concerning particular points of interpretation are plentiful, of course, but the vast majority of commentators are agreed on two major points. First, that the pivotal figure of the play, its title notwithstanding, is Prince Hal. And second, that the thematic pattern of the play is defined in terms of Hal's relationship to King Henry, Hotspur, and Falstaff.

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