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As a history, the Shakespearean Henriad presents a detailed analysis of the period of

transition in political philosophy which defined the dynastic struggles of the post-crusade world.
Beginning with the downfall of Richard II and culminating in the reign of Henry V, each of the
kings respective plays demonstrates a particular crisis within the Machiavellian political
structure: in Richard II, the triumph of concentrated brutality in the form of Bolingbroke over the
kings empty poetics; in Henry IV, the collapse of traditional power through revolution and the
struggle for ascension in the midst of an ethical vacuum; and in Henry V, the ruthlessness of a
good king.
Current paradigm shifts in Shakespearean criticism have significantly limited the analysis
of the Henriac tetrad to either a purely historicist study of early modern political power (an
approach favoured by more recondite or scholastic-leaning critics) or an exercise in sheer
bardolatry (a group primarily, of course, following in the footsteps of Blooms Shakespeare: The
Invention of the Human). However, while much of the focus of the plays is indeed historical - for
after all, they are, at the end of the day, histories - such reductionist analyses have ignored much
of the power of the four plays, overemphasizing their roles as either political commentary or
Shakespearean masterpiece, and are perfunctory readings at best. Focusing too much on either
interpretation forsakes the plays true collective value as a brilliant examination of the cycles of
While each of the four plays has their own respective value, the crux of the ideological
weight of the tetrad lies in 1 Henry IV, however, which presents the most compelling
examination of Prince Hals transformation from reckless teenage wastrel into Machiavellis
paradigmatic prince, Henry V. As he straddles the worlds of the tavern and the royal court, we
are shown a world in which a knight is a cowardly libertine, a prince a prodigal rake, and a king
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a usurping murderer. The world of Henry IV is a vacuum, a Bakhtinian carnival: a world in
which individuals, unleashed from the traditional world views and societal roles which normally
bind them, are thrust onto a stage of sorts, forced to reimagine and perform new roles and
potentialities, or else face their ends.
The primary ideology that prevails throughout the four plays is the common ideology of
the Middle Ages, which revolves primarily around a system of castes which is upheld through a
complex interaction of endogamy, occupational heredity and rigid sociopolitical stratification -
all contained within the microcosm of a kingdom. By 1400, when the Henriad takes place, the
concept of nobility contained by physical boundaries (ie, in the castle structure which has
become nearly iconic of the period) has all but disintegrated. Post-Renaissance developments in
English and Italian political philosophy gave nascency to a modern political structure in which
the power of a king became significantly more fluid, and the king became less of a figurehead of
power and more of a king of the people. This transition from old power to an emergent secular
modernity has in turn created a vacuum of power in which tradition has broken down, and
everything (except, arguably, extreme violence, even that which still is tenably tolerated) is
permitted. It is in this condition, what Bakhtin defines as the world of the carnivalesque, that
the dominant figures of the Henriad begin to take their roots, and flourish.
In order to define Bakhtins carnival, one must first define the concept of ideology, which
is critical to the understanding of the carnival and its relation to normal (or, traditional) values.
Kavanagh, in Ideology, defines the eponymous concept through Marxist theory as an agent of
power. Rather than constant reliance on force (which he notes includes police and legal court),
which he notes is an expensive and inefficient way to assure the stable reproduction of class
relations (Kavanagh 308), it is ideology that simultaneously introduces and maintains stability
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within a sociopolitical structure. Ideology is presented as a subtle force to which the prevalent
perceptions of social relations conform. Kavanagh states that, ideology, rather than force, is the
primary means of managing social contradictions and reproducing class relations (308), and
thus, ideology can be interpreted as an oppressive power structure. Society is divided along
ideological fissures, which themselves are divided along politaxonomic fissures, race, ethnicity,
gender, political affiliation, and so on. Each of these divides can represent a particular
ideological concept, the interpretation and enforcement of which Fiske defines as Althussers
Similar to both Althusser and Kavanagh, Fiske defines ideology as a means of passive
societal control, which produce[s] in people the tendency to behave and think in socially
acceptable ways (Fiske 312). Contrasted with state-sponsored repressive institutions such as
police and prisons (which, as Fiske points out, are no longer viable structures of primary control
in a post-Foucauldian society), ideology is expressed in the form of social norms, which are by
[...] slanted in favor of a particular class or group of classes but are accepted as
natural by other classes, even when the interests of those other classes are directly
opposed by the ideology reproduced by living life according to those norms.

Thus, Fiskes definition of ideology as a construct of oppression, albeit a subtle and insidious
form, corresponds with Kavanaghs. Interpellation, then, is the means by which the prevalent
ideology is imposed upon the individual, and the process by which the individual is turned into a
social object, and either upholds or resists this process.
However, the concepts of ideology and interpellation are only relevant in societies which
are rigidly constructed, and functional. In analyzing 1 Henry IV, which takes place in a period of
societal turmoil and upheaval, normal ideologies are no longer applicable since traditional power
structures have been rendered defunct in the lack of interpellative enforcment. Bakhtin sought
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through an analysis of pagan and folk writers such as Rabelais, who were well acquainted with
conditions of societal decay, an explanation for human behaviours in the event of such societal
collapse or upheaval, and sought to define the ideologies which arise in the collapse of prevailing
ideologies. This collapse is what Bakhtin identified as the carnival: the last rapture before the
solemnity of Lent, a period of prodigal excess when prohibitions on carnal indulgence are lifted
and the energy of the society is devoted entirely to extravagance and insatiable sin. The normal
heads of society (the court and the church) are decapitated, and the very hegenomy not only
subverted, but inverted. The jester becomes king, and the drunkards and whores the royal court.
It is the reign of what Bakhtin called the grotesque body - the apotheosis of the visceral, the
excretive, the micturitive, and the reproductive; an ascension of corporeal existence over spiritual
existence, and an upheaval of the repulsive natures which the church and the crown have
attempted to either ignore or repress. Carnival is a reminder to the people that when the game is
over, the king and the pawn go back into the same box; that shit is shit, whether it be that of the
lowliest whore or of the most highborn lady, or even the pope himself. It is an alternative social
space, characterized by freedom, equality and absurdity, and possessive of a self-contained,
autotelic subjectivity - a spectacle in which the queen can be seen in the bed of a ploughman and
the leper adorned with diadem and scepter. In the Henriac structure, it is in the character of
Falstaff, the portly knight-turned-jester, that the carnival manifests.
Hailed as Shakepeares greatest comic character, Falstaff, from his first lines of dialogue
in 1 Henry IV, is introduced as a carnivalesque body, defiant of both time and standard
Hal. What a devil hast thou to do with the time of day? Unless hours were cups of
sack and minutes capons, and clocks the tongues of bawds, and dials the signs of
leaping-houses and the blessed sun himself a fair hot wench in flame-coloured
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taffeta, I see no reason why thou couldst be so superfluous to demand the time of
day. (1 Henry IV. I.ii.6-11)

His only sense of the passage of time is represented by images of basal pursuits: drunkenness and
whoredom, in particular. Objects which are commonly exalted as symbols of order - namely, the
sun, a symbol of traditional power, and clock readings, symbols of urgency and schedule - are
replaced with sensual preoccupations in the world of the carnival. His figure, corpulent and
aging, is associated with the excess and decay characteristic of societal upheaval, and the
symbolic figure of the Fat Man.
Prince Hal, lean and youthful, represents the antithesis of the carnival. As a portent of the
coming age of the rationalistic and effectively bourgeois hegemony of seventeenth-century
Europe, within the structure of the carnival, he acts as the figure of Lent, diametrically opposed
to Falstaff, and symbolically contained with the caricature of the Thin Man. As once prince and
future king, he represents the order which, subdued by carnival, is forced to acquiesce with the
chaos of the primal urges until Lent falls; after which, order and utopian materialism take reign.
Amidst the disorganization and madness of the carnival, the character of Lent still retains
internal order, and understands that he must endure the anarchy before he can usher in peace and
stability. Hal, through his stirring soliloquy in Act I, explicitly associates himself with this
Machiavellian deception. As he walks amongst the drunkards and beggars, he proleptically
speaks of his triumphant transformation which will one day make him the glorious Henry V,
comparing himself to the sun:
Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wondred at
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapors that did seem to strangle him.
(Henry IV, Part 1. I, ii, 202-208)
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In his reformation, Hal is able to effectively take complete control of the carnival, and emerge
as the true king, usurping Falstaff. Like the director of a play wandering his own set (an idea
which foreshadows the famous scene in Henry V, where, as the titular king, he wanders disguised
amongst the soldiers gathered before the Battle of Agincourt), Hal is able to see through the
carnival and transcend it not only by realizing his own role in the carnivalesque, but by
ultimately appropriating it to serve his own purposes.
It is in the parody of royal nobility in the Boars Head Tavern in Act II, scene iv of 1
Henry IV that the ultimate conflict between the two opposing ideologies of Lent and carnival
takes place. Often regarded as the zenith of Falstaffs performances, the scene represents the
most explicitly carnivalized episode within the entire Henriad. Falstaff and Hal, engaging in an
extempore performance for the other denizens of the bar, mock each other and the other
important characters in the play through humorous imitations. Significantly, Falstaff begins the
parody by impersonating the king so that he may indirectly extoll himself and the values he
upholds. Through his impersonation, he subverts the traditional king, and effectively becomes
the king of the carnival, his brief reign celebrating the virtues of the flesh above all others. Even
his speech becomes a travesty of the dignified Euphuism which the aging Henry IV is fond of,
replete with stilted rhetorical devices and recondite wordplays.
In a subsequent reversal of roles, the carnival king is dethroned in accordance to the
norms of the carnival; and the legitimate heir, the Lenten prince, replaces him upon the mock
throne. Hal, taking up the role of his own father, impetuously indicts Falstaff in character, who is
ironically playing the role of Hal himself. In his merciless rebuke of the prodigal and portly
wastrel, Hal foreshadows his later abandonment of Falstaff upon his own ascension; even here,
as the king in this play-within-a-play, he unconsciously attempts to strike down Falstaff at the
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height of his performance, which will literally happen later when he himself ascends to the
crown and all but abandons his fat friend. Falstaff, sensing the suddenly-serious turn the mockery
has taken and perhaps even glimpsing his own symbolic dethronement, responds with an equally
impassioned and profoundly moving eulogy of not just himself, but the entire carnival:
If sack and sugar be a fault, God help the wicked! If to be merry be a sin, than many an
old host that I know is damned. If to be fat be to be hated, then Pharoahs lean kine are to
be loved. No, my good lord: banish Peto, banish Bardolph, banish Poins; but for sweet
Jack Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack Falstaff, valiant Jack Falstaff, and therefore
more valiant being, as he is, old Jack Falstaff, banish not him thy Harrys company,
banish not him thy Harrys company. Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world!
(Henry IV, Part 1. II. iv. 476-86)

The princes response to his friends grim prophecy is curt, and disturbingly blunt: I do, I will.
Though he is still acting under the guise of his fathers royal condemnation, his response hits a
personal note. The passage from present tense to future tense intimates Hals understanding that
one day, the carnival will end, and when it does, he will have to abandon Falstaff. The latters
insistence in itself is not just an attempt at self-preservation, but an attempt to preserve the very
ideology embodied within the heart of the carnivalesque - the end of history.
Thus, the more complex shades of Falstaffs character become apparent in his frequent
attempts to espouse the infinite suspension of history, the superordinate goal of the
carnivalesque. His placement within the context of a linear and historical consciousness breeds a
dissonance which he attempts to allay by deliberately corrupting various histories in which other
characters have partaken. His earlier deceptions regarding his failed robbery at the hands of a
disguised Hal, and Hals subsequent pickpocketing in the tavern are only part lies; more so, they
are deliberate acts of historical subversion, and carnivalesque resistance against the imminent
coming of Lent.
This dissonance is best exemplified by the final interaction between him and Hal upon
the battlefield. In his final act of carnivalesque resistance in 1 Henry IV, he attempts to destroy
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the continuity of Hals victory over Hotspur by recreating an antiheroic version of the latters
death. Pretending to be dead, he surreptitiously watches Hals confrontation with Hotspur,
which, within the characterization of Henry IV as a history, serves as the climax. Within Hals
plotline, his slaying of Hotspur signifies his symbolic destruction of the revolution, and the
emergentroots of his reign as new ideological king. Thus emerges the beginnings of a linear
history, which is that of the nascent Henry V. However, the play does not end here. Rather,
Shakespeare allows Falstaff to rise from the dead, much like the mythical Fat Man of the
carnival rises after a period of metaphorical annihilation, and usurp the princes honourable
slaying. For most people, Falstaffs claim of victory over Hotspur serves only as an indication of
his tremendous ethical insensibility. His diatribe against honour just shortly before the battle only
seems to strengthen the audiences perception of his cowardice. His dismisal of honour as a
mere scutcheon (1 Henry IV. V.i.138) seems at face value a moral infirmity, a great cowardice;
however, his later words upon approaching Hotspurs fallen body serve as affirmative
vindication against this perception.
'Sblood twas time to counterfeit, or that hot termagant Scot had paid me scot and
lot too. Counterfeit? I lie, I am no counterfeit: 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 a
dying, when a man thereby liveth, is to be no counterfeit, but the true and perfect
image of life indeed.
(1 Henry IV. V.iv.120-26)

Here, Falstaff simultaneously presents a celebration of the carnivalesque celebration of man's life
above all other values - honour included - and a denial of history and heroism. No matter what
the ideologically solemn king of Lent will achieve, there will always be an underlying chaos to it
suggesting the eventual collapse of the order into carnival, just as Falstaffs reign gave way to
Hals. History, Falstaff suggests in his rejection of Hals heroism, is counterfeit, and given to
false displays of honour and nobility. Hal himself, who, standing over Hotspurs body, briefly
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glimpses this absurdity of honour addressing his fallen friend ("When that this body did contain a
spirit,/A kingdom for it was too small a bound,/But now two paces of the vilest earth /Is room
enough" [1 Henry IV, V. iv. 88-91]), and is able to recognize that that which once inspired a
great mans ambition and valour can within a heartbeat reduce him to nothing more than dust and
food for worms. Perhaps it is this realization that inspires his subsequent willingness to accept
Falstaffs conviction that there is truth in deception, and that a dead honoured man is worse off
than a deceptive live man. Although his defeat of Hotspur has marked his emergence as the good
king, Hal is nevertheless still in the impression of carnival, and he has not yet altogether
renounced appetite in favour of law.
Thus, by the time of Hals coronation, while Falstaff is displaced, denounced, and
negated as by his very own prophecy, he still persists as a pervasive counter-ideology to the
stultifying sovereignty of utopian civil policy which his old friend has set forth. Though he has
been abolished first from the court and then from his former friends very person, he remains a
constant presence in the kings mind. And though the Lenten figure has triumphed in the public
agon of the carnival, he has succeeded only in temporary victory, a victory which has been
perpetuated only by a willed forgetting: that of the carnivals resurgence. Shakespeares ability to
portray accurately a power struggle that only began to be understood nearly four centuries after
his time reflects the true staggering prophetic and intuitive capacity of the Henriad, and here is
where the true power of the plays lies.
The triumph of Henry IV, and the Henriad on a more general level, is not in its depiction
of a history, or even in its depiction of history as carnival, both of which too many prior and
contemporary works have explored; but rather, it is the depiction of history as nonlinear and
infinitely mutable, a legal fiction. Through the character Falstaff, Shakespeare was able to
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construct a character perfectly embodying the carnivalesque not just in virtue but in
representation; and in Hal, the antithesis, the ideal Machiavellian philosopher-king. Through
their struggle, he has crafted an understanding of history that is remarkably modern and complex,
that fully captures both the public and the private struggles of the Bakhtinian struggle for
ideology. The reign of Lent exists only through the willful of repression of the silent schizoidal
conflict which it has installed in place of the prominent agon of the carnival. For beneath all the
supposed seriousness and ideological 'gravity' of Lenten history lies the comedy of the carnival, a
fallen Falstaff. However serious the issues plaguing man may seem, beneath it all is one long
running joke. And though the king of carnival has been seemingly dethroned, he shall rise again.
And though Lent can conceal the laughter, it cannot hide a sardonic smirk of recognition that one
day, it too shall end, and chaos shall reign once more.