You are on page 1of 10

Prince Hal: A Fic-torical Creation

Danny Adams
Shakespeares Com./Hist.
Shakespeares plays have become timeless pieces of work; works which have impacted

authors and historians for decades. Through his delicate wording, he has provided his audience

with themes which have left a large impact on society. Revenge, fate, unrequited love, mistaken

identity, and so on are themes involved in much of Shakespeares literature. Characters from his

plays are often referred to in todays media; Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Mark

Antony, Macbeth, Orsino, and others. People hear about these characters and learn about his

shows just through modern adaptations and tellings of the characters. All of these characters

came from something before. Much of Shakespeares writing is actually adapted from text he

read growing up and through his adult life. The section of his writing which is particularly

interesting are his histories. Shakespeare adapted real kings, earls, and other royals into his plays,

but for what cause? Are these characters he writes about historically accurate? One of the most

discussed characters in the Shakespearean cannon is Prince Hal/King Henry V. He has quite the

journey throughout the four plays he is in including Richard II, Henry IV Pt. I and II, and Henry

V. Hals psychological traits are extensive and complex for such an early writer. Did

Shakespeare ever account how Hal acted historically and write those traits into his character?

Prince Hal, for the most part, is a historically accurate character in events which took place, but

Shakespeare uses him more leniently to further plot development, have a deeper psychological

reaction to things occurring in the series, and create a balance between the comedy and dramatic

sides of the play specifically with the tavern scenes. Russ McDonald describes Shakespeares

major sources in his book.

The three major sources Shakespeare used were Ovids Metamorphoses, Plutarchs Lives

of the Noble Grecians and Romans, and Raphael Holinsheds Chronicles of England, Scotland,

and Ireland. The Roman writings, like Ovid and Plutarch, seemed to influence not only plot

structure in specific plays like Titus Andronicus, Taming of the Shrew, or Julius Caesar, but it

influenced him as a writer and taught him a great deal about dramatic structure and about the

affective possibilities of comedy and tragedy (McDonald, 149). When taking inspiration from

Plutarchs writings, he stays true to them because they provide more depth into individual lives

and the dramatic shape of the person. Shakespeare relates closer with the themes of Plutarchs

characters, and he is influenced by the prose Plutarchs characters use. Ovid was another one of

Shakespeares huge Roman influences. Russ McDonald says, it may even be true to say that

Metamorphoses was Shakespeares favorite book (McDonald, 160). In Midsummer Nights

Dream, Ovids story of Pyramus and Thisbeis is used directly in the script performed by the

acting troupe toward the end of the play. Different Ovid tales are adapted into Shakespeares

plays like The Winters Tale and The Merry Wives of Windsor. Although Shakespeare is not the

most loyal to Holinsheds work with the Chronicles, Holinshed is able to provide an influence

for Shakespeares ten histories as well as two tragedies (King Lear and Macbeth) and a romance

(Cymbeline) (McDonald, 158) The problem with Holinsheds writing was, although there

was some dramatic edge to it, Shakespeare needed to re-vamp it. Shakespeare found much

conflict in the stories, but he had to add a lot of the shape and focus to the end product. The

outcome is that these plays are not the most historically accurate. What the Chronicles are known

for is providing Shakespeare with many plot elements he could expand upon, specifically in the

second tetralogy and Prince Hals journey.

The first plot element Shakespeare got from The Chronicles to add to Henry IV Pt. I was

the robbing of the Receivers. This plot element dates from stories told by the 4th Earl of

Ormonde which most of them tend to come from. After Hal is initially shown to the audience as

a witty Prince who associates with the lower class including Falstaff and Poins, a friend of Hals,

Poins tells Falstaff there will be Pilgrims traveling toward Canterbury with a good amount of

money. Falstaff confirms his plans to rob these pilgrims and tries to convince Hal, but Hal does

not budge saying, Who I? Rob? I a thief? Not I, by my faith (I.ii.136). Once, Falstaff leaves,

Poins begins to convince Hal of his idea:

POINS. Now, my good sweet honey lord, ride with us

to-morrow: I have a jest to execute that I cannot manage
alone. Falstaff, Bardolph, Peto and Gadshill shall rob
those men that we have already waylaid:
Why, we will set forth before or after them, and
appoint them a place of meeting- wherein it is at
our pleasure to fail- and then will they adventure
upon the exploit themselves, which they shall have
no sooner achieved, but we'll set upon them
HAL. Well, I'll go with thee: provide us all things
necessary and meet me to-morrow night in Eastcheap; (I.ii.158-161,167-171,189-190)

This prank Hal and Poins throw is hinted at in the Chronicles but is mainly influenced from the

Famous Victories of Henry V. In these influential texts, there is no actual robbery but it just

shows before and after it. Shakespeare created the actual robber scene which takes place in act II

scene ii. Geoffrey Bullough explains in his book Narrative and Dramatic Sources of

Shakespeare, the intended reasoning of Shakespeares added scene: although he makes the

victims the Kings men and not the Princes, he reduces the seriousness of Hals offence against

law and order by making him more intent on tricking Falstaff than on stealing the money. The

Prince takes no active part in the hold-up, but robs the robbers, showing his good humour and

sense of comedy (Bullough, 177). Shakespeare not only added an extra plot element to the
show, but also added a new layer to Prince Hals demeanor. He becomes more charming and

more likeable to the audience by pulling a prank on his friend. There are moments between the

King and the Prince in the Chronicles Shakespeare decided to add in with his own verse.

Shakespeare took a couple of moments between Hal and the King from the Chronicles

and added them to both Henry Pt. I and Henry Pt. 2. An important plot element he takes is the

confrontation between Hal and his father in Henry IV Pt. I. After the Kings speech to Hal about

his crass behavior and wishing Henry Hotspur as his son instead of Hal, the Prince rebukes him

with this speech proclaiming his vengeance on Hotspur:

And I will call him to so strict account,

That he shall render every glory up,
Yea, even the slightest worship of his time,
Or I will tear the reckoning from his heart.
This, in the name of God, I promise here: (III.ii.149-153)

Comparing this to John Stows The Chronicles of England, written in 1580, he talks about the

Prince coming back to visit his father. His father is disgusted with his behavior, and the Prince,

in a similar fashion as Shakespeares speech, tells his father: Most redoubted Lord and Father, I

am this time come to your presence, as your liegeman, and as your sonne natural, in all thyngs to

obay your grace as my soveraigne Lord and father. And whereas I understand yee have me

suspect of my behaviour against your grace youre grace knoweth that if yee were in feare of

any man, of what estate soever he were, my duetie were to the endaungering of my life to

punishe that person, therby to race that sore from your hearte (Stow, 217). This is a clear

example of how he took from books before him to add plot elements to his stories. Shakespeare

clearly takes this speech as a turning point for Hal and his Father. He writes based off of what

both this text and the Chronicles by Holinshed give him as source work. All in all, he is creating

these momentous speeches off of past writings. Is it all historically accurate? Of course not fully,
but it is based on events which have been told and translated, and Shakespeare just added a new

layer to it by adding his own version of the story. Another plot element that is not entirely

historically accurate is the Hotspur and Hal rivalry.

The Hotspur and Hal rivalry is not historically accurate, but it was a plot element

Shakespeare took liberties with for the play to have dramatic meaning. Geoffrey Bullough says

in the Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare: Percy was in fact two years older than

the King and twenty-three years older than Hal (Bullough, 156). Even the ending battle at

Shrewsbury between Hal and Hotspur is not entirely accurate. There is a possibility Shakespeare

found this plot element in a vague section of one of the Chronicles, but it is unlikely. Bullough

continues to explain, The rivalry with Hotspur, foreseen in Richard II, made possible by

departing from their historical ages and relationship, is insisted on throughout, and Hotspurs

character is largely invented so that Hals growth in self-mastery may contrast with Percys lack

of self-control (Bullough, 174). This foil between Hotspur and Hal is invented by Shakespeare

for dramatic effect in the play. He wanted the audience to be able to root for Hal and to want to

see him succeed. Hal eventually becomes the next king, so the audience needs to be able to see

Hals growth as a character and the future king of England. Shakespeare decides not to include

another part of Hals history as well.

Shakespeare decides, as a dramatist, he does not want to include Hals previous political

positions in these plays. According to Bullough, there are elements of Hals administrative life

he lessens throughout the series: In fact Prince Henry had been nominally governor of North

Wales and the Marches since 1400, when he was only thirteen, and Henry Hotspur was chief of

his Council. Early in 1403 the Prince became Lieutenant of Wales (Bullough, 165). Not only

did Shakespeare add a rivalry between Hotspur and Hal, but completely diminished the fact that
they worked together at one point in their political careers. By taking out this aspect of Hals life,

does he diminish the character in any way? Yes, and no. Shakespeare diminishes Hals

relationship with his father. His father sees him unfit to run a kingdom and would give the crown

to his younger brother or even his enemy, Hotspur, before he would to Hal. It makes Hal look

as if he has been distracted his entire life and done nothing of importance. What Shakespeare

does not diminish about Hals character is the way he is able to take up responsibility at the drop

of a hat. Looking back on Act III scene ii, where he convinces his father he could lead an army,

the audience sees this mature, kingly Hal ready to destroy the enemy than to ignore his

responsibility. Bullough puts it best: Hal seems to lack dignity, but can assume it at need; he

seems to mock irreverently at good behaviour, and at the code of honour, yet he conforms

gloriously in time of need; he seems to lack all sense of responsibility, yet when the call of

duty comes, to father and to country, he obeys it nobly (Bullough, 174). With all of these

different plot elements, true or untrue, Shakespeare seems to grasp a bit of what history was like

and put it into more of a dramatic and engaging structure than people have written it in the past.

The psychological parts of Hal are all within the text and within what Shakespeare wrote.

When Shakespeare began to write Hal, he took stories from a couple different sources including

Famous Victories of Henry V, the Chronicles, and other stories. With these stories, he was able

to grasp how Hal acted and what he wanted him to become. The Henry IV plays did not have to

be a two-part play but scholars say because Henry IV Pt. I felt patiently incomplete, Henry IV

Pt. II would add Hals reign to kingdom, and include the banishment of Falstaff. It is obvious

from the first interaction with Hal, he knows his place in the world. His opening soliloquy

explains it all to the audience:

I know you all, and will awhile uphold

The unyoked humour of your idleness:
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 wonder'd at,
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapours that did seem to strangle him. (I.ii.193-201)

In contrast to his previous witty and kind behavior in the scene, the audience sees this power

driven monster that is Prince Hal. Prince Hals behavior can be compared to an American

politician. The audience sees him meddling with the lower class showing good wit and humor,

but he quickly turns his back on them later in Henry IV Pt. 2. There is a bit of foreshadowing

with the banishment of Falstaff in the final tavern scene of the play. As Hal and Falstaff joke

about how the discussion would go between the King and Hal with Falstaff speaking as Hal and

Hal speaking as the King, Falstaff begins to say,

FALLSTAFF. 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 Harry's company, banish not him thy Harry's
company: banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.
HAL. I do, I will. (II.ii.460-466)

Although they are joking, there is still some truth to this conversation. Falstaff pleads for Hal not

to let him go as a friend. In Falstaffs eyes, they are such dear friends and looks on Hal as a son.

Hal looks at it from a different perspective. He knows he will have to let go of Falstaffs

friendship once he assumes his kingly role. He cannot have the reputation of conversing with the

lower class as a royal figure. This whole dialogue between them foreshadows to Henry IV Pt. 2

when Falstaff cuts through the crowd to honor Hal and his achievements at becoming King and

Hal responds,
I know thee not, old man; fall to thy prayers;
Till then, I banish thee, on pain of death,
As I have done the rest of my misleaders,
Not to come near our person by ten mile. (V.V.47,63-65)

The audience can see Hals full journey to becoming King and can track his selfish and

egotistical ways through the entire series. From Henry IV Pt. I, the reader and audience member

can see he is waiting for his moment to become king, but for the present, he will hang around the

lower class until duty calls him. Another aspect of history Shakespeare tends to be more lenient

and creative with is the tavern scenes.

Although there are historical stories of Prince Hals misconduct, Shakespeare adds a

good amount of text and depth to the tavern scenes to contrast from the more serious parts in the

rest of the play. The audience starts off by seeing Hal interacting with Poins and Falstaff, two of

his close friends in the tavern scenes. On occasion, people have made speculation about Falstaff

being a second father figure for Hal. Bulluough explains that Falstaff must be some kind of

inspiration or just another insight into Hals character: But since Hal was to be the Hero-King

Henry V, his offences against princely decorum must be palliated, and another view of him must

be given than his fathers (Bullough, 161). Of course, Falstaff might not be the father figure,

but he is another highly influential person in Hals life who cares and respects him as a father

would a son. Shakespeare adds a ton of wit and back and forth between Hal and Falstaff and Hal

and Poins, to lighten up the mood as a contrast to the Kings darker and serious mood. There is a

section in Act II scene iv where Poins and Hal joke around with Francis in the tavern while

waiting for Falstaff to come back. Falstaffs return has a ton of humor in it with Falstaff lying to

Hal about how many robbers he had to fight off when Falstaff and his crew were jumped. Even

Falstaff and Hals exchange, pretending to be Hal and his Father, is witty and fun and towards

the end adds a new dimension to both their characters. None of this exchange is written down in
the history books. Shakespeare added all of this to create the three dimensional characters he

wanted. He had to become lenient and creative with history to get his theme across.

Although parts of Prince Hals story are historically accurate, Shakespeare took some

leniency with the plot, the psychological elements of Hals personality, and the creation of the

comedic mood in the tavern. The robbers scene was one of the scenes he took leniency with.

Even though it is historically accurate, he added a scene between planning the robbery and the

aftermath to show Hals good nature toward Falstaff. Another scene he added his own style to

was the confrontation between Hal and his father. In The Chronicles of England by John Stow,

there is a telling of this confrontation, but in Henry IV Pt. I, Shakespeare adds his own verse and

persuasion to it. One plot element Shakespeare came up with by himself was the rivalry between

Hotspur and Hal. The reason he added it was to show a foil between the hot tempered Hotspur

and the self controlled, Hal. In fact, they served together when Hal was young. Shakespeare

decided to leave out this political fact, but adds this leadership quality to his character. His

ambition and vivacity is well noticed when he is called to duty and is more than willing to serve

his father. Hals psychological state was something Shakespeare created on his own. This power

driven, charming, witty, noble character was all built out of things Shakespeare read and how he

wrote Hal. The tavern scenes were created out of Shakespeares desire as well. Although we

know Prince Hal dabbled in criminal activity, Shakespeare created the witty and fun tavern

atmosphere around him that made a harsh contrast to the seriousness of the court. Shakespeare,

although never entirely accurate, was able to take part of history and present it to the world in

more of a humane way for people to learn about how past actions should influence and help our

future, specifically in the journey of Prince Hal/King Henry V. Hal is a creation of both history

and fiction. A fic-torically accurate character.

Works Cited

Bullough, Geoffrey. "King Henry IV Pt. I." Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare.
Later English History Plays: King John, Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VIII. Vol. 4. N.p.: Routledge,
1966. N. pag. Print.

McDonald, Russ. ""I Loved My Books": Shakespeare's Reading." The Bedford Companion to
Shakespeare: An Introduction with Documents. Boston: Bedford of St. Martin's, 1996. 149.

Shakespeare, William, and Peter Hobley. Davison. Henry IV, Part 1. London: Penguin, 2005.

Shakespeare, William, Edward Burns, Ronald Knowles, John D. Cox, and Eric Rasmussen. King
Henry VI. London: Arden Shakespeare, 2000. Print.