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Posted on October 1st, 2012, by

One of the most famous William Shakespeare’s history plays is Henry IV, Part I. In fact, it is part of Shakespeare’s well-known tetralogy which is devoted to the purely historical theme and analyzes Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V’s reigns in the history of England. The play is considered to be written in 1597, however, the definite date is still unknown. The actions in the play take place in 1402-1403 and depict battle at Homildon and rebels at Shrewsbury, which were defeated.

In the play we can see that characters are divided into three groups and every group defines their behavior, manners and even thoughts and approach to life. King Henry IV, his subjects and representatives of the court make the first group. The second group consists of rebels represented by Hotspur, his father, the Scottish Earl of Douglas, etc. The third group the brightest and most comic is associated with the The Boar’s-Head Tavern in Eastcheap. These are Falstaff, Bardolph, Peto, Poins and the young Prince Hal who is attracted by the world which differs from the world of the court.

It is obvious that Henry’s court and Mistress Quickly’s Boar’s-Head Tavern present different world with their own laws, rules and peculiarities, however, if to analyze them more carefully we can see that, in fact, they have a lot in common. In order to find these similarities it is necessary to present different features.

The court and the tavern do not only present different surroundings and places, they present two worlds of main characters Henry and Falstaff’s systems of belief. These two main plot lines are closely connected, although they intersect only indirectly.

The intensity of life and time perception is different in these two worlds. For the royal court life is a quick and busy stream in which time is of great importance. Characters make so many quick actions which often seem unnecessary. In the tavern, on the contrary, people have a one-way life without so many stresses, bustle and race. The conversation between Falstaff and Prince Hall proves it, Prince Hall even insults his opponent making such a rhetorical remark: What a devil hast thou to do with the time of the 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 taffeta, I see no reason why thou shouldst be so superfluous to demand the time of the day (Shakespeare, 1:2:2).

He can not understand irrelevance of time in this surrounding. In this tavern people are free to plan their time and day how they want. This kind of freedom gives them a possibility to enjoy every moment and be pleased. These people do not have strict schedules and timetable, they belong to themselves.

Language that is used in the tavern is also one of the indicators of freedom. Due to the laws of diplomacy the representatives of the court including King Henry IV and his subjects use a high-flown style while communicating. It is necessary to think out each phrase in order not to be misinterpreted. The royalty can only hide real sense of their words and their thoughts under sophisticated expressions, while in the tavern prevail free talks and even rude insults. Falstaff and other people do not want to offend their opponents, their insults are even signs of affection. Here the conversations rely on a freewheeling prose, delivered with an enormous gusto and often with a satiric mockery of the seriousness of religious or political rhetoric: many of Falstaff’s speeches are clearly parodies of judicial or religious language (Kastan).

This is one of the devices that Shakespeare uses in order to make his history play more lively and attractive.

In the royal court any rude words and especially insults are usually treated as personal insults and they can have unpredictable consequences. The bright example can be the accident when Henry insulted Hotspur and this insult led to the rebellion. It often happens in the court that people use this technique on purpose aiming to launch a war.

However, these differences despite their significance are only visual. They add some specific attributes to the representatives of each group.

However, despite the significance of these differences they are only visual. In fact, both worlds the world of the royal court and the world of the tavern – have one common feature: they create space for different games and intrigues. All the characters have their own aims and have their own tools to achieve these aims. In the court it is made in a hidden and delicate way: Henry IV uses sophisticated ways to make his profit. The games in the tavern are of the same origin with the only difference: people there are not afraid to express it openly: But the political games devised by Henry and the Northumberlands are dangerous, carefully crafted, and secretive; the games in the Boar’s Head, by contrast, are open, free, anarchic (Wright). In that connection, we can see that life in the court and in the tavern very similar taking into account its representatives, although rules and laws are absolutely different.

Here people can change rules of their games, can  start new games and use all power of their imagination to achieve what they need. For example, Falstaff’s robbery affairs are a known fact and Hal and Poins can even hear how he deals with them. The young men know that they are never going to be able to pin Falstaff down, but they also know that witnessing his amazingly fertile imagination talk his way out of it is going to be great fun, a living testament to the anarchic spirit of life which the fat knight embodies (Wright). This way of life fascinates Prince Hal and that is why he spends so much time in the society of these strange and suspicious people.

To sum up, in his history play William Shakespeare presents two different groups and, so, ways of life. Despite important differences in the systems these groups have, they are rather similar in their life aims. In both societies people are involved in different political and social games and only the person who is wit and knows a lot of tricks can become a winner in this game. Showing visual differences Shakespeare delivers us a message that human nature is the same and it does not matter whether you are a king or a poor. It is also interesting to note that Shakespeare uses interesting manner of narration combining irony with dramatic moment. This technique makes this play so popular among both, critics and usual people.

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