Within Henry IV, Part I it seems that there are two main types of power. The first of these is emotional power: for example the type of emotional power that Hal holds over Falstaff who is dependent upon the Prince and in many ways needs his approval. The second in political power: that of kingship which the rebels challenge.

It is obvious that there are varied ways of obtaining either of these types of power. Hal manages to keep Falstaff slightly subservient through the fact that he will in time be king. He also mocks and jibes his friend, both inciting admiration through his quick wit and sharp tongue and leaving Falstaff seeking for his approval in certain sense. The ways of gaining political power are far more obvious – a leader can be deposed – just as Henry IV did Richard II. It can be gained through war, rebellion and violence – the rebels attempt this, although they do not succeed. Hal hopes to achieve such power through inheritance and no other effort whereas his friend Falstaff believes that he will get it simply through connection when Hal becomes King.

Where the power lies within the play is a slightly more complex issue. Certainly the rebels do hold power despite being disorganized, simply through their number and their impetuous will to achieve. Hal has an individual power – he controls himself and his fate. In this respect he has a power over those that surround him and depend on him. His father needs an appropriate and stable heir due to the dubious way in which he inherited the throne so is essentially at his son’s mercy as are his wastrel friends who look forward to him becoming king and need him for their enjoyment. To a large extent Henry IV’s power lies in his title and little else: it is only because he is King that so many people obey him. Therefore in a conventional sense he does hold supreme power over the country yet the rebels believe that they are entitled to this power as they helped the King succeed the throne. Their power over him lies in the fact that they represent a challenge to him.

It is hard to define who exactly holds the power within the play – what seems to be true is that the power shifts from the usurpation of Richard II’s throne to the rebellion to the fact that Hal will inherit. Power is hugely manipulated: Hal misuses the power he has over his father in order to behave as a reprobate and over Falstaff to deceive and trick him. Falstaff hopes that Hal will misuse his power as King in order to pardon his friend’s bad behaviour.

Role Play and Disguise

In many ways Hal seems to be playing out a role in his youthful foolishness that contrasts so strongly with the heroic elements in his character. This interplay between the stately and the personal becomes the central preoccupation of Shakespeare in the play’s two sequels. Within him there is a great conflict between vice and virtue: his struggles with his awareness that he has political responsibilities and his lust for enjoyment and the high-life. He is a mix of the comic and the serious. At Eastcheap he does not behave like a Prince but instead employs smutty, colloquial language ("Why, what a pox have I to do with my hostess of the tavern?"). When he enters the court he becomes much more serious: he is aware that at some point "this loose behaviour I [must] throw off". At this point in the play he employs the use of verse rather than prose. It seems that the language he uses is also part of his disguise which is in certain ways calculated and two-faced but can hardly be termed hypocritical.

It is certainly questionable whether at the end of the play Hal has actually changed and become the honourable son his father wanted or whether he is still in conscious disguise to "glitter…attract more eyes". Certainly if this is the case it works with Vernon who, in Act IV, Scene I refers to him as "glittering in golden coats."

The use of disguise in Gadshill is a dramatic force and in a comical sense a source of tension. The comedy is built up as the audience know that Hal and Poins are in disguise whereas the characters do no. It is Shakespeare’s private joke with his viewers it also helps to highlight specific facets of character’s personalities (e.g. Falstaff’s dramatic exaggeration).

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