Henry IV, Part One

  • Elliot Krieger


Henry IV, Part One, like the comedies with which I have grouped it in this study, contains two clearly demarcated worlds, which we can follow tradition and call the worlds of the tavern and of the court. In this particular play, however, the process I have been consistently trying to identify and explain, the process by which the second world functions for the protagonist as part of a strategy for living with maintained or increased stature in the primary world, emerges into the open. Despite the enormous critical disagreements as to precisely what Hal does in the play, as to precisely what benefit he derives from his habitation in Eastcheap, critics do agree that Hal uses the tavern to work his advantage. Hal says so himself: in his famous soliloquy, about which more later, he declares that the tavern world only seems a world of holiday leisure, that in fact the tavern constitutes for the Prince himself a world of “everyday” work, the work of fabricating a public image that will consolidate his eventual political control of the kingdom. In short, in 1 Henry IV we must perceive, because the protagonist himself perceives, that the distinction between first and second world dissolves when taken beyond a certain point; in the second world of Eastcheap, as in Arden, Belmont, and elsewhere, the protagonists do not enter and discover an autonomous world of play, ritual, and timelessness, but they assert in a new location their own freedom from work, law, and time—their autonomy—in order to secure their stature in the abandoned primary world.


Historical Responsibility Political Strategy Primary World Everyday World Violent Encounter 
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© Elliot Krieger 1979

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  • Elliot Krieger

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