Down-trod Mortimer and Plump Jack

  • Kristian Smidt


The beginning of Henry IV links up fairly closely with the ending of Richard II. It is true that we hardly expect to find King Henry ‘shaken’ and ‘wan with care’ only a twelvemonth after his coronation. It is also true that he now speaks of a regular crusade to the Holy Land like those in which his old opponent Mowbray participated rather than the voyage, or pilgrimage, which he planned at the end of Richard II. In fact he no longer speaks of washing the blood off from his guilty hand. But at least he has an interval of peace at home,1 and the Jerusalem theme is renewed. With Richard II in fresh memory an audience might be expected to know what lies behind King Henry’s decision to commence ‘new broils… in stronds afar remote’, and in any case we are three times reminded of the king’s guilty conscience as we proceed through the two parts of Henry IV.2 The intended crusade is not mentioned again in the first part after the end of the opening scene but it is reverted to in the second play several times and finally resolves itself in Henry’s death in the Jerusalem chamber. It almost looks as if the whole action of the two plays could have been designed to show Henry overcoming the obstacles and dangers which beset him on his way to Jerusalem,3 finally reaching his goal in a surprise dénouement which the author had his eye on from the start as a theatrical effect worth exploiting.


Henry Versus Fresh Memory Disappointed Expectation Initial Conflict Universal Implication 
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  1. 12.
    ‘Give him as much as will make him a royal man, and send him back again to my mother’ (1H4, II.iv.286–7). Robert B. Bennett sees Hal’s turning away of the king’s messenger as a ‘crisis of timing’, a missed opportunity deep with consequences (‘Prince Hal’s Crisis of Timing’, Cahiers élisabéthains 13 (1978) 15–23). It is also much more than a crisis of timing, a gross insult.Google Scholar
  2. 14.
    Wilson, Introduction to the New Cambridge 1H4, pp. xi–xiii. See also The Fortunes of Fatstaff, p. 64, and Tillyard, Shakespeare’s History Plays, p. 265. Sengupta sees the two parts of H4 as a single structural unit with Falstaff at the centre (Shakespeare’s Historical Plays, pp. 127–9). To Dover Wilson’s complementary pairing Traversi adds the idea of self-conquest as a main theme for the second part: ‘Having asserted himself as a modern prince in the exercise of the chivalrous virtues,… Hal is now faced with the more arduous necessity of subduing his own will, of making himself the instrument of a conception of justice which transcends all personal considerations’ (Shakespeare from ‘Richard II’ to ‘Henry V’, see esp. pp. 7, 108). Sherman H. Hawkins marshals a great deal of erudition to prove that ‘Prince Hal’s education must encompass all four kingly virtues. These divide with pleasing symmetry: temperance and fortitude in Part I, justice and wisdom in Part II.’ I cannot find anything like this neat patterning in the plays. See Hawkins, ‘Virtue and Kingship in Shakespeare’s Henry IV’, ELR, 5.3 (Autumn 1975) 313–43.Google Scholar
  3. 15.
    Ribner, The English History Play, p. 171. Hunter, ‘Henry IV and the Elizabethan Two-part Play’, RES, new series V (1954) 236–48.Google Scholar
  4. 19.
    Richard David, ‘Shakespeare’s History Plays / Epic or Drama’, SS, 6 (1953) 129–39, see p. 137. David thinks ‘2 Henry IV has pot-boiler written all over it’.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kristian Smidt 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kristian Smidt
    • 1
  1. 1.OsloNorway

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