Appearance Vs Reality

   One of the most important aspects of the first part of Henry IV lies in the conflict between appearance and reality. In this play the fact is that how characters appear to others can be very different from how they really are, as can be seen with the character Hotspur and most especially with the character Prince Harry. It is through these characters that the audience can see how people can use appearance for their own needs, and in certain cases in order to gain more power. This can be seen in several characters such as Hotspur, who use appearances in order to either maintain their standing or reclaim power that was lost. Then there is Prince Harry who is the most obvious example of someone who uses appearances in the pursuit of power.
   There are several characters in this play that use appearance to cover up reality in order to fulfill their own needs and desires. This is seen in the opening of the play when Hotspur is forced to face the king concerning the prisoners that he was supposed to give to the king but did not. It is very difficult to determine what exactly happened that led to this decision, whether Hotspur actively chose to insult the king or not. Hotspur is one of the only witnesses to the actual decision and at the end of the day it is his word against the word of the other lord. This is seen in Hotspur’s explanation. “when the fight was done,/ when I was dry with rage and extreme toil . . . came there a certain lord, neat and trimly dressed,/ Fresh as a a bridegroom, and his chin, new-reaped . . . amongst the rest demanded/ my prisoners in your majesty’s behalf.” (1.3.29-46). It is clear from Hotspur’s explanation of his actions that he is being show in the best presentable light given the potentially treasonous actions he made in not giving over the prisoners of war. Because of the difficulty in determining the reality of what Hotspur’s actual actions or intentions the only real credible source of information on the matter lies with Hotspur himself and as such he has the power to create the appearance of what happened and thus ensure he retains his power and suffer no lasting consequences, because this action.
   Then there is the character of Prince Harry, there is no other character in this play that further shows that difference between appearance and reality and how this difference can be used in order to suit his own needs and get power for himself. This seen most often in the way that Harry acts like a drunk, thief, and basically an incompetent person. This is all done in order for people to underestimate him and thus be even more impressed when he turns out to be an incredible king. This is seen Harry’s speech “So when this loose behaviour I throw off/ and pay the debt I never promised.” (1.2.186-187). It is clear that Harry is not nearly as incompetent as he pretends that he is, merely using the appearance of incompetence in order to for people to underestimate him. This would eventually help to convince people that he is much more than what he appears to be thus ensuring that he is looked upon with much more respect and loyalty than he would normally have been. Finally there is the fact that Harry is aware of the power that appearances have in this world. This is seen in “Yet herein will I imitate the Sun.” (1.3.175). Unlike others before him, Harry realizes in order to have power he need not actually be as powerful as the sun but appear to be like the sun. Through this appearance that he has power will eventually lead to him actually have power.
   In the play Henry IV, the two characters of Hotspur and Prince Harry use appearances in order to manipulate power for their own needs. With Hotspur it is by manipulating the appearance of what happened in order to make himself look as good as possible in the current circumstances. With Prince Harry it is through the appearance of incompetency that he will become even more powerful with the revelation of his better qualities. Both of these characters follow the belief that the appearance of power will lead to the reality of power.


3 thoughts on “Appearance Vs Reality

  1. Jacey Lawler

    I love this idea of appearance against reality in Shakespeare’s plays. Although Harry may seem as conniving, I really like how he is cast as a character. He is somewhat devious, but understands the role he must play in order to succeed in England’s crazy political world/royal family. It seems pathetic that he would set expectations low for himself, but at the same time it shows his cunning. The prince’s smarts may come in handy some day when he is ruling. I think your post also coincides with the topic of “what is history?” which our class has been discussing. Is what we call history actually reality? Or is it simply a conjured appearance from someone’s point of view? Nice post!

  2. Megan Kalmes

    I find the topic of your post to be very interesting. The contrast of appearance and reality is evident throughout Henry IV thus far. The most obvious example can be seen in Harry. In the beginning of the play, he can be characterized as very juvenile and immature, almost like a high school age male. It is not until later in the play that Harry realizes that he must change the way that the people view him if he is to secure his spot as the heir to the crown. After this realization, we see Harry begin to take his role as an heir much more serious. He wishes to portray himself as a more mature and “kingly” candidate.

  3. faithkinne

    I definitely agree with your post especially pertaining to Prince Harry. It is extremely clever how he decides to act a certain way in order to make people underestimate him. However, even though it is very clever it is also immature. Only people who are too concerned with others' opinions play tricks like this. It really shows that Prince Harry isn't all that confident because he feels like he has to trick King Henry in order to make him proud of Harry.


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