What makes a King?

In Act III of this play we see a lot of action involving Hotspur. At the meeting of the rebel leaders there is an immediate clash between Hotspur and Glyndwyr during which Hotspur argues Glyndwyr’s claim that the Earth shook and the heavens rained down fire on the day of his birth. Glyndwyr is a believer in magic and claims to have supernatural powers which casts him as a confident yet extremely pompous leader and Hotspur’s attempts to disprove his claims reinforces him as short-tempered and bold, especially to challenge someone as powerful as Glyndwyr.

After reading this scene and especially noting these two character’s behavior, it brings to mind the question we discussed in our last class about power, corruption, and what traits make a king. It seems that all of these leaders are extremely flawed in some way or another and they are all thirsty for more power which makes them extremely dangerous. Thinking about any of these men as King of England is a scary thought, all of them could rule as tyrants unchecked by anyone they rule.

What is especially notable is the contrast between Hotspur and Henry. Hotspur is an immature, quick tempered, and bold person who speaks his mind without fear of consequences. He is a brilliant military strategist because of this but is also a terrible diplomat who can easily get himself in hot water and cut important ties. Henry on the other hand is a cunning diplomat yet seems to be slightly corrupted by the amount of power he has. Henry and Hotspur are in a few ways contrasted with each other yet neither of them make particularly good kings.

Bringing back the question about what characteristics make a good king, it would seem that none of the people fighting for the crown would make “good” kings. I would argue that Prince Harry is the only character would be fit to rule. In the beginning of the play he is immature and would rather bum about and play pranks with his friends than take any real responsibility although he privately reveals his true intentions to act foolishly and lower people’s expectations of him and then surprise them when he does an adequate job. In this act though we see Harry beginning to take a real interest in the events going on around him, realizing that only one side will be victorious. Additionally, he returns the money that he stole earlier in the play, partially motivated by fear of punishment, but still, it is a step in the right direction. Harry is a clever person, he might be slightly lazy but I think that is just a characteristic of his immaturity and that as time goes on Harry will be able to use his strategic and manipulative abilities in the favor of the crown.

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One thought on “What makes a King?

  1. Cyrus Mulready

    This is a strong reflection on the nature of kingship and the question of what makes an effective ruler. Shakespeare gives us many examples in this play, and one we might think further about is Falstaff. Notably a figure of disrule, Falstaff might also be the key to Harry's development into a king. We might think of Harry bringing his experiences with Falstaff to the wider world.

    Reply

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