As my first read of Henry IV, it is evident of a father and son motif going on. This is not only in the traditional sense of but of a role reversal too. We see throughout the beginning of the play that King Henry is not very proud of his son, Harry. We discussed in class that there is also a sense of Harry having a second parental guide, Falstaff. His “fathers” represent two different worlds, the world of the court and the other of the tavern, or where Harry is being raised as a dishonorable person. The role of Falstaff being a father to Harry is short lived in this play.
When we see that Harry wants to shock everyone and show them that he really is this great prince, at first I was very confused. Why would a prince intentionally try to look bad in the public eye? Not only that, but be a disappointment to his father, a king. It made no sense to me, but Harry felt that was the best thing for his image, to have them have no faith whatsoever to then be shocked at his “transformation.”
If we take a look at earlier in the play where Harry and Falstaff are pretending to be King, this foreshadowed that King Henry would inevitably have to have a little talk with his son. The king was going to have to confront his son on his behavior in a very serious manner (saying Hotspur deserved to be King over his own son).
When we get to the scene with the speech where Henry says that Hotspur has more of a right to the thrown this was a slap to Harry’s face. This was the time for Harry to “transform,” “I shall hereafter, my thrice-gracious lord, be more myself” (3.2.92-93). Harry is lucky that his father even gave him a chance to prove himself. King Henry pretty much just took his speech to heart and hoped that he would not be making a mistake in listening to his sons promise.
When harry goes to the tavern and sees Falstaff lying about money, this shows a reversal of father son role switching between the two. Falstaff being the elder of the two should know better than to lie. Instead Harry has to lecture and help Falstaff out of a situation and repay his debt. Harry takes this fatherly role over Falstaff, why does Falstaff have this affect on Harry?
Later, again we see Falstaff playing the cowardly child role when he does not give Harry his sword. Although Falstaff is protecting himself, there would be more good done with Harry having a sword than himself which is something that they both know.
During the scene when The Douglass was going to attack King Henry we see Harry coming to the rescue and proving to his father to be the noble prince that he said he always was. Then after defeating Hotspur, Harry now is looked upon as a great warrior and has earned the most important thing, the respect of his father, “thou hast redeemed thy lost opinion and showed thou mak’st some tender of m life (5.4.46-47).