The King is Never Good Enough

In all of Shakespeare’s history plays and even in other tragedies, there seems to be a common theme throughout that I’ve found and that is how there always seems to be dissatisfaction with the king no matter what. Having just read Richard II, this was quite apparent as when there was an opportune moment, Bolingbroke and company completely took the crown away from Richard. Now that King Henry IV (aka Bolingbroke) has taken over the crown, once again there are people uprising against him. It’s as if nobody in England is ever happy with the royalty that rules them! There is no pleasing these people.

In 2.5, Falstaff brilliantly mocks the king using a chair as a throne, a dagger as his scepter, and a cushion as a crown. This clichéd mockery of a king is prominent throughout this scene and there is the notion of how a king is this stereotypical man who just loves to be powerful and bear down sentences on the lowly people of his kingdom. The scene shifts once Prince Hal then switches with Falstaff and assumes the position of impersonating the King. Harry mocks the King’s notion of the company in which Harry keeps. “Why dost thou converse with that swollen parcel of dropsies, that huge bombard of sack, that stuffed cloak-bag of guts?” (2.5.408-410) The lower class people have this idea that the king is a pompous person who thinks himself high above the level of the people in which he serves – or thinks that the people serve him. But this could come from their desire of wanting to be as rich and powerful as the king and what people do to those that they actually long to be is mock them. Think of sketch comedy these days making fun of the extremely rich and famous – is it to serve for comedy or do they actually feel somewhat jealous of their lifestyles?

Another key scene in the disdain of the King is 4.3 as Hotspur outlines the faults of King Henry IV. He describes how Henry was once the underdog to the crown and eventually was able to take away the crown from Richard from being swayed by other nobles (such as Northumberland), his popularity with the common people (who also viewed him as an underdog that they were all rooting for), and his overall desire for the crown. Hotspur then talks more ill of Henry saying he “Disgraced me in my happy victories, Sought to entrap me by intelligence, Rated mine uncle from the Council-board, In rage dismissed my father from the court, Broke oath on oath, committed wrong on wrong, And in conclusion drove us to seek out this head of safety” (4.3.99-105). His list of atrocities to Hotspur, his family, and the people are more reasons as to how he is not being a good king. However, Henry IV did all of those things to support his own claim to the throne and to do what he thought was right but, of course, Hotspur does not see that and only sees how wrong the king is. It’s as if Henry was Obama and Hotspur is a Republican senator out to get him. Anything he does is wrong in his eyes and there is no changing that. This is also why politics tend to frustrate me since no matter what, something will always be wrong with any decision made and there is nothing anyone in power can do about but accept it and try to do what is best for himself and the people in which he rules.

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2 thoughts on “The King is Never Good Enough

  1. maggylynn

    You acknowledge some really great points! I especially agree with the parallel you made between modern day’s sketch parodies and the tavern scene. It is so true that people are looking for entertainment and are exercising points of jealousy. Would people be making fun of something that they had? Probably not. The subject of the king was also a universally known figure – rather than if they had picked the bum from the town next door (just like today, we tend to target the well-known people). And yes, this play adheres to the political sphere as well – it’s impossible to please everybody. It might be possible to argue that Hal came the closest to doing so. He becomes a hero and well regarded heir to the throne in the eyes of his father and he remains a loyal friend to Falstaff.

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  2. coleenhiggins

    You’re absolutely right, Rob. For those in power, it is absolutely impossible to please everyone and there’s always going to be someone who is unhappy with the way things are run. This goes back to our discussion from last class. Do you think Shakespeare is commenting on the fact that it is so hard to change in a monarchy and a more flexible form of government is needed? Or was he content with the political structure in his society? I honestly can see it both ways.

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