Where is the Hero?

        Since the tetralogy started, there are no true heroes.  From Richard II to Henry IV, I can’t seem to find anyone to root for.  There is not one person that I would consider a clear cut protagonist.  It seems as if these are repetitive plots of greed and power determined by vengeance or betrayal.  This plot continues on through Acts III and IV of Henry IV.

        After reading the first acts of Richard II, I jumped to the conclusion that Richard II was the pegged antagonist and Bolingbroke was the clear protagonist.  Not only was I somewhat wrong, but I even felt sympathy towards Richard II after he was stripped of his power.  This led to me becoming indifferent about Bolingbroke.  With signs indicating that he had a hand in the death of Richard II, it made me realize that he is as ruthless as the former king. 

       We fast forward to Henry IV.  A similar pattern continues through this play.  Now, Henry IV is the marked target by Hotspur. Hotspur says, “Me thinks my moiety, north from Burton here, in quantity equals not one of yours. See how this river comes me cranking in and cuts me from the best of all my land” (3.1. 93-96).  Hotspur is plotting war against Henry IV.  He stays true to his name by getting upset over his share of the land.  Hotspur proves to be another character that is filled with greed, as he cannot be civil amongst his own allies. 

       The next disappointment of a hero thus far is Harry.  Shakespeare uses clever naming to Henry IV son, as Harry should be the “heir” to his throne.  Instead, Harry is an embarrassment to his father.  This would make one think that the audience would root for Harry to be the hero due to feeling sympathetic for him, but I disagree.  The king delivers a long speech about why Harry has been a disappointment. The king says, “So common-hackneyed in the eyes of me, so stale and cheap to vulgar company, opinion, that did help me to the crown, had still kept loyal to possession” (3.2. 40-43).  King Henry is embarrassed of Harry because he associates himself with the commoners.  He feels that respect was given to him because he kept himself above everyone.  Harry agrees to do whatever it takes to prove his worthy to the king.  This appears to be a noble act, but proves otherwise.  Back in Act I, Prince Harry says, “I know you all, and will awhile uphold the unyoked humor of your idleness.  Yet herein will I imitate the sun, who doth permit the base contagious clouds to smother up his beauty from the world, that, when he please again to be himself, being wanted” (1.2. 173-178).  Harry’s plan from the start was to associate himself with commoners. This would allow Harry to eventually put himself above the common folk, to prove himself to his father.  This is a cowardly move from the not-so hero, Prince Harry.  

       From Richard II, up to Act IV of Henry IV, I cannot find any form of a hero. A book or movie that interests me typically has a character to root for, along with promising conflict.   I enjoy reading about greed, money, and power, but it gets old when that’s all there is to the plot. I’m hoping some character throughout this tetralogy eventually stands out from the rest.  


8 thoughts on “Where is the Hero?

  1. zacharyschiff

    You make a really good point, one that I didn’t even notice: there is no clear cut hero in these plays. I wonder if Shakespeare had a reason for not giving us one character to root for. In class today we talked a little bit about how Shakespeare’s plays lack dogmatism, and are therefore open to many different interpretations. Maybe in not giving us an obvious protagonist to side with Shakespeare is being his usual ambiguous self. He presents these characters without clearly favoring one or the other: it is up to us to decide whom we support and whom we reject. And, as you pointed out, he does not make this decision easy for us, since he shows us different sides of characters, giving us both their sympathetic and unsympathetic qualities. Richard is simultaneously contemptible, AND pitiful. Henry IV is someone we root for to overthrow Richard, but also someone whose greed and hypocrisy turn us off. While it would be nice to have a hero to root for, I think part of what makes Shakespeare so unique and so admired is his defiance of those sorts of conventions in favor of giving a more realistic portrait of a world where no one is always good and no one, pretty much, is always bad.

  2. michaeldrago

    These two plays are certainly more morally ambiguous than many of the other works of Shakespeare. As the other comment says, there are very few characters who could be simply described as either wholly “good” or wholly “bad.” The fact that these plays were based on historical events likely influenced Shakespeare in this regard; after all, people in the real world can very rarely be categorized so easily, and that likely held true for the individuals who these characters were based on. And certainly, the storyteller has some measure of responsibility to stay relatively true to historical fact, whether that be Shakespeare with this story or any other writer of a historical tale. At any rate, the ambiguous characterization might not appeal to everybody, but it does help to make these plays stand out from Shakespeare’s other works. Regardless of whether one feels they stick out in a positive or negative manner, it makes for a more interesting discussion.

  3. burnettd1

    I agree that there is no protagonist throughout Richard II or Henry IV. All of the characters throughout both plays represent greedy, power-hungry people who are looking out for themselves instead of the common good for the society. I believe Shakespeare did not create a clear protagonist throughout his history plays because it was a realistic trait to how these characters acted when they were fighting for the throne. Prince Hal is a perfect example of a man who looked out for the way he was perceived by others instead of for what was best for his society. Prince Hal went as far as hanging out with thieves in order to later better satisfy his people when he becomes king. He thought that people would give him more praise if he does well as king because people would see his transformation from a mischievous boy into a successful ruler. This action represents Prince Hal’s greed because he acted poorly in order for people to view him as better in comparison later on in his life.

  4. mariadeang

    I also think it’s a super interesting point to bring up. Characters like these start to make you question your own morals. Someone like Bolingbroke, who may have been a crowd favorite in the beginning of Richard II may no longer have the same reputation. Richard II was a completely awful individual as king, yet I found myself sympathizing with him after he had his crown wrongfully seized. And now, Prince Hal! His plan to defeat Hotspur in order to basically steal his metaphorical piggybank of honor and glory isn’t the most honorable plan, in my opinion. However, in the end, I think Shakespeare is commenting on how morally ambiguous this politically volatile time in history actually was. The Henriad is a story of Queen Elizabeth’s ancestry, right? If we take into account what was going on, the ambiguity makes a lot of sense.

  5. Courtney Kiesecker

    Great post, and this is such a true concept: Shakespeare’s ambiguity of the protagonist and antagonist. I happened to really enjoy the twist that these characters have while reading. You can hate Richard II for most of the play, while rooting for Bolingbroke as he fights to ascend to the crown, but then ultimately pity Richard II the moment he begins to unravel all the while dissatisfied with Henry IV as he usurps the throne. The realistic qualities (corruption, self-indulgence, hotheadedness, greed) of the characters are what, I believe, make the lines between protagonist and antagonist so blurred.

  6. lauriegrl14

    I never gave it much thought regarding whether or not the last two plays we have read had a “hero” or not. I think I have invested my thoughts around the political aspect of the plays more than anything else… it always comes down to politics. Has there ever been a “hero”? Will there ever be a “hero in politics”? No and there will probably never will be.

    For me, one of the most interesting aspects of the plays, is the notion of the Divine Right of Kings. I believe it was established to promote a stronger sense of leadership in government. I think it was established at a time when England was trying to break away from the Church, to oppose the Papal’s authority…it had nothing to do with religion, it was all propaganda. Even the Pope is not Divinely Appointed by God, he is voted in by Cardinals of Faith.

    King Richard II lacked the political ability of leadership. He was vain, he was more interested in fashion then he was for the well-being of his people. King Henry IV is a strong leader but he too leads with flaws. He holds the crown but not under the Divine Right but under the strength and will of a strong political leader. I guess to have a hero in these plays a leader must be both divinely appointed by God and be able to handle the responsible of a strong leader. Perhaps since both of these leaders lack one or the other it is difficult to see either of them as a hero.

  7. Michelle D.

    This post clearly hit a chord with a lot of people and I can see why. It’s ridiculous in a way, at least to me it feels, that the storyline is so crazed. Granted, it was probably something that Shakespeare was going for but it’s just a bit much for me. We are only up to a certain point in the reading and there is an entire other play to go through which begs the question: where will this lead? How will the audiences’ and readers’ emotions be toyed with once again as though some kind of Ping-Pong game is going on. The loyalty of the people remains unclear as it falters back and forth beginning from “Richard II”, and it seems as though the readers’ loyalty follows this lead. From passage to passage there is a mixture of evidence of why one specific character does not fall under a heroes title. Where does the hero lie? Will the audience continue to be toyed with until the very last page? There is no clear cut action or moment that makes me want to lay my own loyalty towards any particular character, it’s a cautionary move but so far the evidence proves that caution is key because someone is going to do something I won’t agree with.

  8. victoriamackey

    I agree with several of the other commenters’ here. I don’t believe there was ever supposed to be a singular, easy-to-spot hero that we know Shakespeare has been able to create before. He writes about a real life occurrence, albeit from a later perspective. In real life, and especially in the political past, there are no true good guys and bad guys, no true heroes and villains. Personally, I feel as though Prince Hal has many redemptive qualities that make him somewhat of a likeable underdog, and Henry IV has fantastic leadership and people skills. Although there is no specific hero, I personally see redemptive qualities in many of the characters, making at least some of their actions heroic.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s