Hierarchy as a Performance

Henry IV makes several conscious allusions to the workings of theater; although it is not evoked as intensely as Taming of the Shrew, there is still a play-within-a-play which blends the contents of the play itself with the Elizabethan theater.  The various scenes where characters impersonate other characters allude to the kinship being a sort of role; as if political hierarchies are a projection of an image rather than a bundle of inherent qualities.  Essentially, as long as one has the adequate acting skills, they can embellish and thus have the tool to literally become the king.

Prince Harry demonstrates early in the play how kinship is rooted in performance: I know you all, and will a while uphold / the unyoked humor of your idleness / Yet herein will I imitate the sun” (1.3.173-175).  Prince Henry reveals to the audience that his rebellious and seemingly immature acts as a Prince are solely an act.  Eventually, he will disregard this “role” as an immature Prince, do something noble, and then shock everyone within the play as a genuine and trusting Prince.

Next, during the play-within-a-play scene involving Falstaff, Falstaff attempts to look like King Henry by giving himself red eyes by chugging  a drink:  Give me a cup of sack to / make my eyes look red, that it may be thought I have / wept; for I must speak in passion, and I will do it / in King Cambyses’ vein.”  Although Falstaff may not be the most respected character in terms of reflecting the imitating nature of hierarchy within the play, he still alludes to political power in its relation to performance and role adherence.

Ultimately, I think the meta-reflexive nature involving the portrayal of role adherence forces the audience to reflect on their own government.  I think seeing this play through the role-playing lens will spark the audience and readers to discover ideology in politics and an attempt to seek what is going on behind the scenes in terms of the government.


2 thoughts on “Hierarchy as a Performance

  1. alexatirapelli

    I like how you comment on the metaphysical aspects of the play and call attention to the way the Prince includes the audience in his thought processes. I think it’s also important to note that Falstaff is a false kind of guy (playing off of his name), if you know what I mean. He indeed alludes to political power, as you said, but I think he also diverts from it in his dishonesty and therefore dishonor. It definitely has the audience call attention to their own government. Nice post!

  2. alexhammer92

    This was a very interesting post. I liked the point you made concerning Prince Hal reaching out to the audience towards the beginning of the play. Shakespeare tends to use devices like this in a lot of his works, like in the prologue of Romeo & Juliet, or Richard III’s speech to the audience in the first act of Richard III. Prince Hal telling the audience his plan before the events of the play start to occur, clues us in to how the play will unfold. Once again, very good post.


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