Power And Legitimacy In King Henry IV

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In his play, 1 King Henry IV, William Shakespeare is concerned with the popular concepts of power and legitimacy, or the right to rule. Shakespeare specifically calls into question the concept of legitimacy of power through one of the main characters of his play, Prince Hal. Prince Hal’s public image challenges the notion of this concept. In this essay, through the analyzation of various passages, I argue that Prince Hal upsets the notion legitimacy of power because his public image contradicts King Henry’s mode of being and mirrors the problematic reputation and actions of Richard II, which adds to King Henry’s fear of losing the throne, and ultimately results in King Henry’s hesitancy to make him heir to the throne. Largely due to his public…show more content…
The king begins to fear that Prince Hal’s mirroring of Richard II could cause their downfall. When speaking about Richard II, King Henry states, “That, being swallowed daily by men’s eyes, they surfeited with honey and began To loathe the taste of sweetness, where more than a little is by too much” (3.2 70-74). In short, this quote is a metaphor for Richard II’s presence. When Richard II became King, his presence was like honey in the sense that it was a special treat because the public rarely saw him. Overtime, as Richard II showed his presence much more often, people grew tired of it. The eventually grew so tired of it and began helping King Henry, who regarded his presence as superior, take possession of Richard II’s crown. King Henry states “Had I so lavish been, so common hackneyed in the eyes of the men, so stale and cheap to vulgar company, Opinion that did help me to the crown, had still kept loyal in possession” (3.2 39 – 44). The key word in this quote is “lavish.” Lavish can be defined as abundant or extravagant (OED, def n). The king is essentially making a play on words, he is claiming that he was rarely seen by the commoners and that his presence was, and is valuable. Thus, since Prince Hal is mirroring Richard II, by spending a lot of time with commoners and often showing his presence, King Henry fears that the public will eventually get tired of Prince Hal’s presence…show more content…
Essentially, his mode of being was completely different from that of his father’s, but was fairly similar to that of Richard II. The contradiction and mirroring that came along with Prince Hal’s public image caused King Henry to be alarmed about losing the throne, triggering his hesitation of passing down the throne to Prince Hal. To put it simply, the behavior and presentation of Prince Hal complicated the notion of the legitimacy of power. Through Prince Hal, Shakespeare was able to cast a doubt on this concept and portray to the readers how even ideas such as public image, can upset the legitimacy of
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