Henry IV Part 1

Like Glistening Phaeton: The Image of the Sun in Richard II and Henry IV

Shakespeare’s history plays tend to focus on the drama of the rise and fall of kings, as we see in both Richard II and Henry IV Part 1. While the outcome of these stories was known to the theatergoers of his time, Shakespeare retold these stories not only to dramatize the historic events, but to draw and present themes that emerge from them as well. Throughout these plays, Shakespeare use the image of the sun to represent the glory of kingship, and moreover, to represent the frequent pattern of rise and fall that is inevitable in the lives of each king—Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry V. Just as the sun rises in the east every morning and sets in the west every evening, we can see that the rise and fall of these kings is unavoidable. Comparing the kingship to the sun is significant in that it emphasizes how quickly and suddenly one’s luck can change, a theme that is evident in many Shakespeare plays including Richard II and 1 Henry IV, and which is examined in this string of rising and falling kings.

In Richard II sun imagery is used mostly to depict King Richard’s sudden yet inevitable downfall, which the play is centered around. The play opens with King Richard’s throne seeming secure, but by Act II we as readers see that the...

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