Henry IV Part 1

A Game of Winning the Crown: Shakespeare's Henries

In his histories from Richard II through Henry V to Richard III, Shakespeare depicts the English monarchy as a game between family and friends of vying for a gold ring -- the crown. Shakespeare gives his reader a central metaphor through which to see this equation in King Henry IV part one. The prank Prince Hal, later King Henry V, and his friend, Poins, play on their friends, particularly Falstaff, parallels the plot's focal passing of the crown.

In the first act, Poins outlines his plan to play a prank on Falstaff and their other friends to Prince Hal, "They [Falstaff and others] will adventure upon the exploit [of stealing money from travelers] themselves, which they shall have no sooner achieved but we'll set upon them" (I.ii.169-71). This exactly represents the larger action that takes place in this same piece. King Henry IV, previously Bolingbroke, usurped the crown from King Richard II in Shakespeare's play of that title, and now, in this King Henry Hotspur is trying to take from "Bolingbroke," the name he contemptuously insists on using for the king, the crown which the king 'rightfully' stole already. Hal's prank can, in fact, be seen as the summarizing play within the play so...

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