To compare the difference between King Henry and Prince Hal’s style of statecraft, first we have to understand the basic philosophy of each. The King belives that to effectively lead the country one needs to lead by example. According to the King’s philosophy the best man is the one who lives a pure life and garners respect and honor from all men. To the King’s way of thinking Hotspur is more fit to be a King than Prince Hal, a comparison the King makes several times.
In Act I, scene i King Henry makes his first comparison of Hotspur to his son saying that Lord Northumberland’s son, Hotspur, was “A son who is the theme of honour’s tongue … ” while Prince Hal was stained by “… riot and dishonor…. ” In fact the King goes so far as to wish that Hotspur was his his son and not Prince Henry. Later in Act III, scene ii King Henry tells the Prince that Hal reminds him of the way King Richard acted before Henry took the throne and that Hotspur reminds the King of himself.
This is the King’s not so subtle way oftelling Hal that the King doesn’t think he is fit to succeed him to the throne. Prince Hal on the other hand has a different idea of statecraft. He expresses his ideas in his speech in Act I, scene ii when he says “If all the year were playing holidays, To sport would be as tedious as to work; But when they seldom come, they wish’d-for come,… My reformation glitt’ring o’er my fault, Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes than that which hath no foil to set it off.
” He is saying that he may be acting like a common ruffian now but when he does take up his duties as heir to the throne and begin to act like a prince he will shine more in the eyes of men because his actions now will provide a contrast by which they can judge him. It is important to note that Hal does not plan to spend the rest of his life acting in this manner. He does plan to leave this life behind and take on the role of heir apparent to the throne of England. In Act III, scene ii when the King confronts Hal about his delinquencies Hal is quick to agree with the King.
He admits that he has not acted the part of a prince and humbled by the condemnation of the King swears a vow to redeem himself or die trying. He so impresses the King that he is given command of an army and then goes on to preform heroically on the field of battle, saving the King’s life and ultimately defeating Hotspur in single combat. At first it would seem that the King’s idea of proper statecraft and the proper way for a prince to act won out since Hal put aside his old ways and became the ideal the King had wished for.
I think that Hal’s position and the King’s position were not that different at all. As shown in the previous quote from Act I, scene ii it was always Hal’s plan to leave the life he was leaving and return to the ‘ideal’ that the King wanted. The Kings speech in Act III, scene ii might have been the catylst but if Hal had never valued the ideals of the King the speech alone would never have pushed him to the actions which he later preformed. I think the King’s speech simply served to show Hal that now was the time to put the old ways behind him.
There are at least two good reasons for Hal to have behaved the way he did. The first is that by consorting with men like Falstaff he was able to learn how things really were in the kingdom. It is very hard for a King living in luxury, removed from the everyday life of the people to know how the populous feels and to do a good job of governing them. King Henry, ruling from afar was an impressive figure to the common man in England but it must have been hard for him to relate to that common man.
Prince Hal is going to become an impressive figure to the common man but because of the way he lived previously he will also be able to relate to the common man and thus better govern. The second reason why it was good for Hal to behave the way he did is one of self-preservation. King Henry complained that Hal was not like Hotspur, always seeking glory in battle and commanding respect from men twice his age but if Hal had been like Hotspur I think King Henry would have felt threatened. I think that most Kings must fear their successors to some degree.
If Hal had been like Hotspur I believe King Henry would have always been looking over his shoulder worried that Hal might try to speed Henry’s demise so that he could assume the throne. To protect himself Henry might have made Hal’s life miserable perhaps had him placed effectively under house arrest or even killed if the paranoia went far enough. Because Hal played the errant prince he posed no threat to the King, indeed he showed no care for courtly duties at all. It was wise for Hal to put himself in a non-threatening position until such a time as the King needed him to take a stronger role.
Because Hal took up his role as heir apparentat the King’s request the King had no reason to feel threatened by it. The differences between Hal’s model of statecraft and that of the King are not great. Hal’s model is merely a refined version of the King’s and in its slight differences it is a better version because they allow him to make himself into a person better fit to govern and at the same time allow his father to continue in his duties without spending time and effort to make sure his position is secure from his own son.