Spring 2020, College of Western Idaho
Knowing some of the historical backgrounds to The Wars of the Roses that spanned less than 50 years, it was a bit of an understanding of how Prince Hal, an heir to the throne, would be viewed as unwilling to take his role seriously as his father points out in sadness. We see this a lot in modern fiction. Though we do see it in real life, we never stop to think how prominent it is. It’s one of the many occurrences in my own family, as I am sure it is in others.
It would be presumptuous is say this play could have started the whole plot of a young man acting out considering his role and how it portrays his family’s reputation. But Hal plays a double part in his behavior. He plans to take on the unwanted responsibility, and his father is just as fooled as anyone.
Moving on to the war itself, again in the true history of the battles from just before King Henry IV to the beginning of the Tudors who essentially ended the wars, people often double-crossed one another, and the plans to carry out such acts occurred often. Even to conspirators. No one was safe at that time. Learning of Hotspur’s goal is no shock as he felt he was ridiculed by the King wrongfully.
In the time of the wars, people didn’t know what to expect. But much like today and other points in time, they did choose sides. Still, it didn’t stop them from experiencing unease through it all. They worried about how they will be affected no matter whose side they support. The opening scene tells us that. Even though Shakespeare only uses this scene once, he still wanted to portray how commoners must have felt. That was: uncertainty.
The next scene is interesting because though the Prince initially refuses to take part in the thievery, he is a Royal, and it wouldn’t reflect well on his family if he found out, he and Poins devise a plan to trick Falstaff. Not just for laughs but to let Falstaff know that the Prince won’t let this kind of behavior go too far. Given his speech to the audience about his (the Prince) feelings and intentions, he only assumed that he does this to show his kinglier side. I feel Poins knows this.
Next, we get a glimpse of the doubt to go against the King. Anyone would be apprehensive in carrying out such plans. It makes you think about the Lincoln assassination conspiracy. Initially, more people were involved but backed out, knowing the high stakes and consequences. Just as with John Wilkes Booth, Hotspur feels confident. Both Booth and Hotspur hold the same fate: the opposing side killed them for the crimes. Though Hotspur in battle and not under arrest like Booth. Booth ran and was later captured, showing that anyone, even Hotspur, can doubt themselves. We don’t know if Hotspur examines his choices as he lets the excitement of carrying out a rebellion overtake any doubts he may have had.
The rest of the act shows the fun that the Prince partakes in joking around with the people he previously said hide his true self so much that he feels trapped sometimes. He acts out in humorous scenes to explain himself to his father with members of the tavern. The whole act is about apprehension. There is apprehension about how the war affects the commoners no matter who they side with politically. Anxiety about retaliation because it carries with it consequences, and concern about taking up duties you know you have and not knowing how the people you have to report to admit you’ll do it will act. Because accepting responsibility can be scary.
It isn’t as apparent in previous scenes or acts, yet I have noticed a mix of similarities in women’s roles of both the upper and lower class. Given the historical knowledge of women’s roles, which many today still hold, I have noticed that with the upper-class that women, accurately portrayed in this play, know about the goings-on of their husbands. Women could not have any part in that. They don’t have the allowance to contribute and are not as actively seen during the play. Whereas with other less high-ranking nobles such as Hotspur, the women in the dark. One due to a language barrier in the previous act. They aren’t necessarily denied room for input but are told not to worry about it. With the lower class, it seems they have more space to voice an opinion. Shakespeare barely touches on this aspect. In his other plays, where women have prominent roles, he gives them strong voices in various matters. For example, in The Merchant of Venice, Portia holds a strong argument in the courtroom. Speaking out in the way she had would have made for much talk as women weren’t allowed to act like that. Instead, they needed to keep quiet. To be seen and not heard because men deemed it so. Strong female characters may be due in part that during Shakespeare’s life, The Virgin Queen Elizabeth I was an unconventional monarch. Very progressive for her status and time-period. It would suffice to say she influenced how Shakespeare saw women, and he wrote them later.
In the Prince’s humorous practice of confronting his father about his duties and going forth in doing it, he realizes his father’s heartbroken view of his son’s behavior. Hal may have been aware, to some extent, of how his behavior affected his father. His response of, “I shall hereafter, my thrice gracious Lord, be more myself,” (3.1.92-93) both shows his confidence that he was aware of what he was doing and what he intended to do in his behavior. The realization that his father is grateful for the opportunity to become King in the first place affected how he only wants his son to have the same chance but feels his son doesn’t care. Hal does care. His behavior hurt his father more than he expected. The theme in this act is the roles in which people play and the obligations thereof.
In the last act, we read a rather boastful opinion of Mortimer’s nonexistent effect on the war by magic and how it has supposedly helped in the rebellion, which it hasn’t. When less and less support appears for one reason or another, it becomes evident that none of this will work out in the rebellion’s favor. It reminds me of Gerald Gardner’s attempt and claim at keeping World War II at Bay as he was a high-profile member of the Wiccan religion. He held a magical gathering of peoples to chant obscure words that were to be used to keep enemies away. He most likely did not affect magically that war no more than Mortimer did on The Wars of the Roses.
Falstaff uses hardly trained men as his troops. Doing this shows his ill-respect for the importance of the battle. He feels he has done enough already in life, but whatever victories come, he will claim as his own in strategy. Similarly, when a message to the rebellion to have an amicable agreement that results in no bloodshed reaches Hotspur, he acts as if it’s a ploy and doesn’t tell his son and thus refuses the deal. He, too, wants to claim any victories as his own at the use of others—even his son. Hotspur and Falstaff both have cowardly qualities. They don’t seem upset at using others at their expense. The only difference being that Falstaff knows no one believes him, but he does what he does anyway.
I saw (read) a lot of people being tired of the battle. The King certainly doesn’t want it even in his attempt to fight in another country over Christianity. Much of the rebellion members take the opportunity not to partake, and we get the idea that Hotspur’s son may not want to as well if he found out about the agreement. But Hal fights out of support for his father. He believes his father’s cover-up unwittingly.
The final acts bring together the outcome of taking up responsibilities. The consequences of actions are planned out of spite and with little forethought—the ploys to avoid death when one is tired of war. The showing of the strength and willingness it takes to enforce the order as a King and keep station. And the fact that many follow through on reaping victories, not theirs [see scene 4 in which Falstaff takes claim to kill Hotspur and Hal’s going along with it to appease Falstaff’s wish to keep up appearances].
I only wish we could have seen more of the reactions of the wives of the characters. Again, at that age, it didn’t matter. That comes through clearly in the play.