Monday, October 24, 2011


The Sons Also Rise
Two princes, one sullen and moody, one full of youthful rebellion: Hamlet—Danish, age thirty, an introspective and solitary man. Prince Hal—English, no older than fifteen—an extroverted party boy. Hamlet (in Shakespeare’s play of the same name) has had a proper upbringing, while Prince Hal (in King Henry IV, Part 1) is rebelling against the establishment, (his father King Henry IV). Both have come to their position in usurpulous circumstances, both are disinterested in the task at hand—Hamlet does not show any interest in the day-to-day workings of his family’s kingdom or life in the castle. Hal is not even in his castle. Hamlet is alone in his shell of grief, while stepfather/ Uncle Claudius is enjoying the spoils of "[m]y crown, mine own ambition, and my queen" (Hamlet 3.3.59). Hal is off drinking sack with his thieving friends for most of the play, as King Henry laments: “I … / See riot and dishonor stain [his] brow” (King Henry IV 1.1.83, 84)
Hal was twelve when his father usurped the throne from King Richard H. The education of a prince is different than that of a Duke or Lord. Not only would Hal (had he been born heir to the throne) have an academic education, he would have been instructed daily on his role as prince and future King (“As the King, you walk ten paces in front, nobody should stand taller than you," etc). Hal had already been hanging out with Falstaff before he became Prince—no one with a direct bloodline to the crown would be caught dead with him—and that "fat-kidneyed rascal" is too fun of a habit to break. For a boy to drop all of his old friends and start acting in a different manner—just to please his father—that doesn’t happen overnight. Hal sees a moat ahead called "dignity," and he will eventually cross the drawbridge, leaving his old cronies to be eaten by crocodiles; now he just wants to have fun. His father’s not in danger—Hal’s kingship is a long way off—he thinks. Hamlet spends his time in introspection (note the soliloquies; he has six versus Hal, who has only two). He fights his revenge battle on his own; the fewer people who know he is not really mad, the better, and he is more introverted than Hal.
Hal wants to party with his friends, exchange verbal assaults; especially with his old friend and father figure, Sir John Falstaff, who happens to be Prince Hal’s vice:
PRINCE                                                 This san-
          guine coward, this bed-presser, this horse-back-
          breaker, this huge hill of flesh—
FALSTAFF ‘Sblood, you starveling, you elfskin, you
        dried neat’s tongue, you bull’s pizzle, you stockfish!
        O, for breath to utter what is like thee!
PRINCE Well, breathe awhile, and then to it again, and
       when thou hast tired thyself in base comparisons,
       hear me speak but this.                           (2.4.251–261)
He loves plotting a practical joke or two on his friends; “I have a jest to execute that I cannot / manage alone,” Poins announces in Act 1, scene 2 (168–169). After some details of the plan are made clear, Hal jumps right in; "Well, I’ll go with thee" (198).
          Hamlet, on the other hand, is an introvert who would rather read than join in his family’s festivities. While he is inclined to introversion, Hamlet naturally knows that he needs to force himself to be more extroverted; as king he will have to interact socially with many different people—his circumstances prove the contrary—“I am dead, Horatio" (Hamlet, 5.2.365).
Hal, a natural extrovert, knows that he eventually will have to grow up and be a conscientious King:
I know you all, and will awhile uphold
The unyoked humor of your idleness.
Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the bass contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
. . .
And, like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation, glitt’ring o’er my fault,
Should show more goodly and attract more eyes,
Than that which hath no foil to set it off
               (King Henry IV 1.2.201–206, 219–222)
He’ll need more than a simple conscience; for he’s going to pass judgment on commoners who have committed the same petty crimes he has done, as well as deciding the fate of his former cronies:
FALSTAFF                                       If to be old and
merry a sin, then many an old host that I know is
damned ....
       Jack Falstaff, banish not
him thy Harry’s company, …
                            Banish plump jack, and banish
all the world.
PRINCE I do, I will.
(King Henry IV 2.4.488–489, 495–499)
Care for a little foreshadowing, anyone?
Hamlet, aged thirty when his father is murdered, the prime age for a King—but the crown goes to Claudius, leaving Hamlet to revert to a passive-aggressive plot to reclaim the throne:
Here, as before, never, so help you mercy,
How strange or odd some’er I bear myself
(As I perchance hereafter shall think meet
To put an antic disposition on)
(Hamlet, 1.5.189–192)
Hal, being a teenager, sees no rush to adopt princely (indeed, kingly) behavior. With no knowledge of the threat to his father’s throne; he’s living life now, before he has all the royal responsibilities to contend with. He cannot bring himself to say the royal "we," as his father does in Act 1, scene 1: "We are impressed and engaged to fight—” (Henry IV, 21).
Hamlet’s only behavior model (his father), is dead. Why would anyone choose to look up to people they refer to as a “villain" (Hamlet 1.5.13), and a "most pernicious woman" (Hamlet 1.5.12)? Is Hamlet going to go ask his parents for advice on anything? No. If he thinks of his parents that way, the only direction to go is toward solitude. “Most people experiencing  . . . mourning require both permission and encouragement (verbal and nonverbal) to mourn because of the traditionally unacceptable thoughts and feelings that become aroused and the personal and social discomfort such an experience brings. For many mourners experiencing difficulties, there is less need for permission and encouragement than for actual prescription. They often require an authority figure to inform them that they need to mourn” (Rando 7). The court in Denmark is very business as usual, despite the fact that usurper Claudius is king, and the legitimate heir is sitting at his side at the table. This is very unsettling for Hamlet, and will become part of his personality from then on: ““very seldom does one consider that loss . . . [of] a [loved one] . . . is part of development and contributes to it” (Schoenberg 4).” Psychologically he is stuck at age thirty until he processes his grief; for Hamlet this includes fulfilling his need for retributory action against Claudius.
One might say these men are as different as night and day. Looking at their personalities, yes they are. Circumstantially, however, they are a lot alike. How these two princes become the people they are is due to circumstances beyond their control. Hamlet, reeling from the murder of his father and subsequent marriage of his mother to his uncle, whereas Hal spends twelve years growing up to the manor born, yet ends up to the kingdom born, as his father, Henry usurps the crown from his cousin, Richard II. Both Princes are disinterested in The Royal Life. Hal shows youthful disinterest and rebellion, whereas Hamlet uses his to hide his plot of revenge. The truth comes out in each character’s soliloquies: “Now I might do it now he is a-praying, / And now I’ll do ‘t {He draws his sword}" (Hamlet 3.3.77–78). Hamlet is not all talk; he does have the guts to kill Claudius—maybe.
Hal, however, schemes a less life-threatening plan, as he delivers an impromptu eulogy for the “dead” Falstaff:
What, old acquaintance, could not all this flesh
Keep in a little life? Poor jack, farewell.
I could have better spared a better man.
O, I should have a heavy miss of thee
If I were much in love with vanity.
        (King Henry IV 5.4.104–108)
 Hal transformed from playboy to prince. He will not "miss" Falstaff as much as he would have, had this happened, say, in a tavern. The boy moved on. A prince needs to learn how to be king.
Interestingly, when Hal is speaking to the audience, he uses verse, a technique Shakespeare employs to distinguish royal characters from others — though he talks to his friends in a casual way. “Brian Vickers writes that when Hal changes to Henry, changing from prose to verse, he is "stepping up to verse,’ and ‘a change of medium which always corresponds to his reclamation of dignity’ (emphasis added, 99). Characters step up as does language” (Tate 91). Using this technique, Shakespeare lets the audience know that Hal changed perspectives; he knows that he must grow up and be King; this fact is unavoidable.
Hamlet also speaks in verse when talking to the King and Queen, “But I have that within me passes show, / These but the trappings and the suits of woe" (Hamlet, 1.2.88439). Yet he talks to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in prose:
O wonderful son that can so ’stonish a moth-
er. But is there no sequel at the heels of this
mother’s admiration? Impart. (Hamlet 3.2.356-357)
Hamlet, schooled in the ways of royalty from birth, also knows how to speak correctly. Etiquette dissipates when young noblemen converse with friends.
In the end, Hamlet and Prince Hal are self-fulfilling prophesies of what their fathers say they are. King Henry IV laments that Prince Hal (rather than Hotspur) is his son, he wishes that
    
 … it could be proved
That some night-tripping fairy had exchanged
In cradle-clothes our children where they lay,
And called mine “Percy,” his “Plantagenet”!
Then I would have his Harry, and he mine.
    (King Henry IV 1.2.85–89)
For most of the play, Hal is fighting an uphill battle against his father’s notion that his son is the perpetual ingrate who will always have "dishonor stain[ed] [on his] brow" (1.1.84). Prince Hal throws up his hands in a “What the Hell, I’ll just do what I want" fashion; which ends only when he realizes that his family is under siege. Claudius’ view of Hamlet isn’t desirable, either. At first he seems confused as to why “the clouds still hang on thee” (Hamlet 1.2.68). Hamlet responds, "Not so, my lord; I am too much in the sun" (Hamlet 1.2.69).
These puns on son/ sun and knight/ night come up in King Henry IV too; as when Falstaff describes a thief’s lifestyle in Act 1, scene 2:
 . . . we
that take purses go by the moon and the seven
stars, and not by Phebus, he, that wand’ring
knight so far. (King Henry IV 14-17)
And as Hal reveals later,
herein I will imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
(King Henry IV 1.2.204–206)
He knows that his reputation will precede him when he becomes king, but he will have put this life in a little locked box—to be opened only in a nostalgia emergency. So what happens to our two princes? Do they ever come out from behind their respective clouds to shine? Unfortunately for Hamlet, the answer is no. But Fortinbras lets Denmark have a wonderful speculation of his “most royal” (Hamlet 5.2.444) outcome, had he lived. And Hal? Well that's another whole paper.
Works Cited
Schoenberg, Bernard, Irwin Gerber, Alfred Wiener, Austin H. Kutscher, David Peretz, and Arthur C. Carr, Ed. Bereavement, Its Psychosocial Aspects. Columbia University Press. NY, NY. 1975. Web. 23 Oct. 2011.
Shakespeare, William. Barbara A. Mowat, Paul Werstine, ed., The New Folger Library: Hamlet; New York, New York: Washington Square Press, 1992.
Shakespeare, William. Barbara A. Mowat, Paul Werstine, ed., The New Folger Library: Henry IV, Part; New York, New York: Washington Square Press, 1994.
Shakespeare, William. Barbara A. Mowat, Paul Werstine, ed., The New Folger Library: The History of Henry IV Part 1. New York, New York: Washington Square Press, 1994.
Tate, Joseph, Shakespeare, Prose and Verse: Unreadable Forms, University of Washington, 2005.