KING HENRY IV
Can no man tell me of my unthrifty son?
‘Tis full three months since I did see him last;
If any plague hang over us, ’tis he.
I would to God, my lords, he might be found:
Inquire at London, ‘mongst the taverns there,
For there, they say, he daily doth frequent,
With unrestrained loose companions,
Even such, they say, as stand in narrow lanes,
And beat our watch, and rob our passengers;
Which he, young wanton and effeminate boy,
Takes on the point of honour to support
So dissolute a crew.
The quote above is from the end of Richard II, from King Bolingbroke (Henry IV). The two, of course, are foils beginning in this second play of the Henriad, which consists of Richard II, Henry IV (1 & 2), and Henry V. The king is asking out loud about his ne’er-do-well son. At that time Prince Hal is hanging out with the wrong crowd, drinking, and generally embarrassing the King.
We first see Harry Percy (Hotstpur), Northumberland’s bold son, in Richard II. Hal (Henry V) is only mentioned in passing at the end of that play (quote above). In the quote below, from the beginning of Henry IV (1), we hear the King’s frustration with his underachieving son, whose lassitude is contrasted with the achievements of Hotspur.
This quote captures the depths of the King’s frustrations with his son (O that it could be proved…) who at this point is barren of achievement and appears to have a most unpromising future ahead. The language is evocative and shocking. As we read it, we must resists the temptation to look forward and force ourselves to feel the King’s despair that has him wishing against hope that Hal was not his son. The despair is acute because the civil war – “civil butchery” – is coming. We do not know, yet, of Hal’s gifts and virtues. We do not know yet his ambitions.
It is a conquest for a prince to boast of.
KING HENRY IV
Yea, there thou makest me sad and makest me sin
In envy that my Lord Northumberland
Should be the father to so blest a son,
A son who is the theme of honour’s tongue;
Amongst a grove, the very straightest plant;
Who is sweet Fortune’s minion and her pride:
Whilst I, by looking on the praise of him,
See riot and dishonour stain the brow
Of my young Harry. O that it could be proved
That some night-tripping fairy had exchanged
In cradle-clothes our children where they lay,
And call’d mine Percy, his Plantagenet!
Then would I have his Harry, and he mine.
But let him from my thoughts.