Comedy in I Henry IV and II Henry IV
In I Henry IV and II Henry IV, William Shakespeare brings together drama and comedy to create two of the most compelling history plays ever written. Many of Shakespeare's other works are nearly absolute in their adherence to either the comic or tragic traditions, but in the two Henry IV plays Shakespeare combines comedy and drama in ways that seem to bring a certain realism to his characters, and thus the plays. The present essay is an examination of the various and significant effects that Shakespeare's comedic scenes have on I Henry IV and II Henry IV. The Diversity of Society
Perhaps the first and most obvious effect of Shakespeare's use of comedy in the two Henry IV plays is the resulting diversity of characters. The plays can be seen to be divided into three general scenes or settings, the court, the tavern, and the rebel's camp, and it is largely the tavern scenes which introduce characters not found in the plays' historical bases. In doing so, Shakespeare of course draws in a more diverse audience, who can perhaps see something of themselves in the full variety of society's characters found in I Henry IV and II Henry IV. Shakespeare's mastery of language and dialect help to acheive this, for his characters' speech resounds with realism. The tavern crowd's lines, for example, are filled with colloquialisms and double-entendres:
Falstaff. Welcome, Ancient Pistol. Here, Pistol, charge you with a cup of sack. Do you discharge upon mine hostess.
Pistol. I will discharge upon her, Sir John, with two bullets.
Falstaff. She is pistol-proof, sir; you shall not hardily offend her.
Hostess. Come, I'll drink no proofs nor no bullets. I'll drink no more than will do me good, for no man's pleasure, I. (II Henry IV, II. iv. 113-122)
The scene is filled with bawdy references and second meanings, meanings which the audience would undoubtedly find uproarously funny. Hal, too, often speaks this language of the lower classes, especially when chiding Falstaff: "These lies are like the father that begets them--gross as a mountain, open, palpable. Why, thou clay-brained guts, thou knotty-pated fool, thou whoreson obscene greasy tallow-catch--" (I Henry IV, II. iv. 224-227). The language Shakespeare uses in the tavern scenes is certainly different from the more solemn and courtly language found in the plays' more dramatic moments, as in Hal's gallantry towards Hotspur upon the latter's death:
Prince. But let my favors hide thy mangled face;
And, even in thy behalf, I'll thank myself
For doing these fair rites of tenderness
Adieu, and take thy praise with thee to heaven.
Thy ignominy sleep with thee in the grave,
But not remembered in thy epitaph. (I Henry IV, V. iv. 95-100)
The differences in styles of language truly brings alive the plays' various characters,...