Henry IV Part 1


The Sun

Both King Henry and Prince Hal make a number comparisons between themselves and the sun, whereas Falstaff seems to prefer celestial bodies of the night. Clear throughout is the obvious play on the homophone ‘son’.

Early in the play, Hal describes himself as the sun allowing the clouds – his poor behaviour and his wayward friends – to cover him up in order that when he eventually reveals himself he will be “more wondered at” (Act 1, Scene 2). The irony is delicious then when his father describes himself in almost identical terms to make an opposing argument. In King Henry’s speech in Act 3, Scene 2, he refers to his “sun-like majesty” and echoes Hal’s words “seldom” and “wonder’d at” several times.

King Henry believes that Hal is showing too much of himself and so the people of England will become too used to his presence and there will be nothing left for them to wonder at. He encourages his son to be more like himself; a “comet” (Act 3, Scene 2) seen very rarely. In this sense Hal’s very presence is the sun. The young prince however has a slightly different take on the metaphor and sees himself as both sun and clouds, and endows himself with the almost god-like ability to control the change in the weather at precisely the right time. Where Henry was the sun that was necessarily hidden away, to be displayed at carefully orchestrated intervals, Hal is supremely confident in his ability to reveal the various sides to his personality and manipulate how he is perceived.

The difference between the political strategies that the two men are advocating is so small as to be almost non-existent, but there is a very important distinction. It is fascinating that they are both so aware of nurturing their brand and it seems as if Hal has learned the lessons of his father’s reign and taken them one step further. King Henry takes a much more one-dimensional approach to himself. People are either seeing him or they are not. He cannot conceive of the depth of Hal’s machinations and that there might be some part of the young Prince’s character or personality that he can intentionally kept hidden. We see here the development of this political cunning from one generation to the next.