Wednesday, May 07, 2008
One recurrent personality in Shakespearean plays is the Machiavellian character, a complex and interesting personality that is found in King Henry IV, Part 1. Here, Prince Hal personifies the Machiavellian principle by virtue of being educated of the lessons required of a would-be king, many of whose requirements are linked to the use of power exclusively for the security of his own ends.
This education of Prince Hal can be seen as something that transforms him until he rises to become the cunning, efficient and successful political ruler that his father Henry IV is. His exposure to the tavern teaches him the manner of understanding regular pleasures like drinking, the way his people work, and the manner of relating to his subjects. By imbibing these qualities, he achieves a mature understanding of life as a rebel and cultivates affection and warmth which permeate the atmosphere of the tavern. Prince Hal, then, is portrayed as a future ruler whose political leadership is growing responsibly by virtue of the common touch he develops for his subjects.
On the other hand, Prince Hal’s education can be seen as being decidedly Machiavellian through and through, using his friends as instruments to attain his political objective and, therefore, careless of these people’s feelings. He is the exact opposite of the warm and affectionate person mentioned above because he, on the contrary, is a cold, calculating, greedy and ruthless political manipulator. Prince Hal, then, is depicted as a future ruler whose political leadership is trained under a scheming game plan that shall mature into a necessarily notorious and cruel political operation.
In other words, Prince Hal’s training as a future king puts more premium on efficiency than on morality because he employs shrewd manipulation and power in order to secure those that will give him satisfaction, unmindful of the good conduct persons with moral ascendancy (like him) must do as expected. He believes that his exposure to the tavern is an appropriate task not for its own sake but as a means through which he can acquire those that will gratify his self-interest.
This is with a price to pay, of course, and the history plays following Henry IV, Part I will reveal that Prince Hal’s due is high. His commitment to the Machiavellian principle in the play under study spawns complex issues in relation to the kind of humanity Prince Hal’s personality is developing into as well as to those of the people who are affected of the evil trait of the Machiavellian ruler.
The Machiavellian character of Prince Hal, nonetheless, is possibly the royal son’s interpretation of personal survival even if the exercise of power proves to go beyond the conventional moral strictures. He must have the conviction that his assertion of his personal desires is more significant than the traditional manner in which rulers relate to their subjects. He is ready to perform the tasks it takes to accomplish his envisioned gains, even if it means sacrificing others as well as his own humanity in the process. The budding Machiavellian controller that Prince Hal is cannot be but a self-sufficient individual devoid of conventional principles regarding social accountabilities and morality. As a would-be ruler possessing an inherent trait of social disorder and trapped in a community investing much in social relations and moral scruples, Prince Hal does not fit the notion of the ideal king.