Who Is Hal?

Who is Prince Harry/Hal really?

The stately, wise, and seemingly thoughtful ruler of King Henry V is much different from the scheming, crude, less kind, and rowdy Hal in King Henry IV.

But who is the real one?

Is the rudeness, the unrefined manner of Hal simply an act, disguising the true Harry? Or is the  dignified Harry simply an act disguising the true Hal?

I believe that he is really Harry, not Hal.  But I also believe that he is a master of disguise and an excellent actor. Because of this, it is difficult to know when he is really being true to himself. For example, the lines spoken by Harry to Catherine in King Henry V are beautiful, more romantic than those in Romeo and Juliet. But does he really mean them, or is he simply pulling off yet another performance so that he can get what he needs?

He has shown himself to be a very talented and capable actor and performer – he has performed for armies, large crowds, friends, family members, advisors, politicians, clergymen, among others.

He always seems to have the right words to say, and know exactly how to say them.

He is also a highly intelligent man, look at his soliliquy in King Henry IV after tavern scene with Falstaff.  He is calculating, and scheming.

Yet Hal seems more calculating and hypocritical than Harry does. To me, Harry is a completely sympathetic character: he seems to do the right things, cares about people, accepts his humanity, and acknowledges the evils that exist in a fallen world. In effect, Harry seems in balance with his humanity and his political authority and position while Hal seems very unbalanced in that regard. He first tries to live only by satisfying his humanity and the desires associated with that, while denying his political authority and the responsibilities that come with that, but he later abandons his humanity for his political authority and power.

Harry, it is true, still has abandoned Falstaff, which is not commendable because it is traitorous. Even though Falstaff is not the best moral figure in the world, he was still Hal’s friend, and Hal used him quite a lot. So when Hal abandons Falstaff in King Henry IV, part ii, he is a back-stabbing friend. But, he seems to be loyal to his subjects now, especially the soldiers.

One thing philosophical discussion that comes up in King Henry V is that of divine right of kings and the morality of war – whose fault is it when soldiers die? The king’s for sending them to the war? Or the soldiers and opposing army? And when are wars just or injust – and who decides that: God of the king?

Anyway, the true “Hal” seems to be King Harry. He is at his best, both politically and humanely, and he seems most capable in the position of king.


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