The Comparative Prince and the Repetitive King: An Examination of the Difference of Image Use in 1 Henry IV and Richard II

by Jeremy R. Strong

“Thou hast the most unsavory similes…” – Falstaff in 1 Henry IV (1.1. 68)

            My concern is to address the plays Richard II and 1 Henry IV and to discuss the fact that the use of imagery in these two plays differs greatly. The types of images used differ in the following way; in Richard II the images are as Madeline Doran states in her article Imagery in Richard II and Henry IV, ‘direct or explicit, complete, correspondent, point by point, to the idea symbolized and separate from one another’ (236), while in 1 Henry IV the images ‘tend to be richer in implicit suggestion and in ambiguity, not fully developed, fluid in outline and fused with one another’ (236). The images in Richard II are complete and most part of a larger pattern such as the four elements, the changing of the seasons, the idea of England as a garden, Richard as an actor, the comparisons of the king to the sun and the many images used to allude to blood and inheritance. The images in 1 Henry IV are more varied, running the gamut from animal comparisons to the emblemology of luxury represented by a cushion and in contrast to Richard II, these images are not used repetitively and don’t form any kind of recognizable pattern. 

            The way in which the images function in the two plays is completely different. In Richard II, these complete images, building in intensity eventually create a lasting thematic impression in the mind of the reader or audience, while in 1 Henry IV the images function on a purely individual basis, serving to make quick comparison and in some cases only alluding ambiguously to wider meaning.

            First I will outline the many image patterns various scholars in the field have discovered that are present in Richard II, before going on to demonstrate why the images in 1 Henry the IV are used in such a different manner and don’t follow a pattern.

            The way the images function in Richard II is, as Richard D. Altick contends in his article Symphonic Imagery in Richard the Second, like the ‘leitmotivs in music’ (67) where the words are not just used for the sake of their poetic sound. ‘Language has become the willing servant of structure, and what was on other occasions only a source of exuberant but undisciplined wit now is converted to the higher purpose of poetic unity’ (67). Altick says of Shakespeare’s use of symbols that ‘they are woven deeply into the  thought-web of the play. Each word-theme symbolizes one or another of the fundamental ideas of the story, and every time it reappears it perceptibly deepens and enriches those meanings and at the same time charges the atmosphere with emotional significance’ (67).  Altick cites as examples the insistence of the words ‘tongue, speech and word’ in Richard II (67). These words appear continually and heavily underscore the major image of Richard as an actor and orator. The words just mentioned are used frequently, though Altick argues that earth is the central word of the play (76), contending that the play is dominated by symbolism surrounding the words ‘earth, land and ground’ (68).

            Altick finds even more patterned image in Richard II, such as reference made to gardening, tending the land, trimming unwanted growth all as simile and metaphor for England and its people (71). Altick also points out the continued metaphor of the changing of the seasons (71). Images are presented of blood being used to make things and people grow (72). Tears and weeping are also persistently presented in Richard II (75). Altick also references the word blood and its many symbolic uses in the play, particularly how blood is used as a metaphor for the showers that grow the English garden (71), and how it is used many times through imagery to imply inheritance and descent (73). Altick also finds significance repetitive use of the word blood as it relates to the color of King Richard himself and the historical hints that he would blanch and blush a lot (73-74). Many direct images are used in these ways in Richard II, referencing both what is going on in the play and how the king responds to the events (74). This evidence for the direct use of image in Richard II supports the main argument of this paper.

            Altick’s mention of the garden metaphor is underscored and supported by Caroline Spurgeon’s important discussion of England as an untended garden in her book Shakespeare’s Imagery and what it tells us. In chapter XII: Leading Motives in the Histories, Spurgeon writes that ‘the most constant running metaphor and picture in Shakespeare’s mind in the early historical plays as a whole is that of growth seen in a  garden and orchard. (216). Spurgeon asserts that the central image of Richard II is that of England as a garden and that there are many references in the text that support this, “And so what has been but an undertone – at first faint, later clear and definite – in the earlier historical plays, here in Richard II gathers strength and volume, until it becomes the leading theme” (222).  She believes that the culmination of these images is in the garden scene, a scene that is out of character for Shakespeare in its sheer transparency of meaning (222). All of England’s history and the tragedy of human nature are here compared to an untended garden and therefore a plausible solution is presented as to how it can be tended, through proper care, or leadership. Both Altick and Spurgeon support the idea of direct explicit imagery in Richard II. 

            Continuous metaphor is used to create an image of Richard II as a character who is weak in person but grand in speech and appearance. Spurgeon asserts (on page 233) that these metaphors are maintained through Richards self comparison to the sun and that even Bullingbrook supports these metaphors when he says “See, see, King Richard doth himself appear, as doth the blushing discontented sun from out the fiery portal of the east” (Richard II, 3.3.62-7).

            Other scholars find different recurrent images in Richard II. In his book Imaginary Audition, in chapter three “Here Cousin, Seize the Crown” Harry Berger Jr. Discusses the ever present theme of Richard II as an actor; “the image of an actor does not pursue Richard so much as he pursues it” (67). He then explains that Richard maintains an actor’s behavior throughout the play “Poet, actor, dreamer, passive spectator – all these qualities unavoidably lead him to revel in imagery whenever he speaks. Instead of deciding, he interprets the situation by means of elaborate similes; instead of turning to action, he prefers to reflect upon his own state” (75). This assertion that Richard’s behavior and symbolic language remain constant throughout the play supports this papers contention that images are used directly and explicitly in Richard II.

            In his introduction to the new Cambridge edition of Richard II, Andrew Gurr, the editor, writes that Richard is represented by the sun and Bullingbrook by a flood of water and that Richard as the sun is always threatened by the rising flood waters of Bullingbrook (24). This image is continually repeated throughout the play. At first Richard denies that the sun can be touched by either the flood or the breath of worldly men, but later, as Gurr points out in his introduction, “Richard half concedes the transfer of the sun image from himself to Bullingbroke, ‘from Richards night to Bullingbrokes fair day’ (27).

Gurr further insists that most of the major events in the play of Richard II relate to the four elements, and relate directly; “fire (Richard II) and water (Bullingbrook) struggle for the earth of England and conduct their fight with the airy breath of words” (23). 

            Gurr then goes on to describe other images that continually appear in the play Richard II, such as blood and inheritance, which is a constantly repeated image (28). Strengthening the argument made by Altick, Gurr writes that Bullingbrook “debases his ‘princely knee’ by touching earth with it, an allusion to Bullingbrook’s share in the royal blood of Edward. At the end of the play the blood on Bullingbrook’s hands is that of Cain, shedder of family blood” (30). Gurr then writes, “All the images of blood, kinship, kingship and time run together in York’s protest to Richard over his seizure of Gaunt’s property and Bullingbrook’s inheritance” (30). Gurr discusses other patterns, such as food images of sweet and sour (30) and kneeling and swearing of oaths (31). Gurr’s contention that much of the symbolism in Richard II somehow relates to the four elements (28) and his demonstration of other repeated imagery supports the argument of this paper that the image patterns in Richard II are direct and correspondent to each other.

            Now that Richard II has been shown to contain direct and explicit image pattern, I must examine I Henry IV and present evidence for a lack therein. Caroline Spurgeon in her book Shakespeare’s Imagery and what it tells us states that “an undertone of running symbolic imagery is to be found to some extent in almost every one of Shakespeare’s plays, contributing in various ways to the richness and meaning of the play, and, in some cases, profoundly influencing it’s effect upon us” (215).

Then, marking them out amongst all of the History plays and even all of Shakespeare’s work as a whole, she remarks that “the two parts of Henry IV are curiously free from any continuous imagery of this kind (215).”  It is Spurgeon’s insistence that she can find no central recurrent symbolic theme in 1 Henry IV that best describes the remainder of this papers purpose. Richard II has been discussed in depth and clear patterns of Imagery been presented, supported by the writing of a variety of experts in the field. Now I shall present examples of the images used in 1 Henry IV and discuss whether these images have some kind of observable pattern or if Spurgeon and some other scholars are correct and 1 Henry IV uses mainly indirect, unrelated and ambiguous imagery.

            I would like to begin with the closest thing I can find resembling a patterned image and that is the image of the King as the sun. Even Spurgeon grants that the sun imagery is constant in 1 Henry IV “The first part of Henry IV, as we have seen, opens with the king being pictured as the midday sun” (235). I have also found that prince Hal is compared to the sun at midsummer (4.1.102 and 1.2.208) and King Henry IV compares himself to a comet and to the sun. (3.2.47 and 3.2.78). Also, Hotspur similarly makes metaphor of the sun (2.3.18-21). In this we see that there are definitely celestial metaphors in the play. However, throughout all the histories and many other plays, Spurgeon asserts (235) that the king is often compared to the sun and so this is more an indication of a wider pattern of image use in many plays as opposed to being the theme of 1 Henry IV.

            Another possible hint at the beginning of pattern could be the fact that Soil, blood and a possible allusion to the garden all appear in the fist lines of 1 Henry IV:

No More the Thirsty entrance of this soil

Shall Daub her lips with her own children’s blood

No more shall trenching war channel her fields

Nor bruise her flowerets with the armed hoofs (1.1.5-8)

But rather than set up a pattern of image for the current play, these quick mentions of images so well used in the previous play of Richard II serve the purpose of quickly helping the reader connect the two plays. These are the two closest examples I can find of recognizable pattern in 1 Henry IV and both fall far short of the kind of distinct patterns earlier discussed that Richard II contains.

            Image use in 1 Henry IV is quick and successive, contrasting with the long emphasizing image use in Richard II. Madeline Doran provides a good example of this when she compares a selection of text from 1 Henry IV (Act 3, Scene 2 Lines 60-84) to one of King Richards’ speeches in Richard II (Act 5, Scene 5 Lines 1-32). Doran says of the selection from 1 Henry IV:  “Notice the rapid succession of images, the quick suggestion rather than elaboration in such compact and elliptical lines…the rapidity, complexity, and fluidity of the images in Henry’s speech help (as well as their substance) to increase their obliquity. Fewer doors are closed (238).”

Doran goes on to argue that images in Richard II are fully explicatory while in 1 Henry IV the same kinds of images are wholly implicit (240). Doran argues that in Richard II the similes are fully extended, as in the example she provides in which Bollingbroke makes an extended simile of King Richard compared with the sun (3.3.62-67). She examines this side by side with scenes in 1 Henry IV where the similes are brief and colloquial, using as an example the way that Falstaff and Hal quickly characterize one another with witty similes that are not repeated (240-241). Doran also points out the importance of the fact that Allegorical or sustained metaphor is only used in Richard II and not in 1 Henry IV (241).

            Nor is Doran the only scholar who has noted this difference in the two plays. James L. Calderwood in his article Richard II to Henry IV: Variations on the fall discusses Richard II and his abundant metaphors; “The most extravagant of these is his sustained conceit identifying himself as times ‘numbering clock’ (5.5.49-60).” The selected text in question is twelve lines of Richard comparing his body and emotions with the workings of a clock. Compare this with any of the short metaphors in 1 Henry IV and the distinction between long drawn out thematic imagery and short humorous allusions becomes striking, such as the above cited speech by Richard compared to this short exchange between Prince Hal and Falstaff that I have selected from 1 Henry IV:

Fal. Yea, for obtaining of suits, whereof the hangman hath no lean wardrobe. ‘Sblood I am as melancholy as a gib cat, or a lugged bear.

Prince. Or a lion, or a lover’s lute.

Fal. Yea, or the drone of a Lincolnshire bagpipe.

Prince. What sayest thou to a hare, or the melancholy of Moorditch?

      Fal. Thou hast the most unsavory similes…

            Another author, Audrey Yoder in her book Animal Analogy in Shakespeare’s Character Portrayal notes the unusually high number of animal references and comparisons in 1 Henry IV, being of a total 189 and higher than in any other of the plays (65-69). This is another example of how quick similes and metaphors are used in the play without necessarily being part of a larger image pattern. Many of these animal references are fast ways for Falstaff to be characterized in comic ways or for him to characterize another character. My favorite example would be when Falstaff compares the hostess to an otter (3.3. 107-113). 

            The best example in 1 Henry IV of an image being used in a contrary way to the images used in Richard II is demonstrated in the article Shakespeare’s Imagery: Emblem and the Imitation of Nature by Judith Dundas. In her article, Dundas asserts that the scene in which Falstaff uses a cushion to represent the crown on his head purposefully contains symbolic imagery, that the cushion has well known connotations of luxury and that nowhere is the significance of this symbolism directly stated (47). This is a perfect example of many of the images used in 1 Henry IV, where instead of directly completing the imagery through simile or metaphor, Shakespeare has more deftly left the image open to the interpretation of his audience, instead of telling us what the image alludes to as in Richard II. 

            A second example can be found in the curious instance of the only mention of a specifically named clock in all of Shakespeare’s work. In his short article Henry the IV part 1, Charles Edelman examines this curious instance of Falstaff mentioning the Shrewsbury Clock and comes to the conclusion that it is very strange for Shakespeare to have alluded to a clock that would not have been anywhere near the battlefield. Edelman writes that this is “consistent with the overall style of the Henry IV plays, in which the scenes involving the King, the Percies, and other historical characters are set in the past, while those involving Falstaff and his gang are part of the Elizabethan world that Shakespeare and his audience knew from their daily lives.” (6). My contention is that this clock is likely another ambiguous image that the audience at the time was likely fully aware of, connecting the audience to the Falstaff world, just as with Dundas’ cushion. 

            This is not to say that ambiguous images do not exist in Richard II. Robert M. Schuler, in his article Magic Mirrors in Richard II, explains in great detail the iconographic significance of the mirror used in three important scenes in the play (151). This image is not so direct and explicit, but rather more resembles the cushion and the clock in 1 Henry IV. But images of this kind are the exception, while Richer and more drawn out images like that of the garden seem to be the rule. 

            The thesis of this paper stated that the image use in the two plays differs greatly in that the images in Richard II are direct and explicit and fall into a distinct repetitive pattern and the images in 1 Henry IV are ambiguous and not part of any discernible pattern. I have proven point by point that this is so, providing a multitude of succinct examples from a variety of authorities on the subject. Thus I have proven this important difference in image use between the two plays. 

            The function of these images has also been proven very different, as the images like “leitmotivs in music” (Altick 67) in Richard II build in the play until they reach a crescendo of feeling and by being so emphasized leave a lasting impression on the mind of the images of Garden, the Elements and others. While in 1 Henry IV, the quick successive simile and metaphor, not repeated, function more to dilute the symbolic meaning while strengthening the expression of character (Dundas 51).

            In researching this paper I have learned that it is likely Shakespeare was fully aware that he was playing with language itself in the writing of 1 Henry IV, as he has his characters make several of these cheeky references to simile and metaphor in the play. It could even be that Shakespeare purposefully made his use of image more open to interpretation in 1 Henry IV in an attempt to change his writing style, appeal to the changing tastes of his audience or to leave his feelings about the central characters less understood and therefore more guarded. It does seem as though many of the characters in 1 Henry IV are conundrums and it might be much harder to build progressive image patterns based on characters that exhibit such contradictory behaviorOverall, I believe this research paper has been a very successful endeavor.

Works Cited

Altick, Richard D. Symphonic Imagery in Richard II.  From Twentieth Century Interpretations of Richard II. Prentice Hall Inc. New Jersey. 1971. Ed. Paul M. Cubeta.

Berger, Harry Jr. Imaginary Audition. University of California Press. California. 1989.

Calderwood, James L. Richard II to Henry IV: Variations on the fall. Modern Critical Interpretations of Richard II. Chelsea House Publishers. New York. 1988. Ed. Harold Bloom. 

Doran, Madeline. Imagery in Richard II and Henry IV.  From Henry The Fourth, Part 1. W.W. Norton and Company. New York. 1962. Ed. James L. Sanderson.

Dundas, Judith. “Shakespeare’s Imagery: Emblem and the Imitation of Nature.” Shakespeare Studies. Vol. 16: pages 45-56. Associated University Presses. 1983.

Edelman, Charles. Henry the IV Part 1. Explicator; Fall 2005, Vol. 64 Issue 1, p5-7.

Evans, G. Blakemore, Editor. Supplement to Henry IV, Part 1.  Shakespeare Association of America Inc. 1956. 

Gurr, Andrew, Editor. King Richard II: Updated Edition. Cambridge University Press. New York. 2003.

Shakespeare, William. The Yale Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Barnes and Noble. New York. 1993. Eds. Cross, Wilbur L. And Brooke, Tucker.

Schuler, Robert M. Magic Mirrors in Richard II. Comparative Drama, (38:2-3), 2004, Summer-Fall, 151-81. Publication Year: 2004.

Spurgeon, Caroline. Shakespeare’s Imagery and What It Tells Us. Cambridge University Press. New York. 1966.

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