Parallelism Between King Claudius and King Henry IV

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When reading Shakespeare, it is clear that certain character types can be found throughout his plays. Two such plays that share the same character type are King Henry IV: Part I and Hamlet. Throughout these plays, the character type of a deceptive ruler is seen through King Henry in King Henry IV: Part I and Claudius in Hamlet. In both instances, these kings appear to hold aligned views on how a king should operate and maintain their kingdom. For both of these men, they hold a shared view that in order to be successful on the throne they must be deceitful, win the hearts of the public, and get rid of those who threaten them. Moreover, Shakespeare utilizes these characters to exemplify how authority can become corrupt which conveys an overall theme of deception between the two plays.

King Henry and Claudius are alike in the fact that they both obtained the throne through deception. Henry received the title of “King” after he had killed and overthrown Richard II. Due to his actions, his legitimacy as king is questioned throughout the play. For instance in a conversation between Hotspur and Northumberland, Hotspur says,

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But soft, I pray you; did King Richard then

Proclaim my brother Edmund Mortimer

Heir to the crown?

To which Northumberland replies,”He did; myself did hear it”. In this conversation between Hotspur and Northumberland, they agree that Mortimer is the true heir to the throne and that Henry stole the crown when he is not the actual successor by blood. Hotspur continues talking about his hatred for Henry and his murderous actions by saying,”To put down Richard, that sweet lovely rose/An plant this thorn, this canker, Bolingbroke?”. In this example, Hotspur declares his admiration for Richard II by comparing him to a rose, while expressing his disdain for Henry by calling him a thorn and infection. Likewise in Hamlet, Claudius killed King Hamlet to receive the throne. This dark secret is revealed to Hamlet in the first act of the play by his father’s ghost. The old king’s ghost illustrates the details of his murder by stating,

'Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard,

A serpent stung me. So the whole ear of Denmark

Is by a forged process of my death

Rankly abused.

King Hamlet’s ghost not only describes his murder and explains that a false statement was given to the public, but he also exposes the identity of the perpetrator. He tells Hamlet,

But know, thou noble youth

The serpent that did sting thy father's life

Now wears his crown.

Although the ghost tells Hamlet that Claudius murdered him, this is also confirmed later by Claudius himself as he is praying. During his prayer he confesses,“That cannot be, since I am still possessed / Of those effects for which I did the murder: / My crown, mine own ambition, and my queen'. From these passages, it is evident that both kings gained their throne through deception. Due to their duplicity, they both attempt to calm a rebellion against them for their actions while trying to preserve their ill-gained crown. It is clear that both of these kings believe it is acceptable to operate and maintain a kingdom by using deceptiveness.

These kings are also alike in the fact that they both attempt to persuade the public in their favor to uphold the kingdom. Henry tells Prince Hal “I stole all courtesy from heaven, / and dressed myself in such humility / that I did pluck allegiance from men’s hearts”. In these lines, King Henry says that in order to win the loyalty of the public he had to manipulate his image. Similarly to King Henry, Claudius also manipulates the public by putting on a show to win their approval. Claudius attempts to gain the approval of the public by delivering a dignified speech mourning the death of his brother. He begins the speech,

Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother's death

The memory be green, and that it us befitted

To bear our hearts in grief, and our whole kingdom

To be contracted in one brow of woe.

Although Claudius tries to appeal to the public by giving this speech, he is also seen praising himself for his premature and undeserved throne. It is evident that both of these men feel that winning and deceiving the hearts of the public is essential for ruling a kingdom.

Finally, King Henry IV and Claudius have an aligned view on how to rule a kingdom as they are both seen ridding themselves of anyone that threatens them or their crowns. For instance in Act 1 scene 3, Henry is displeased with Hotspur refusing to deliver the hostages to him. However, Worcester was already acting hostile towards Henry and then said something rude to him. Because of his contentious and defiant actions, Henry orders,“Worcester, get thee gone; for I do see/ Danger and disobedience in thine eye”(1.3 15-16). Worcester was already behaving in an unfavorable way towards Henry, but Henry then decides to get rid of him for his disobedient actions. Later in the play, the battle is partly caused by Worcester intentionally failing to declare his offer of peace to Hotspur. Once Henry finds out about his traitorous actions he orders to,”Bear Worcester to the death” (5.5 14). This behavior is also seen in Hamlet. For example, after Polonius’s death Claudius orders that Hamlet be sent to England. Claudius claims that it is for everyone’s safety that he,”must send thee hence/With fiery quickness” (4.3 46-47). He then tells Hamlet,

Therefore prepare thyself.

The bark is ready and the wind at help,

Th' associates tend, and everything is bent

For England.

Because Claudius views Hamlet as a threat to his throne and his life, he decides to send him away and gives England orders to have him put to death. In both instances with King Henry IV and Claudius, their views on ruling a kingdom appear to align once again as they are both seen sending away and/or executing those who display signs of disobedience.

In conclusion, the kings in King Henry IV: Part I and Hamlet seem to have aligned views on how a king should operate and maintain their kingdom. King Henry and Claudius both seem to share the same ideas that in order to be successful on the throne they must be deceitful, win the hearts of the public, and get rid of those who threaten them.

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Parallelism Between King Claudius and King Henry IV. (2022, September 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 16, 2024, from
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