Repository | Book | Chapter

"Tis insensible then?"

time, language, and action in 1 Henry IV

James A. Knapp

pp. 185-206

In an influential account of Henry IV Part 1, Cleanth Brooks and Robert Heilman describe the play as "one of the wisest and fullest commentaries on human action possible [in] the comic mode... ." They go on, nev- ertheless, to conclude that "Shakespeare has no easy moral to draw, no simple generalization to make," suggesting that in choosing the comic mode, Shakespeare opted to emphasize the ethical ambiguity of human actions over any guiding principle of moral propriety.1 Alternately, in his introduction to his Ar den 2 edition, A. R. Humphreys argues that the play does not fully embrace the moral ambiguity that Brooks and Heilman claim: "There is history here as well as comedy — history which requires responsible action."2 Humphrey's comment is prompted by his belief, shared by a range of critics, that Shakespeare had to side with Hal, with history, over both Hotspur's misplaced valor and the endear- ing, but untenable misrule of the comic Falstaff. In Humphrey's view, it is Hal's action around which the play revolves: will the wayward prince act with the honor of an heir apparent? From this position all other action in the play is included to offer a contrast to Hal's heroism, thus making coherent sense of the historical events that are Shakespeare's subject.3 Hal's victorious action in battle signifies his honor, and by implication, the divine justification of his cause.

Publication details

Full citation:

Knapp, J. A. (2014)., "Tis insensible then?": time, language, and action in 1 Henry IV, in P. Cefalu, G. Kuchar & B. Reynolds (eds.), The return of theory in early modern English studies II, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 185-206.

This document is unfortunately not available for download at the moment.