On the Literary Genetics of Shakspere's Poems & Sonnets

By T. W. Baldwin | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XV
Falstaff and Prince Hal

As the reader will doubtless have noticed, there is a detailed correspondence between the relationship of poet and patron in the sonnets with that of Falstaff and Prince Hal in the plays of Henry IV. It will be remembered that in Sonnet XXXIII the poet laments that his morning sun, but one hour his, had been obscured from him by a cloud; but that has not affected the poet's love. Sonnet XXXIV continues the idea by asking why the poet's earthly sun had permitted the drenching by the clouds, and by pointing out that the sun's repentance will never repair the damage done; but concludes that the friend's tears ransom all ill deeds. So in Sonnet XXXV the poet exhorts the friend no more to grieve, since the poet will corrupt himself to excuse the friend's sins.

When in his first soliloquy Prince Hal strikes the keynote to his conduct he uses both figure and phraseology from sonnets XXXIII and XXXIV. Of Falstaff and his crew, Prince Hal says,

I know you all, and will awhile uphold The unyoked humour of your idleness.1

In this he imitates the sun in permitting "base contagious clouds" to obscure him for a time, but will when he pleases break forth to be more wondered at. Sonnets XXXIII and XXXIV are from the point of view of the companion; Prince Hal's soliloquy from the point of view of the patron. Prince Hal assumes that he is perfectly right, indeed righteous, in condoning only to cast off. Sonnet XXXV says the friend has that same right, and that the poet ought to, and so must, assume even the friend's sin.

Prince Hal continues that when things seldom come, they wished for come. So since people would have seen so little of his better qualities, then when he does shine forth he will attract more eyes.

I'll so offend, to make offence a skill; Redeeming time when men think least I will.2

This commonplace of seldom come is then used in Sonnet LII, whence King Henry IV in the crucial third act of the play borrows it

____________________
1
I Henry IV, I, 2, 218-19.
2
Ibid., I, 2, 239-40.

-352-

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