King Henry IV of England, also known as Henry Bolingbroke, appears in three Shakespeare plays, with two of them being named after him. In Richard II, he can be seen as the main antagonist of the play, overthrowing the titular king and claiming the throne himself, with the former king Richard being murdered at the end of the play. In Henry IV Part 1 and Henry IV Part 2, Henry Bolingbroke is well established as king, although still dealing with uprisings against him. The main protagonist of these plays is his son Prince Hal (later King Henry V), who supports his father in fighting the uprisings.

There are at least two different views of King Henry IV, both as a real-life figure and by other characters within the play.

  1. He can be seen as a usurper, who took the throne by force and had his predecessor Richard II murdered. This negative attitude is taken by the various rebels under his rule, such as Northumberland, as well as presumably Richard II himself.
  2. At least during his own reign, if not his rebellion against King Richard, he can be seen as the "rightful" king, sitting the throne and holding his own against the rebels from various parts of his country.

Does Shakespeare's portrayal clearly lean towards one of these points of view rather than the other? Does it change between plays? I haven't studied Richard II in detail, but from reading a retelling my impression is that this play portrays Henry Bolingbroke as a usurper. In Henry IV Part 1, which I have studied, his portrayal seems much more positive, as we follow his son fighting to protect his throne, and the characters who see him as a usurper are mostly negatively depicted.

I'm mostly interested in textual analysis and interpretation, but commentary on the real-world context would also be interesting (e.g. would Shakespeare have felt pressure from the contemporary monarch to lean one way or the other in his portrayals of past ones).


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