Itinerant Identities: England walking low in Henry IV

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Abstract

This article argues that Hal's (and therefore England's) rise to legitimacy across both parts of Henry IV relies upon his recognition and appropriation of the mobile energies of the nation's lower orders. Throughout these plays, Shakespeare repeatedly links Hal's gradual reformation to social practices relating to vagabondage, itinerancy, and servitude. Hal walks low, and in so doing, immerses himself in the mobile energies and industry of London's poor. As such, Hal's mobility sets him apart from his father, and undergirds the royal victories at Shrewsbury and Gaultree Forest. Through his disavowal of pilgrimage as a route to spiritual reform, however, Shakespeare presents Hal's dexterity as personifying the introspective journeys expected of Elizabethan Protestants. I argue that this shift, from literal to internal devotional “movement”, opens up new possibilities for the self as well as the state. Henry IV's England is, moreover, repeatedly twinned with an inner “vagrant” self through the plays’ treatment of Welsh identities and spaces. Here, as elsewhere, Shakespeare valorises deviant mobility as a productive, progressive, and distinctively English quality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
JournalShakespeare
Volume9
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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