King Henry IV lamented the waywardness of his son. Prince Hal did not frequent the royal court. He did not participate in the king’s council. He had achieved no military glory.
Instead, he fraternized with heavy drinkers and pickpockets. He spent his nights in taverns. He soaked his liver in liquor with the notorious Sir John Falstaff.
In other words, the heir of Henry Bolingbroke thoroughly besmirched the honor of the title, ‘Prince of Wales.’
Meanwhile, another young Henry, Harry Hotspur, had accomplished all that Prince Hal had not. Advantageously married, valiant and victorious in many battles, righteous and ambitious (if occasionally a bit hotheaded and willful).
Early in Henry IV, Part One, by Williams Shakespeare, King Henry expresses the wish that Harry Hotspur were his son, instead of his own Prince Hal.
But then: Hotspur rises in rebellion. The turning point in the prince’s life arrives. We know that Hal has long planned to renounce his wayward life, that he has undertaken his inexplicable guttersniping for a reason, namely so that he could emerge all the brighter when the moment ripened. His father now faced a genuinely threatening rebellion. The moment had come.
If you seek an inspiring Fathers’ Day exchange, Act III, Scene 2, of Henry IV, Part One, has it. The king thoroughly indicts his son for his scandalous way of life, emphasizing especially how Hal had made himself common and familiar with everyone—except his own father…
For thou has lost thy princely privilege
With vile participation: not an eye
But is a-weary of thy common sight,
Save mine, which hath desired to see thee more;
Which now doth that I would not have it do,
Make blind itself with foolish tenderness.
Hal protests that he has not actually committed all the outrages that have been reported to the king. (We know, in fact, that, though Hal had gladly gotten drunk and laughed uproariously with roadside thieves, he himself would not steal.)
The king laments the dire political and military situation he faces with the northern rebellion. He justifiably accuses the dissolute Hal of conspiring along with Hotspur to dislodge him from the throne.
Thou that art like enough, through vassal fear,
Base inclination and the start of spleen
To fight against me under Percy’s pay,
To dog his heels and curtsy at his frowns,
To show how much thou art degenerate.
Hal responds with the best Fathers’-Day card ever:
…God forgive them that so much have sway’d
Your majesty’s good thoughts away from me!
I will redeem all this on Percy’s head
And in the closing of some glorious day
Be bold to tell you that I am your son;
When I will wear a garment all of blood
And stain my favours in a bloody mask,
Which, wash’d away, shall scour my shame with it:
And that shall be the day, whene’er it lights,
That this same child of honour and renown,
This gallant Hotspur, this all-praised knight,
And your unthought-of Harry chance to meet.
For every honour sitting on his helm,
Would they were multitudes, and on my head
My shames redoubled! for the time will come,
That I shall make this northern youth exchange
His glorious deeds for my indignities.
Percy is but my factor, good my lord,
To engross up glorious deeds on my behalf;
And I will call him to so strict account,
That he shall render every glory up,
Yea, even the slightest worship of his time,
Or I will tear the reckoning from his heart.
This, in the name of God, I promise here:
The which if He be pleased I shall perform,
I do beseech your majesty may salve
The long-grown wounds of my intemperance:
If not, the end of life cancels all bands;
And I will die a hundred thousand deaths
Ere break the smallest parcel of this vow.
Hal makes good on his word. Turns out the prince has known pretty well how to train himself as a warrior. In battle, the much-mocked Prince of Wales successfully rescues his father from certain death. Then he meets Harry Hotspur. And leaves his corpse on the field.
In the Arkangel Shakespeare recording of this play, a real father and son play King Henry and Prince Hal. Julian and Jamie Glover make Act III, Scene 2 sparkle with affection.
May all children make their fathers proud, like Prince Hal does, in the end. And may all fathers love their children with the tenderness that the stoic Henry Bollingbroke reveals in Act III, Scene 2, of Henry IV, Part One.