The following essay was written by Project Academy English Tutor, Marko Beocanin, who achieved 98/100 and 8th in NSW for English Advanced. Marko also attained a 99.95 ATAR and was the School Captain of Normanhurst Boys High School, ranking 1st in English Adv, Ext. 1 and Ext 2.
Marko has kindly agreed to share his essay and thorough annotations (look out for these red comments) to help demystify for HSC students what comprises an upper Band 6 response.
Module A: Poetry of Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes Question
The following essay was written by Marko in response to the question:
“Yet herein I will imitate the sun” (Prince Hal)
Analyse the ways in which the responsibilities of political leadership are explored in King Henry IV Part 1. In your response, make detailed reference to the play as a whole.
State-Ranking Module A Exemplar Response
William Shakespeare’s (1598) historical play King Henry IV, Part 1 explores how political leaders cannot rely solely on their political acumen or legitimate claim to the throne, but must instead actively take responsibility to unify the nation and maintain power. (Specific cause and effect thesis that outlines the different facets of political leadership that Shakespeare explores – also clearly answers the question!) Shakespeare depicts the civil unrest caused by King Henry’s irresponsible deposition of King Richard II to argue that political insecurity and a weak claim to the throne incite rebellion. (This paragraph structure is useful because it can be adapted to a variety of questions: if you get a character question, your essay is already structured as Henry, Hotspur, Hal (with Falstaff sprinkled throughout); and if you get a leadership/thematic question, your essay is already structured as Illegitimate leadership, Irresponsible leadership and Ideal leadership!) He characterises the Percy rebellion as fractured and irresponsible, however, to argue that a legitimate claim to the throne is not enough when leaders fail to prioritise the welfare of those they lead. Ultimately, Shakespeare represents Hal’s politically-cunning reformation to prince-hood, alluded to in the celestial metaphor, “yet herein will I imitate the sun”, (It’s important to make specific reference to any quote given in the question in your intro) to argue that leaders should adopt a Machiavellian model of political responsibility to control the people and maintain order. Therefore, Shakespeare’s portrayal of the conflicts between different leaders, and Hal’s emergence as an ideal Machiavellian Prince, express a need for leaders actively prepared to take responsibility for the nation. (Linking sentence that ties together the ideas of the play and joins them to the specifics of the question!)
Shakespeare explores how King Henry’s deposition of legitimate King Richard II was politically irresponsible because it destabilised social order and caused civil unrest. (A clear cause and effect argument that links to the context (which is VITAL for this text)) By deposing King Richard II in 1399 and denying Richard’s proclaimed heir Edmund Mortimer from accessing the throne, Henry broke sacred customs of primogeniture and set a precedent for the upcoming Wars of the Roses. (In your context, make sure to name-drop as many specific details as you can – you can tie in Richard, Mortimer and the Wars of the Roses all in one here) King Henry’s opening monologue conveys the brutality of civil unrest caused by his tenous claim to the throne, by anthropomorphising England as a mother violated by war: “daub her lips with her own children’s blood…bruise her flow’rets with …armed hoofs”. Worcester’s open challenge of Henry’s ingratitude to the Percys, which Shakespeare frames in the epanalepsis of ‘greatness’, “Our house…little deserves the scourge of greatness to be used on it…that same greatness too which our own hands have helped to make so portly”, further characterises Henry as an irresponsible ruler and undermines his authority. Falstaff’s debaucherous influence and disrespectful tone towards Hal throughout the Gadshill subplot, “Hang thyself in thine own heir-apparent garters! If I be ta’en, I’ll peach for this”, indicates how Henry’s irresponsible usurpation destabilised England’s social order and enabled its criminal underclass to thrive. (It’s important to PROVE that the world actually is in disorder as a result of Henry’s illegitimacy, rather than just asserting it. Try and show examples from across the ‘hierarchy’ of the play: disorder in the court AND disorder in the lower class)
Tragically, Henry does attempt to be politically responsible, such as when he generously offers to pardon the rebels and hyperbolically gives friendship to all, “both he, and they, and you, yea, every man shall be my friend again”. (An example that indicates that Henry was diplomatic and had political acumen, but was ultimately cursed because of his illegitimacy) However, Shakespeare argues that Henry’s irresponsible deposition of divine-anointed King Richard doomed his reign to unrelenting civil turmoil, and thus the play ends foreshadowing future conflict, “let us not leave till all our own be won”, despite his victory at Shrewsbury. Ultimately, Shakespeare asserts that Henry was an irresponsible leader because the role of King was not meant for him, as his “kingship [was] gained by replacing a natural identity with an artificial one…”, argued by Robert N Watson in (1984) ‘Shakespeare and the Hazards of Ambition’. (Make sure to put your ideas first, followed by the critic quote! Also give the text where you got the quote, and the date it was written) Therefore, Shakespeare explores how it is a political responsibility of leaders to gain kingship through legitimate means in order to avoid civil turmoil. (Linking sentence here!)
However, Shakespeare’s portrayal of the Percy rebellion as disunified and unsuccessful suggests that leaders also have a responsibility to prioritise those they lead, and that choosing to instead follow personal motives causes disunity and failure. (Another clear cause and effect argument – the failure to prioritise leadership leads to disunity/failure! Make sure to have different points for each of your paragraphs) Shakespeare engaged with the rapidly popularising Renaissance Humanist movement that valued philosophical debate, human beauty and artistic expression, and which induced a loss of faith in traditional Codes of Chivalry. Shakespeare characterises Hotspur as a caricature of this honourable, albeit chauvinistic ‘last knight’, by personifying honour and framing him as “a son who is the theme of honour’s tongue, amongst a grove the very straightest plant”. (Clear link between the context and first example! The quote is also actively integrated into the sentence)
However, Lady Percy’s monologue exposes the irresponsible side to his obsession with honour, in which the metaphor, “the spirit within thee hath been so at war, and thus has so bestirred thee in thy sleep”, reflects how he is ironically haunted by the battlefield that brings him so many accolades. (It always reflects your deeper understanding of the play if you can have some quotes from minor characters – Lady Percy exposes Hotspur’s hotheadedness on many occasions, for example)
Furthermore, Hotspur’s insistence on changing the course of the river and increasing his share of land, “methinks my moiety, north from Burton here, in quantity equals not one of yours”, serves as a metonym for how the rebelling force seeks disunify England to irresponsibly suit their own personal motives. As the battle of Shrewsbury ensues, Falstaff, ironically a knight himself, rejects the honour professed by Hotspur with a sequence of hypophora that exposes its uselessness: “Can honour set to a leg? No. Or an arm? No…What is that honour? Air.” (A great opportunity to integrate Falstaff!) Thus, Hal’s defeat of Hotspur, and the metaphysical transition of Hotspur’s titles unto Hal, “I better brook the loss of brittle life than those proud titles thou hast won of me”, suggest that Hotspur’s pursuit of this meaningless honour over real political responsibilities ultimately crippled him as a leader. (Make sure to build up your argument here around Hotspur – his characterisation changes as the text goes on. He starts off as honourable and noble, but ends up as petulant and nagging. Your choice of examples needs to reflect that)
As a dramatic foil to Hotspur, (Make sure to include the dramatic elements of the play in your essay – this one is ALL about foils and parallels) Hal is a responsible leader (Continual integration of words of the question) willing to sacrifice even his own life for the unity of England, and “Hal’s offer to engage Hotspur in single combat “to save the blood on either side” indicates a significantly different sense of honour from Hotspur’s, less egoistic and more socially responsible”, argued by David Boyd in his (2008) ‘The Player Prince: Hal in Henry IV Part 1’. (Another critic quote, in the same place as the last paragraph – the marker now knows where to expect it) Therefore, by portraying the disunity and ultimate failure of the rebellion, Shakespeare explores how leaders must put aside personal pursuits of glory to fulfill their political responsibilities.
Ultimately, Shakespeare depicts Hal’s ascension as a Machiavellian monarch to explore how responsible leadership requires leaders to be politically cunning and attentive to public image in order to maintain control. (Another cause and effect argument here!) Shakespeare adopts the view espoused in Niccolo Machiavelli’s (1513) political treatise ‘The Prince’ – that leaders have a responsibility to be coldly objective and manipulative – perhaps reflecting his anxiety over England’s insecure future with the aging Queen Elizabeth lacking an heir. (Here, you can cheekily integrate two bits of context: that of Machiavelli, AND that of the Queen Elizabeth. Doing things like this, where you tie Shakespeare’s influences to his own context, reflects a deep understanding of the conceptual links surrounding the play) Shakespeare thus endows both Hal and King Henry with the political cunning of Machiavels, which King Henry demonstrates by planning a crusade to the Holy Land in his opening monologue as a means to unify England against a common enemy: “Forthwith a power of English shall we levy…to chase these pagans in those holy fields”. (Another first example that ties directly to the context. Also, recognise that Henry is indeed a Machiavel himself)
Hal similarly embodies Machiavellianism in his “I know you all” soliloquy, where the practiced end-stopped rhythms and extended celestial metaphor of a rising sun, “yet herein will I imitate the sun,” establish his immense political foresight. (Make sure to properly go through and analyse the quote in the question at some point! As the question isn’t ABOUT the quote, you don’t necessarily need to engage it in every paragraph – as you would if it was something like “How do the ideas in this quote relate to the play as a whole” etc. – but make sure it appears at least once in your analysis) In his monologue to Hal, King Henry asserts that it is a political responsibility of leaders to actively attend to their public image, using a comet simile that parallels Hal’s sun metaphor and implies their similarities as Machiavels: (It’s great to link the different celestial metaphors/images that appear throughout the play) “Like a comet I was wondered at…I stole all courtesy from heaven…that I did pluck allegiance from men’s hearts.” Ultimately, Hal’s politically-responsible Machiavellian approach incites reverence even in his enemies, portrayed strongest in Vernon’s comparison of him to the mythological Roman God Mercury, and Christian angels, through simile: “Rise from the ground like feathered Mercury…as if an angel dropped down from the clouds.” Upon Hal’s victory, Shakespeare juxtaposes Henry’s brutality, “bear Worcester to the death, and Vernon too”, to Hal’s generosity, “Go to the Douglas and deliver him up to his pleasure, ransomless and free” to further characterise Hal’s Machiavellian model of leadership as tempered by a strong sense of political responsibility and honour. Hal’s role in the text is to thus embody a politically-responsible but cunning vision of future leadership, and “to personify “the new morality” of “re fined machiavellism” prevalent in sixteen-century England”, argued by Elsa Sjoberg in her (2017) ‘From Madcap Prince to King: The evolution of Prince Hal’. (Another critic quote. Aim to have at least one in each paragraph – and more if you can write that much!) Therefore, Hal’s emergence as a successful Machiavellian leader reflects Shakespeare’s view that for leaders to be politically responsible, they must have a cunning foresight that guides their actions and reputation. (Clear linking sentence that sums up the paragraph.)
Throughout King Henry IV, Part 1 Shakespeare explores how leaders must be politically responsible to prevent fracturing the nation with violence and unrest. (Restatement of thesis and main cause and effect arguments – reintroduces words of the question) He depicts the insecurity of the monarchy as a result of King Henry’s deposition of legitimate King Richard II, as well as the disunity of the rebellion as a result of Hotspur’s obsession with honour and lack of foresight. Arising from this conflict as though a sun on the horizon, (As the quote is given, this is a great way to cheekily allude to it and express your flair as a writer) Prince Hal embraces his position as a model Machiavellian monarch and a vision of responsible political leadership.
If reading this essay has helped you, you may also enjoy reading Marko’s ultimate guide to writing 20/20 HSC English essays.