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Deception Is Not Always What It Seems

by Mo Brown

Maximillian Degenerez once said, "Insight into character comes from listening intently to the spoken word. The physical person, their charisma, charm and dramatic flair is more often used to persuade audiences, as they use these stealth tools of disguise and deception." Paradise Lost by John Milton and Henry IV, Part 1 by William Shakespeare appear to have nothing in common, but their main characters share certain behaviors. These behaviors are being influenced by their roles in their respective societies, the pressures to be a particular personality, and the expectancy to comply with expectations thrust upon them by their community. Prince Henry from Henry IV, Part 1, denies both his role and the particular rules that accompany that position, and Satan from Paradise Lost fell from his "rightful" place because of his role in his society. However, there is more to this than rebellion against their usual rules and functions. Prince Henry's deceptive nature and Satan's persuasion tactics enable them to manipulate their respective audiences to achieve their desires/goals, but they have different motivations behind their trickery.

In Henry IV, Part 1, Prince Henry appears to hide his real character to allow the full maturation of his character to have a dramatic reveal, but perhaps this is not the complete truth. In his soliloquy, Prince Henry states: 

I know you all, and will awhile uphold/The unyoked humor of your idleness/Yet herein will I imitate the sun/Who doth permit the base contagious clouds/To smother up his beauty from the world/That when he please again to be himself/Being wanted, he may be more wondered at,/By breaking through the foul and ugly mists/Of vapors that did seem to strangle him. (1, 2, 175-183). Primarily, this soliloquy is significant because it shows he is hiding his true character from everyone associated with him, perhaps because he wants the reveal of his "true" character to seem bigger than it is, or he's afraid of what they would think of his real nature. The first line of the soliloquy is "I know you all," which shows his generalization of people's thoughts of "this isn't the behavior of a prince" and that he recognizes that they deserve a prince better than his character at that moment. The second line, "the unyoked humor of your idleness," refers to Prince Henry's amusement at the lack of their action, perhaps out of respect, but that he secretly wishes that they would do something. The first two lines may also be Prince Henry reassuring himself about who he truly is and a reminder of the mask he must wear until the time is right. Prince Henry is not who everyone perceives him to be. Perhaps he just wants to show them a better side of him than what they have been seeing and help them learn to respect him. Or perhaps he selfishly prides himself on his ability to trick everyone into believing in his horrible character. Prince Henry's deception lowers expectations of him and makes it appear that his transformation into his true character is extraordinary.

This is further evident with Prince Henry's reaction to his father, King Henry, yelling at him. He proves that he can play a character and is only being the person everyone now expects him to be and not who he or anyone wants him to be. King Henry rants: "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 to do, make blind itself with foolish tenderness" ( 3, 2, 87-91). With an air of grace, Prince Henry just responds, "I shall hereafter, my thrice-gracious lord, /Be more myself" (Act 3, Scene 2, Lines 92-93). Henry is playing a part he has created, and then his father reprimands him for his character, and he says he will be more like himself, but does he know who that is? Or is he just playing the part he thinks is required in order to earn his father's approval? Prince Henry's desire for his father causes him to perform an unsavory, reckless character to get his dad's attention and then reveal his true character to show his father that he is a better person and has grown in knowledge, and has become wiser after his rebellious period.

Prince Henry's deception of his character is reminiscent of Satan, who has an uncanny ability to argue his point of view. He is not afraid to be defiant because God kicked him out of Heaven, and he wants to show disrespect towards Him. He wants God to notice him and to show Him that he is angry at Him for what He did. Satan says: "…to be weak/ Doing or Suffering: but never will be our task, but ever to do ill in sole delight,/As being the contrary to his high will/Whom we resist. If then his Providence/Out of our evil seek to bring forth good,/Our labour must be to pervert that end,/And out of good still to find means of evil;/Which oft-times may succeed… (Book 1, Lines 157-166)." Satan is accepting his fate a little here and perhaps realizing that he is nothing more than someone who can do evil things. However, he is angry at God for banishing him from Heaven and decides to become God's adversary in a way to make sure that God never forgets about him or how He hurt him. Satan is also reluctant to admit that God is stronger than him, so he defies Him by doing those evil deeds to spite God.  


When Satan tempts Eve, it was to spite God and to prove to God that no one is perfect. Satan rages:

 "Thoughts, whither have eye led me, with what sweet/Compulsion thus transported to forget/ What hither brought us, hate not love, not hope/ Of Paradise for Hell, hope here to taste/ Of pleasure, but all pleasure to destroy, Save what is in destroying, other joy to me is lost" (Book 9, Lines 473-479)."And then Satan continues to manipulate Eve, saying, "…ye shall not Die:/How should ye? By the Fruit? It gives you Life/To knowledge: By the Threat'ner? Look on mee,/Mee who have touch'd and tasted, yet both live,/And life more perfect have attained than Fate" (Book 9, Lines 665-669) The first quote suggests that Satan is committed to destroying God's "perfect" creations since he believes that God destroyed him somehow. Satan also believes that destruction is what he was meant to do. The latter quote is Satan taunting and coercing Eve into sinning by eating the fruit, which is an opportunity for him to show God that he's not the only one who makes mistakes. The reason he tempts Eve, and later has her tempt Adam, is that he's angry at God for hurting him and doesn't want God to realize that he's afraid of Him (because of the banishment) so he's acting out against God's perfect creations.

Prince Henry and Satan are both under a lot of pressure to be a particular character and follow certain rules. Prince Henry consistently denies his character, and Satan falls from Heaven and commits evil deeds. They are both challenging their roles in society through deception and persuasion, but Satan and Prince Henry have different motivations. Satan rebels because he believes it is what is expected of him, while Prince Henry does it because he's either denying who he wants to be or he doesn't want to have to live up to expectations thrust upon him. Prince Henry's deception and Satan's persuasiveness manipulates others and enables them to meet their true desires.


Works Cited

Milton, John. Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. Signet Classics, n.d.

Shakespeare, William. Henry IV, Part 1. Modern Library, n.d.

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