The central figure of Henry IV, parts one and two is actually Henry V. Young Hal, as he is known in these plays, is wasting his time frolicking with Sir John Falstaff and his merry crew, generally disappointing his father. The ultimate source of Hal’s dissolution is not, however, an ignoble character (as is meant to be demonstrated in Henry V). Instead, Henry is merely slumming, pretending to be a wastrel so that his eventual return to glory will be that much greater. As he tells his compatriots in drunken revelry:

I know you all, and will a while uphold the unyoked humor of your idleness: Yet herein will I imitate th sun, who doth permit the base contagious clouds to smother up his beauty from the world, that when he plese 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. (act i, scene ii)

I wonder about Hal. I am moved by his transformation into a king in Henry V, as even he seems somewhat surprised by the sincerity of his convictions. However, I must question it, because of what I have learned in Henry IV. Hal’s origin makes me question his destination because it happens to come out the way he wanted.

Was Hal really unaffected by his time with Falstaff? Can I really admire someone as coolly calculating as the young Hal, especially after his calculations have followed the course he predicted? After all, we ultimately only have his words and actions to judge him by and we have already seen how good he is at deception.

I was moved to ponder Hal yesterday as I read Alma chapter 7. There is a passage there that I reminded me of him. Alma had just recently finished overseeing a major religious reformation in Zarahemla and he was now addressing the people of Gideon. He says:

And I trust, according to the Spirit of God which is in me, that I shall also have joy over you; nevertheless I do not desire that my joy over you should come by the cause of so much afflictions and sorrow which I have had for the brethren at Zarahemla, for behold, my joy cometh over them after wading through much affliction and sorrow.

I am interested in the quality of joy being discussed here. He expects to have joy over the Gideonites. He has had joy over the Zarahemlites. However, he remembers, along with the joy of the return of righteousness to Zarahemla, the pain that was endured in order to receive the joy. In Gideon, he expects the joy without quite so much pain and he feels this is better.

If Hal is right, then Alma’s assertion is counter-intuitive. Shouldn’t Alma desire that the Gideonites also be deep in sin, so that their redemption will provide greater glory to God’s name? As Paul asks, tongue-in-cheek, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” (Rom 6:1). “Well, of course not,” we say, but why? If our purpose here is to testify of God, why not let him redeem us from our worst selves and testify of that? It would only be to his glory, right?

That is, it seems, a type of pride, like handling poisonous snakes to show you can do it. God hasn’t traditionally smiled down upon braggards of that ilk. There is no reason to assume that he would treat you or anyone else any differently.

When we sin, we slow our forward progress. Although all may be eventually restored, it is no particularly glory to God that he restore the great sinner. After all, are not we all beggars before God? The out-of-season fruit eater is just as damned as the serial rapist if neither repents and both are wholly reliant on God for redemption if they choose to repent. In either case, God does the heavy lifting, not us. The idea that I can sin now, as it will make repentance later that much more impressive, is silly.

To be honest, I don’t know that there is a lot of this going around in the church today. Back in the day, I used to hear a lot about young men “playing the field” and later having a repentance period just before they left on their mission. Perhaps raising the bar has taken care of that issue. In any case, as people were encouraged to not share past transgressions, I can’t believe that a lot of missionaries got a lot of mileage out of their previous wild days.

However, I wonder about our tendancy to assimilate. Although some assimilation is necessary, I wonder how much of it is slumming like Hal did? How necessary is it to keep up on water cooler talk when the talk is about wardrobe malfunctions, Desparate Housewives, or the latest leaked video of Britney Spears? As a self-confessed pop culture addict, I wonder why it became necessary for me to know who Lorena Bobbitt or Ron Jeremy were? Am I looking to rise like a phoenix from the ashen dirt of the world? If so, how do I keep from getting burned?


  1. This is an interesting quasi-paradox of sorts. I’m reminded of the following episode from Luke 7:

    37: And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that [Jesus] was at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment,

    38: and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.

    39: Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”

    40: And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “What is it, Teacher?”

    41: “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.

    42: When they could not pay, he forgave them both. Now which of them will love him more?”
    43: Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, to whom he forgave more.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”

    44: Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.

    45: You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet.

    46: You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.

    47: Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

    So, should we go out and live riotous lives to love God even more when we’re forgiven? No, of course not. If we’re really repenting of all the things we do to each other every day we’ll all have plenty of forgiveness coming our way … truckloads. We’re all slumming.

  2. Also related is 2 Cor 12:

    9 And he said unto me, My agrace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

    10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

    I think there is much in Henry V to make us suspect of Hal’s character. I don’t think there was any significant change of character, which is the problem….

  3. MikeInWeHo says:

    Didn’t Martin Luther say something along the lines of “Sin boldy, and repent even more boldly.” ??

  4. It would seem to me that beyond the riotous living, Hal sinned in his calculation. Now, we know how to repent for the riotous living, but how do you repent for the calculation when living out its conclusion?

  5. Thanks for your responses thusfar. I, like J., am most disturbed by Hal’s “planned repentance”. What is the appropriate response to such a situation?

    Robert C.,
    you may be right about a change of character not being there. My first exposure to the whole saga was Branagh’s Henry V and I have been unable to shake the image of heroic Henry ever since.

    Thanks for the passages cited, too. I don’t know that “glorying in [his] infirmities”, in the Pauline sense, was what Hal is doing. Hal is reveling in them so as to make his repentance more glorious to the men who surround him. Paul gloried in his infirmities because they led him to rely more wholly on God.

  6. Steve Evans says:

    Seems to me like there are actually two sins being committed by Prince Hal or by the missionary who deliberately sins, knowing he or she will just make up for it later. The first sin is the underlying act: carousing, extramarital sex, or what have you. The second sin is the enmity towards God; the deliberate opposition to His plan. In a sense people who sin with this thought of making up for it later are making a mockery of the Atonement, intending in advance to heap suffering upon Christ for their own sin.

    I would imagine this second enmity is the real sticker to repent for.

  7. Yeah. There is the Alma 42 passage that none but the truly penitent will be saved. At some point, the planned repentance has to become “genuine” repentance. But how do you do that?

  8. Steve Evans says:

    HP/JDC, I imagine that it must first mean a realization that the planned repentance technique is doomed to fail, that this is a sin in itself. A feeling of hopelessness and despair – something to shock the person out of this mindset.

  9. MikeInWeHo says:

    (One of the advantages of being gay and outside Church activity is that LDS women really open up to me. Here’s a favorite story. I am not making this up.)

    My friend and colleague “Mary” was a typical 30-something single sister. A childless divorcee and convert, she longed for temple marriage and children. Unfortunately, her sub-optimal beauty (I am being charitable here) limited her prospects in the online LDS dating world wherein she sought an eternal companion. So much competition for the few available men!

    She identified a slightly younger, virginal RT in another state who would be a great husband. Then she…how shall I put this??…shattered the Law of Chastity into about a dozen or so Kama Sutra-sized pieces. She rocked his world. Shortly thereafter they were engaged. They confessed to their respective Bishops and moved through the repentence process in the usual way. It’s now several years later and they are (temple) married with two children. Mission accomplished.

  10. “slightly younger, virginal RT”

    Wow, Serenity Valley is going to be REALLY angry when she reads this. Was the LoC shattering a deliberate one, some kind of sexual ploy to trap him in?

  11. …sounds very Old Testementish.

  12. Mike,
    I know people who were wild back in the day who have genuinely repented. I don’t deny it; they are sometimes some of my favorite people. I am just saying that “planned repentance” is something that strikes me as being very hard to do. How certain could you be of your own sincerity in a situation like that? How would you know that God had forgiven you, rather than you having decided you have suffered enough?

    In a situation like that, I wonder what they said to their bishops. I am not saying that they didn’t genuinely repent; I just mean that something like that would be very hard for a “judge in Israel” to judge even if (especially if) the whole truth was laid out.

    Furthermore, I don’t know how I would feel about the “event” if I was the one in that situation. Would I be happy about the happy marriage? Obviously. Would I be happy to think that my wife had seduced me into it? I don’t know. Or from her perspective, if she believes the seduction is what tipped the scale, how does she tell the story of they’re meeting to her children? How does she tell it to herself? “Daddy and I got married because I decided to get my freak on with him so that years later we could be together forever in the temple (otherwise, I think he would have passed me up for a prettier girl who wouldn’t have been as easy)”?

  13. oops…they’re = their

  14. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 10 I’d guess it was semi-consciously-deliberate on her part. Doubt she was sitting there scheming. Mary is a very sweet spirit who just deeply wanted an eternal companion. It certainly wasn’t deliberate entrapment (isn’t that what pre-marital pregnancy is for?). In retrospect she described it more as ‘He bought the cow once he sampled the milk…’

    As for telling the kids, why on earth would she? Even though this is an extreme example it’s hardly unusual for an LDS couple to have slipped up before marriage.

  15. “As for telling the kids, why on earth would she?”

    This is actually my point.

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