Henry IV is a conflicting illustration of success and failure, specifically when looking at Prince Hal. For most of his life Hal struggles to find favor with his father and becomes almost an image of failure. Being the heir to the throne, he spends most of his time with the pub crawlers wasting away his days with merriment and alcohol. From the very first scene his father confesses:
"Yea, there thou mak’st me sad and mak’st me sin
In envy that my Lord Northumberland
Should be the father to so blest a son—
A son who is the theme of honour’s tongue,
Amongst a grove the very straightest plant,
Who is sweet Fortune’s minion and her pride—
Whilst I, by looking on the praise of him
See riot and dishonor stain the brow
Of my young Harry. O, that it could be proved
That some night-tripping fairy had exchanged
In cradle clothes our children where they lay,
And called mine Percy, his Plantagenet!" (1.1: 77-88)
Here King Henry expresses his frustration with his son and how he wishes the honorable Hotspur were his rather than Hal. But there is a truth behind Hal that the King does not notice. Among his immature ways he is preparing a stage for success and in one of Hal's famous soliloquies he is ready to rise to the occasion:
"My reformation, glitt’ring o’er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
I’ll so offend to make offence a skill,
Redeeming time when men think least I will" (1.2: 220-224).
And Hal, by the end of the play, truly has allowed his successes to glitter over his faults. In battle, he saves his father from death and in this gains favor and redemption.
So how can a "failure" become such a success? And why was he considered such from the beginning? The conclusion I can draw from this book is the fact that to prevail in adversity comes from a person's own initiation and motivation. Prince Hal has complete power over his success, it simply becomes a matter of using it. This book demonstrates the necessity of motivation and desire, and we get to see the spectrum of a man who both rejects and eventually utilizes his passion.
To prevail (and fail) is a choice.