This is a story of rebellious men attempting to get what they want. In a society fragmented through Henry IV’s murderous usurpation of power, there are naturally those who felt disenfranchised by the new leadership and wish to (yet again) put a new king in power. This faction puts their faith in Hotspur to lead a rebellion that would force out the current king and satisfy their grievances.
Of course, Henry is forced into keeping his kingdom in order. However, his own house is also coping with Hal’s “rebellion” from the court life Henry wishes him to live. Much like Hotspur and the rebels he leads, Prince Hal wishes to secede from his father’s wishes and, for most of the novel, Hal spends most of his time at the pub with Falstaff; a seedy character that Henry does not want his son associating with.
Both “rebellions” failed. Hal gradually started associating himself with his father rather than Falstaff and, although the decision was mostly Hal’s, his rebellious behavior stopped at a halt. Once Hal gave up his “rebellion,” he could focus on helping his father crush Hotspur’s rebels with Hal killing Hotspur himself.
For Hotspur and Hal, rebellion is their attempt to achieve happiness. Hotspur’s dissatisfaction with Henry’s rule led him to rebel, hoping that his wife’s line would be restored to the throne after Richard II’s death. While he held several grievances towards Henry IV’s rule, Hotspur has a stake in Henry’s demise; if the rebellion succeeds, then he and his wife had a chance to rule. Hotspur rebelled for large personal gains; gains that would ultimately grant Hotspur happiness. However, physical rebellion is much easier to crush and Hotspur was killed by Hal, ending his dreams for happiness alongside his life.
Hal’s rebellion also spurted from desires to gain happiness. Throughout the pub scenes early in the play, Hal constantly shows contempt towards the life his father lives. Although Hal claims his behavior is to make his kingship seem much more dignified, the true reason Hal came to the pubs in the first place was to escape court life. His rebellion is successful up to the start of the novel; while Hal does not hold a completely flattering view of Falstaff and pub life in general, Hal found happiness in the ignorant and ignoble environment of the pub. However, as Hal’s view of Falstaff starts to worsen after he attempts to rob travelers and the demands Henry IV places on Hal grows, Hal’s definition of happiness changes from escaping his father to embracing his father. Hal then rebels against Falstaff. Hal starts escaping pub life and contemplates killing Hotspur on the field of battle in order to regain his honor in the eyes of his father.
While Shakespeare makes it appear that the success of the rebellion determines whether or not an individual finds happiness, both of Hal’s rebellions did create both positive and negative consequences. Whether Hal was rebelling from his father or Falstaff, the act of disobeying the two polarized father figures in his life created a near-schism between them and Hal. Although Hal found happiness in pub life, he also found that his father disapproval, going as far as to wish Hotspur was his son over Hal. Conversely, as Hal starts migrating away from the pubs Falstaff warns Hal that, by completely banishing the pub from his life Hal would lose ties to the world itself.
In this Part of Henry IV, rebellion is the only way for characters to truly find happiness and, although the success of the rebellion ultimately determines how much the character find, rebelling always produce a negative effect on the rebel’s happiness.