Like celestial events
functions as a complex symbol in Henry IV Part I
. Everyone believes that it represents courage and power, but different characters understand this representation to work in different ways. For the violent-minded warriors Hotspur
, power comes from shedding the blood of others. They calculate their own power (and evaluate the power of those around them) based on how many enemies they have killed in battle. Yet, for King Henry
and Prince Hal
, power comes from sparing others’ blood and avoiding violence in favor of treaty-making and effective strategy. Both characters are conspicuously merciful, as King Henry tries multiple times to negotiate peace with Hotspur and Prince Hal frees the war prisoner Douglas at play’s end. It is ultimately King Henry’s and Prince Hal’s understanding of power—power as the intelligent avoidance of bloodshed rather than as muscle-flexing bloodbath—that triumphs in the play.