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An Analysis of Enrico IV

When Henry awakens after losing consciousness because of being knocked off his horse, everyone finds that he has become mad. They find that Henry believes that he is the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV of Germany. Instead of treating his disorder, his nephew chooses to maintain his delusions, and even arranges for his own castle, with his own valets. Then, twelve years after his accident, Henry’s mind is restored. But unfortunately for him, he sees that he has lost much of his life, and that he can no longer fit into the new world he has awakened to.

Because Henry finds this disorienting and unacceptable, he chooses to continue his ‘madness’, and continues to delude everyone into thinking he is still mad. He maintains the illusion that was set up for him by his nephew. By doing so, he is able to act whatever way he wishes, without having to account for the consequences of the ‘reality’ that exists outside his illusionary world, and he, therefore, is in some way free from the conventional limitations imposed by society.

Henry convinces almost everyone that he is mad, and finds pleasure in this behavior, because in this way henry also forces everyone around him to act according to his rules as long as they choose to be part of his little world. In a way he has reversed the situation; Henry is now the only one aware of the truth—that he is in fact sane—while the others continue to act in accordance with Henry’s madness, so that to Henry it would almost seem that it is everyone else who is actually mad. In this way Henry is able to exert control over his environment, control that he would not otherwise have, and also to ignore the consequences of time.

Henry is not able to fool everyone, though. The doctor makes an argument that Henry, on some level, is able to recognize that they are just acting, but that he still believes it is real because of his madness. Donna Matilda, on the other hand, was able to see through Henry’s mask; she correctly suspected that Henry recognized her. Henry argues that society labels certain men “mad” because it cannot bear to hear the truths that madmen tell, and that a madman’s truth is not something that society wants to hear. In fact henry implies that it is everyone else who is mad.

Henry tells his valets that he is able to tear off the ridiculous masks of everyone, as if he was not the one who made the masks in the first place. Here he refers to his ability, because of his feigned madness, to force masks upon the others, and also to his ability to see through all masks because he himself is aware of his own mask, while all the others continued blindly, unaware of their own masks. Also, the variability of reality is demonstrated, when, for example, Henry chooses to maintain the illusion of his madness for John, the servant, because Henry does not want to disappoint him.

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