List of Characters
King Henry IV—King of England who usurped power from Richard II.
Lord John of Lancaster—younger son to King Henry; brother to Henry, Prince of Wales.
Earl of Westmoreland—nobleman; loyal member of King Henry’s court.
Sir Walter Blunt—nobleman and loyalist to King Henry.
Henry, Prince of Wales—elder son to King Henry IV; called Hal by his comrades; future King of England.
Sir John Falstaff—friend to Hal; chief member of a gang of ruffians with whom Hal associates.
Thomas Percy—Earl of Worcester; brother to Henry Percy; uncle to Hotspur.
Henry Percy—Earl of Northumberland; father to Henry Percy (Hotspur).
Henry Percy—son to Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland; called Hotspur.
Lord Mortimer—Edmund, Earl of March.
Lady Mortimer—wife to Edmund; daughter to Owen Glendower.
Owen Glendower—Welsh rebel; father to Lady Mortimer.
Archibald—Earl of Douglas; Scot captured by Hotspur.
Sir Richard Vernon—sympathizer to the Percy Rebellion.
Lady Percy—wife to Hotspur; sister to Lord Mortimer.
Gadshill—member of Falstaff’s gang of thieves who arranges robberies.
Poins—a member of Falstaff’s gang.
Bardolph—comedic member of Falstaff’s gang of ruffians.
Peto—another gang member.
Francis—waiter at the Boar’s Head...
(The entire section is 284 words.)
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
King Henry IV
King Henry IV, England’s troubled ruler. Haunted by his action in the deposition of his predecessor and kinsman, Richard II, and indirectly in that man’s death, as well as deeply disturbed by the apparent unworthiness of his irresponsible eldest son, he also faces the external problem of rebellion. He wishes to join a crusade to clear his conscience and to carry out a prophecy that he is to die in Jerusalem.
Prince Hal, later King Henry V. A boisterous youth surrounded by bad companions, he matures rapidly with responsibility, saves his father’s life in battle, and kills the dangerous rebel Hotspur.
Sir John Falstaff
Sir John Falstaff, a comical, down-at-the-heels follower of Prince Hal, considered by many to be one of William Shakespeare’s finest creations. He is the typical braggart soldier with many individualizing traits. As he says, he is not only witty himself but also the cause of wit in other men. He is a cynical realist, a fantastic liar, and a persuasive rascal as well as apparently being a successful combat soldier. His colossal body appropriately houses his colossal personality.
Thomas Percy, the earl of Worcester, a leading rebel against King Henry IV. He conceals the king’s offer of generous terms from his nephew Hotspur, thereby causing the young warrior’s death. He is executed for treason....
(The entire section is 581 words.)
Falstaff (Character Analysis)
He is the dishonest but appealing "fat knight" who is Hal's friend and a regular at the Boar's Head Tavern. Given to thievery, drunkenness, and overeating, Falstaff is part of the "rude society" which King Henry accuses of corrupting his son and heir, Prince Hal (III.ii.14); he is also the central focus of most of the comedic scenes in the play and the topic of considerable literary discussion.
Originally named Oldcastle, Falstaff is the quintessential example of the stock braggart soldier character type common to Elizabethan comedy. Just as Hotspur is too big in spirit, Falstaff is "too big" in the flesh. In the second scene of the play, our first glimpse of Falstaff has him asking the hour of day. To this inquiry, Hal replies
Thou are so fat-witted with drinking of old sack,
and unbottoning thee after supper, and sleeping upon
benches after noon, that thou hast forgotten to
demand that truly which thou wouldst truly know.
What a devil hast thou to do with the time of day?
Falstaff is a "bag of guts," a man ruled by his appetites. While Hotspur readily shoulders the duties of his role as a military hero, Falstaff shuns and distorts all responsibilities and accountings.
Falstaff is both the butt and the source of humor. In the first of these roles, Falstaff serves as a target for the low comedy of Hal, as when the Prince asks the...
(The entire section is 926 words.)
King Henry IV (Character Analysis)
He is the king of England, the father of Hal, and the title character of the play. Henry rules as a result of the deposition and murder of his predecessor, Richard II, but seems neither secure nor contented in his role. At the beginning of the play, he describes himself as "shaken" and "wan with care" (I.i.1): his reign so far has been clouded by illness, apparent guilt over his responsibility for Richard's death, and rebellions against his rule. In I.i, he renews his intention to go on a long-promised pilgrimage to atone for his sins against Richard, but his plans are stopped by news of Glendower's incursion into England and Hotspur's defiance.
Critical assessment of King Henry's role in the play varies. Although he is the title character, much of the play revolves around his son Prince Hal as well as the actions of the rebel Hotspur. Nevertheless, it has been argued that Henry is the play's protagonist, and that his main goal is to preserve the health and stability of England.
The major obstacle to accomplishing this goal is the fact that Henry is a usurper who is plagued not only by claims against his leadership but also by his own conscience. At the start of his lecture to Hal in III.ii.4-11, the king reveals his feelings of guilt in his worried observation that his son may have been sent by God to punish him:
I know not whether God will have it so
For some displeasing service I have done,
(The entire section is 711 words.)
Prince Henry of Wales (Character Analysis)
He is the son and heir of King Henry IV. Much of his time is spent away from his responsibilities at court, plotting pranks and robberies in the company of "rude society" at the Boar's Head Tavern (III.ii.14). Prince Hal is described by his rival, Hotspur, as "the nimble-footed madcap Prince of Wales, / … that daff'd the world aside / And bid it pass" (IV.i.95-97). His father accuses him of having "inordinate and low desires" unsuitable for a future king (III.ii.12). Sir John Falstaff calls him "sweet wag" and looks forward to the day when Hal will rule England (I.ii.23).
In his soliloquy in I.ii, Hal asserts that his misconduct is strategic: he is behaving irresponsibly now so that he will seem that much more impressive and honorable when he reforms. What is more, his sudden reformation will catch his detractors off guard:
My reformation, glittering 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 offense a skill;
Redeeming time when men think least I will.
There has been much critical discussion regarding Prince Hal's behavior. It has been pointed out that as the son of a usurper, Hal is burdened with the task of legitimizing his family's rule and with uniting the country around that rule—two things that his father has been unable to do. How the prince undertakes...
(The entire section is 767 words.)
Henry Percy (Character Analysis)
Also know as Hotspur
In many ways, the young Harry Percy outshines his rival counterpart Hal. His presence dominates all of the scenes in which he appears, and as his cohort, the fierce Douglas, puts it in Act IV, scene i, Hotspur is "the king of honor." It is through Hotspur, not Hal, that the poetic art of Shakespeare is most brilliantly realized in this play. An example of this surfaces in the very first scene in which Hotspur takes part, as he declares:
By heavens, methinks it were an easy leap,
To pluck bright honor from the pale-fac'd moon,
Or dive into the bottom of the deep,
Where fathom-line could never touch the ground,
And pluck up drowned honor by the locks.
There is a compelling force to Hotspur's words that is one with the unbounded valor that he brings to the battlefield. Realizing that his own force is vastly outnumbered, Hotspur nonetheless relishes the prospect of combat.
Let them come!
They come like sacrifices in their trim,
And to the fire-eyed maid of smoky war
All hot and bleeding will we offer them.
The mailed Mars shall on his altar sit
Up to the ears in blood. I am on fire
To hear this rich reprisal is so nigh,
And yet not ours.
The effect is that Hotspur figuratively becomes "mailed...
(The entire section is 816 words.)
Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester (Character Analysis)
Known as the earl of Worcester—or, simply, Worcester—he is Hotspur's uncle and Northumberland's brother. King Henry IV's supporter Westmerland describes Worcester as ''malevolent to [the king] in all aspects" (I.i.97). Westmerland also asserts that Worcester motivated Hotspur to do such disrespectful things as withholding the Scottish prisoners from Henry. Indeed, it is Hotspur's uncle who, in I.iii.187-93 and 259-76, first suggests to his nephew an organized plan for overthrowing the king. Worcester's argument for his plot against the king is that Henry dislikes and fears being indebted to the Percy family, who placed him on the throne after helping him usurp his predecessor, Richard II. Worcester further contends that the king will find any excuse to rid himself of the Percys, and that the only way ''to save our heads [is] by raising of a head [army]" (I.iii.284). Returning from his parley with Henry, Worcester chooses not to tell his nephew of the king's "liberal and kind offer" of reconciliation (V.ii.2), his reason being that while Henry might indeed forgive "a hare-brain'd Hotspur, govern'd by a spleen" (V.ii.19), he will never genuinely pardon the two older men who "did train [Hotspur] on"—namely, Worcester himself and Hotspur's father, Northumberland (V.ii.21).
While he encourages Hotspur's revenge against the king, Worcester also tries to curb his nephew's hot temper and enthusiasm when these feelings are directed at what he considers...
(The entire section is 457 words.)
Other Characters (Descriptions)
Archbishop of York (Richard Scroop, the Archbishop of York)
Archibald (Archibald, Earl of Douglas)
Together with lords, messengers, and officers, these are the play's extras, who have at most very brief speaking parts. They help populate the scenes, contributing when needed to the regal and martial atmosphere of the play.
He is a frequenter of the Boar's Head Tavern and a companion of Falstaff and Prince Hal. He is one of the four men in II.ii who rob the travelers, only to be robbed soon afterward by the disguised Prince Hal and Poins. At Falstaff's bidding, he and Peto hack their own swords and bloody their noses to make it look as though they had been attacked by dozens of robbers. His face, which is bright red from drink and carbuncles, is the source of continual jokes from Falstaff and Hal. In II.iv.324, Bardolph tells the prince that his red face is a sign of "choler" or a hot temper. Prince Hal's punning reply that a collar or "halter" (a hangman's noose) will be Bardolph's fate is prophetic: In Henry V Bardolph is hanged for looting.
Blunt (Sir Walter Blunt)
He is a loyal supporter of King Henry IV but is also deeply admired by the rebel camp. The king describes Blunt as a "dear, a true industrious friend" (I.i.62). Hotspur considers him ''a gallant knight'' (V.iii.20) arid wishes that he were on...
(The entire section is 3441 words.)