Henry IV, Part I was most probably written in late 1596 or early 1597, and it is agreed by scholars of Shakespeare that the play was first performed not long after it was written. On February 25, 1598, it was entered in the Stationers’ Register without the designation “Part I,” and a quarto text of the play surfaced in 1598. In the Palladis Tamia: Wit’s Treasury by Francis Meres, Henry IV appears in the list of Shakespeare’s tragedies, and it is presumed that this reference is to “Part I.”
The earliest known quarto text of the play survives only as a four-leaf fragment, and five later editions dated 1598, 1604, 1608, 1613, and 1622 have survived intact. Altogether, six quarto editions, which is an unusually large number for an Elizabethan play, are known to exist. The 1613 quarto appears to have served as a source for the Folio version of 1623. The earliest complete quarto of 1598, together with the earlier fragment, remains the most authoritative text for Henry IV, Part I.
Shakespeare drew the historical plot of Henry IV, Parts I and II from several accounts of English history that were written during the Elizabethan period. These histories provided many details from which he could carefully select what he needed for his plays. The primary source is Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (2nd ed. 1586-1587). In addition, Shakespeare used Samuel Daniel’s narrative poem The...
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Royal palace. King Henry IV’s principal seat of rule, where he plans political strategy and shows concern about his seemingly dissolute son, Prince Hal, who swears to redeem himself at Hotspur’s expense. The text distinguishes this palace from Windsor Castle, where the king, Northumberland, Worcester, and Hotspur meet before the rupture between Henry and the Percys. Productions of the play usually generalize the setting, and in most productions, the palace exudes a mood of solemnity with its somber soldiers, counselors, and courtiers.
Boar’s Head Tavern
Boar’s Head Tavern. Public house in London’s Eastcheap district that is the scene of Falstaff’s dishonest retelling of the Gad’s Hill escapade and of the interview-game he plays with Hal. The tavern is also the place where Mistress Quickly (hostess of the tavern) and Bardolph appear as examples of Shakespearean bawdiness. The location is usually depicted onstage as a place with battered walls, barrels of sack, and a shingle to indicate its name. Taken as a place of common people, seedy characters, and reprobate behavior, the tavern represents the sort of social and moral disgrace into which Hal has fallen and out from which he must rise and redeem himself.
*Warkworth Castle. Stronghold in Northumberland—the principal seat of the Percy family—where Hotspur exasperates his wife with his intense preoccupation with military honor. It is here that Hotspur scoffs at a popinjay lord’s affectation, just as his own courtly life is scoffed at by Falstaff and Hal in Eastcheap. Beneath the superficial charm of Lady Percy’s hospitality and Welsh song, lies Hotspur’s reckless restlessness, his extravagant sense of military honor.
*Shrewsbury. Climactic battlefield on which Hotspur is slain, and Hal distinguishes himself in hand-to-hand combat, that was earlier a stronghold of both Saxons and Normans.
Act I Questions and Answers
1. What are King Henry’s concerns at the opening of Act I?
2. What news does Westmoreland bring to King Henry regard¬ing the political state of affairs in England?
3. Explain Henry’s disappointment in his son Hal.
4. Describe the relationship between Hal and Falstaff.
5. Explain the joke that Poins plans to play on Falstaff with the help of Hal.
6. What does Hal reveal about his position as Prince of Wales and the company of friends he keeps?
7. Explain King Henry’s reaction to Worcester at the opening of Scene iii.
8. What defense does Hotspur offer on his own behalf with respect to the accusation that he denied...
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Act II Questions and Answers
1. Describe the conditions that exist at the inn at Rochester.
2. How do Poins and Hal set Falstaff up for their practical joke?
3. Explain how Falstaff deals with the “thieves” who rob him.
4. What do Hotspur’s comments about the letter writer reveal about his nature?
5. What observation does Lady Percy make regarding Hotspur’s recent behavior?
6. How does Hal display his ability to create a practical joke?
7. Describe Falstaff’s temperament when he arrives at the tavern in Eastcheap.
8. How does Falstaff’s description of the robbery contrast to what really happened?
9. Explain the subtle changes...
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Act III Questions and Answers
1. Why have Hotspur, Worcester, Mortimer, and Glendower met in Wales in the opening scene of Act III?
2. Explain the clash of the personalities between Hotspur and Owen Glendower.
3. How does Mortimer attempt to calm Hotspur down?
4. What is the purpose of the scene involving Lady Percy and Lady Mortimer?
5. What does the meeting between King Henry and Hal reveal about their relationship as father and son as well as present king and future king?
6. How does Hal’s vow to Henry relate to his soliloquy at the end of Act I, Scene ii?
7. Explain Falstaff’s condition at the opening of Scene iii.
8. What is the function of...
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Act IV Questions and Answers
1. What disappointing news do the rebels receive?
2. How does Hotspur react to this news?
3. Why does Worcester fear Northumberland’s absence?
4. What news does Sir Richard Vernon bring the rebels?
5. Describe Falstaff’s charge of infantry men.
6. What advice do Worcester and Vernon give Hotspur?
7. Explain what Sir Walter Blunt offers the rebels on behalf of King Henry.
8. How does Hotspur respond to the King’s proposal?
9. What does the shift in Hotspur’s decision suggest about his way of thinking?
10. What fear does the Archbishop of York express?
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Act V Questions and Answers
1. Why does Worcester go to King Henry?
2. What challenge does Hal present to Worcester?
3. Why does Worcester lie to Hotspur about the King’s message?
4. What does Vernon say about Hal’s challenge to Hotspur?
5. Explain what happens to Sir Walter Blunt on the battlefield.
6. What comic relief provided by Falstaff appears at the end of Scene iii?
7. What happens when Douglas encounters King Henry on the battlefield?
8. How does Hal live up to his vow to King Henry?
9. What is the outcome of Hal’s challenge to Hotspur?
10. What immediate arrangements does Henry make to put an end to rebellion...
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Baker, Herschel. Introduction to Henry IV, Part I, by William Shakespeare. In The Riverside Shakespeare, edited by G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Miflin, 1974. Brief introduction to the play, with explanation of Shakespeare’s use of his sources, his different levels of plotting, and use of humor.
Bevington, David. Introduction to Henry IV, Part I, by William Shakespeare. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. General introduction to the play. Discusses its performance history, its sources, its major characters, its structural unity, and its politics.
Cohen, Derek. “The Rite of Violence...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Quotations from Henry IV, Part I are taken from the following edition:
Wright, Louis B. and Virginia A. Lamar, eds. Henry IV, Part I. The Folger Library. New York: Washington Square Press, 1960.
Adams, Joseph Quincy. A Life of William Shakespeare. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1951.
Bradley, A. C. “The Rejection of Falstaff.” Oxford Lectures on Poetry. London: MacMillan & Co., Ltd., 1959.
Characters of Shakespeare’s Plays & Lectures on the English Poets. London: MacMillan and Co., Ltd., 1903.
Scott, Mark, ed. Shakespearean Criticism. Detroit, MI: Gale Research Company Book...
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