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...
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In this section
- Shakespeare’s Language
- Shakespeare’s Sentences
- Shakespeare’s Words
- Shakespeare’s Wordplay
- Shakespeare’s Dramatic Verse
- Implied Stage Action
Shakespeare’s language can create a strong pang of intimidation, even fear, in a large number of modern-day readers. Fortunately, however, this need not be the case. All that is needed to master the art of reading Shakespeare is to practice the techniques of unraveling uncommonly-structured sentences and to become familiar with the poetic use of uncommon words. We must realize that during the 400-year span between Shakespeare’s time and our own, both the way we live and speak has changed. Although most of his vocabulary is in use today, some of it is obsolete, and what may be most confusing is that some of his words are used today, but with slightly different or totally different meanings. On the stage, actors readily dissolve these language stumbling blocks. They study Shakespeare’s dialogue and express it dramatically in word and in action so that its meaning is graphically enacted. If the reader studies Shakespeare’s lines as an actor does, looking up and...
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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...
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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 prisoners?
9. Why does Hotspur become so angry when Henry refuses to pay ransom for Mortimer?
10. How do Northumberland and Worcester calm Hotspur down at the end of Scene iii?
1. King Henry’s concerns involve sending an army to the Holy Land to fight in the Crusades and suppressing rebellions that are occurring in England. It is no surprise that at the beginning of the play we meet a king “so shaken” and “wan with care” because of his concern for his kingdom.
2. Westmoreland brings Henry news that the issue of an army to the Crusades was being heavily discussed when news came that “the noble Mortimer, / Leading the men of Herefordshire to fight” against...
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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 that take place during the “play extempore.”
10. How does Hal manage the sheriff’s investigation of the reported robbery?
1. The conditions that prevail at the inn are such that the “house is turned upside down since Robin Ostler died.” The “peas and beans are as dank” as a dog, and the inn is overrun by fleas. This environment reflects the topsy-turvy world of the King’s court and state of England. Gadshill among his cronies mirrors the treachery that exists within the King’s council.
2. Poins removes Falstaff’s horse so he cannot run away after robbing the travelers. Then Hal tells Falstaff to lie down and “lay thine ear close to the ground, and list if thou...
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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 Mistress Quickly?
9. Explain the mood at the tavern at the end of Scene iii.
10. How does Falstaff get involved in Hal’s fight with the Percys?
1. Hotspur, Worcester, Mortimer, and Glendower meet at Bangor, Wales to plan the rebellion and discuss the division of the kingdom that they hope to acquire in the rebellion.
2. Hotspur is annoyed at Glendower’s belief that at his “nativity / The front of heaven was full of fiery shapes.” Hotspur dismisses these events as mere coincidence. In addition, after the division of the kingdom is made, Hotspur believes his portion is smaller than the rest, so he wants the map altered. Glendower insists it will not be altered, and...
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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?
1. The rebels receive the disappointing news that Northumberland “is grievous sick” and will not join the rebel forces, that “The Earl of Westmoreland, seven thousand strong, / Is marching,” and that Glendower “cannot draw his power this fourteen days.”
2. Hotspur reacts to this news by thinking that with Northumberland’s absence the rebels will not jeopardize all of their forces. He refuses to comprehend the strength of Henry’s forces, and he is naive enough to believe that “the powers of us may serve” to defeat the King.
3. Worcester fears that Northumberland’s absence may be interpreted by some as a disapproval of the rebels’ cause and may create doubts about their enterprise.
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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 in England?
1. Worcester goes to King Henry to inform him of the rebels’ response to the offer of pardon. Henry takes this opportunity to tell Worcester “’Tis not well / That you and I should meet upon such terms / As we meet now,” suggesting the inevitable defeat of the Percys.
2. After hearing Worcester’s excuses for justifying the rebellion, Prince Henry challenges Hotspur to do battle “in a single fight” to determine the outcome of the rebellion.
3. When Worcester returns to the Percy camp, he tells Hotspur that the “King will bid you battle presently,” in order to stir him to battle since the rebels are weakened and have reached the point of no return. He fears...
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The study of the language of Henry IV, Part One has focussed primarily on the use of prose and verse. Critics have examined how the use of prose and verse helps differentiate between the two worlds of the play. In the world of the tavern, Falstaffs world, prose is spoken, and in the world of the court, also identified as the historical world, verse is spoken. Hal, at ease m both worlds, uses the appropriate language when in the tavern or at court. Falstaff, in complete opposition to the courtly world, speaks only in prose. It has been noted that Hotspur speaks the best verse in the play. His speeches, like Hotspur himself, are straightforward and hard.
The use of oaths, or promises, has also been examined, as has the frequent manipulation of language in the play. Oaths, which are contradicted repeatedly by many characters including Falstaff, can be used to evaluate character as they indicate the possible moral superiority of characters who remain true to their word. Hal learns how to manipulate language and some critics have pointed out that his skill is a significant part of Hal's education. He learns how to speak like Hotspur when necessary, to speak like a commoner, to speak like a king, and to speak like himself.
In Henry IV, Part One Hal and Hotspur represent two distinct versions of honor. Hotspur's honor is achieved through warfare, and is marked by chivalrous action. It has been...
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Much of Henry IV, Part One has to do with the king's power struggle against the Percys, a noble family who once supported him but who now accuses him of arrogance and ingratitude. Yet that aspect of the play which is perhaps most interesting to modern audiences is the conflict that occurs between a father (King Henry) and his oldest son (Prince Hal).
Henry IV repeatedly expresses his disappointment with his first-born son, who spends his time in "rude society," frequenting taverns and brothels when he should be at court or on the battlefield preparing himself to succeed his father as king (III.ii. 14). So dissatisfied is the king with Hal that in I.i.86-90 he openly wishes it might somehow turn out that Hotspur and Hal had been switched at birth, and that the brave and clean-living Hotspur were in fact his son and heir.
It is true that the king needs a reliable successor to help legitimize his own claim to the throne (Henry IV usurped King Richard II), but his impatience with his son appears to be personal as well as political. On the eve of his battle with the Percys, Henry delivers a stern lecture to Hal which—although it occurs between a king and a prince and thus concerns affairs of state—is similar in tone to one that might be given today by a father to a rebellious teenager, for the advice is mixed with anger and hurt feelings (III.ii.4-161). Henry begins his lecture by wondering whether God had sent him a bad child as...
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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 in I Henry IV.” Shakespeare Survey 38 (1985): 77-84. A detailed analysis of Hotspur as structural center of the play, explaining his evolution from comic to heroic and then to tragic figure.
Fehrenbach, Robert J. “The Characterization of the King in I Henry IV.” Shakespeare Quarterly 30 no. 1 (Winter, 1979): 42-50. Contends that a focus upon King Henry is crucial to comprehension of Shakespeare’s use of indirect characterization.
Levin, Lawrence. “Hotspur, Falstaff and the Emblem of Wrath in I Henry IV.” Shakespeare Studies 10 (1977): 43-65. Analyzes the relationship between Hotspur and Falstaff, contending Falstaff is a visual...
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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 Tower, 1987.
Shakespeare, The Critical Heritage: 1733-1752. Eds. Brian Vickers, Routledge & Kegan Paul. Vol 3. 1975.
Sherbo, Arthur, ed. Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson: Johnson on Shakespeare, Vols. VII, VIII. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968.
Smith, D. Nichol, ed. Eighteenth Century Essays on Shakespeare. Second Edition. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963.
Speaight, Robert. Shakespeare on the Stage. Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown and Company.
Wilson, J. Dover. The Fortunes of Falstaff. Cambridge: University Press, 1943.
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