Henry IV, Part I Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

Henry IV, Part I book cover
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How does Shakespeare reflect one character over another with Hotspur/Prince Henry, the thieves/rebels and the upper class/lower class?  

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In addition to quarrels of the aristocracy in this play, Shakespeare offers a host of scruffy characters who belong to the common laborers and criminals crowd frequenting The Boar's Head Tavern.  Both worlds are more vivid for the contrast, and a dramatic tension is established between them.  For instance, Prince Hal belongs to both worlds.  He is surrounded by volatile characters like Hotspur (note the name) and his charming upper-class wife, as well as the highwaymen, knights, and knaves at the tavern.  The delinquents at the tavern and the rebels led by Hotspur contribute to the decaying fabric of society, and Prince Hal believes that both groups have been sent by Heaven to seek revenge for his overthrowing King Richard II.  Hal and Hotspure are compared often, and even the king comments that it is a shame that his son seems so "feckless" in comparison to Hotspur, the rebel leader.  The potential readiness of Hal is a motif that recurs throughout the play, and in the end, he does prove that he is far superior--he becomes the hero he promises his father he will be.  The entire play is a fabulous work addressing and comparing the differences in these characters and classes.  Through comparison in actions, thoughts, deeds, and language, Shakespeare illustrates a complex social structure in just a few lines of poetry.

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