Historical Background

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

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Royal palace

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

*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.

Modern Connections

(Shakespeare for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 1078 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

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 representation of the wrath that controls Hotspur.

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.

Other Sources
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.