Role Call: There are four different Henrys in this place, so you’ll definitely want to refer back to this list.
- King Henry IV (referred to as King Henry)
- Henry, Prince of Wales, King Henry’s son (referred to as Prince Henry)
- Prince John of Lancaster, King Henry’s son
- Earl of Westmoreland
- Sir Walter Blunt
- Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester (referred to as Worcester)
- Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland (referred to as Northumberland)
- Henry Percy, Northumberland’s son (referred to as Hotspur)
- Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March
- Scroop, Archbishop of York
- Archibald, Earl of Douglas (referred to as Douglas)
- Owen Glendower
- Sir Richard Vernon
- Sir John Falstaff
- Lady Percy, Hotspur’s wife and Mortimer’s sister
- Lady Mortimer, Mortimer’s wife and Glendower’s daughter
- Mrs. Quickly, hostess of a tavern in Eastcheap
- Various other dudes that fetch and carry but don’t matter much
The Play’s the Thing: King Henry is chatting with his lords about how he promised to go to the Crusades a year ago, but hasn’t been able to muster the necessary troops and money plus now he has to deal with a brewing rebellion being led by Hotspur. While King Henry isn’t thrilled with the likely rebellion, he does envy Northumberland his son, Hotspur, who is a great soldier and King Henry’s idea of a man. His own son, Prince Henry, is a bit of a disappointment. We then get a scene of Prince Henry hanging out with his drinking buddy Falstaff (whom you’ll remember from The Merry Wives of Windsor, although this play came first). Prince Henry, Falstaff, and some of his other cronies are planning some highway robbery. Prince Henry and Poins then plan a prank where they’ll ditch the rest of their group, let them do the heist, and then sneak up on their gang, steal the money from them, and make fun of Falstaff afterwards. Back at the palace, King Henry is meeting with Hotspur, who has refused to turn over the hostages he has taken during war (hostages basically equal money from the ransoms the other side would pay). Hotspur is not a fan of King Henry and is particularly affronted as King Henry has refused to ransom Mortimer, who was taken hostage. After King Henry leaves, Hotspur, his father, Northumberland, and his uncle, Worcester, begin to plot against King Henry, which they feel fine about because King Henry wrongfully deposed King Richard.
Prince Henry and Poins successfully carry out their prank on Falstaff and co. Meanwhile, Hotspur is getting all riled up and preparing to take down King Henry. He chats with his wife (who is spunky and pretty awesome) about his plans to leave and then tells her she’ll be following a day behind him but doesn’t tell her where. Back at the tavern, Prince Henry and Poins have some fun at the expense of the serving boy until Falstaff shows up. They then have Falstaff tell them about the heist and Falstaff inflates the number of men who attacked him over the course of the story from two to eleven. Prince Henry then tells Falstaff that it was he and Poins who attacked Falstaff. Falstaff blusters that he knew it all along but didn’t want to injure the heir apparent. Henry then receives notice that he needs to appear at court in the morning as Hotspur’s rebellion is starting to come to a head. He and Falstaff then role play, Prince Henry’s approach to his meeting with King Henry. The Sheriff then shows up looking for the thieves but Henry covers for them.
Hotspur has a meeting with his fellow rebels and gets exasperated with Glendower who has built up a mythology around himself that he’s a super warrior as illustrated by the portents at his birth. Then Hotspur and Mortimer’s wives show up and Hotspur banters some more with his wife before heading off to battle. At the palace in London, King Henry is meeting with Prince Henry and giving him a serious lecture about Prince Henry’s poor behaviour. King Henry tells Prince Henry that his behaviour is too much like King Richard’s which played a big role in Richard being deposed so easily. King Henry also pulls out the sibling card and says Prince John has been behaving far more like an heir should than Prince Henry has. Prince Henry swears he’ll right his ways and prove it in the coming battle with Hotspur. A messenger than shows up with news about the coming battle and the movement of Hotspur and his allies. King Henry makes some orders about who will lead which battle group and everyone heads off. Back at the tavern, Falstaff is accusing the hostess of having someone on her staff steal his wallet but no one’s buying that he had anything of worth in it. Prince Henry then shows up and gives Falstaff a commission as the leader of a marching group.
Hotspur meets with Worcester and Douglas to discuss strategy and receives news that his father is ill and won’t be able to lead his group of men and doesn’t feel he can delegate to someone else as it’s for a rebellion against King Henry. While Hotspur and co. are a little concerned about their odds they decide to fight anyway, especially as King Henry is already on the move to meet them in battle. Falstaff is marching with his company towards the assembly point and grumbling about what a rag-tag group he’s leading. He bumps into Prince Henry who ribs him about the state of his men and they head off to the King’s camp. Hotspur is trying to convince his allies to attack the King right away at night but then an emissary from King Henry. Hotspur goes on a rant about King Henry deposing King Richard and refusing to ransom Mortimer and then says he’ll give a definite answer in the morning. There’s then a scene with the Archbishop the gist being that Hotspur doesn’t have enough troops to really be able to take on King Henry.
Worcester goes to visit King Henry who offers the rebels pardon if they’ll just forget the whole battle. Worcester goes back to the rebel camp and decides to not tell Hotspur about the offered pardon and instead tells him that King Henry has told him they’ll meet in battle. We then get excursions and fighting ON STAGE. Douglas meets Blunt who is disguised as King Henry. Douglas kills Blunt and is exulting over killing the King until Hotspur shows up, bursts his bubble, and says there are many people disguised as the King. In another, Falstaff and Prince Henry meet up and chat and Prince Henry gives Falstaff some booze. King Henry, Prince Henry, Prince John, and Westmoreland meet up and King Henry tries to convince Prince Henry to withdraw as he’s wounded. King Henry is left alone for a bit and meets Douglas who seriously threatens King Henry’s life until Prince Henry comes back who scares off Douglas. King Henry is grateful and glad to see that rumours that Prince Henry wanted to kill his father was false. The King heads off to a meeting point. Prince Henry then meets Hotspur and fights with him. Douglas comes back and fights with Falstaff who pretends to be dead so Douglas will leave. Prince Henry kills Hotspur, mourns the loss of such a great man, and is saddened to see the apparently dead Falstaff. Falstaff pops back up after Prince Henry leaves, stabs Hotspur in the leg to make sure he’s dead and claim his death as his own. Prince Henry and Prince John come back, are surprised to see Falstaff still alive, and Prince Henry decides to let Falstaff have the glory of Hotspur’s death if he really wants. King Henry hands over some captured rebels to Prince Henry who passes them right on to Prince John. King Henry and Prince Henry then head towards to Wales to battle Glendower and the Earl of March. CLIFFHANGER.
Heroes and Villains: Prince Henry is definitely my favourite character in this play as he’s the perfect example of the redeemed bad boy. Also, his scenes with Falstaff are funny and proto-bromance.
Insults with Style:
- “mad mustachio purple-hued malt-worms” (II.i)
- “whoreson caterpillars” (II.ii)
- “bacon-fed knaves” (II.ii)
- “clay-brained guts” (II.ii)
- “give the devil his due” (I.ii)
- “sink or swim” (I.iii)
- “the game’s a-foot” (I.iii)
- “the better part of valour is discretion” (V.iv)
Speech to Know: Prince Henry’s speech after he kills Hotspur is a wonderful tribute to an opponent to an enemy he highly respected.
“For worms, brave Percy: fare thee well, great heart!
Ill-weav’d ambition, how much art thou shrunk!
When that this body did contain a spirit,
A kingdom for it was too small a bound;
But now two paces of vilest earth
Is room enough: – this earth that bears thee dead
Bears not alive so stout a gentleman.
If thou wert sensible of courtesy,
I should not make so dear a show of zeal: –
But let my favours hide thy mangled face;
And, even in thy behalf, I’ll thank myself
For doing these fair rites of tenderness.
Adieu, and take thy praise with thee to heaven!
They ignominy sleep with thee in the grave,
But not remember’d in thy epitaph!” (V.iv)
The View from the Pit: I studied Henry IV Part 1 during my Shakespeare class in undergrad and enjoyed it. Once you get past the confusing number of Henrys, it’s a play that has a little bit of everything. There’s the comedic bits with Falstaff and Prince Henry with their heist and at the tavern. There’s the political maneuvering and passion of Hotspur and his fellow rebels. There is King Henry who is defending his ill-gained crown and dealing with a son who has fallen into the behaviours that allowed King Henry to depose King Richard. And there’s a lot of sword swinging going on which makes for some nice action sequences. But at the heart of the play is Prince Henry’s transition from the dissipated and disappointing heir-apparent to a powerful and loyal warrior for his father’s cause (and his own).