Henry IV Part I
Summary and Analysis
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Plot Summary
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Prose vs Verse
Imagery: Similes
Other Figures of Speech
Prince Hal's Dissembling
Falstaff's Comedy
Best or Worst Play?
Lineage: Lancaster and York
Study Questions
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Shakespeare Glossary
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings... 2003
Revised in 2010, 2011, 2013
Type of Work
.......Henry IV Part I is a history play with episodes of both comedy and tragedy. Although the play is based on the facts of history, it presents fictional characters, such as Sir John Falstaff and his plebeian friends, as well as fictionalized episodes involving them. Shakespeare is believed to have written the play in 1597 or earlier. It was first performed between 1597 and 1600.


.......Henry IV Part I was first published in a 1598 quarto edition. In 1623, it appeared in the First Folio, the first authorized collection of Shakespeare's plays.


.......Shakespeare based Henry IV Part I primarily on accounts in The Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (Holinshed’s Chronicles), by Raphael Holinshed (?-1580?), who began work on this history under the royal printer Reginald Wolfe. The first edition of the chronicles was published in 1577 in two volumes. Shakespeare also used the following sources: The Union of Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancastre and York, by Edward Hall (?-1547); The Civil Wars (about the Wars of the Roses), by Samuel Daniel (1563-1619); and a play, The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth. Shakespeare may have based the character Falstaff, in part, on a boastful but cowardly soldier named Pyrgopolynices in Miles Gloriosus, a play by the Roman dramatist Plautus (254?-184 BC).
.......The action takes place in England between 1401 and 1403 at the following sites: London, Rochester (east of London), Warkworth Castle (in northern England), Bangor (a military camp near Shrewsbury on the English-Welsh border), a public road near Coventry (in the English midlands northwest of London), and York (about halfway between London and Edinburgh, Scotland). The London locales present striking oppositesfor example, the palace of the king in one scene and a slummy byway or tavern in the next.

Protagonist: King Henry IV (It can be argued, however, that Prince Hal is the Protagonist)
Antagonists: The Enemies of the King and His Son
Comic Figure: Falstaff
Tragic Figure: Hotspur

King Henry IV: Skilled politician who, as Henry Bolingbroke, forced Richard II's abdication and usurped the throne. The oldest son of the Duke of Lancaster (John of Gaunt), Henry was the first English king in the House of Lancaster, reigning from 1399 to 1413. During this play, he battles uprisings by British nobles. 
Henry (Hal), Prince of Wales: Older son of the king. Known as Prince Hal (or simply Hal) to his friends, he keeps company with a band of drinkers and robbers in the slums of London. But when the time comes to fight the rebel forces, he distinguishes himself in battle and wins the respect of all. It cannot be determined whether the historical Prince Henry was a carousing mischief-maker, although unverifiable stories characterize him as such. 
Sir John Falstaff: Bosom pal of Prince Henry and one of the great comic characters in English literature. He is a fat, good-for-nothing knight who spends his time bragging, wenching, sleeping, robbing, drinking sack (a dry white wine), and sparring verbally with anyone. He pronounces one of Shakespeare's most famous lines: "The better part of valour is discretion" (often misquoted as "Discretion is the better part of valour").
John of Lancaster: Younger son of the king.
Henry Percy the Younger (Hotspur) : Son of the Earl of Northumberland (the elder Henry Percy). Young Henry, a fierce warrior, fights first on the side of the king but changes his allegiance to become a rebel leader. He is often called Hotspur, a name that symbolizes his pluck and temperament as a warrior and opponent of Prince Henry.
Henry Percy the Elder: Earl of Northumberland. He opposes the king after first supporting him and forms an alliance with a Welsh leader, Owen Glendower.
Thomas Percy: Earl of Worcester and Hotspur's uncle.
Lady Percy: Wife of Hotspur.
Edmund Mortimer: Earl of March. He believes he has a claim on the throne. 
Owen Glendower: Welsh rebel leader.
Lady Mortimer: Wife of Edmund Mortimer and daughter of Glendower.
Archibald: Earl of Douglas. He leads the Scottish army as an ally of the Earl of Northumberland.
Richard Scroop: Archbishop of York and ally of Northumberland.
Earl of Westmoreland: Nobleman in the king's army.
Sir Walter Blunt: Nobleman in the king's army.
Sir Michael: Supporter of the archbishop.
Sir Richard Vernon: rebel.
Ned Poins: Drinking companion of Prince Henry.
Gadshill, Peto, Bardolph: Drinking companions of Falstaff.
Mistress Quickly: Hostess of the Boar's-Head Tavern in London's Eastcheap section. Prince Henry, Falstaff, and their drinking friends are among the tavern's best customers.
Francis: Waiter.
Gilliams, Butler: Servants of Hotspur
Minor Characters: Lords, officers, sheriff, vintner (wine merchant), chamberlain, drawers (tapsters or bartenders), carriers, travelers, attendants, ostler (hostler, a person at an inn or a stable who keeps charge of horses). 

Plot Summary
By Michael J. Cummings... 2003

.......It is the autumn of 1401, about two years after Henry Bolingbroke became King Henry IV. Henry did not inherit the throne; he seized it. Through political machination, he forced the previous king, Richard II, to abdicate on September 30, 1399. Henry claimed the throne as a descendant of Henry III, who ruled England from 1216 to 1272.  About five months after Richard abdicated, one of the Bolingbroke’s supporters murdered Richard. (The murder of Richard is Shakespeare’s interpretation of history. There is no conclusive evidence demonstrating that foul play caused his death.) 
.......As the play opens, Henry is at his palace in London. Now consumed by guilt for causing Richard’s death (even though Richard was a weak and vindictive king), Henry prepares for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to atone for his sins. However, news of another uprising against him forces him to postpone the trip. (Eight months before, Henry had suppressed a conspiracy organized by supporters of the late Richard.) 
.......According to the Earl of Westmoreland, rebel armies are on the march to overthrow Henry. Owen Glendower, a Welsh rebel, poses a threat in the west. Archibald, the Earl of  Douglas, poses a threat in the north. Reports from the battlefield say that Edmund Mortimer, the Earl of March, led an English army against Glendower but that Glendower defeated him and took him prisoner. However, another English army, led by Henry Percy (known as Hotspur), defeated Archibald and took several important earls as prisoner, including Mordake, the eldest son of Archibald. The king extols Hotspur’s deeds and wishes that his own son and heir to the throne, Prince Henry (known formally as the Prince of Wales and informally, to his friends, simply as Hal), were more like Hotspur. 
.......At that very moment, Prince Hal is busy pursuing merriment in London with his old pal and surrogate fathera fat wine-swilling, food-stuffing, good-for-nothing braggart, robber, and loafer, Sir John Falstaff, a knight of the realm. How he attained knighthood is a mystery, for he would rather run than fightor storm a tavern than a castle. In Hal’s London apartment the two men are regaling themselves with tales of past misdeeds and making plans for another, a robbery. Poins, a drinking companion, enters just as Falstaff is leaving for Eastcheap, a seedy section of London. Poins accuses Falstaff of selling his soul to the devil on Good Friday for a cup of wine and a cold capon leg. Hal says Falstaff “will give the devil his due” (1.2.39). 
.......After Falstaff leaves, Poins suggests a mischief to Hal: They will agree to take part in the next robbery with Falstaff, but at the scene of the crimewhen Falstaff is in the act of robbingthey will keep their distance. Later, when Falstaff comes away with the booty, they will wear disguises and steal it from him. 
.......Such are the reprehensible ways of Prince Henry: He is a carouser, a robber, a rascal, a rogue. And his father is not at all pleased. However, what King Henry IV does not realize is that young Hal is educating himself in the ways of the common people. He is also masking his true worth and talent by participating in base activities. In so doing, he will build a reputation as a wastrel and ne’er-do-well, then shock and confound everyone when, as king, he turns out to be a savvy, highly skilled leader of a men. In one of the most important passages in the play, Prince Henry reveals these thoughts after Poins leaves and Hal is alone: 
Yet herein will I imitate the sun, 
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds 
To smother up his beauty from the world, 
That, when he please again to be himself, 
Being wanted, he may be more wonder’d at, 
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists 
Of vapours that did seem to strangle him. 
If all the year were playing holidays, 
To sport would be as tedious as to work; 
But when they seldom come, they wish’d for come, 
And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents. 
So, when this loose behavior I throw off 
And pay the debt I never promised, 
By how much better than my word I am, 
By so much shall I falsify men’s hopes; 
And like bright metal on a sullen ground, 
My reformation, glittering o’er my fault, 
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes 
Than that which hath no foil to set it off. 
I’ll so offend, to make offence a skill; 
Redeeming time when men think least I will. (1.2.67-87) 
.......When Hotspur arrives fresh from battle at the king’s palace, he promotes a plan to return his captives to the enemy (Glendower) in exchange for an English prisoner, Edmund Mortimer, Hotspur’s brother-in-law. However, King Henry condemns Hotspur’s plan, for he has heard that Mortimer has found time to woo and wed Glendower’s daughter in the enemy camp. Therefore, the king says, Mortimer “hath willfully betray’d / The lives of those that he did lead to fight.” (1.3.84-85).  Infuriated, Hotspur refuses to yield his prisoners to the king. “An if the devil come and roar for them,” Hotspur says, “I will not send them” (1.3.128-129). In fact, so angry is Hotspur that he decides to join the rebellion against King Henry. 
.......While Hotspur returns home to Warkworth Castle to make his traitorous plans, Hal and Poins play their trick on Falstaff, wearing disguises as they rob Falstaff of the money he robbed from travelers. Falstaff runs off without putting up a fight. Later, at the Boar’s Head Tavern in Eastcheap, Falstaff bemoans his loss to Hal and Poins, unaware that they were the ones who robbed him of his booty. He claims he fought with a dozen robbers for two hours before yielding his prize and escaping miraculously. “I am eight times thrust through the doublet,” he says, “four through the hose; my buckler cut through and through; my sword hacked like a hand-saw” (2. 4. 66).When Hal reveals himself and Poins as the trick-playing villains who robbed Falstaff, the fat knight says he knew all along that it was Hal who had set upon him. But, he says, he did not resist because he did not wish to injure the future king. 
.......One of the king’s nobles arrives at the tavern to deliver a message reporting the latest news of the rebellion and commanding Hal to return to court in the morning to see his father, the king. Falstaff, realizing that Hal must go to war, says, “Are thou not horribly afeard?” (2.4.147). Hal replies, “Not a whit, i’ faith; I lack some of thy instinct” (148). The next day, King Henry scolds his son for his “inordinate and low desires” (3.2.14) and reprimands him for the “rude society” (3.2.16) he keeps. Hal then promises, “I shall hereafter . . .be more myself” (3.2.94-95). 
.......After King Henry learns that some of the rebels, including Hotspur, are marshaling their forces in the west, at the town of Shrewsbury, he commissions Hal to command part of the army. The king himself will ride at the head of the army. In turn, Prince Hal commissions Falstaff to raise and lead a regiment of foot soldiers against the rebels. However, Falstaff drafts only cowards who have money, knowing full well they will offer to buy their way out of military service. When they hand over three hundred pounds each to win their right to return home, Falstaff pockets all of the money except a small portion with which to hire riffraff as stand-ins. Later, as Prince Hal inspects Falstaff’s recruits, he says, “I never did see such pitiful rascals” (4.2.17). Falstaff says they’ll do just fine because “They’ll fit a pit as well as better” (18). 
.......Meanwhile, in an eleventh-hour effort to prevent hostilities, King Henry offers the rebels a general pardon, but Hotspur and his forces come out fighting. The year is now 1403; the site of the fighting is near Shrewsbury on the Welsh-English border. As the battle rages, Hal and Hotspur seek each other out. When they find each other, Hal kills Hotspur. But Hal does not rejoice, for he recognizes that there was greatness in Hotspur. Hal salutes his fallen foe, saying  “Fare thee well, great heart!” (5. 4. 94). All of Falstaff’s men die in the battle. Not wishing to meet their fate, Falstaff lies down and pretends to be dead. When he arises later, he says, “The better part of valour is discretion; in the which better part, I have saved my life” (5.4.118). Coming upon the corpse of Hotspur, Falstaff eyes it suspiciously, wondering whether Hotspur may still be alive. In a fit of bravery he stabs the corpse and decides to take credit for having slain the warrior. He then picks up the corpse and heaves it onto his shoulder, as a hunter would a dead stag, and carries it off. 
.......When Prince Hal happens by, Falstaff throws the corpse down and says, “There is Percy: if your father will do me any honour, so; if not, let him kill the next Percy himself. I look to be either earl or duke, I can assure you” (5.4.130). Hal then announces that it was he who slew Hotspur while the fat old knight was lying in a ditch. Falstaff replies, “I grant you I was down and out of breath; and so was he: but we rose both at an instant and fought a long hour by Shrewsbury clock. If I may be believed, so; if not, let them that should reward valour bear the sin upon their own heads” (5.4.132). In the distance, a trumpet blares a retreat, and Hal declares the Battle of Shrewsbury over and the victory won. As Hal leaves for another part of the battlefield, Falstaff follows, saying, “He that rewards me, God reward him! If I do grow great, I’ll grow less; for I’ll purge, and leave sack, and live cleanly as a nobleman should do” (5.4.141). 
.......The two rebel leaders, Worcester and Vernon, are taken prisoner and summarily executed. However, a third prisonerthe valorous Archibald, Earl of Douglasis released by the generous Prince Hal. King Henry and Hal then leave for Wales to confront rebels under the command of Owen Glendower and the Earl of March. At the same time, Prince John of Lancaster, Hal’s younger brother, heads toward York to battle rebel forces led by the Earl of Northumberland (Hotspur’s father). The play ends when King Henry declares, “Rebellion in this land shall lose his sway, meeting the check of such another day: And since this business so fair is done, let us not leave till all our own be won” (5.5.44-47). 

Turning a Sow's Ear Into a Silk Purse

.......While befriending Falstaff and his rowdies, Prince Hal is a carouser, robber, womanizer, and practical joker. And his father is not at all pleased. However, what King Henry IV does not realize is that young Hal is deliberately masking his true worth and talent by participating in these base activities. His goal is to educate himself in the ways of the common people. After building a reputation as a wastrel and ne’er-do-well, he will shock and confound everyone when he turns out to be a savvy, highly skilled leader of men. The sow's ear will have become a silk purse. 

Battlefield Valor as a Shaper of Leaders

.......Prince Hal’s courageous deeds in war help mold him into a leader esteemed ny those who previously thought he was a ne'er-do-well. This motif recurs throughout literature and history, as demonstrated in ancient times by Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar and in modern times by Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy. 

Carpe Diem: or Eat, Drink, and Be merry

.......Falstaff lives for the momentfor wine, women, song, and making mischief. “I live out of all order, out of all compass” (3.3.5), Falstaff says of his carpe diem philosophy. Although he appears to have ensnared Prince Hal in his happy-go-lucky lifestyle, the young prince knows well his responsibilities as heir to the throne and, when the time comes, he doffs his veneer of devil-may-care merrymaker to reveal himself as a brave and wily king-to-be.

Guilt From Ill-Gotten Gain

.......Henry IV experiences deep guilt for the manner in which he came to power: overthrowing the previous king, Richard II. (Shakespeare says he did not merely overthrow him; he murdered him. This guilt consumes him and remains with him (as the reader learns in Henry IV Part II) until he draw his last breath.

Internal Strife

.......Henry IV uses his army to fight citizens of his own country. In modern times, governments have often done the same, rightly or wrongly, in Russia, Northern Ireland, Vietnam, and other countries. 


.......The main conflicts center on (1) Henry IV and his rebellious enemies and (2) Henry IV and his seemingly rebellious son. The king wins a great battle, but the war goes on. Hal reforms and redeems himself in his father's eyes when he kills the redoubtable Hotspur.


.......The tone of the play is alternately serious and lighthearted, with the comic episodes of Hal and Falstaff contrasting with the sober business of making war. The tone reflects the mood of the central character, Hal, who early on is a rascally merrymaker and later a terrible engine of war. 

.......The climax of a play or a narrative work, such as a short story or a novel, can be defined as (1) the turning point at which the conflict begins to resolve itself for better or worse, or as (2) the final and most exciting event in a series of events. The climax in Henry IV occurs, according to the first definition, when Prince Hal renounces his wastrel lifestyle and takes up the sword to fight for England. According to the second definition, the climax occurs when Prince Hal fights to the death with Hotspur. 

Prose vs Verse in Henry IV Part I

.......Shakespeare wrote Henry IV partly in prose and partly in verse. 
.......Verse is a collection of lines that follow a regular, rhythmic patternin Shakespeare, usually iambic pentameter, a metric scheme in which each line has ten syllables consisting of five unaccented and accented syllable pairs. In its highest formwhen the language is lyrical and the content sublimeverse can become poetry, either rhymed or unrhymed. Prose, on the other hand, is the everyday language of conversation, letters, lectures, sermons, newspaper articles, book chapters, and encyclopedia articles. Prose has no rhyme or metric scheme.
......Why did Shakespeare mix verse (including poetry) and prose in his plays? That is a question that inevitably occupies anyone studying Shakespeare’s writing techniques. Before considering that question, the Shakespeare analyst first needs to learn how to identify the verse and prose passages in a play. That task is easy. Here’s why: 
......In most modern editions of the plays, each line in multi-line verse passages begins with a capital letter, and each line in multi-line prose passages begins with a small letter except the first line or a line beginning with the opening word of a sentence. In addition, verse passages have a shortened right margin, but prose passages have a full right margin. Following are examples of these visual cues in verse and prose passages from Henry IV Part I:

Prose Passage

CHAMBERLAIN   Good morrow, Master Gadshill. It holds current that I told you yesternight: there’s a franklin in the wild of Kent hath brought three hundred marks with him in gold: I heard him tell it to one of his company last night at supper; a kind of auditor; one that hath abundance of charge too, God knows what. They are up already and call for eggs and butter: they will away presently. 
GADSHILL   Sirrah, if they meet not with Saint Nicholas’ clerks, I’ll give thee this neck. 
CHAMBERLAIN   No, I’ll none of it: I prithee, keep that for the hangman; for I know thou worship’st Saint Nicholas as truly as a man of falsehood may. (2.1-28-31)

Verse Passage

LADY PERCY   O, my good lord! why are you thus alone? 
For what offence have I this fortnight been 
A banish’d woman from my Harry’s bed? 
Tell me, sweet lord, what is’t that takes from thee 
Thy stomach, pleasure, and thy golden sleep? 
Why dost thou bend thine eyes upon the earth,
And start so often when thou sitt’st alone? 
Why hast thou lost the fresh blood in thy cheeks, 
And given my treasures and my rights of thee 
To thick-eyed musing and curst melancholy? (2.3.10-20)

......Now, then, what about single linesthose spoken in conversation as questions, replies, or ripostes? They are in prose if one line has no paired rhyming line or is too abrupt to contain a metric scheme. Following is example of such a prose passage with single lines.
HOTSPUR   We’ll fight with him to-night. 
WORCESTER   It may not be. 
DOUGLAS   You give him then advantage. 
VERNON   Not a whit. 
HOTSPUR   Why say you so? looks he not for supply? 
VERNON   So do we. 
HOTSPUR   His is certain, ours is doubtful. (4.3.1-7)
......But what of the multi-line passages? Why are some in verse and others in prose? The answer some Shakespeare commentators providean answer that is simplistic and not wholly accurateis that Shakespeare reserved verse for noble, highborn characters and prose for common, lowborn characters. It is true that royalty and nobility often speak in verse and that peasants and plebeiansor wine-swilling hooligans, like Falstaff (Henry IV Part I and Henry IV Part II)often speak in prose. But it is also true that noble characters, like Hamlet and Volumnia (Coriolanus), sometimes speak in prose and that lowborn characters, like the witches in Macbeth, often speak in verse. Even the lowest of the lowthe beast-man Caliban in The Tempestspeaks often in verse. In The Merchant of Venice, the characters associated with the dirty world of money speak frequently in verse, and the characters associated with the rarefied world of nobility and refinement speak often in prose. Shakespeare's comedy Much Ado About Nothing is almost entirely in prose, with highborn characters only occasionally speaking in verse.
......Why, then, does Shakespeare alternate between verse and prose? Shakespeare used verse to do the following:
One: Express deep emotion requiring elevated language. Because nobles and commoners were both capable of experiencing profound emotion, both expressed their emotions in verse from time to time.
Two: Make wise, penetrating, and reflective observations that require lofty language. Such a passage is a famous one recited by the outlaw Jaques in the seventh scene of Act II of As You Like It. The passagewhich begins with the often-quoted line “All the world’s a stage” (2.7.139)—philosophizes about the “seven ages” of man, from infancy to senility. 
Three: Present a lyrical poem as a separate entity, like the famous song in the fifth act of As You Like It. The first stanza of that poem follows:
............It was a lover and his lass,
............With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
............That o’er the green corn-field did pass
............In the spring time, the only pretty ring time,
............When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding:
............Sweet lovers love the spring. (5.3.11)
Four: Inject irony. When the highborn speak humble prose and the hoi polloi speak elegant verse, as is sometimes the case in The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare may be saying up can be down, and down can be up. In The Merchant, the noble characters are just as reprehensible asor perhaps even more reprehensible thanthe workaday, unsophisticated characters. Portia is often depicted in critical analyses of the play as its noblest character. But a close reading of the play reveals her as a racist and a self-seeking conniver. Thus, Shakespeare makes her tongue wag in prose and verse, revealing her Janus personality.
Five: Suggest order and exactitude. A character who speaks in precise rhythms and patterns is a character with a tidy brain that plans ahead and executes actions on schedule.
......Shakespeare used prose to do the following:
One: Express ordinary, undistinguished observations coming from the surface of the mind rather than its active, ruminating interior.
Two: Make quick, one-line replies such as “Ay, my lord” that are the stuff of day-to-day conversations.
Three: Present auditory relief for audiences (or visual relief for readers) from the intellectual and connotative density of the verse passages.
Four: Suggest madness or senility. In King Lear, Lear speaks almost exclusively in verse in the first half of the play. Then suddenly, he lurches back and forth between verse and prose, perhaps to suggest the frenzied state of his aging mind. Hamlet sometimes shifts to prose in front of observers, perhaps in hopes of presenting his feigned madness as real.
Five: Depict the rambling, desultory path of conversation from a tongue loosened by alcohol, as in Henry IV Part I and Henry IV Part II.
Six: Poke fun at characters who lack the wit to versify their lines.
Seven: Demonstrate that prose has merits as a literary medium. In Shakespeare’s day, verse (and its elegant cousin, poetry) was the sine qua non of successful writing. As an innovator, Shakespeare may have wanted to tout the merits of prose. Thus, on occasion, he infused his plays with prose passages so graceful and thought-provoking that they equalled, and sometimes even surpassed, the majesty of verse or poetry passages.
Imagery: Similes

.......To vivify his writing, Shakespeare frequently uses similes in Henry VI Part I, as in the following passages. (A simile uses like, as, or than to compare two dissimilar things).

The edge of war, like an ill-sheathed knife,
No more shall cut his master. (1.1.19-20)
Comparison of the edge of war to the cutting edge of a knife

The fortune of us that are the moon’s men doth ebb and flow like the sea. (1.2.10)
Comparison of shifting fortune to the movements of the sea

When I was dry with rage and extreme toil, 
Breathless and faint, leaning upon my sword, 
Came there a certain lord, neat, and trimly dress’d, 
Fresh as a bridegroom; and his chin, new reap’d, 
Show’d like a stubble-land at harvest-home: 
He was perfumed like a milliner. (1.3.34-39)
Comparison of the lord to a bridegroom and his child to a harvested field

 His chin, new reap’d, 
Show’d like a stubble-land at harvest-home. (1.3.37-38)
Comparison of a shaved ("new reap'd") chin to a harvested field 

                        At my nativity 
The front of heaven was full of fiery shapes, 
Of burning cressets; and at my birth 
The frame and huge foundation of the earth 
Shak’d like a coward. (3.1.16-20)
Comparison of the movement of the earth to the shaking of a coward

He was but as the cuckoo is in June, heard, not regarded. (3.2.77-78)
King Henry tells his son, Prince Hal, that it is unwise for a monarch to be seen often in public to curry the favor of the people.
When a previous king overexposed himself, the people eventually tired of seeing him—and he became like the familiar June cuckoo.
It makes its noise, but nobody hears it. This simile, which compares the king to the cuckoo, seems particularly apt for the context.

All [are] furnish’d, all in arms, 
All plum’d like estridges that wing the wind, 
Baited like eagles having lately bath’d, 
Glittering in golden coats, like images, 
As full of spirit as the month of May, 
And gorgeous as the sun at midsummer, 
Wanton as youthful goats, wild as young bulls. (4.1.107-113)
Comparison of soldiers to ostriches, eagles, the spirit of May, the midsummer sun, goats, and bulls

Other Figures of Speech

......Following are examples of other figures of speech in the play. For definitions of figures of speech, see Literary Terms.


To see him shine so brisk and smell so sweet (1.3.57) 

In his behalf I’ll empty all these veins, 
And shed my dear blood drop by drop i’ the dust (1.3.138-139

We in the world’s wide mouth (1.3.158)

And now I will unclasp a secret book, 
And to your quick-conceiving discontents   
I’ll read you matter deep and dangerous. (1.3.195-197) 

Why, what a wasp-stung and impatient fool 
Art thou to break into this woman’s mood. (1.3.247- 248) 

The front of heaven was full of fiery shapes. (3.1.17)    

Methinks my moiety, north from Burton here, 
In quantity equals not one of yours  (3.1.99-100)

I better brook the loss of brittle life      
Than those proud titles thou hast won of me. (5.4.85-86)    

And thou hast talk’d 
Of sallies and retires, of trenches, tents, 
Of palisadoes, frontiers, parapets, 
Of basilisks, of cannon, culverin, 
Of prisoners’ ransom, and of soldiers slain, 
And all the currents of a heady fight. (2.3.24-28)
By heaven methinks it were an easy leap 
To pluck bright honour from the pale-fac’d moon, 
Or dive into the bottom of the deep, 
Where fathom-line could never touch the ground, 
And pluck up drowned honour by the locks. (1.3.208-212)

Eight yards of uneven ground is threescore and ten miles afoot with me. (2.2.10)
                  Falstaff sweats to death      
And lards the lean earth as he walks along. (2.2.57-58)
For there will be a world of water shed      
Upon the parting of your wives and you. (3.1.97-98)
World of water: tears   

Unless hours were cups of sack, and minutes capons, and clocks the tongues of bawds, and dials
the signs of leaping-houses, and the blessed sun himself a fair hot wench in flame-colour’d taffeta,
I see no reason why thou shouldst be so superfluous to demand the time of the day. (1.2.4)
Comparison of hours, minutes, clocks, dials, and the sun to various objects

And for whose death we in the world’s wide mouth 
Live scandaliz’d and foully spoken of. (1.3.158-159)
Comparison of gossip (implied) to the world's wide mouth

Out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety. (2.3.6)
Comparison of danger to a nettle and of safety to a flower

The hour before the heavenly-harness’d team 
Begins his golden progress in the east. (3.1.225-226)
An allusion that compares the sun to the team of horses that draws the chariot of Apollo, the Greek sun god

            Will you again unknit 
This churlish knot of all-abhorred war. . . ? (5.1.19-20)
Comparison of war to a knot

Thy ignominy sleep with thee in the grave, 
But not remember’d in thy epitaph! (5.4.107-108)
Comparison of ignominy to a creature that sleeps

Two stars keep not their motion in one sphere. (5.4.71)
Prince Henry speaks this line when he meets Hotspur on the battlefield. It is a climactic moment; for here are the two lions of the opposing armies set to
wield swords against each other. Hal uses a metaphor to compare himself and Hotspur to stars and the battlefield to the sky, noting that the sky is not 
big enough for two great stars. In other words, one of the men must die. Henry then kills Hotspur.

Thrice hath this Hotspur, Mars in swathling clothes,      
This infant warrior, in his enterprises     
Discomfited great Douglas. (3.2.115-117)
Comparison of Hotspur to Mars, the Roman god of war 

WORCESTER   Your father’s sickness is a maim to us.      
HOTSPUR   A perilous gash, a very limb lopp’d off. (4.1.47-48)
Comparison of illness to a maim, a gash, and a severed limb

The better part of valour is discretion. (5.4.118)
Falstaff’s says prudence and caution are, or should be, components of courage and fearlessnessa seeming paradox.
No more the thirsty entrance of this soil 
Shall daub her lips with her own children’s blood. (1.1.7-8)
Comparison of an entrance to a mother

               The southern wind 
Doth play the trumpet to his purposes, 
And by his hollow whistling in the leaves 
Foretells a tempest and a blustering day. (5.1.6-9)
Comparison of wind to a male human

Prince Hal: Crafty Dissembler

.......Early in Henry IV, Shakespeare depicts Prince Hal as a fun-loving, hard-drinking, womanizing rascal who enjoys the company of commoners, a characterization that gives him a certain romantic appeal. However, in a soliloquy in Act I, Scene II (a soliloquy reproduced in the plot summary above), Hal discloses that he is leading a life of dissipation in order to learn about the ways of commoners, including vulgar lowlifes, and thereby prepare himself to become a king who knows the minds of his subjects. In other words, Hal is spying on the common people; he is going to school on them, as it were, pretending to be friends with them when, in reality, he regards them as objects in an experiment designed to serve his aims.

Falstaff: the 'Most Substantial Comic Character Ever Invented'

.......English essayist and literary critic William Hazlitt (1778-1830) wrote that Falstaff was one of the greatest comic characters in literature. He said:

If Shakespear's fondness for the ludicrous sometimes led to faults in his tragedies (which was not often the case) he has made us amends by the character of Falstaff. This is perhaps the most substantial comic character that ever was invented! Sir John carries a most portly presence in the mind's eye; and in him, not to speak it profanely, "we behold the fulness of the spirit of wit and humour bodily." We are as well acquainted with his person as his mind, and his jokes come upon us with double force and relish from the quantity of flesh through which they make their way, as he shakes his fat sides with laughter, or "lards the lean earth as he walks along." Other comic characters seem, if we approach and handle them, to resolve themselves into air, "into thin air;" but this is embodied and palpable to the grossest apprehension: it lies "three fingers deep upon the ribs," it plays about the lungs and the diaphragm with all the force of animal enjoyment. His body is like a good estate to his mind, from which he receives rents and revenues of profit and pleasure in kind, according to its extent, and the richness of the soil. Wit is often a meagre substitute for pleasurable sensation; an effusion of spleen and petty spite at the comforts of others, from feeling none in itself. Falstaff's wit is an emanation of a fine constitution; an exuberance of good-humour and good-nature; an overflowing of his love of laughter, and good-fellowship; a giving vent to his heart's ease and over-contentment with himself and others. He would not be in character, if he were not so fat as he is; for there is the greatest keeping in the boundless luxury of his imagination and the pampered self-indulgence of his physical appetites. He manures and nourishes his mind with jests, as he does his body with sack and sugar. He carves out his jokes, as he would a capon, or a haunch of venison, where there is cut and come again; and pours out upon them the oil of gladness. His tongue drops fatness, and in the chambers of his brain "it snows of meat and drink." He keeps up perpetual holiday and open house, and we live with him in a round of invitations to a rump and dozen.--Yet we are not to suppose that he was a mere sensualist. All this is as much in imagination as in reality. His sensuality does not engross and stupify his other faculties, but "ascends me into the brain, clears away all the dull, crude vapours that environ it, and makes it full of nimble, fiery, and delectable shapes." His imagination keeps up the ball after his senses have done with it. He seems to have even a greater enjoyment of the freedom from restraint, of good cheer, of his ease, of his vanity, in the ideal exaggerated descriptions which he gives of them, than in fact. He never fails to enrich his discourse with allusions to eating and drinking, but we never see him at table. He carries his own larder about with him, and he is himself "a ton of man." His pulling out the bottle in the field of battle is a joke to shew his contempt for glory accompanied with danger, his systematic adherence to his Epicurean philosophy in the most trying circumstances. Again, such is his deliberate exaggeration of his own vices, that it does not seem quite certain whether the account of his hostess's bill, found in his pocket, with such an out-of-the-way charge for capons and sack with only one halfpenny-worth of bread, was not put there by himself as a trick to humour the jest upon his favourite propensities, and as a conscious caricature of himself. He is represented as a liar, a braggart, a coward, a glutton, &c. and yet we are not offended but delighted with him; for he is all these as much to amuse others as to gratify himself. He openly assumes all these characters to shew the humourous part of them. The unrestrained indulgence of his own ease, appetites, and convenience, has neither malice nor hypocrisy in it. In a word, he is an actor in himself almost as much as upon the stage, and we no more object to the character of Falstaff in a moral point of view than we should think of bringing an excellent comedian, who should represent him to the life, before one of the police offices. We only consider the number of pleasant lights in which he puts certain foibles (the more pleasant as they are opposed to the received rules and necessary restraints of society) and do not trouble ourselves about the consequences resulting from them, for no mischievous consequences do result; Sir John is old as well as fat, which gives a melancholy retrospective tinge to the character; and by the disparity between his inclinations and his capacity for enjoyment, makes it still more ludicrous and fantastical. (Characters of Shakespeare's Plays. London: C. H. Reynell, 1817) 

Falstaff: the 'Supreme Comic Character'

.......Renowned Shakespeare critic G.B. Harrison, impressed with Shakespeare's handling of Falstaff, wrote the falling appraisal of the character: 

    The most notable person in [King Henry IV] is the fat knight, Sir John Falstaff, the supreme comic character in all drama. In creating Falstaff, Shakespeare used principally his own eyes and ears. Falstaff is the gross incarnation of a type of soldier found in any army, and there were many suchthough on a lower level of greatnessswarming in London when the play was first written, spending the profits of the last campaign in taverns, brothels, and playhouses, while they intrigued for a new command in the next season's campaign.... Many of them were rogues who cheated the government and their own men on all occasions.... Though he [Falstaff] can quote Scripture on occasion, he is a liar, a drunkard, and a cheat; he robs the poor and flouts every civic virtue; but on the stage at least he redeems his vices by his incomparable wit and his skill escaping from every tight corner."G.B. Harrison, ed. Major British Writers. New York: Harcourt, 1967 (page 59).
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Great Playor Mediocre?
Shakespeare's Best: Mark Van Doren
Poet, writer, and teacher Mark Van Doren (1894-1972) held that Henry IV was among Shakespeare's best plays. He wrote:
    No play of Shakespeare is better than Henry IV. Certain subsequent ones may show him more settled in the maturity which he here attains almost at a single bound, but nothing that he wrote is more crowded with life or happier in its imitation of human talk. The pen that moves across these pages is perfectly free of itself. The host of persons assembled for our pleasure can say anything for their author he wants to say. The poetry of Hotspur and the prose of Falstaff have never been surpassed in their respective categories; the History as a dramatic form ripens here to a point past which no further growth is possible; and in Falstaff alone there is sufficient evidence of Shakespeare's mastery in the art of understanding style, and through style of creating men.Van Doren, Mark. Shakespeare. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1939 (Page 97).
Shakespeare's Worst: George Bernard Shaw

Playwright George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) held an opposing view:

Everything that charm of style, rich humor, and vivid natural characterization can do for a play are badly wanted by Henry IV, which has neither the romantic beauty of Shakespeare's earlier plays nor the tragic greatness of the later ones. . . . The combination of conventional propriety and brute masterfulness in his [Prince Hal's] public capacity with a low-lived blackguardsman in his private tastes is not a pleasant one. No doubt he is rue to nature as a picture of what is by no means uncommon in English society, an able young Philistine inheriting high position and authority, which he holds on to and goes through with by keeping a tight grip on his conventional and legal advantages, but who would have been quite in his place if he had been born a gamekeeper or a farmer.Shaw, George Bernard. Quoted in Eastman, A.M., and G.B. Harrison, eds. Shakespeare's Critics: From Jonson to Auden. Ann Arbor, Mich.: U of Michigan, 1964 (page 208).
Lineage of the Houses of Lancaster and York

House of Lancaster: Henry IV ("Bolingbroke," son of the Duke of Lancaster), 1399-1413. Age at death: 47. Henry V (son of Henry IV), 1413-1422. Age at death: 34. Henry VI (son of Henry V, deposed), 1422-1471. Age at death: 49. 
House of York: Edward IV (son of duke of York), 1461-1483. Age at death: 41. Edward V (son of Edward IV), 1483. Age at death: 13. Richard III ("Crookback," brother of Edward IV) 1483-1485. Age at death: 35.

Study Questions and Essay Topics

1...Which character in the play is the most admirable? Which is the least admirable?
2...On this page, under “Great Playor Mediocre,” Mark Van Doren and George Bernard Shaw present opposing opinions about the literary quality of Henry IV Part I. Do you agree with Van Doren or Shaw? Explain your answer.
3...Write an essay focusing on a theme expressed in the following line: Two stars keep not their motion in one sphere (5.4.71).
4...Write an essay that examines the motivations of Prince Hal.
5...Write an essay comparing and contrasting Prince Hal and Hotspur.