The First Part of King Henry IV
The First Part of King Henry IV is a play written by William Shakespeare about a time of rebellion during the reign of King Henry IV of England. Shakespeare develops two significant characters in the play: Henry Percy (surnamed Hotspur) and Sir John Falstaff. Hotspur is a rash man, who loves war more than peace and helps instigate a rebellion. In the end he dies at the hands of Henry IV's son, Prince Hal. Sir John Falstaff is a comical figure, who is a close friend of the Prince. However humorous, he wastes his time in taverns drinking sack. At the end he also fights in the climatic battle, but fakes death to save his life. While Hotspur is based on a real person, Sir John Falstaff is a fictional character. The play is second in Shakespeare's later tetrology about English history.
The play opens after the funeral of the late-murdered King Richard II. King Henry IV expresses his desire to go to Jerusalem on a crusade. He will not, however, because of the recent Scottish wars. He also muses that one of his nobles, Northumberland, has a son called Hotspur, who has recently won a great victory. He compares Hotspur with his own son, Prince Hal, and grieves over his son's foolishness. We see Prince Hal, in the next scene, spending time at taverns with a fat old knight called Sir John Falstaff. Falstaff is ultimately bad company for the prince, drinking too much as well as robbing. However, when alone, Prince Hal says he will one day leave his friends and will appear more of a prince because of that. Then we see King Henry demand Hotspur's prisoners or suffer the King's displeasure. Hotspur is unhappy at the King's rejection of Edmund Mortimer (who was the heir to Richard II.) He then plans with his uncle and father to start a rebellion to put Edmund Mortimer on the throne.
While Prince Hal spends his time in taverns with Falstaff, Hotspur brings the rebellion to actuality. He allies with Owen Glendower of Wales and Douglas of Scotland. However, he acts too fast and the rebellion is discovered. The King calls for forces to march and quell the rebellion. Prince Hal gets his companions to join the army. They march to Shrewsbury, where Hotspur tries to gather forces. Only he, his uncle and the Earl of Douglas arrive in time for the battle. The King tries to negotiate a peace, but treachery is committed and the message is not delivered. The battle begins and many are killed on both sides. Prince Henry fights bravely, even saving his father's life. The end comes when he fights Hotspur in a sword-fight and kills him. During the fight Falstaff acts as though he is dead to save his life and then tries to take the credit for killing Hotspur. The play ends with the defeat of the rebellion.
King Henry IV: The King of England, who has a questionable claim to the throne. He wants to go on a crusade, but instead has to destroy the rebellion against his crown. He is ashamed of his son, but with his son's bravery in battle, they are reconciled.
Prince Henry of Wales: The foolish Prince, who wastes most of his time at taverns and with fools. His chiefest companion is the prankish Falstaff. He nevertheless helps destroy the rebellion of Hotspur and restores his dignity to his father.
Prince John of Lancaster: The younger brother to Prince Henry. He serves in court and is a brave nobleman. He fights gallantly at the battle of Shrewsbury.
Earl of Westmoreland: One of King Henry's chief friends and relatives. He is loyal to the King. He is counsel to the King.
Sir Walter Blunt: A brave knight and nobleman. He is a great ally to Henry, and is respected by the rebellion. He is killed by Douglas in battle.
Earl of Northumberland: A nobleman who helped Henry to gain the crown. He and his son, Hotspur, quarrel with the King and Northumberland helps mount a rebellion. However, sickness detains him and he does not appear at the battle.
Earl of Worcester: A leading conspirator, and brother to Northumberland. He helps mount the rebellion. He doesn't trust the King and sends false information between the armies. He is executed by King Henry.
Hotspur: The son of Northumberland and a young knight. Brave in battle, but too hasty in words and speech. He is against the King and is quick to look for war. He is killed by Prince Henry at the close of the play.
Edmund Mortimer: The former heir to the throne. He makes his claim to the crown and helps orchestrate the forces together. He does not attend the final battle.
Archbishop of York: A critic of the King and forms a confederacy against him. However, in this play he is too politically weak to be of any help to the rebels.
Earl of Douglas: A Scot and friend of Hotspur. He is able to provide large forces quickly and calls for battle. He is captured by Prince Henry, who orders that he is not to be executed.
Owen Glendower: A Welsh prince from Wales, who brings forces against Henry. He cannot draw his power quickly enough to help Hotspur and thus goes to meet the King afterwards.
Sir John Falstaff: A fat, old foolish knight, who drinks too much sack. He is sympathetic to the audience, but is a robber for all his wit. He plays dead in the battle to escape. He also claims credit for killing Hotspur.
Poins & Peto: Favorites of Prince Hal. They help Prince Hal in any way they can.
Bardolf: The drunken friend of the Prince, who is a simpleton who has little worth.
Mistress Quickly: The hostess in Eastcheap, who keeps a tavern, where Prince Hal spends many an idle hour.
Lines and Quotes
"O gentlemen, the time of life is short!
To spend that shortness basely were too long,"
-Hotspur (Act V, Scene 2)
- Great Books: Shakespeare, Vol. 1, edited by William George Clarke and William Aldis Wright, Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 1952, pp. 434-466.
Open Source Shakespeare - Henry IV, Part 1