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Henry IV, Part 1

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Henry IV, Part 1

After H. Liverseege. Falstaff and Bardolph. Oil on canvas, after 1833

Henry IV, Part 1

Shakespeare. Henry IV, Part I. London, 1599

... out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety.
Act 2, scene 3, lines 9–10

Thou seest I have more flesh than another man and therefore more frailty.
Act 3, scene 3, lines 176–78

Family relationships are at the center of Henry IV, Part 1. King Henry IV and Prince Hal form one major father-son pair, with Henry in despair because Hal lives a dissolute life. The father-son pair of Hotspur (Lord Henry Percy) and his father, the Earl of Northumberland, is in seeming contrast; the king envies Northumberland “his Harry,” wishing he could claim the gallant Hotspur as his own. Meanwhile, Hal has entered into a quasi-father-son relationship with a disreputable but amusing knight, Sir John Falstaff.

Another strand of action centers on still more family relationships. Hotspur’s stand against Henry focuses on Hotspur’s brother-in-law, Mortimer. Mortimer, who fought against the Welsh magician Owen Glendower, was defeated and captured and has married Glendower’s daughter. King Henry pronounces Mortimer a traitor whom he will not ransom. Hotspur, in declaring war on Henry, sees himself as fighting for Mortimer, his wife’s brother.

Several of the details in the play that make these relationships prominent were created by Shakespeare; they are not found in the chronicles of English history that provide the play’s historical narrative. This rewriting and the resulting focus on relationships pulls us in: rather than distant historical figures, Henry, Hal, and Hotspur become characters caught up in relationships that resemble family situations today. The emphasis on relationships also reminds us that the wars for control of England, Scotland, and Wales in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were basically family struggles. Brothers, cousins, and nephews fought for the tantalizing prize of the crown.

Scholars believe that Shakespeare wrote Henry IV, Part I in 1596-97. It was published as a quarto in 1598.

Adapted from the Folger Library Shakespeare edition, edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. © 1994 Folger Shakespeare Library


Further reading
Simon Callow. Henry IV, Part 1. Actors on Shakespeare series. London: Faber and Faber, 2002.

Gwilym Dodd and Douglas Biggs, eds. Henry IV: The Establishment of the Regime, 1399-1406. Rochester, NY: York Medieval Press with Boydell Press, 2003.

Barbara Hodgdon. First Part of Henry IV: Texts and Contexts. Boston: Bedford Books, 1997.

Jean E. Howard and Phyllis Rackin. Engendering a Nation: A Feminist Account of Shakespeare’s English Histories. New York: Routledge, 1997.

Stephen Longstaffe, ed. 1 Henry IV: A Critical Guide. London: Continuum, 2011.

John Julius Norwich. Shakespeare’s Kings: The Great Plays and the History of England in the Middle Ages, 1337-1485. New York: Scribner, 1999.

Peter Saccio. Shakespeare's English Kings: History, Chronicle, and Drama. 2nd edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

The Hollow Crown: Henry IV, Part 1 (2012, Neal Street Productions, NBC Universal Television, WNET Thirteen, and BBC). Directed by Richard Eyre. Cast includes Jeremy Irons, Tom Hiddleston, Simon Russell Beale, and Joe Armstrong.

Related movies
My Own Private Idaho (1991, New Line Cinema). Directed by Gus Van Sant. Cast includes River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves.

Chimes at Midnight (1965, Alpine Films and Internacional Films). Directed by Orson Welles. Cast includes Orson Welles, Jeanne Moreau, Margaret Rutherford, John Gielguid, and Ralph Richardson.

Shakespeare Bas-Reliefs

The Shakespeare Sculptures by Greg Wyatt

Folger Theatre

On Stage: Henry IV, Part 1

Henry IV, Part 1: Director's Notes

Henry IV, Part 1: Setting the Stage

Henry IV, Part 1: Fight Director

Inside the Collection

Folios and Quartos from the Collection: Henry IV, Part 1


Henry IV, Part 1: Insider's Guide

Teacher Resources

Teaching Henry IV, Part 1

Interpreting Character: Teaching Shakespeare series

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