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Fathers and Sons in I Henry IV

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  3 ratings

Shakespeare. Henry IV, Part I. London, 1599

September 2008
Susan Biondo-Hench teaches at Carlisle High School, Carlisle, Pennsylvania

Plays/Scenes Covered

I Henry IV 1.1.77-94 and 1.2.155-177

What's On for Today and Why

I Henry IV,  explores the political power struggles of England during the early 1400s but, and perhaps more importantly, it also explores the struggle between father and son. 


Desperately worried about civil strife in England, King Henry IV is also profoundly disappointed in his slacker son, Prince Hal, disappointed to the point that he wishes he could trade his Hal for another man’s more goal-oriented son (Lord Northumberland’s son, Harry Percy).   That’s a heart-breaking relationship—no matter how one looks at it.


Prince Hal, on the other hand, has a game plan of his own.  Not only does he intend to live up to his father’s expectations, he plans to exceed them, but in his own time and in his own way.  Is this degree of independence cruel, kind, selfish, practical, shrewd, or some complicated combination of all of the above?


Using journal entries, readings of two key passages, a technology-created word study, and discussion, this lesson provides the students with an opportunity to connect with this historical father and son and the pressures and responsibilities of being monarch and heir.  This lesson also encourages students to think about the expectations that exist between all fathers and sons, expectations that transcend centuries. 


This lesson, which should be completed before the students begin to read the play, will take two fifty-minute class periods.


What You Need

  Folger editions of  I Henry IV  and Prince Hal’s monologues

  Internet access

What To Do



1.  Have the students respond to the following questions in their journals.  (These questions come from the excellent essay entitled “Nice Guys Finish Dead:  Teaching Henry IV, Part I in High School” by Louisa Foulke Newlin in Volume 2 of Shakespeare Set Free.  Be sure to read the essay for more insights into teaching I Henry IV!)


  What does it really mean to grow up?

  What kind of person do I want to be?

  Do I want to fill the role my parents have decided I should fill?

  Can I be myself, separate from my parents, and yet have their approval?

  Do I need their approval?



2.  Read and/or discuss some of their responses, and discuss the relationships between fathers and sons in general.


3. Provide a segue into the study of I Henry IV by telling the students that though this play is a history play, it is also very much about a play about what it means to grow up.




Part I:  King Henry’s monologue about Hal—1.1.77-94.  


1.  Have the students read the monologue out loud several times.  (Suggestions for varying the readings:  For the first read-through switch readers at the ends of lines; for the second read-through switch readers at the ends of complete thoughts; finally, have one student read the entire passage.)


2.  Discuss the passage. 

     What is King Henry saying?

     Is he a good father?  A bad father?

     How is he like all fathers?  How is he different?




Ask the students to read Prince Hal’s monologue and to answer the following questions:

      What is Hal’s plan?

      What do you think of his plan?

      What do you think his motives are and why?



Part II:  Prince Hal’s monologue about his plan to redeem his reputation—1.2.155-177


1.  Have the students read the monologue out loud several times.


  2.  Discuss the passage and the homework questions.

   (Make a list of potential reasons for this strategy—is he a calculating politician-in-waiting?  a thoughtful young person trying to find his own way?  a slacker trying to justify his behavior to himself?)

    How is Hal like all sons?  How is he different?


3.  Divide the students into a minimum of three groups, and have each group select a different motive for Hal’s behavior.  Have each group study Hal’s speech and prepare a reading of it based on that motive.


4.  Have each group present its reading of the speech.


5.  Discuss the readings.

     How did the different motives shape the different readings?  (Consider the way each group handled subtext, stress, and inflection.)

     Which readings seemed more believable and why?

     How does each interpretation affect their predictions about the play?




1.    Go to the Wordle website. Create a word cloud for King Henry’s speech by clicking the Create box, pasting a copy of the speech into the text box, and clicking Go.  The program will create a word cloud that randomly arranges the words in the passage.  Words that are repeated in the passage are larger and more boldly printed than other words in the wordcloud, so the program ends up creating a beautiful word frequency chart.  Project or print out the word cloud and share it with the students.  (If you do not have internet access that you can project for the class, print and copy the clouds for the students ahead of time and pass them out.)


Ask students to draw some conclusions about this speech based on the words that emerge, and have them summarize the speech in one sentence using only the most boldly printed words.


2.  Repeat the same process for Prince Hal’s speech.  NOTE:  Before clicking the Create box for this speech, change the capital “S” in “Shall” to a lower-case “s.”  (Using a lower-case “s” allows “shall” to receive more emphasis, which is helpful in drawing a meaningful conclusion and avoiding an embarrassing moment!)


3.  Ask the students to share their word cloud sentences and any final insights into this father and son pair.


4.  Post the word clouds and refer to them when appropriate at later points in the unit.




How Did It Go?
Did the students complete journal entries and discuss the passages in ways that provided some honest insights into father/son relationships—both in connection to the play and to life in general? Did the students present different readings of Hal’s monologue that revealed a variety of defensible motives? Were the readings prepared and interesting? Did the summary sentences allow the students to draw some conclusions about this father and son pair?

If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.

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