Introduction to the play
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.
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Henry IV, Part 1
Learn more about the play, its language, and its history from the experts behind our edition.
About Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1
An introduction to the plot, themes, and characters in the play
Reading Shakespeare’s Language
A guide for understanding Shakespeare’s words, sentences, and wordplay
An Introduction to This Text
A description of the publishing history of the play and our editors’ approach to this edition
Shakespeare and his world
Learn more about Shakespeare, his theater, and his plays from the experts behind our editions.
An essay about Shakespeare and the time in which he lived
An essay about what theaters were like during Shakespeare’s career
The Publication of Shakespeare’s Plays
An essay about how Shakespeare’s plays were published
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Early printed texts
Henry IV, Part 1 was first published in a quarto in 1598. There is only an 8-page fragment of a single copy of its first printing (Q0, now held at and digitized by the Folger), although complete copies of an edition printed later the same year (Q1) survive. Q1 is the basis for the five quartos that follow—this was a very popular play. The play was included in the 1623 First Folio in a text that was based on Q5, although it introduced act and scene divisions and changed some stage directions. Most modern editions, including the Folger edition, follow Q1 for their text.