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Henry IV, Part 1

William Shakespeare

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King Henry IV

King Henry IV

King Henry IV

King Henry IV

The title character of 1 Henry IV appears in Richard II as the ambitious, energetic, and capable Bolingbroke, who seizes the throne from the inept Richard II after likely arranging his murder. Though Henry is not yet truly an old man in 1 Henry IV, his worries about his crumbling kingdom, guilt over his uprising against Richard II, and the vagaries of his son’s behavior have diluted his earlier energy and strength. Henry remains stern, aloof, and resolute, but he is no longer the force of nature he appears to be in Richard II. Henry’s trouble stems from his own uneasy conscience and his uncertainty about the legitimacy of his rule. After all, he himself is a murderer who has illegally usurped the throne from Richard II. Therefore, it is difficult to blame Hotspur and the Percys for wanting to usurp his throne for themselves. Furthermore, it is unclear how Henry’s kingship is any more legitimate than that of Richard II. Henry thus lacks the moral legitimacy that every effective ruler needs.

With these concerns lurking at the back of his reign, Henry is unable to rule as the magnificent leader his son Harry will become. Throughout the play he retains his tight, tenuous hold on the throne, and he never loses his majesty. But with an ethical sense clouded by his own sense of compromised honor, it is clear that Henry can never be a great king or anything more than a caretaker to the throne that awaits Henry V.

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Henry IV, Part I (SparkNotes Literature Guide)

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