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Henry IV, Part 1

William Shakespeare


Prince Harry

The complex Prince Harry is at the center of events in 1 Henry IV. As the only character to move between the grave, serious world of King Henry and Hotspur and the rollicking, comical world of Falstaff and the Boar’s Head Tavern, Harry serves as a bridge uniting the play’s two major plotlines. An initially disreputable prince who eventually wins back his honor and the king’s esteem, Harry undergoes the greatest dramatic development in the play, deliberately transforming himself from the wastrel he pretends to be into a noble leader. Additionally, as the character whose sense of honor and leadership Shakespeare most directly endorses, Harry is, at least by implication, the moral focus of the play.

Harry is nevertheless a complicated character and one whose real nature is very difficult to pin down. As the play opens, Harry has been idling away his time with Falstaff and earning the displeasure of both his father and England as a whole. He then surprises everyone by declaring that his dissolute lifestyle is all an act: he is simply trying to lower the expectations that surround him so that, when he must, he can emerge as his true, heroic self, shock the whole country, and win the people’s love and his father’s admiration. Harry is clearly intelligent and already capable of the psychological machinations required of kings.

But the heavy measure of deceit involved in his plan seems to call his honor into question, and his treatment of Falstaff further sullies his name: though there seems to be real affection between the prince and the roguish knight, Harry is quite capable of tormenting and humiliating his friend (and, when he becomes king in 2 Henry IV, of disowning him altogether). Shakespeare seems to include these aspects of Harry’s character in order to illustrate that Falstaff’s selfish bragging does not fool Harry and to show that Harry is capable of making the difficult personal choices that a king must make in order to rule a nation well. In any case, Harry’s emergence here as a heroic young prince is probably 1 Henry IV’s defining dynamic, and it opens the door for Prince Harry to become the great King Henry V in the next two plays in Shakespeare’s sequence.

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Falstaff--not the King or Prince--Rules This One!

by ReadingShakespearefor450th, March 11, 2013

I think it should have been called Sir Jack, First Part, as Falstaff towers over everybody else in King Henry IV, Part 1. See my blog on the play:


1 out of 2 people found this helpful

Falstaff is your standard issue jester

by pafnuty, September 28, 2013

Most Shakespeare plays have a jester, who is able to perceive certain things better than the "noble" person. There are other elements that make Falstaff more interesting, such as the juxtaposition of "fortune," class, or perhaps simply initiative.


1 out of 4 people found this helpful

magic is not a motif

by Bad_Horse, December 16, 2014

No "strong current of magic runs throughout the play". It's in one or two scenes in part 1.


1 out of 1 people found this helpful

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