King Henry IV
ruling king of England. Henry is not actually all that old, but
at the time the play opens, he has been worn down prematurely by
worries. He nurses guilty feelings about having won his throne through
a civil war that deposed the former king, Richard II. In addition,
his reign has not brought an end to the internal strife in England,
which erupts into an even bigger civil war in this play. Finally,
he is vexed by the irresponsible antics of his eldest son, Prince
Harry. Regal, proud, and somewhat aloof, King Henry is not the main
character of the play that bears his name but, rather, its historical
focus. He gives the play a center of power and a sense of stability,
though his actions and emotions are largely secondary to the plot.
in-depth analysis of King Henry IV.
Henry IV’s son, who will eventually become King Henry V. Harry’s
title is Prince of Wales, but all of his friends call him Hal; he
is also sometimes called Harry Monmouth. Though Harry spends all
his time hanging around highwaymen, robbers, and whores, he has
secret plans to transform himself into a noble prince, and his regal
qualities emerge as the play unfolds. Harry is the closest thing
the play has to a protagonist: his complex and impressive mind is generally
at the center of the play, though Shakespeare is often somewhat
ambiguous about how we are meant to understand this simultaneously
deceitful and heroic young prince.
in-depth analysis of Prince Harry.
son and heir of the Earl of Northumberland and the nephew of the
Earl of Worcester. Hotspur’s real name is Henry Percy (he is also
called Harry or Percy), but he has earned his nickname from his
fierceness in battle and hastiness of action. Hotspur is a member
of the powerful Percy family of the North, which helped bring King
Henry IV to power but now feels that the king has forgotten his
debt to them. In Shakespeare’s account, Hotspur is the same age
as Prince Harry and becomes his archrival. Quick-tempered and impatient, Hotspur
is obsessed with the idea of honor and glory to the exclusion of
all other qualities.
Sir John Falstaff
A fat old man between the ages of about fifty and sixty-five
who hangs around in taverns on the wrong side of London and makes
his living as a thief, highwayman, and mooch. Falstaff is Prince
Harry’s closest friend and seems to act as a sort of mentor to him,
instructing him in the practices of criminals and vagabonds. He
is the only one of the bunch who can match Harry’s quick wit pun
in-depth analysis of Sir John Falstaff.
Earl of Westmoreland
A nobleman and military leader who is a close companion
and valuable ally of King Henry IV.
Lord John of Lancaster
The younger son of King Henry and the younger brother
of Prince Harry. John proves himself wise and valiant in battle,
despite his youth.
Sir Walter Blunt
A loyal and trusted ally of the king and a valuable warrior.
Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester
Hotspur’s uncle. Shrewd and manipulative, Worcester
is the mastermind behind the Percy rebellion.
Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland
Hotspur’s father. Northumberland conspires and raises
troops on the Percy side, but he claims that he is sick before the
Battle of Shrewsbury and does not actually bring his troops into
Edmund Mortimer, called the Earl of March
The Welsh rebel Owain Glyndwr’s
son-in-law. Mortimer is a conflation of two separate historical
figures: Mortimer and the Earl of March. For Shakespeare’s purposes,
Mortimer matters because he had a strong claim to the throne of England
before King Henry overthrew the previous king, Richard II.
The leader of the Welsh rebels and the father of Lady
Mortimer (most editions of
refer to him as Owen Glendower). Glyndwr
joins with the Percys in their insurrection against King Henry.
Well-read, educated in England, and very capable in battle, he is
also steeped in the traditional lore of Wales and claims to be able
to command great magic. He is mysterious and superstitious and sometimes
acts according to prophecies and omens.
Archibald, Earl of Douglas
The leader of the large army of Scottish rebels
against King Henry. Usually called “The Douglas” (a traditional
way of referring to a Scottish clan chief), the deadly and fearless
Douglas fights on the side of the Percys.
Sir Richard Vernon
A relative and ally of the Earl of Worcester.
The Archbishop of York
The archbishop, whose given name is Richard Scrope,
has a grievance against King Henry and thus conspires on the side
of the Percys.
Ned Poins, Bardolph, and Peto
Criminals and highwaymen. Poins, Bardolph, and Peto
are friends of Falstaff and Prince Harry who drink with them in
the Boar’s Head Tavern, accompany them in highway robbery, and go
with them to war.
highwayman friend of Harry, Falstaff, and the rest. Gadshill seems
to be nicknamed after the place on the London road—called Gad’s
Hill—where he has set up many robberies.
Hostess of the Boar’s Head Tavern, a seedy dive in
Eastcheap, London, where Falstaff and his friends go to drink.