Henry IV, Part 1

by: William Shakespeare

Suggested Essay Topics

1. Many critics see in 1 Henry IV a complicated pattern of displacement. Hotspur displaces Harry in his father’s eyes, for instance, and Harry must win back the place he has lost (by killing Hotspur). Similarly, Falstaff has displaced King Henry IV as Harry’s father figure. What choices lead to these displacements? Why do you think Shakespeare created them? How (and why) are they resolved—if they are resolved?

2. Many critics have found Falstaff more fascinating than any other character in the play. The critic Harold Bloom, for instance, takes a cue from Hegel in claiming that Falstaff and Hamlet are Shakespeare’s two most intelligent characters: they are, as Hegel claims, “free artists of themselves,” self-aware beings who invent themselves through their own self-descriptions; in fact, they are “men made out of words.” What do you think Bloom means by this? Consider the way in which Falstaff uses words, humor, and punning not only to negotiate the world around him, but also to constantly describe and redescribe himself. What is the impression of Falstaff that we ultimately come away with, and where (or with whom) does it originate?

3. Think about Act II, scene iv, in which Hotspur is confronted by his wife about his plans for the rebellion. What does this scene tell us about Hotspur’s character? What does it tell us about Renaissance marriage and the role of women in general? How does Shakespeare connect this analysis to the forward motion of his plot?


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