King Henry IV

The ruling king of England. Henry is not especially 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. He gives the play a center of power and a sense of stability, but his actions and emotions are largely secondary to the plot.

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Prince Harry

King Henry IV’s son, who is currently the Prince of Wales, but who will eventually become King Henry V. He is also sometimes called Harry Monmouth, but his friends call him Hal. Though Harry spends all his time hanging around highwaymen, robbers, and prostitutes, 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.

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The 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 stands as his archrival. Quick-tempered and impatient, Hotspur is obsessed with the idea of honor and glory to the exclusion of all other qualities.

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Sir John Falstaff

A fat man between the ages of about fifty and sixty 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, instructing him in the practices of criminals and vagabonds. He is the only one who can match Harry’s quick wit, pun for pun.

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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 the fray.

Lady Percy

Hotspur’s wife. When she demands to know what he is planning, Hotspur tells her that he does not love her and that women cannot be trusted.

Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March

The Welsh rebel Owen Glendower’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.

Owen Glendower 

The leader of the Welsh rebels and the father of Lady Mortimer, sometimes spelled “Owain Glyndwr.” Glendower 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. Often 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 Scroop, 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.


Another 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.

Mistress Quickly

Hostess of the Boar’s Head Tavern, a seedy dive in Eastcheap, London, where Falstaff and his friends go to drink.