Henry IV, Part 1

William Shakespeare
Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

full title  The History of Henry the Fourth (1 Henry IV)

author  William Shakespeare

type of work  Play

genre  Historical drama, military drama

language  English

time and place written  Probably 15961597, London

date of first publication  1598 (in quarto), 1623 (in folio)

tone  The tone of the play alternates between very serious drama and rollicking comedy. The drama is grave and ominous, and is centered on the careworn figure of King Henry IV and the rebellion of the Percys. The comedy is fast-paced, rambunctious, and punning, and centers around the character of Falstaff and the other rogues at the Boar’s Head Tavern.

setting (time)  Around 14021403

setting (place)  London, especially the royal palace and the Boar’s Head Tavern; various other locales around England, including the battlefield of Shrewsbury, where the final act takes place

protagonist  Prince Harry

major conflict  The Percy family, encouraged by the hot temper of the young nobleman Hotspur, seeks to overthrow the reigning king of England, Henry IV. Simultaneously, Harry, the crown prince of England, must work to win back his honor and his place in his father’s esteem after squandering it by spending too much time with the rogue Falstaff and other unsuitable companions.

rising action  The king’s confrontation with Hotspur; the robbery; the king’s confrontation with Harry; the Percys’ battle preparations

climax  The Battle of Shrewsbury in Act V, specifically Harry’s duel with Hotspur

falling action  The king’s strategizing after the battle, leading into the play’s sequel, 2 Henry IV

themes  The nature of honor; the legitimacy of rulership; high and low language

motifs  Doubles; British cultures; the multiplicity of language; magic

symbols  The play is not heavily symbolic, though various characters represent various traits: for example, Hotspur represents the ideal of honor as a product of glory on the battlefield, and Glyndwr represents the folk magic of Wales.

foreshadowing  Hotspur’s confrontation with the king; the king’s claim that Hotspur has more honor than Harry; Harry and Falstaff’s role-playing; the robbery; Hotspur’s confrontation with Kate.