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The History of Henry the Fourth (
Author William Shakespeare
Type of work Play
Genre Historical drama, military drama
Time and place written Probably 1596–1597,
Date of first publication
1598 (in quarto), 1623 (in
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 1402–1403
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;
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 Glyndˆwr
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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Henry IV, Part 1!