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Henry IV, Part 1 is one of William Shakespeare’s history plays. It can also be described as a military drama.
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.
Henry IV, Part 1 is around 1402–1403. It takes place in various areas of England including London—especially the royal palace and the Boar’s Head Tavern. Various other locales around England include the battlefield of Shrewsbury, where Act 5 takes place.
Even though the play is named for Henry IV, the reigning monarch during the time it takes place (following the tradition of all of Shakespeare’s history plays), Prince Harry is considered to be the its protagonist by most commentators.
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.
The rising action of Henry IV, Part 1 includes the king’s confrontation with Hotspur, the robbery, the king’s confrontation with Harry, and the Percys’ battle preparations.
The climax of the play is the Battle of Shrewsbury in Act 5, specifically Harry’s duel with Hotspur.
The falling action is the king’s strategizing after the battle, leading into the play’s sequel, Henry IV, Part 2.
Examples of foreshadowing in the play include 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, and Hotspur’s confrontation with his wife, Lady Percy.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Henry IV, Part 1!