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Henry IV, Part 1 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry IV, Part 1 | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


Why is King Henry IV so upset by the rebellion at the start of the play Henry IV, Part 1?

The king is upset for several reasons. First of all, the rebellion interrupts his plans to go the Holy Land. Secondly, the rebels are killing his people, which disrupts order and harms the morale and the growth of the kingdom. Another consideration of the king's is that a rebellion undermines his authority as king. With a rebellion on his hands, the king is forced to concentrate on keeping his army strong, appeasing or squashing the rebels, and protecting his own position as king. He wishes to retain his position of honor. The king himself deposed an earlier monarch, so he knows the dangers of rebellion.

In Act 2, Scene 4 of Henry IV, Part 1, what is symbolized by Prince Hal and Falstaff's role-playing and their interchanging of parts?

Until this point, Prince Hal has been having fun. Now, after a messenger from the king tells him that a rebel army is gathering, the time for fun is over. His role-playing indicates the start of his return to the royal court. Still, Prince Hal is not ready to take the role seriously. He continues to play with Falstaff as he enacts the role of prince. Falstaff has been a father figure to Prince Hal but has given him poor advice. When Prince Hal switches roles with Falstaff and adopts the part of King Henry, it foreshadows both the better advice Prince Hal now intends to take (his own) and his eventual ascendancy to the throne.

In Act 1, Scene 2 of Henry IV, Part 1, Falstaff says highwaymen (thieves) "go by the moon." What is the symbolic meaning of the phrase?

Falstaff's claim to "go by the moon" refers to working at night—in his case, robbing people. It is easier to rob people in the dark because the thief can more easily go unnoticed. The claim also has symbolic meaning. In this play, the sun is associated with Prince Hal. The sun is connected with light and truth. It is constant—in daily life, a person can see the whole circle of the sun. In contrast, the moon is connected with darkness, confusion, and inconstancy. It is sometimes full, sometimes partial, and sometimes dark. Likewise, thieves like Falstaff are sometimes honest and sometimes dishonest.

Why doesn't Hotspur surrender his rebel prisoners to the king in Act 1, Scene 3 of Henry IV, Part 1?

Hotspur doesn't surrender the prisoners for several reasons. First, he is wounded, which has made him irritable and contrary. He is also a passionate warrior motivated by honor, and the courtier who brings the king's order annoys him and offends his sense of honor. The courtier is Hotspur's foil, or opposite. Whereas Hotspur wants to rise in the world through bravery and merit, the courtier rises by dressing like a dandy, fawning over the king, and using words instead of deeds. In Hotspur's view, answering to such a courtier upends the proper order of the world, so he refuses to do it.

In Henry IV, Part 1 how is Hotspur's name symbolic?

Hotspur is an appropriately symbolic name because the character is always hot (passionate), and his passion spurs him into action repeatedly. He rides into battle regularly and eagerly and so keeps his spurs hot with steady use. Even his given name, Harry Percy, is symbolic. Harry is a shortened form of Henry. Henry is the name of the reigning king, so Harry is a type or symbol of the king. Percy is short for Percival, the name of one of King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table. Even without seeing him in action, the audience could predict that Harry Percy is a knight and passionate warrior with the qualities of a king. Harry is also one of Prince Hal's nicknames, and the shared name invites comparisons of the two characters throughout the play.

In Henry IV, Part 1, how is Sir Walter Blunt's name symbolic?

First, the last name of Blunt aptly describes his character. He is straightforward. He takes Hotspur at his word and faithfully carries the king's offer of forgiveness to the rebels. Second, the name of Walter comes from older German roots and can mean either "ruler" or "army." Because Blunt is often in charge of the king's forces, this name fits him well. During the final battle scene, Blunt dresses as King Henry and is mistaken for him and killed, another sign of his having the qualities of both a ruler and a loyal soldier.

In Act 1, Scene 3 of Henry IV, Part 1, why does Hotspur's refusal to surrender prisoners matter?

Hotspur's refusal is significant because it shows he has elevated his own honor (and his desire for status and respect, which he often confuses with honor) above his loyalty to the king. This violates Hotspur's true honor (what he owes the king) and disrupts order in the kingdom. Though this isn't as violent an action as the Welsh or Scots taking up arms against the crown, it is still an act of rebellion and foreshadows Hotspur's choice to join the rebels.

In Henry IV, Part 1, how is Prince Hal's association with drunks and thieves like Falstaff related to the symbol of the sun?

Prince Hal hangs out with Falstaff and his friends because he is seeking an escape from the heavy burden of responsibilities that come with his role as prince and future monarch. At this point in his life, Prince Hal does not want to be a sunlike beacon of honor and responsibility to his people—the duty that is his birthright. His rejection of this role symbolizes the disorder in the kingdom. In contrast to what Prince Hal should be, Falstaff and the thieves are associated with night and the moon. They commit deeds that must be cloaked in darkness and thus are not a good example to anyone. Prince Hal can have a carefree interlude by hanging out with them and participating in their misdeeds. Finally, Prince Hal says that by hiding his virtue now, people will appreciate him all the more when he reveals it later. He will be able to rise like the sun from this shadowy life.

In Act 2, Scene 4 of Henry IV, Part 1 , why does Shakespeare have Falstaff fall asleep behind the arras?

This scene draws upon the fact that, in Shakespeare's plays, the arras is a traditional hiding place for thieves and others who are up to no good. Yet, rather than hiding behind the arras to eavesdrop or plot a crime, Falstaff has fallen asleep there. This unexpected twist on a well-known plot device reinforces the fact that Falstaff is a lazy, drunken slob. Second, the scene is funny, both in itself—the audience gets to see a fat guy snoring away—and because it gives Prince Hal a chance to pick Falstaff's pockets. The idea of a prince going through a drunkard's wine receipts is amusing because the audience would not expect a royal person to commit the dishonorable act of snooping. This shows that despite their friendship, Prince Hal doesn't entirely trust or respect Falstaff and wants to keep tabs on his activities—perhaps to minimize Falstaff's damage to the kingdom. Third, the situation allows the prince an opportunity to take control of the situation. Prince Hal assures the sheriff he will take care of the problem, prefiguring his return to duty as the prince and future king of England. The scene gives the audience a glimpse of how Prince Hal will change.

In Act 5 of Henry IV, Part 1, what qualities of the Percy family cause their rebellion to fail?

Even though the Percys join forces with two powerful lords (Douglas and Glendower) leading two strong rebel forces (the Scottish and the Welsh), the Percys' rebellion fails due to their own pride and self-deception. When Hotspur learns that his father and his father's army won't be fighting with the rebels, he chooses to fight anyway because of his hotheaded and determined nature. When Glendower is delayed in joining the Percy forces, the audience can infer that this setback is at least partially Hotspur's fault; Glendower may have chosen to delay because Hotspur constantly quarrels with him instead of treating him as an equal in the rebel cause. Just before the battle, Hotspur turns away a messenger who is carrying the latest news, most likely from his allies. Hotspur is a great fighter, but ignoring the messenger's information shows that he is far too confident in his own abilities. In addition, Hotspur's own allies give him false information; Worcester doesn't tell Hotspur about the king's final offer of forgiveness and instead invents insults to manipulate Hotspur.

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