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Henry IV, Part 1 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry IV, Part 1 | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


In Henry IV, Part 1, the Archbishop of York appears only in Act 4, Scene 4. What role does this character serve in the play, and why is it important?

In Act 4, Scene 3, the rebels decide to wait until the next morning to respond to the king's offer of pardon. Act 4, Scene 4 prolongs the suspense as the audience waits for the rebels' answer. The scene also gives the actors in the leading roles time to put on their armor for the final battle scene. The introduction of a religious figure here connects with the audience's awareness of the power balance between the church and the government, as well as the importance of the church, as hinted at early in the play when the aspirations of King Henry to recapture the Holy Land are mentioned. The scene reinforces the audience's increasingly negative view of the rebels' chances at victory, as the archbishop predicts the rebels will fail. It also shows that the disorder in the kingdom has corrupted even the church, as the archbishop, who should support the anointed king, has clearly been supporting the rebellion.

In Act 5, Scene 4 of Henry IV, Part 1, Douglas calls the many fake kings "Hydra's heads." What themes does this phrase reinforce?

In Greek mythology, the Hydra is a great serpent with many heads. If a warrior cuts off one of the Hydra's heads, two more grow in its place. That happens to Douglas. After he kills Sir Walter Blunt, both the king and Prince Hal appear to fight him. In the myth, Hercules kills the Hydra, so when Douglas says he is there to kill the Hydra, he compares himself to the great hero Hercules. The reference reinforces the themes of order versus disorder and appearance versus reality. Douglas is the rebel, but he refers to the king as a serpent, an animal associated with treachery and deceit.

In Henry IV, Part 1, what is the effect of Falstaff's speeches undermining the ideal of honor?

Falstaff's speeches rejecting honor generate humor and provide a break in the mood, like a musical piece changing tempo. His speeches also make the play much deeper philosophically by giving the audience reason to reflect on the characters' values. For example, in Act 5, Scene 1, just before the great battle starts, Falstaff talks about how honor can't set a broken leg or make a wound stop hurting—it's just a word. Falstaff's attitude contrasts with Hotspur's passionate pursuit of honor and can be interpreted as alternately realistic, fatalistic, or cynical. This contrast gives the audience reason to wonder whether honor is really such a great pursuit after all. Then again, the truly courageous, self-sacrificing conduct of characters like Sir Walter Blunt and Prince Hal presents a more positive side of honor and may leave the final impression that honor is indeed a noble ideal and that Falstaff is just a self-serving rogue.

Contrast the different ways in which Prince Hal speaks of Hotspur throughout Henry IV, Part 1.

In Act 2, Scene 4, Prince Hal makes fun of Hotspur, describing him as someone who casually kills 70 or 80 Scotsmen before breakfast. He makes Hotspur seem bloodthirsty and thoughtless—almost cartoonish. By contrast, in Act 3, Scene 1, when Prince Hal has to face his father's disappointment, he uses Hotspur, "this all-praiséd knight," as the measure of what he means to achieve after he reforms. Prince Hal promises to kill Hotspur and speaks of him with respect as a great warrior. In Act 5, Scene 1, Prince Hal sincerely praises his rival, declaring publicly that he "doth join with all the world / In praise of Harry Percy," and he does not think "a braver gentleman ... is now alive." He proposes single combat between them to save bloodshed on both sides.

In Act 3, Scene 1 of Henry IV, Part 1, why is Hotspur's teasing of Glendower irresponsible?

Hotspur says he can't help teasing Glendower, because the man makes him mad with all of his talk about supernatural signs and his control over the spirit world. In other words, Hotspur can't tolerate a man with different beliefs. His behavior is irresponsible for two reasons. First, he shows himself to be a poor leader, unable to bring harmony and order to a discordant group of noblemen, of whom Glendower is a fellow leader. Second, Hotspur cannot master himself by remaining calm and speaking cordially and respectfully, even while he demands that others in his command do so. This shows a lack of honor.

In Act 3, Scene 1, what is the significance of Hotspur's response when Glendower says he sent King Henry "bootless home"?

Hotspur responds as if he thinks "bootless" (which means futile or useless) really means "without boots." Hotspur is only pretending to misunderstand Glendower to make himself seem more powerful in the eyes of those listening. Taking such a statement at face value provides comic relief, but it also makes Hotspur appear cruel, not necessarily powerful. While this punning makes Glendower look ridiculous, it is also a type of behavior that should be beneath Hotspur; it will ultimately damage his relationship with the Welsh leader and undermine the order of the rebel organization. In this case, the appearance of power masks the reality of discord and lack of control.

In Act 2, Scene 4 of Henry IV, Part 1, Prince Hal picks Falstaff's pockets. What is the significance of this action?

The picking of pockets reveals details about Falstaff's character. Because his pockets hold nothing but receipts for food and drink, including one for a chicken and another for two gallons of wine, the audience can make assumptions about Falstaff's actions. These receipts are intended to show the audience the extent of Falstaff's gluttony. Prince Hal's action is also significant in that it provides humor and sets up jokes later in the play when Falstaff claims he was robbed. Finally, and most importantly, it shows that Prince Hal's relationship with Falstaff is changing. Snooping through Falstaff's pockets is a betrayal of his friend's trust and an assertion of Prince Hal's authority to make searches when and where he sees fit. His actions in doing this—and in assuming his friend's debts—show that he is gradually taking on his proper princely role and thus restoring order.

In Act 2, Scene 4, Prince Hal hides Falstaff from the sheriff and vows to pay his debts. What does this reveal about the prince's character?

As a prince, Hal is an agent of the government, just as the sheriff is, only with much more power and discretion. By simultaneously denying the sheriff his quarry and promising to pay Falstaff's debt, Prince Hal stays true to both the gang of thieves and the government. He maintains order in the kingdom by taking care of the problem while showing his friendship and his power. Earlier, Prince Hal robbed Falstaff of the money he robbed from the pilgrims, so to a certain extent, he owes Falstaff. By saving him from jail, Prince Hal repays that debt in a sense. This demonstrates a well-developed sense of honor in Prince Hal.

In Act 3, Scene 1 of Henry IV, Part 1, why doesn't Hotspur believe that signs heralded Glendower's birth, and why is this significant?

One reason Hotspur doesn't believe Glendower is simply because Hotspur is contrary. Push him one direction and he will push back on instinct, as he demonstrates elsewhere in the play. Another reason is that Hotspur behaves as if all actions are matters of honor. He continually monitors his reputation and where he ranks in relation to others. If Glendower's birth was marked by supernatural signs, it elevates him in relation to Hotspur, and Hotspur can't abide that. He wants to be the most respected and highest ranking leader. Additionally, Hotspur doesn't believe in superstition because that would mean his fate relies on something other than his own choices and actions.

Besides having fun, how does Prince Hal benefit from time spent with commoners in Henry IV, Part 1?

He gets to know the people he will lead when he is king. Rebels like Hotspur are similar to King Henry in that they seem to spend time only with nobility. They talk mostly to one another and mainly about the nobles in their society. They mention the common people only by number (for example, how many troops a leader has or how many were killed in battle). But Prince Hal is different. He spends time with common people and learns important information for when he will keep order for them, and he truly enjoys their company. This is especially noticeable in Act 2, Scene 4, where Prince Hal describes spending time with drawers like Francis.

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