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Henry IV, Part 1 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry IV, Part 1 | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


In Act 3, Scene 2 of King Henry IV, Part 1, why is King Henry's disapproval of Prince Hal's actions an example of situational irony?

King Henry's disapproval of Prince Hal's actions is an example of situational irony because he takes them at face value and doesn't realize that his son is playing a part, acting the wastrel now so he can shine out like the sun later. Before the king ascended to the throne, he played a similar part, that of a humble man who did not seek attention. By this means, Henry "did pluck allegiance from men's hearts." Each man's play-acting is a strategy, which must be judged by its fruit. The complaints are also ironic because they ignore the difference in the two men's positions. Henry was a nobleman trying to become king, so he needed to prove himself worthy. Hal is a prince already destined to be king; as such, he is looking to escape pressure in the short run and to shine more brightly in the long run.

In Act 3, Scene 1 of Henry IV, Part 1, when the rebels divide the map, what does their negotiation symbolize?

This scene, in which Hotspur, Glendower, and Mortimer divide up land they have not yet conquered, symbolizes dissension among the rebels and their unrealistic goals. The map was drawn up by a neutral party, an archdeacon, with the goal of dividing the land they hope to conquer into three equal parts. When they bicker over the boundaries, they essentially argue over dreams, as the land is not yet theirs. Their fighting also divides them just before they go into battle, when they most need to be unified. Hotspur shows he is so contrary that he even challenges nature. He claims he will have to reroute the river, much as he is trying to reroute the flow of political power in the country.

In Act 3, Scene 1 of Henry IV, Part 1 ,what does it mean that Mortimer and his wife speak different languages?

Mortimer speaks English but no Welsh. His wife speaks Welsh but no English. On the one hand, this marriage shows Mortimer's and Glendower's commitment to their cause. Mortimer is willing to marry someone with whom he cannot communicate easily in order to unify the rebel forces, and Glendower is willing to have his daughter do the same. On the other hand, this results in a comic, almost silly situation. Both literally and figuratively, some of the rebels cannot talk to one another without assistance. This untenable match shows how fragile and fractured relationships are among the rebel forces. Like the scene when the rebels argue over how land will be divided among them, Mortimer's idolization of his wife despite their communication barrier demonstrates that the rebels are not in touch with reality.

In Act 1, Scene 3 of Henry IV, Part 1, how does King Henry play a part in instigating the rebellion against him?

King Henry contributes to the rebellion by the way he treats the English nobles, specifically Hotspur and the rest of the Percy family. The king misreads and mismanages the initial situation in a way that seems politically naive. He knows how passionate Hotspur is. Criticizing him in public as he does in Act 1 is sure to make Hotspur defensive and eager to protect his honor. To publicly label Mortimer, Hotspur's brother-in-law, a rebel is a second stumble. King Henry knows the role the Percy family played in putting him on the throne. He has to realize they could feel misused. To smear the honor of one-time allies makes future negotiation almost impossible.

Why does it matter that the Welsh women mutilate the bodies of English corpses in Act 1, Scene 1 of Henry IV, Part 1?

This action is significant because it scares the English; it shows how savage an adversary the Welsh are. It is an extreme act for English noblemen to join forces with them in rebellion, which shows how deeply wounded and dedicated to political overthrow the Percys are. Mutilating corpses dishonors them. It is a deep and profound insult that violates both the natural order and custom, particularly because the act is committed by women. English women at the time stayed at home and did not fight battles alongside their men. A rebellion against the king, as symbolized by the Welsh women's action, results in innumerable violations of the natural order.

In Act 5, Scene 3 of Henry IV, Part 1, how is King Henry's strategy of sending impostors into battle disguised as the king an example of dramatic irony?

Warriors gain honor on the battlefield based on the stature of their opponents and how well they fight them. If they are fighting a noble disguised as the king rather than the real king himself, they achieve less honor. The strategy is also ironic because King Henry earlier criticizes Prince Hal for playing a part, but now, in order to retain his throne, the king orders a number of people to play a part by pretending to be the king. This is doubly ironic since the Percys accuse Henry of being a pretender rather than a real king. Finally, Sir Walter Blunt earns his reputation throughout the play by being straightforward and direct. Now, to protect his king, he adopts a disguise. On the one hand, this might be seen as a sad commentary on how far out of order the kingdom has fallen. On the other hand, it may be interpreted as a legitimate case of using the means to justify the ends; Blunt has used deceit to achieve an honorable and essential goal, the preservation of order in the realm.

Act 2, Scene 3 of Henry IV, Part 1 opens with Hotspur reading a letter aloud. What is the purpose of this action?

The reading of the letter advances the plot through exposition. As Hotspur shouts back at the writer of the letter, the audience learns who has joined the rebellion. Anyone watching now knows how many forces are aligned against the king. This builds tension. The letter also allows the audience to learn more about Hotspur's rash character. The counterarguments in the letter are rational and sensible, but Hotspur simply rejects them in the name of honor and passion. Rather than submit to the king and lose the potential to hold a significant position in a new government (should the rebels prove victorious), Hotspur refuses to heed the letter. In fact, his inflamed response to it actually hurries the rebels on their destructive path.

In Henry IV, Part 1, how do Hotspur and Prince Hal relate to each other symbolically?

When the play opens, King Henry openly and publicly wishes Hotspur were his son instead of Prince Hal. In the king's eyes, they seem like opposites—mirror images of one another. Hotspur's bravery in the king's service seems the height of loyalty, while Prince Hal's absence seems disloyal. As the play moves on, first Hotspur rebels, and then Prince Hal returns to his father's side. They change places, just as King Henry wished they would. In the process, their true natures are revealed. Prince Hal has a cool head and a carefully considered plan; Hotspur has neither. When Prince Hal promises he is going to change, he says he will prove it on Hotspur's head, making Hotspur a kind of measuring stick. The fact that they share a name links them and makes it seem, perhaps, as though one of them is superfluous. This hints that by the end of the play, one of them may die at the hands of the other.

Why do horses play so large a role in Henry IV, Part 1?

Because horses were the main means of travel in this time, horses are essential to characters in the play. Having good, rested horses is critical for those going into war. Going into war with tired horses puts an army at a serious disadvantage, and anyone who does so knowingly is a fool. Hotspur commits that error in Act 4, Scene 3, when he waves away the fact that the rebels' horses are exhausted. The horses are also of symbolic importance. At this time, common men went to war on foot. Nobles were knights who rode proudly to battle. To be a heroic warrior in this age meant, in part, being a good rider in charge of a good horse. That is why Hotspur says he'll meet Prince Hal "horse to horse" in Act 4, Scene 2.

While role-playing in Act 2, Scene 4 of Henry IV, Part 1, why does Falstaff beg Prince Hal not to banish him?

Like many of Falstaff's actions, Falstaff's plea serves his self-interest. He likes hanging around with a prince and doesn't want it to end, so he plays on Hal's affection. However, his request shows a surprising degree of awareness and self-knowledge. Falstaff may be an egotistical drunk and coward, but he isn't stupid. This plea demonstrates his awareness that Prince Hal isn't acting like a king by spending time with him and will will have to stop someday. Prince Hal's answer ("I do. I will.") foreshadows the time when Hal will break with his carousing past and become a real ruler of his subjects.

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