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Henry IV, Part 1 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry IV, Part 1 | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


In Henry IV, Part 1, how do Hotspur and his wife, Lady Percy, communicate?

The Percys show a disrupted communication pattern in this play. As husband and wife, they should demonstrate love and concern for one another's well-being, which Lady Percy tries to do. However, she is rejected by her husband, who wants to be treated like a warrior rather than a husband. This is a violation of domestic order. She adapts to his communication style—which is to present his public, martial face and ignore deeper, intimate feelings. One manifestation of this is that the two tease one another, which is method of expressing comradeship and affection often used by men, particularly soldiers. Humor helps keep the deeper feelings at bay. However, the loving domestic relationship between Mortimer and his Welsh wife contrasts with the Percys' conversation and demonstrates the disorder Hotspur's actions have brought to his own household.

Why does Falstaff play dead when Douglas attacks him in Act 5, Scene 4 of Henry IV, Part 1?

The immediate reason Falstaff plays dead is practical; he is outmatched by Douglas, who is a greater warrior, and playing dead allows him to survive. Shakespeare has other reasons, though, for having his character play dead. One is, as is always the case with Falstaff, comic effect. When he appears to rise from the dead, it amazes and confuses Prince Hal and Lord John. Falstaff's appearing to be dead also lends more credibility to his claim that he killed Hotspur; if Prince Hal cannot be sure Falstaff was dead, how can the prince know that Hotspur was dead when he left him lying beside Falstaff? The scene also provides commentary on the key themes of honor and appearance versus reality. When Falstaff rises up from playing dead, he gives a speech in which he claims he was not a "counterfeit" when playing dead because he was alive, the counterfeit of a living man being a dead man. His behavior invites the audience to question who is more honorable—a living man who lies or a dead man who tells the truth.

In Act 5, Scene 4 of Henry IV, Part 1, how does Prince Hal's treatment of the dead Hotspur increase his own stature?

After Prince Hal defeats Hotspur, he stops in the middle of a battle to speak about his counterpart with respect and poetic beauty. It is hard to imagine anyone treating a fallen enemy with greater honor. When he says, "When that this body did contain a spirit, / A kingdom for it was too small a bound," and "This earth that bears thee dead / Bears not alive so stout a gentleman," he means that Hotspur was too great a spirit for all of England and that no one alive is his equal. However, the audience knows that Prince Hal is not only his equal but his better. If Hotspur was the best in the world, Prince Hal is in the most graceful way possible claiming that spot for himself.

In Henry IV, Part I, how is Falstaff's name symbolic?

Falstaff's name is symbolic in several ways. The first syllable of the name sounds like the word false. Falstaff is false, repeatedly and dramatically. He lies, he exaggerates, and he steals. A staff is something to lean on (in the sense of stick or cane). A staff should be a reliable support. But if you lean on a false staff, it lets you down. Falstaff definitely lets others down throughout the play. Emphasized differently, the name sounds like a combination of the words falls and staff, or a staff that falls. A staff can be a symbol of authority, which in England is being threatened by rebel forces. Falstaff symbolizes the disorder threatening the entire country.

In Act 1, Scene 3 of Henry IV, Part 1, King Henry says he has been slow to react to rebel offenses. Why might that be so?

King Henry attributes his slowness to being too temperate, or mild in temper. He might also be slow to respond to the rebellion because he knows there is an element of truth in the rebels' complaints about him. Not only was he not born to the throne, he was just a noble, as they are, and some of them, like Mortimer, may be said to have a greater claim to the throne than his own. Being slow to react also might be interpreted as generous and forgiving behavior, in contrast to that of the rebels, who were angry, hot-headed, and hasty, particularly in the case of Hotspur.

In Act 1, Scene 3 of Henry IV, Part 1, why does King Henry think Mortimer must be a traitor who did not fight in good faith?

Mortimer is supposed to have met Glendower in battle. However, the king says that he can't have because Glendower is so fierce a warrior that if Mortimer had really fought him, Mortimer would be dead. Instead, he is now married to Glendower's daughter. It is possible that the king is right. However, it is also possible that things are worse than the king supposes, and that Mortimer is plotting with Glendower behind the king's back. The king's suppositions demean Mortimer's honor by not giving him credit for his military prowess or tactical abilities.

In Henry IV, Part 1, how does Shakespeare foreshadow that Hotspur's judgment is poor and will lead the rebels astray?

The most direct indication that Hotspur's passion and ego are overwhelming his reason comes at the end of Act 1. Worcester says, "I'll read you matter deep and dangerous, / As full of peril and adventurous spirit / As to o'erwalk a current roaring loud / On the unsteadfast footing of a spear." He means they'll be talking about actions as dangerous as crossing a raging river by walking on a spear. In response, Hotspur says, "If he fall in, good night, or sink or swim! / Send danger from the east unto the west, / So honor cross it from the north to south, /And let them grapple." In other words, impossibly difficult challenges excite him. Northumberland says of his son, "Imagination of some great exploit / Drives him beyond the bounds of patience." That is the most damning note: even his allies know Hotspur wants so badly to be great that he can't wait or act prudently.

How are Falstaff's complaints about Prince Hal and Poins being cowards in Act 2, Scene 2 of Henry IV, Part 1 an example of verbal irony?

One reason the complaints are an example of verbal irony is that Falstaff's robbing of the pilgrims is itself cowardly. He doesn't meet them in open combat. Instead he ambushes them, which is practical but not brave. Also, Falstaff makes the complaint right before the disguised Prince Hal and Poins attack him and drive him off, which affirms that Falstaff himself is a coward. Falstaff's cowardice continues to reappear throughout the play, to the degree that he finally falls down and plays dead when Douglas attacks. This cowardly character could hardly make such accusations against Prince Hal, who enters the final battle with a pure and intense bravery.

In Henry IV, Part 1, what evidence supports the idea that Prince Hal is merely playing a part when he is with Falstaff?

When Hal first says that he is only playing a part as he carouses with Falstaff, it sounds like he's just making excuses for himself. However, one major element of the play works as persuasive evidence that he spoke the truth: the speed with which he changes. As soon as King Henry IV lectures Hal on how disappointed he is in his son, Hal changes his behavior. He becomes a good, loyal son, and he shows he is an honorable prince and warrior. The danger to the kingdom, as well as his father's disappointment, may have been a factor in this change.

In Act 3, Scene 2 of Henry IV, Part 1, what are King Henry's objections to Prince Hal's actions?

The king's complaints boil down to the following: He is so hurt by Prince Hal's actions that he says Hal is like a tool God is using to punish him. Prince Hal is not acting like the rest of his family. Prince Hal has been absent from the royal family councils, so his little brother has had to carry out his duties. King Henry built his reputation by making himself scarce and by making a perfect presentation when he was seen. Prince Hal, by contrast, is making himself common to the degree that people will get sick of him. The only person who has not seen too much (or even enough) of Prince Hal is his father. Prince Hal meets these complaints with a positive response, vowing to make his life better.

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