Henry IV

Henry IV #

Family Tree: Edward III:


Richard II, loses his wealth, his kingdom and his role, his usurper and successor, Henry IV, rules a wounded kingdom in a continual state of emergency and unrest. This disturbance is manifest in damaged relations between fathers and sons.

The sons, Hal and Hotspur, are cast as rival twins driven to dark, glorious dreams of redemption. Hal’s killing of Hotspur, his reconciliation with his dying father, and his betrayal of his friend Falstaff allow him to redeem his lost honour.

In the final of four sequels, as Henry V, Hal unifies his torn nation by leading it to acts of slaughter in France. His son is crowned Henry VI while still an infant. Under his reign, the kingdom descends into factional politics and brutal civil war. History becomes a bloody nightmare. During these wars, we witness the rise of the future king, Richard III, an exquisite monster whose rule will be a reign of death. His kingdom is a shadow land peopled by the dead.”

After deposing Richard II, Henry was considered a usurper, and his reign was plagued with conflict and rebellion. Many of the magnates who had supported him in defeating Richard were more interested in building their own power bases than in helping the crown. In January of 1400, when Richard was still alive, Henry quashed a conspiracy of the deposed king’s supporters.

Later that year, Owen Glendower , defiantly declared himself, Prince of Wales, starting a rebellion against English rule in Wales, which Henry was unable to quell with any real success (although his son Henry V had better luck). Glendower allied with the powerful Percy family, (Northumberland) encouraging more English resistance to Henry’s dictatorial rule. The Welsh problem persisted even after Henry’s forces killed Sir Henry Percy in battle in 1403; the French aided Welsh rebels in 1405 and 1406. And Henry also had to contend with intermittent conflict at home and border troubles with the Scots.

Henry IV’s health began to deteriorate, and he was accused of mismanaging the funds he received in the form of parliamentary grants in order to finance his military expeditions. He negotiated an alliance with the French who were waging war against the Burgundians, and it was at this tense stage in his difficult reign that he became incapacitated in late 1412, dying several months later.

John Bell describes Henry IV as a big canvas - almost a map of Britain. The action rampages from the Palace of Westminster to the stews of Eastcheap, to the rugged territory of Northumberland and the wild mountains of Wales, to the rustic bliss of Gloucestershire (by way of Coventry) and the battlefield of Shrewsbury, to treacherous Gaultree Forest.

In a key scene of Henry IV, Part One, the three rebel leaders actually take a knife to the map of England and carve it up, even proposing that a river be re-routed so they all get equal shares.

The language of the play is perhaps the most colloquial. As most histories, we get to see greater insights into the life of common people, Inns and brothels contrasted to the Royal Courts. See below: Vernacular language.

Hotspur and Falstaff #

Henry IV develops two contrasting characters, Hotspur and Sir John Falstaff.

Hotspur already appeared in Richard II, and is developed more fully here. In real life he was much older, however it suits Shakespeare’s purpose to depict him as a young Rambo of the North. He is portrayed as an ideal heroic youth in contrast to the wastrel, Hal, however the plays do not sustain this.

Falstaff represents a farcical representative of medieval vice. He is by turns an old white-breaded satan; obese, gluttonous, wenching braggarts, confident in huffing, lying, thieving and gormandizing. Like a court jester, his comic wit mocks pompous morality. Like the Fool in Lear he has a dexterity with words,mock moralizing, deliberate misunderstandings, pointing out the absurdity of convention, providing mirth and liberating irreverence.

Hal delegates the responsibility of a Peace of Justice on Falstaff and depends on him to dragoon army recruits. However in both he acts corruptly. He continues to swindle Mistress Quickly, treats Hal cavalierly and recruits useless yokels for slaughter.

J.W. Draper, claims Falstaff:

added hypocricy to debauchery, cowardice and bragging impudence to accord with his profession of swashbuckler in chief, assumed a choler though he had it not.

In Henry V, when PISTOL tells us: Falstaff he is dead, the Hostess gives him a good tribute:

Nay, sure, he’s not in hell: he’s in Arthur’s
bosom, if ever man went to Arthur’s bosom. A’ made
a finer end and went away an it had been any
christom child;

In 1598, the Queen was very pleased with the performances of Falstaff, who gave great delight to the royal spectator and her Court, and at her wish to see exhibited the fat knight in love, the poet produced the comedy of The Merry Wives of Windsor; this play gave infinite satisfaction to all beholders. Falstaff pokes fun at people in high places, which we enjoy.

The part of Falstaff was written originally under the name of Sir John Oldcastle; some of that family being then remaining, the Queen was pleased to command him to alter it, upon which he made use of Falstaff, a name that now represents the most humorous character the stage or the world has seen. Shakepeare had also used the name of Lord John Russell, whose widow was still living and she raised a petition preventing Shakespeare’s company opening the Black Friars Theatre north of the Thames until he had changed that character’s name to Bardolph.

Both Oldcastle and Russell were associated with the Lollards, and Oldcastle martyred by Henry IV. Some mistakenly refer to them as Puritans, simply because anyone who left the Catholic Church and didn’t become Church of England was dubbed a Puritan.

Falstaff was a rogue according to the Queen and was she pleased to see him get his come-uppance in Henry V?

The ABC’s iview has many great shows on Shakespeare, two of which are Shakespeare, The Genius and Uncovered:


7Plus also streams free (with ads) plays of the Hollow Crown - Richard II, Henry IV, 1 & 2, Henry V.


Act I, Sc. 1. #

The play begins a few years after King Henry has ascended to the throne as a number of Dukes begin to challenge his rule; both the Welsh in the east and Northumberland in the Northwest.


SCENE I. London. The palace.



So shaken as we are, so wan with care,
Find we a time for frighted peace to pant,
And breathe short-winded accents of new broils
To be commenced in strands afar remote.
No more the thirsty entrance of this soil
Shall daub her lips with her own children’s blood;
Nor more shall trenching war channel her fields,
Nor bruise her flowerets with the armed hoofs
Of hostile paces: those opposed eyes,
Which, like the meteors of a troubled heaven,
All of one nature, of one substance bred,
Did lately meet in the intestine shock
And furious close of civil butchery
Shall now, in mutual well-beseeming ranks,
March all one way and be no more opposed
Against acquaintance, kindred and allies:
The edge of war, like an ill-sheathed knife,
No more shall cut his master. Therefore, friends,
As far as to the sepulchre of Christ,
Whose soldier now, under whose blessed cross
We are impressed and engaged to fight,
Forthwith a power of English shall we levy;
Whose arms were moulded in their mothers’ womb
To chase these pagans in those holy fields
Over whose acres walk’d those blessed feet
Which fourteen hundred years ago were nail’d
For our advantage on the bitter cross.
But this our purpose now is twelve month old,
And bootless ’tis to tell you we will go:
Therefore we meet not now. Then let me hear
Of you, my gentle cousin Westmoreland,
What yesternight our council did decree
In forwarding this dear expedience.

There were several warnings in Richard II of the consequences of bad rule and usurpation:

KING RICHARD comments on his being relieved from “care

Say, is my kingdom lost? Why, ’twas my care,
And what loss is it to be rid of care?

On his death bed, John of GAUNT gives the first cautionary warning:

That England that was wont to conquer others
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.

Gaunt further claims that in killing his brother Gloucester, Richard

respect’st not spilling Edward’s blood. (family)

YORK also attacks Richard for betraying his own father, The Black Prince:

But when he frowned, it was against the French
And not against his friends.
….. His hands were guilty of no kindred’s blood,
But bloody with the enemies of his kin.

On his return from Ireland, Richard is happy to be on home soil, yet apprehensive:


Dear earth, I do salute thee with my hand,
Though rebels wound thee with their horses’ hoofs.

RICHARD further warns Northumberland the consequences of their rebellion:

Armies of pestilence, and they shall strike
Your children yet unborn and unbegot,

Tell Bolingbroke—for yon methinks he stands—
That every stride he makes upon my land
Is dangerous treason. He is come to open
The purple testament of bleeding war;
But ere the crown he looks for live in peace,
Ten thousand bloody crowns of mothers’ sons
Shall ill become the flower of England’s face,

The Bishop of CARLILSE issues another warning (for which he is arrested) about crowning Bolingbroke:

The blood of English shall manure the ground

And in this seat of peace tumultuous wars
Shall kin with kin and kind with kind confound.
Disorder, horror, fear, and mutiny

KING RICHARD gives the final warning to Northumberland,

Shall break into corruption. Thou shalt think,
Though he divide the realm and give thee half
It is too little, helping him to all.
And he shall think that thou, which knowst the way
To plant unrightful kings, wilt know again,

Meanwhile, back to the first scene of Henry IV:

WESTMORELAND replies to King Henry IV with news of insurrection from Wales:

My liege, this haste was hot in question,
And many limits of the charge set down
But yesternight: when all athwart there came
A post from Wales loaden with heavy news;
Whose worst was, that the noble Mortimer,
Leading the men of Herefordshire to fight
Against the irregular and wild Glendower,
Was by the rude hands of that Welshman taken,
A thousand of his people butchered;
Upon whose dead corpse there was such misuse,
Such beastly shameless transformation,
By those Welshwomen done as may not be
Without much shame retold or spoken of.


It seems then that the tidings of this broil
Brake off our business for the Holy Land.

WESTMORELAND then gives more unwelcome news from the North west where young Harry Percy (Hotspur) clashed with the Scots and refuses to give up his prisoners to King Henry.

This match’d with other did, my gracious lord;
For more uneven and unwelcome news
Came from the north and thus it did import:
On Holy-rood day, the gallant Hotspur there,
Young Harry Percy and brave Archibald,
That ever-valiant and approved Scot,
At Holmedon met,
Where they did spend a sad and bloody hour,
As by discharge of their artillery,

KING HENRY IV hears news from:

Sir Walter Blunt, new lighted from his horse.
Stain’d with the variation of each soil
Betwixt that Holmedon and this seat of ours;
And he hath brought us smooth and welcome news.
The Earl of Douglas is discomfited:
Ten thousand bold Scots, two and twenty knights,
Balk’d in their own blood did Sir Walter see
On Holmedon’s plains. Of prisoners, Hotspur took
Mordake the Earl of Fife, and eldest son
To beaten Douglas; and the Earl of Athol,
Of Murray, Angus, and Menteith:
And is not this an honourable spoil? A gallant prize? ha, cousin, is it not?

KING HENRY IV expresses his envy of Percy’ son, Hotspur, in lieu of his own son, the truant Young Hal.

Yea, there thou makest me sad and makest me sin
In envy that my Lord Northumberland
Should be the father to so blest a son,
A son who is the theme of honour’s tongue;
Amongst a grove, the very straightest plant;
Who is sweet Fortune’s minion and her pride:
Whilst I, by looking on the praise of him,
See riot and dishonour stain the brow
Of my young Harry. O that it could be proved
That some night-tripping fairy had exchanged
In cradle-clothes our children where they lay,
And call’d mine Percy, his Plantagenet!
Then would I have his Harry, and he mine.
But let him from my thoughts. What think you, coz,
Of this young Percy’s pride? the prisoners,
Which he in this adventure hath surprised,
To his own use he keeps; and sends me word,
I shall have none but Mordake Earl of Fife.

John Gray’s Straw Dogs is as stark; human progress was a myth.

“If we thought we were steadily becoming more civilised, then we were delusional. Instead, human beings are “weapon-making animals with an unquenchable fondness for killing”.

SCENE II. London. An apartment of the Prince’s. #



Now, Hal, what time of day is it, lad?


Thou art so fat-witted, with drinking of old sack
and unbuttoning thee after supper and sleeping upon
benches after noon, that thou hast forgotten to
demand that truly which thou wouldst truly know.
What a devil hast thou to do with the time of the
day? Unless hours were cups of sack and minutes
capons and clocks the tongues of bawds and dials the
signs of leaping-houses and the blessed sun himself
a fair hot wench in flame-coloured taffeta, I see no
reason why thou shouldst be so superfluous to demand
the time of the day.


Indeed, you come near me now, Hal; for we that take
purses go by the moon and the seven stars, and not
by Phoebus, he,’that wandering knight so fair.’ And,
I prithee, sweet wag, when thou art king, as, God
save thy grace,–majesty I should say, for grace
thou wilt have none,–

I. Sc. 3 #

HOTSPUR explains why he reused to give up his prisoners to the King’s emmisary.

My liege, I did deny no prisoners.
But I remember, when the fight was done,
When I was dry with rage and extreme toil,
Breathless and faint, leaning upon my sword,
Came there a certain lord, neat, and trimly dress’d,
Fresh as a bridegroom; and his chin new reap’d
Show’d like a stubble-land at harvest-home;
He was perfumed like a milliner;
And ’twixt his finger and his thumb he held
A pouncet-box, which ever and anon
He gave his nose and took’t away again;
Who therewith angry, when it next came there,
Took it in snuff; and still he smiled and talk’d,
And as the soldiers bore dead bodies by,
He call’d them untaught knaves, unmannerly,
To bring a slovenly unhandsome corse
Betwixt the wind and his nobility.
With many holiday and lady terms
He question’d me; amongst the rest, demanded
My prisoners in your majesty’s behalf.
I then, all smarting with my wounds being cold,
To be so pester’d with a popinjay,
Out of my grief and my impatience,
Answer’d neglectingly I know not what,
He should or he should not; for he made me mad
To see him shine so brisk and smell so sweet
And talk so like a waiting-gentlewoman
Of guns and drums and wounds,–God save the mark!–
And telling me the sovereign’st thing on earth
Was parmaceti for an inward bruise;
And that it was great pity, so it was,
This villanous salt-petre should be digg’d
Out of the bowels of the harmless earth,
Which many a good tall fellow had destroy’d
So cowardly; and but for these vile guns,
He would himself have been a soldier.
This bald unjointed chat of his, my lord,
I answer’d indirectly, as I said;
And I beseech you, let not his report
Come current for an accusation
Betwixt my love and your high majesty.

Hotspur refuses to give up the Scottish prisoners of war, thereby defying King Henry; a treasonous act of revolt because he is questioning the legitimacy of succession, promised to Mortimer, an issue that will continually dog all Kings until Henry VII settles it at the Battle of Bosworth Field against Richard III in 1485.


But soft, I pray you; did King Richard then
Proclaim my brother Edmund Mortimer
Heir to the crown?

HOTSPUR continues his rant against King Henry IV:

Nay, then I cannot blame his cousin king,
That wished him on the barren mountains starve.
But shall it be that you, that set the crown
Upon the head of this forgetful man
And for his sake wear the detested blot
Of murderous subornation, shall it be,
That you a world of curses undergo,
Being the agents, or base second means,
The cords, the ladder, or the hangman rather?
O, pardon me that I descend so low,
To show the line and the predicament
Wherein you range under this subtle king;
Shall it for shame be spoken in these days,
Or fill up chronicles in time to come,
That men of your nobility and power
Did gage them both in an unjust behalf,
As both of you–God pardon it!–have done,
To put down Richard, that sweet lovely rose,
An plant this thorn, this canker, Bolingbroke?
And shall it in more shame be further spoken,
That you are fool’d, discarded and shook off
By him for whom these shames ye underwent?
No; yet time serves wherein you may redeem
Your banish’d honours and restore yourselves
Into the good thoughts of the world again,
Revenge the jeering and disdain’d contempt
Of this proud king, who studies day and night
To answer all the debt he owes to you
Even with the bloody payment of your deaths:

HOTSPUR pours out his hate for the King for his pretence of manners:

Why, look you, I am whipp’d and scourged with rods,
Nettled and stung with pismires, when I hear
Of this vile politician, Bolingbroke.
In Richard’s time,–what do you call the place?–
A plague upon it, it is in Gloucestershire;
‘Twas where the madcap duke his uncle kept,
His uncle York; where I first bow’d my knee
Unto this king of smiles, this Bolingbroke,–
When you and he came back from Ravenspurgh.


You say true:
Why, what a candy deal of courtesy
This fawning greyhound then did proffer me!
Look,‘when his infant fortune came to age,’
And ‘gentle Harry Percy,’ and ‘kind cousin;’
O, the devil take such cozeners! God forgive me!
Good uncle, tell your tale; I have done.

Vernacular language #

John Bell writes: “There is a wonderful little scene in Henry IV, Part One that is nearly always cut in performance. This is partly because it is dispensable in terms of the action (and in today’s theatre directors are always looking for cuts) but also because it is written in such verbatim colloquial street slang that it is almost incomprehensible to a modern audience. It’s a scene between two carriers transporting goods. They whinge about the price of oats and the fact the pub won’t give them a chamber-pot so they have to:

“leak in the chimney”


SCENE I. Rochester. An inn yard.

Enter a Carrier with a lantern in his hand

First Carrier

Heigh-ho! an it be not four by the day, I’ll be
hanged: Charles’ wain is over the new chimney, and
yet our horse not packed. What, ostler!


[Within] Anon, anon.

First Carrier

I prithee, Tom, beat Cut’s saddle, put a few flocks
in the point; poor jade, is wrung in the withers out
of all cess.

Enter another Carrier

Second Carrier

Peas and beans are as dank here as a dog, and that
is the next way to give poor jades the bots: this
house is turned upside down since Robin Ostler died.

First Carrier

Poor fellow, never joyed since the price of oats
rose; it was the death of him.

Second Carrier

I think this be the most villanous house in all
London road for fleas: I am stung like a tench.

First Carrier

Like a tench! by the mass, there is ne’er a king
christen could be better bit than I have been since
the first cock.

Second Carrier

Why, they will allow us ne’er a jordan, and then we
leak in your chimney; and your chamber-lie breeds
fleas like a loach.

First Carrier

What, ostler! come away and be hanged!

Second Carrier

I have a gammon of bacon and two razors of ginger,
to be delivered as far as Charing-cross.

First Carrier

God’s body! the turkeys in my pannier are quite
starved. What, ostler! A plague on thee! hast thou
never an eye in thy head? canst not hear? An
’twere not as good deed as drink, to break the pate
on thee, I am a very villain. Come, and be hanged!
hast thou no faith in thee?

Glossary: Charles’ wain - The Great Bear, flocks - wool, bot - maggots, tench - flea bitten fish, jordan - piss pot, chamber-lie - urine, loach - prolific fish, gammon - ham.

Bell continues:

I’d bet my boots that Shakespeare was lying awake in bed, heard these two guys yakking outside his window and just jotted it down. It’s an irresistible piece of verbatim theatre. Henry IV was written in two parts. Shakespeare was confident of the success of Part One: with its boisterous action, comic robbery, lively battle, charismatic Hotspur and great Falstaff comedy scenes, it can be performed as a stand-alone work. It’s trickier to stage the more elegiac and melancholy Part Two on its own because you need to know the backstory. Falstaff is in decline, heroic battles give way to cynical treachery and there is a pervasive mood of death and decay.

But it is a rich lode that has its own gems: crazy “Captain “Pistol, dotty country magistrates Shallow and Silence, and delectable doxies Mistress Quickly and Doll Tearsheet. John Bell Boyer Lectures

In her book entitled Filthy Shakespeare, Pauline Kiernan contends that most of Shakespeare’s ribald language is hidden in outrageous puns that were easily picked up in his day such as Mistress Quickly = Quick-lay. Dolly Tearsheet would perform well in any bed.

As Hamlet proposes to lay his head on Ophelia’s lap, he questions whether she assumes “country matters”. Actors who say it slowly create a nuanced context.

Shakespeare also had a more grounded acceptance of the vernacular when he has Hotspur, the Rambo of the North advise his wife Kate;

you swear like acomfit-maker’s wife….
And givest such sarcenet surety for thy oaths,……
Swear me, Kate, like a lady as thou art,
A good mouth-filling oath, and leave ‘in sooth,’

A much debated topic is the suitability of Shakespeare’s language for general audiences. During his time he was considered a relatively clean writer when compared to Christopher Marlowe or Ben Jonson. Yet moves have been made to cleanse his works.

In 1605, King James I passed a Blasphemy Act:

It is enacted that if, at any time, any person do in any Stage-Play, Interlude, Shew, May-game or Pageant, jestingly or prophanely, speak or use the holy name of God, or of Jesus Christ,or of the Holy Ghost, or of the Trinity, which are not to be spoken but with fear and reverence, he or she shall forfeit for every such offence Ten Pounds.

Since most of Shakespeare’s Plays had already been published this meant any new editions needed serious censoring. Common words suddenly considered profane were; S”blood – God’s Blood, O Gods, Mary.

The Eighteenth-century Divine, the Rev Dr Bowdler, made the plays suitable “to be read aloud by a gentleman to a company of ladies” by excising or expurgating any rude bits. Bowdlerize derives from the name Thomas Bowdler , an editor in Victorian times who rewrote Shakespeare, removing all profanity and sexual references so as not to offend the sensibilities of the audiences of his day.

For more see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Bowdler

Sleep #

Act III Sc. 1 4 - 31 the conscience of the holy King Henry IV is troubled by the number of soldiers who died:

How many thousand of my poorest subjects
Are at this hour asleep! O sleep, O gentle sleep,
Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frighted thee,
That thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down
And steep my senses in forgetfulness?
Why rather, sleep, liest thou in smoky cribs,
Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee,
And hushed with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber,
Than in the perfumed chambers of the great,
Under the canopies of costly state,
And lulled with sound of sweetest melody?
O thou dull god, why liest thou with the vile
In loathsome beds and leavest the kingly couch
A watch-case or a common ’larum bell?
Wilt thou upon the high and giddy ⟨mast⟩
Seal up the shipboy’s eyes and rock his brains
In cradle of the rude imperious surge
And in the visitation of the winds,
Who take the ruffian ⟨billows⟩ by the top,
Curling their monstrous heads and hanging them
With deafing clamor in the slippery clouds
That with the hurly death itself awakes?
Canst thou, O partial sleep, give ⟨thy⟩ repose
To the wet ⟨sea-boy⟩ in an hour so rude,
And, in the calmest and most stillest night,
With all appliances and means to boot,
Deny it to a king? Then, happy low, lie down.
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

Sleep will be a prominent motif throughout Macbeth.

Henry IV is having a hard time of it. The first line of the play has him repeat Richard II’s warning of the duty of “care”:

So shaken as we are, so wan with care,

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown

remains one of Shakespeare’s signature sayings as does Falstaff’s

The better part of valour is discretion;

Anger #

Anger has words, but rage does not. When we become violent, we have moved into this wordless territory that so often becomes confused with simple anger. Unless rage is assuaged it becomes destructive. When language is inadequate we resort to violence. When destructive people have nothing else to destroy, they become self-destructive.

Controlled or measured anger, resulting from a slight, wounded psyches or gross injustice, can be transformative leading to shifting cultures as in civil rights, suffragettes and Black Lives Matter. If you seek to constructively avenge, rather than destructively revenge, rage can lead to change for collective good, like the cleansing of a thunderstorm.

Christ, Tolstoy, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and many others have demonstrated that passive, assertive resistance is more effective in the long run.

Rage can be accompanied by inexpressible grief and feelings of abandonment and disempowerment. Synonymous with: Ineffable, inexpressible, indescribable, unspeakable, beyond words..

Rage is passion; passion finds solutions, however at times we can suffer a paralysis of rage. We careen from outrage to outrage in a rollicking attention-deficit society that most perpetrators are able to outwait or outshout.

Characters, Hal, Hotspur, Falstaff #

The King expresses his despair in compairing the two by referring to Hotspur, “A son who is the thene of honour’s tongue”, while his own son is tainted with “riot and dishonour”.

In scene 2 we see Prince Hal in a brothel, planning a highway robbery followed by a riotous banquet in a tavern. Falstaff’s female companions are called Mistress Quickly and Doll Tearsheet. It shouldn’t be too difficult to discern what the names imply.

This juxtapositioning of characters, with opposite codes of conduct, in a balanced manner, is very common in Shakespeare’s dramas.

In scene 2, Hal and Falstaff act out various skits, satirising scenes between the King and Hal, and Hotspur and his wife, subjecting both to ridicule.

After the Battle of Shrewsbury, 1403, when Hal fulfils his promise to “redeem all this” by “taking every honour from his helm” defeating Hotspur in single combat, the supremacy of honour has passed from Hotspur to Hal. Before he dies, Haotspur confesses that Hal has “has won proud titles from me.” The reversal is complete.

Before the Battle of Shrewsbury Hotspur, asked about his grievances, claims that despite the fact we helped him gain the throne, The King merely “seems” to act in the interests of the commonwealth and justice - preferring rhetoric over substance.

Cries out upon abuses, seems to weep
Over his country’s wrongs; and by this face,
This seeming brow of justice, did he win
The hearts of all that he did angle for;

Seems” relates to perception rather than reality. Henry promises much but fails to deliver.

Hotspur is kept in the dark before the Battle, because his uncle WORCESTER never informs him of the King’s offers of a peaceful settlement.

Honour #

Honour is mentioned some 32 times.

KING HENRY IV expresses his envy of Hotspur, who appears so much superior to his son, Hal’s, dishonour.

Yea, there thou makest me sad and makest me sin
In envy that my Lord Northumberland
Should be the father to so blest a son,
A son who is the theme of honour’s tongue;
I. 1.

HOTSPUR believes honour the highest virtue:

By heaven, methinks it were an easy leap,
To pluck bright honour from the pale-faced moon,
Or dive into the bottom of the deep,
Where fathom-line could never touch the ground,
And pluck up drowned honour by the locks;

Hotspur has demonstrated his honour by taking hundreds of Scottish prisoners in what is called: a gallant prize, - “a conquest for a prince to be proud of.

The fact that Hotspur defies the King’s demand to hand over his prisoners, does not appear to diminish his high regard.

Hal acknowledges to his father that:

I may speak it to my shame,
I have a truant been to chivalry;

Shakespeare draws a contrast between a man who behaves like a prince, though he is none (Hotspur) and another (Hal) who is a prince but does not act the part.

We have to wait until Act V to see a reversal of these two, as Hal emerges as the victor. Earlier HOTSPUR had already articulated his view of honour:

By heaven, methinks it were an easy leap,
To pluck bright honour from the pale-faced moon,
Or dive into the bottom of the deep,
Where fathom-line could never touch the ground,
And pluck up drowned honour by the locks;
So he that doth redeem her thence might wear
Without corrival, all her dignities:
But out upon this half-faced fellowship!

In contrast, FALSTAFF displays a more cynical view of honour.

‘Tis not due yet; I would be loath to pay him before
his day. What need I be so forward with him that
calls not on me? Well, ’tis no matter; honour pricks
me on. Yea, but how if honour prick me off when I
come on? how then? Can honour set to a leg? no: or
an arm? no: or take away the grief of a wound? no.
Honour hath no skill in surgery, then? no. What is
honour? a word. What is in that word honour? what
is that honour? air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it?
he that died o’ Wednesday. Doth he feel it? no.
Doth he hear it? no. ‘Tis insensible, then. Yea,
to the dead. But will it not live with the living?
no. Why? detraction will not suffer it. Therefore
I’ll none of it. Honour is a mere scutcheon: and so
ends my catechism.
Act V. 1

FALSTAFF after covertly watching the single combat between Hotspur and Prince Hal, with no one around summons up the courage to pretend that he killed Hotspur:

(After Prince Hal has exited stage)

[Rising up] Embowelled! if thou embowel me to-day,
I’ll give you leave to powder me and eat me too
to-morrow. ‘Sblood, ’twas time to counterfeit, or
that hot termagant Scot had paid me scot and lot too.
Counterfeit? I lie, I am no counterfeit: to die,
is to be a counterfeit; for he is but the
counterfeit of a man who hath not the life of a man:
but to counterfeit dying, when a man thereby
liveth, is to be no counterfeit, but the true and
perfect image of life indeed. The better part of
valour is discretion; in the which better part I
have saved my life.‘Zounds, I am afraid of this
gunpowder Percy, though he be dead: how, if he
should counterfeit too and rise? by my faith, I am
afraid he would prove the better counterfeit.
Therefore I’ll make him sure; yea, and I’ll swear I
killed him. Why may not he rise as well as I?
Nothing confutes me but eyes, and nobody sees me.
Therefore, sirrah,

Stabbing him in the thigh and rubbing Hotspur’s blood on his face.


We continue the story following the battle of Shrewsbury for the next ten years.

Northumberland learns that his son Hotspur is dead, and he rejoins the remaining rebels. When Hotspur’s widow Kate,convinces Northumberland to withdraw, the rebels are then led by the archbishop of York and Lords Mowbray and Hastings, who muster at York to confront the king’s forces.

Sir John Falstaff, glories in the reputation he has gained by falsely claiming to have killed Hotspur, and he uses his wit and cunning to escape charges by the Lord Chief Justice.

FALSTAFFdirected to raise his own regiment. He abuses his trust as the King’s prpress (IV . 2 12 - 13) by accepting bribes from the rich, not to serve, and ends up with a rag tag recruits “slaves as ragged as Lazarus” described by Hal as “pitiful rascals” .

Tut, tut; good enough to toss; food for powder, food
for powder; they’ll fill a pit as well as better:
tush, man, mortal men, mortal men.

When desperate, war mongers recruit anyone they can get, often prisoners are offered freedom if they enlist. They are mere cannon fodder - as Wilfred Owen wrote; these who die as cattle?

Justice #

Shakespeare has a preoccupation with justice. Much of the dialogue between Falstaff and otherrs revolves around his charisma and sophistry - persuasive language designed to distort reality.

His mock trials with Prince Hal expose the hypocrisy of the legal system.

FALSTAFF in bantering with the future King is hoping for some anarchic reprieve for his life style.

Yea, and so used it that were it not here apparent
that thou art heir apparent–But, I prithee, sweet
wag, shall there be gallows standing in England when
thou art king? and resolution thus fobbed as it is
with the rusty curb of old father antic the law? Do
not thou, when thou art king, hang a thief.


No; thou shalt.

Falstaff represents a total inversion of order. He advocates that thieves should be knighted as “Diana’s foresters, gentlemen of the shade, minions of the moon”. (I.2. 24 - 25) A Robin Hood figure.

CHIEF JUSTICE a sober fair-minded lawyer attempts to bring Falstaff to justice for holding up and robbing the Pilgrims at Gad’s Hill, but Falstaff manages to evade the charges because he joined the King’s army. Falstaff manges to hide behind his military service

I sent for you, when there were matters
against you for your life, to come speak with me.

FALSTAFF As I was then advised by my learned counsel
in the laws of this land-service, I did not come.
(I 2. 133 - 34)

CHIEF JUSTICE Well, the truth is, Sir John, you live in
great infamy.

FALSTAFF He that buckles himself in my belt cannot
live in less.

CHIEF JUSTICE Your means are very slender, and your
waste is great.

FALSTAFF I would it were otherwise. I would my means
were greater and my waist slender.

CHIEF JUSTICE You have misled the youthful prince.

FALSTAFF The young prince hath misled me. I am the
fellow with the great belly, and he my dog.

CHIEF JUSTICE Well, I am loath to gall a new-healed wound. Your day’s service at Shrewsbury hath a little gilded over your night’s exploit on Gad’s Hill. You may thank th’ unquiet time for your quiet o’erposting that action. I. 2. 135 - 154

Prince Hal and his companion Poins disguise themselves to observe Falstaff’s exchange with the Chief Justice, and they hear him insult them both. After they confront him.

Legal language:

Shakespeare has Falstaff parody the finangling of legal riposte in his arguments with the Chief Justice. Like Trump he is not intimatdated by the pomposity of high office.

Lawyers are trained in the arts of linguistic combat; persuasion – casuistry, sophistry and eristic logic, to win at all costs. Specious and spurious arguments trump truth and reality. Manipulation of evidence can lead to perception management.

”—You and I both do the same thing, he would chide me, “sleight of hand - making things appear to be what they’re not. “

Alan M. Dershowitz, US defence lawyer, writing of his son, a professional magician, 1991.

It is the deceit of words and sleight of hand which may not involve any deliberate falsehood, but inferentially manipulates our perceptions, what Wittengenstein calls the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language and eristic argument. All forms of persuasive language use tactics of perception management or cognitive interference to shed a favourable light on their perspectives.

Chicanery, “trickery by quibbling,” is an adaptation of the French translated as “to quibble” or “to split hairs” and once referred specifically to legal contexts.

Richard Ackland claims:

“When it comes to big, brassy flourishes about the inherent nobility, fairness and majesty of their function in life, there are few more superlative at the task than lawyers and judges.

Prince Hal and Falstaff must return to the wars. The king’s army is again victorious, but more through deceit and false promises than through valor.

When the Hostess of the tavern attempts to recover all the unpaid bills accrued by Falstaff, he falsely accusses her of infidelity.

CHIEF JUSTICE sees through his ruses:

Sir John, Sir John, I am well acquainted
with your manner of wrenching the true cause the
false way. It is not a confident brow, nor the throng
of words that come with such more than impudent
sauciness from you, can thrust me from a level

Once Hal becomes King Henry V, Falstaff believes he is able to claim to be the law of the land.

The rebel Jack Cade in Henry VI, 2, attempts to make up the laws:

Away, burn all the records of the realm
my mouth shall be the parliament of England.

In King Lear, Goneril claims:

The laws are mine.

Trump claims that as President, he is above the law. When Christian Porter, as Attorney-General of Australia was accussed, he too claimed “I am the law!”. But not for long.

While playing a court scene in the Tavern in Part 1, Hal has already warned Falstaff that he will be a just, fair and upright King when asked, if he would banish Falsaff, Hal replies:

I do, I will

With the rebellion over, Prince Hal attends his dying father. Hal becomes Henry V, reassures the Lord Chief Justice, and turns away Falstaff, who had expected royal favor.

King Henry’s last speech:

God knows, my son,
By what bypaths and indirect crook’d ways
I met this crown, and I myself know well
How troublesome it sat upon my head.
To thee it shall descend with better quiet,
Better opinion, better confirmation,

For all my reign hath been but as a scene
Acting that argument.

I cut them off and had a purpose now
To lead out many to the Holy Land,

Therefore, my Harry,
Be it thy course to busy giddy minds
With foreign quarrels, that action, hence borne out,
May waste the memory of the former days.
More would I, but my lungs are wasted so
That strength of speech is utterly denied me.
How I came by the crown, O God forgive,
And grant it may with thee in true peace live.
(IV. 3 341 - 379)

Once reconciled to his eldest son and convinced of his readiness to assume his regal responsibilities, the dying Henry gives Hal some prqagmatic advice; when crowned King Henry V, to:

“busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels”

  • that is, declare war on France to unify the nobles and country behind him.

This play then leads us into the next play of the tetrology - King Henry V.

Characters of Commoners #

Falstaff’s friends represent the lower class at the local, bawdy, rowdy recusants, using colloquial and vernacular language.


Mistress Quickly is the hostess of the Boar’s Tavern which Falstaff and Hal frequent. Much like Falstaff, Misstress Quickly is associated with the raucous and debaucherous world of drinking and hedonism. As hostess of the establishment and as one of the few female roles in the play, she makes her mark as an embodiment of the play’s rebellious spirit. Like Falstaff she stands in direct contrast to the courtly world of Henry, the Percy family, and the other noblemen.

Doll Tearsheet - a friendly companion and practitioner of the oldest profession. Shakespeare appears to treat the women quite respectfully, giving them a human voice with reputable dignity


Bardolph is one of Falstaff’s old companions and a soldier in the army to France. Noticeable for his huge red nose and his pockmarked face, he is a coward and a rogue, but still has enough presence to be able to stop Nim and Pistol from actually fighting. His main concern in France is looting, which is unfortunate, as he is caught and executed for it by Exeter. The King has no mercy for him.

Edward Poins

Known for his wit, loyalty, and mischievous nature, one of Prince Hal’s rowdy companions, engaging in humorous banter and practical jokes, providing comic relief in the midst of the play’s political and military conflicts. A carefree and adventurous spirit, always up for a good time yet fiercely loyal to Prince Hal, evident in the famous tavern scene, where Poins and Hal plan to disguise themselves and observe the common people’s behavior.

In the Battle of Shrewsbury, With Hal in danger, Poins proves his bravery by coming to his friend’s aid. He is a Prankster with a Heart of Gold. Beneath his witty remarks and practical jokes lies a true friend who will go to great lengths to support and protect those he cares about. Poins’ loyalty to Prince Hal is unwavering, and his willingness to put himself in harm’s way demonstrates his bravery and dedication. He adds humor and levity to the play, while also showcasing the importance of friendship and loyalty. (from PlayShakespeare.com: The Ultimate Free Shakespeare Resource

Corporal Nym

A fictional character in two Shakespeare plays, The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry V. Nym is a soldier and criminal follower of Sir John Falstaff and a friend and rival of Ancient Pistol.

Ancient Pistol

Shakespeare’s glorious grotesques - a bragging drunkard who is forever rattling off demented parodies of Marlowe. His presence is a testament to the hothouse nature of the Elizabethan theatre.

Peto – a young member of the vagabonds. Dickens may have based Oliver Twist and Fagan on these characters.

Interpretations #

Over 400 years critics of varying degrees of expertise have come up with oppossing points of view. Ultimately, we have to form our own conclusions, retaining an open mind to all.

Polish critic Jan Kott, with his seminal 1974 book Shakespeare Our Contemporary, ripped away the veil of romantic nostalgia that tradition had draped over the history plays. Rather, he saw them as a demonstration of realpolitik, the grinding and heartless machinations of political systems throughout the ages. Kott’s scepticism appealed to the intellectual theatre directors of the 1960s and 70s such as Peter Brook, Peter Hall and Michael Bogdanov, the latter seeing in Shakespeare’s Prince Hal the archetype of the Machiavellian political animal.