Henry IV, Part 1
King Henry IV is holding a political conference with his advisory council. His preparations
for a holy crusade must be postponed because England's borders are threatened. The
English general Mortimer was taken prisoner by Glendower after losing a battle in Wales, and another English lord, Hotspur, who has just won a battle in the north
against the Scottish leader Douglas, refuses to send the king the prisoners he captured.
King Henry is angry with Hotspur, and summons him to court.
Prince Hal, who should be helping his father King Henry govern the country, is somewhere
in London roistering with an old friend, the disreputable Sir John Falstaff. A young
thief named Poins meets them, and arranges with Falstaff to commit a highway robbery at Gad's Hill. Hal refuses to join them, until Poins privately tempts Hal with
a plan to play a practical joke on Falstaff, which will show him up as a coward.
In the palace Hotspur, Northumberland, and Worcester argue with King Henry. The Percies,
powerful northern lords, then plot to rebel against Henry, with whom they rebelled
two years ago against King Richard II. They intend to enlist Henry's enemies (Glendower, Mortimer, Douglas, and the Archbishop of York) to help them overthrow the king.
Two carriers discuss the condition of England and Gadshill (a member of Poins' gang)
finds out when several rich merchants will be passing Gad's Hill on their way to
Falstaff and the band of thieves meet with Hal and Poins at Gad's Hill. Falstaff
and the thieves rob the passing merchants; then Hal and Poins (in disguise) steal
the stolen money. Falstaff defends himself briefly and unsuccessfully. Hal and Poins
take the stolen money to London.
Meanwhile at Warkworth Castle in the north, Hotspur receives a letter from a lord
who refuses to join the rebellion conspiracy. He rides off to meet the rebel leaders
In a London tavern Hal and Poins are waiting for Falstaff to arrive. Falstaff and
the thieves burst into the tavern, and tell an exaggerated story about their encounter
with an army of thieves at Gad's Hill. Hal exposes Falstaff as a liar. Then news
of the Percy rebellion reaches the tavern. Hal, who's been summoned to court, prepares
for his father's inevitable scolding by rehearsing with Falstaff the meeting with
Henry. At the height of their play-acted argument, a sheriff arrives to arrest Falstaff
for theft. Falstaff hides, and Hal lies to protect him from criminal punishment. Falstaff
falls asleep, and Hal picks his pocket before returning to court.
In a castle in Wales the rebels meet to divide the leadership of England into three
parts. Glendower and Hotspur quarrel, but peace settles among the rebels while they
say good-bye to their wives. They ride to Shrewsbury, where the battle against Henry
will shortly take place.
In the palace Henry accuses Hal of wasting his youth and disappointing his family.
Henry compares Hal unfavorably with King Richard II and with Hotspur. Hal promises
to turn over a new leaf, and vows to gain honor equal to Hotspur's by fighting a
glorious battle. Father and son are reconciled, and Henry gives his son command of one-third
of the royal army.
In the tavern Falstaff quarrels with the hostess over who picked his pocket. Hal arrives
dressed for battle, and settles the dispute by admitting he did it. Hal gives Falstaff
command over a troop of foot soldiers, and returns to court to help with battle preparations. Falstaff plots ways of turning the war to his personal profit.
Hotspur, Worcester, and Douglas are camped at Shrewsbury, waiting for the rest of
their allies. Messengers arrive with news that Northumberland and Glendower won't
be joining them in battle. Hotspur and Douglas resolve to carry out their plans
anyway, despite their greatly reduced forces. Hearing that Prince Hal is leading a gloriously
attired army toward Shrewsbury, Hotspur swears to kill him in single combat.
Falstaff marches his foot soldiers toward the battlefield. Their raggedy appearance
shocks Hal, but Falstaff lectures him on the realities of war.
Sir Walter Blunt arrives at the rebel camp with an offer of pardon from Henry. Hotspur
airs his grievances against Henry, and sends Blunt back to the royal camp without
At York, the archbishop is very worried because the king's army outnumbers the rebels
three to one.
Worcester and Henry try to reach a peaceful settlement, and Hal intervenes to offer
himself in single combat to Hotspur, in place of a full-scale battle. Henry forbids
this, and sends Worcester back to the rebel camp with an ultimatum.
Worcester lies to Hotspur about Henry's peace offer, and the battle challenge is given.
During the battle Henry fights Douglas, and Hal fights Hotspur. Hal rescues Henry
from Douglas, and kills Hotspur. Falstaff, meanwhile, leads his soldiers into the
thickest fighting, yet he debunks honor, and pretends to fall down dead when challenged
by Douglas. Standing between the bodies of Hotspur, his greatest rival, and Falstaff,
his best friend, Hal praises Hotspur and teases Falstaff, then walks away. Falstaff
jumps up and defends his seemingly cowardly behavior. Hal returns, amazed to find
Falstaff still alive. Hal allows Falstaff to take credit for killing Hotspur, a lie
on which Falstaff stakes his future reputation.
The king's army wins the battle. Henry orders the executions of the rebel prisoners,
but Hal insists on freeing Douglas. Henry divides the royal army, proudly giving
his son command of one-half. The two halves split to the north and west, marching
away to fight the remaining rebel leaders.
[Henry IV, Part 1 Contents]
- KING HENRY IV
In order to understand what is troubling King Henry, you should be familiar with the
events surrounding the deposition of Richard, and Henry's rise to power.
These events will be described four times in Henry IV, Part 1: by Henry, by Hotspur
(twice), and by Worcester. Each account of how and why Henry became king differs,
just as newspapers or history books today often disagree about a single event.
Shakespeare never makes Henry's motives entirely clear, and Henry is relatively quiet
about them. You don't know if Henry rose to the throne on a tide of popular opinion
that he never anticipated when he returned from exile, or if he carefully planned
the entire "election," and always meant to steal the crown from his cousin Richard.
Because Henry's motives aren't clear, you could form two perfectly feasible, but entirely
different, portraits of Henry. You can see him as Hotspur does: as a "vile politician"
who calculated every move up the ladder of success, and manipulated his friends and his country into making him king. Or you can see Henry as the beneficiary of
irresistible political forces: a good politician who knew how to take advantage
of opportunity and who understood how to use power most effectively.
Even though Henry is a usurper, he wants to unite his kingdom and uphold her laws.
He may not be a legal king, but he's a better ruler than Richard.
- PRINCE HAL
Hal is the Prince of Wales, Henry's son and heir. When Henry dies Hal will inherit
the crown, and rule England as King Henry V. But to his father, Hal doesn't seem
like much of an heir. Instead of living at court and helping his father govern England,
Hal carouses in the taverns of Eastcheap with a band of drunkards and petty thieves.
Like his father, Hal wasn't born to be a king. When he was twelve, Henry usurped the
throne from King Richard, and Hal suddenly found himself next in line to be king.
Immediately after Henry's coronation Hal moved into the tavern world, to drink and
joke with Falstaff, and to rob for him. Hal tells you early on that he's only pretending
to be dissolute, and intends to stage a stunning reformation of character that will
make him look even better to the eyes of the unexpecting court. This may sound like
an excuse, but when war breaks out Hal does leave the tavern world, and returns to the
court to fight with his father against the Percies.
Whereas Henry never seems at ease anywhere, Hal is equally at home in court and tavern.
At Shrewsbury he fights like a perfect knight, with great courage and magnanimity.
In the tavern he mingles easily with the commoners, and even the lowly waiters hail him as the "king of courtesy." As a nobleman aged about twenty, Hal has been trained
in the arts of chivalry, good manners, and military skills. But he's still learning
the art of being a prince. Some readers believe Hal goes to the tavern to escape
his new serious responsibilities. Others think that he goes there to adjust to his new
role, and learn something about the lives of the people he will one day have to govern.
Hal has inherited Henry's flair for politics, as his plan for a spectacular "reformation"
shows. Unlike Henry, Hal will inherit an untainted crown. The combination of political
skill and rightful claim will make Hal the perfect king.
Most readers judge Hal as a person, not as a king, and find him lacking on several
counts. He's cold and detached from his companions, whom he vows to banish. He uses
people for personal advantage, whether as part of his self-help course in kingship
or for sheer amusement. He enjoys cruel practical jokes. Honor is a commodity to Hal, something
he must win for his kingly image, not something he feels is necessary for leading
a virtuous life. His favorite imagery is borrowed from the accounting profession.
He counts men's attributes like coins in a change purse. His behavior toward people
is capricious: One moment he promises them the earth, the next he cruelly upbraids
Other readers sympathize with Hal, recognizing that a prince is different from other
men. We may value spontaneity and warmth in our friends, but we require sensible
planning and a cool head in our leaders. When asked to join a highway robbery, Hal
dispassionately weighs the pros and cons of the scheme before agreeing to participate. He
learns about vice from Falstaff, but ultimately he rejects the criminal life as completely
as he rejects Hotspur's wild romanticism. Hal seems more in control of himself than anyone else in this play. Every other character makes grand promises he doesn't
keep. Hal promises to fight loyally for his father, and he does. He promises to
win honor from Hotspur in battle, and he does. In a world given to lying and stealing,
Hal proves he's no counterfeit, but a true prince of England.
Northumberland's son Hotspur is often seen as the romantic hero of this play. Many
readers respond to him more than to the cool, enigmatic Hal. Even King Henry wishes
Hotspur were his son. The very embodiment of military courage and virtue, Hotspur
is a quick-tempered, energetic young man whose straightforward approach to life is both
attractive and dangerous.
On one hand, Hotspur is a knight in shining armor whose reckless and passionate nature
makes him more attractive than the calculating, hypocritical politicians who surround
Hotspur is completely dedicated to winning honor, but this blinds him to many realities.
He values honor more than his own life. He's impatient with anyone who can't understand
his devotion to an ideal of knightly behavior; he ridicules Hal's tavern life, and scoffs at Glendower's interest in magic. To Hotspur, anything less than winning
honor is a waste of time. Politicians enrage him with their endless talk and compromises.
He dreams of being the greatest knight on earth, and challenges anyone who claims to be his rival in battle.
Hotspur's thirst for battle is self-destructive; he pursues honor like an addict.
He allows events to give him direction without stopping to think about the consequences
of his actions. Once he's committed to a cause, nothing and no one can stand in his
way. Northumberland despairs of Hotspur's rash nature, and fears his son might ruin
their plans. He refuses to listen to good counsel, and his overconfidence blinds
him to the guile or weakness of others. He may love his wife, but he doesn't trust
her to keep quiet about the rebellion plans. At Shrewsbury he refuses to wait for reinforcements
and dies a fanatic's death, as a pawn in Worcester's political game.
King Henry sees Hotspur as a model for Prince Hal. Henry sees himself in Hotspur-
both are rebels against a king, both are ambitious and capable of leading great political
revolutions. But both Henry and Hotspur fail to see their moral impostures. Falstaff and Hal alone see through Hotspur's glamorous facade: Hotspur's dead body is simply
a warehouse of honor from which Falstaff can steal a good military reputation and
Hal can steal the honor he requires for kingship.
Hotspur is called the "king of honor," but can a rebel and a traitor be a king? His
own uncle Worcester accuses him of "apprehending a world of figures"; is this a man
you'd want as a leader of real men? Hotspur may be heroic, but he's misguided by
his family and too narrow in his thinking. He dashes off on a quest for military glory, and
rushes his country into civil war because of a personal insult. In this play Shakespeare
is trying to define what makes a good king. Hotspur may be an attractive person,
but when we judge his leadership qualities, he falls short.
Sir John Falstaff, knight of the realm and stealer of purses, is an endless stream
of contradictions. You can't sum him up in a capsule description; he seems to evade
categorization as deftly as he evades Hal's verbal traps. He changes roles and moral
postures as easily and as often as anyone else changes clothes.
He's old and young; fat and limber; cowardly and fearless; sinful and virtuous. Falstaff
is a liar, a drunkard, and a thief- but he's a brilliant conversationalist, well
educated in the Bible and classical and contemporary Elizabethan literature.
Although clothed in a mountain of fat, Falstaff seems to strip the world naked, and
laughs at the court's pretensions about abstract ideals like honor and good government.
He mocks all the serious pursuits in the play- honor, law and order, reasonableness, and justice. He even makes himself look ridiculous, and then asks you to agree that
his view of the world is great fun.
Falstaff's name is a contraction of the words "false staff," which can mean a cracked
or brittle cane, and a misleader. A false leader is a counterfeit king. Falstaff
is King Henry's comical counterpart who distorts Henry's royal image like the trick
mirrors in a carnival funhouse. Whereas Henry symbolizes authority and civil order, images
of disorder cluster around Falstaff- anarchy, gluttony, and falseness surround the
old knight like dancing figures of the Seven Deadly Sins.
Falstaff is also a substitute father for Hal. He preaches a kind of revolutionary
politics to the young prince. Falstaff begs Hal to make thieves respectable, and
to abolish capital punishment. He tries to tempt Hal into committing highway robbery.
But Hal refuses to be corrupted by Falstaff's temptations. He calls Falstaff a "villainous
abominable misleader of youth" and "that old white-bearded Satan." He banishes Falstaff
and his reign of misrule.
Falstaff's view of life is realistic and hard. He sees that friends are disloyal
and money is hard to come by. The reality of war is that men are killed. It's easier
to sin than to pursue the pious virtues of a devout Christian. These opinions are
cynical perhaps, but Falstaff tempers his harsh view of life with good-natured enthusiasm.
When confronted with adversity, Falstaff understands that a good hearty laugh is
healthier than crippling anxiety, such as that which plagues humorless King Henry.
[Henry IV, Part 1 Contents]
The setting for the play is England. There are seven scenes in London and seven scenes
at Shrewsbury. There are also two scenes in Rochester and one each at York, Wales,
and Warkworth Castle in Northumberland. As you can see from a map, the action covers almost the entire country. You also move through different kinds of social settings.
In London you spend time at the king's palace and in a tavern in Eastcheap. You pass
along roads leading from Dover to London and from London to Shrewsbury by way of
Coventry. You hear about Henry's landing at Ravenspur and his meeting with the Percies
at Doncaster. You visit a hotel in Rochester and a mysterious castle in Wales. You
hear about battles along the Scottish and Welsh borders.
England becomes more than a physical setting; it is almost like another character.
You are shown how much her welfare depends on power and political wisdom. You are
shown how important it is for a king-to-be to know all levels of life in England.
The time period of the play is the early fifteenth century- June 1402 to July 1403
to be exact- but the characters onstage really are drawn from the late sixteenth
century- 1596-97, when Shakespeare wrote the play. Each character has his own sense
of time. Hotspur burns it, Falstaff wastes it, King Henry worries about its passing, and Prince
Hal carefully counts and measures it. This elastic sense of time is matched by Shakespeare's
flexible sense of historical time in drama; he compresses the events of one year into a timespan that seems to amount to no more than a few weeks. Some scenes,
especially those at court, are tense and brisk; others, such as the tavern scenes,
roll along easily, taking all the time in the world.
Many themes run through Henry IV, Part 1. The following are some of the most important.
- A STUDY OF HISTORY
Shakespeare is dramatizing an important and insecure period of English history, when
King Henry IV's reign was plagued by civil rebellions, and Prince Hal's dissolute
behavior brought the safety of the succession into question. In the 1590s Elizabeth,
old and childless, was in danger of dying without an heir. If the wrong candidate was
chosen, England was bound to erupt into civil war. Shakespeare turned to King Henry
IV's time to examine the issue of authority and rebellion so crucial for his own
- AUTHORITY AND REBELLION
In Shakespeare's time it was taken for granted that a king had absolute authority
over his country. But if the king does not rule by hereditary right then political
power becomes important- how to win it and how to use it. The question of how to
maintain order also becomes crucial, because the king's authority may not be accepted by everyone.
When treason threatens the court, all of England is thrown into doubt and confusion.
The very harmony between man and nature seems to be affected, and brother fights brother in an endless struggle for power.
- THE EDUCATION OF A PRINCE
As King Henry V, Hal will be called "the mirror of all Christian kings." Prince Hal's
education in becoming the perfect king is portrayed in this play. He must steer a
course between Hotspur's virtues and Falstaff's vices, and satisfy the double demands
of royal authority and political power.
- A PORTRAIT OF ENGLAND
Although the events of the play took place in 1403, the characters are modeled on
Elizabethan men and women. You hear or see a cross-section of Shakespeare's own
society: thieves, prostitutes, ballad-singers, innkeepers, scolding wives, apprentices,
carriers, merchants, pilgrims, magicians, sheriffs, soldiers, lords, ladies, and royal
princes. You see the Welsh and the Scots as well as the English. You learn about
Elizabethan food and drink and their prices; you learn about Elizabethan political
conferences, transportation, communications networks, military weapons, and plays. These all
contribute to a rich and lively picture of Elizabethan daily life.
The Pursuit of honor is one of the characters' chief motivations. Hotspur seeks military
glory and fame above all else, and recklessly gives up his life to save his honor.
His courage is thrilling, but his single-mindedness blinds him to the weaknesses
of others. Prince Hal seems to lack honor; he strays from court and robs for sport.
He speaks of honor as a mere commodity. Yet he shows true honor later; he is valiant
in battle and generous toward both friends and enemies. Falstaff, on the other hand,
scoffs at honor itself. He prefers to live in sin rather than die for honor. But Falstaff
doesn't scoff at the rewards of honor. Like Hotspur, he's ambitious to win titles
and respect. Falstaff, who steals for a living, cheats to win honor at Shrewsbury.
Yet, though his friends call him a coward, his brilliant wit and expansive view of humanity
win him another kind of respect.
These different uses for honor lead you to wonder what honor's ultimate value really
is. People talk a lot about it, but what place can honor have in a world ruled by
a usurper, where a rebel is called the king of honor?
Trying to decide what's real or counterfeit, true or false, is one of the major concerns
of the play. Characters ask each other, and you, to decide on the accuracy of news
and reports, on different versions of history, and on the reality of a man's reputation.
The idea of counterfeiting is bound up in the king's usurpation of the crown- since
his claim is dubious, all other claims for authenticity begin to be doubted. The
idea is emphasized in the imagery of stolen and cracked crowns (both the coins and
the symbol of kingship) that are passed off as being legal and legitimate.
- FATHERS AND SONS
Throughout the ages fathers have wanted their sons to emulate them, and sons have
displeased their fathers by showing independence of mind. Each son in this play has
two fathers- one natural and one moral. Henry is Hal's natural father, and Falstaff
is Hal's moral father. Whom shall Hal imitate? The false king or the thieving knight? Hotspur
has two fathers- Northumberland, who scolds Hotspur's quick temper, and Worcester,
who leads him into rebellion and lies to him to protect his own life. Whom should
he follow? Should the sons imitate their fathers, or are they right to reject them
as models and pursue their own courses of action, no matter what the consequences
The worlds of the court and the tavern speak in different styles: The court characters
use stately verse, and the commoners in the tavern world use lively prose. Hal,
because he spans both worlds, is the only character to speak in both styles.
Shakespeare's writing style manages to sound realistic in both Poetry and prose.
His characters sound like real people with vivid imaginations. Shakespeare varies
the stresses and sound of the words and the length of sentences to create different
kinds of verbal music, which gives you an illusion of real speech.
POINT OF VIEW
The structure of the play is episodic; that is, scenes do not follow one line of action,
but alternate from one set of characters to another. This allows two plots to develop
at the same time, with connections and contrasts between them drawn continually. One plot concerns the Percies' rebellion against Henry; the second plot concerns
Falstaff's life in the tavern with Prince Hal. The tavern scenes mirror the court
scenes: Whatever happens in one plot, happens in the other but on a different scale.
Individual characters, too, are contrasted in pairs. Hotspur and Falstaff, Henry and
Hal, Henry and Falstaff, Hal and Hotspur, Worcester and Falstaff, are the most important
character contrasts. They parody each other and thus you can see how they see each other. Hal parodies Hotspur and Henry; Hotspur parodies Henry, Glendower, and the
king's messenger; Falstaff parodies Henry and a host of other men.
SOURCES AND ROYAL LINEAGE
The outline of the historical events in the play may be found in Raphael Holinshed's
1587 edition of The Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (first published
in 1577). This massive compilation of fact, legend, hearsay, and moralizing was
a popular Elizabethan source for England's history from its beginnings to the middle of the
sixteenth century. In his account of Henry IV's reign, Holinshed stresses the difficulties
Henry had trying to govern the kingdom as a usurper. Shakespeare rearranged the sequence of some of the incidents to give them more dramatic impact.
Shakespeare also turned to Samuel Daniel's epic-length poem, The First Four Books
of the Civil Wars Between the Two Houses of Lancaster and York (published in 1595).
Daniel unified Holinshed's rambling account of the Percy rebellion, emphasizing the
immoral basis of King Henry's reign. Shakespeare followed Daniel in changing Hal's and
Hotspur's ages so that both men are young. (The real Hal was 16 when Hotspur was
36.) Daniel also gave Shakespeare precedent for having Hal kill Hotspur at Shrewsbury.
(There's no historical evidence that it happened that way.)
Stories about Prince Hal's wild youth began to circulate shortly after his death.
An anonymous play called The Famous Victories of King Henry V, which was most likely
written before 1588, was published in 1598. There Shakespeare probably found his
models for Hal's tavern companions, the highway robbery, the tavern play, and Henry's concern
over his dissolute son.
All languages change. Differences are apparent even between parents and their children.
If language can change in only one generation, imagine how different the English
used by Shakespeare some four hundred years ago will be from the English you use
today. The following information on Shakespeare's language will make it easier for you
to understand Henry IV, Part 1.
Adjectives, nouns, and verbs were less rigidly confined to grammatical roles in Shakespeare's
day. Verbs could be used as adjectives, such as christen, for which you would today
say "Christian," as in "...and can call them all by their christen names, / as Tom, Dick, and Francis" (II, iv, 7-8). Adjectives could be used as adverbs. In "Here
is a dear, a true industrious friend" (I, i, 63), true means "truly" or "loyally."
Grievous is used for "grievously" in "He cannot come, my lord, he is grievous sick"
(IV, i, 17).
Wordplay often involved the use of a word from two parts of speech. For example,
Falstaff uses cold as a verb meaning "trick," and colt meaning "horse" is used as
a verb by Prince Hal:
Falstaff: What a plague mean ye to colt me thus?
Prince: Thou liest; thou art not colted, thou art uncolted.
(II, ii, 37-39)
The meanings of words undergo changes; chip extended its meaning from a small piece
of wood to a small piece of silicon, for example. Many of the words in Shakespeare
still exist today, but their meanings have changed. The change may be small, as in
the case of suddenly meaning "at once" or "immediately," in: "Well, I'll repent, and that
suddenly, while I am in some liking..." (III, iii, 5-6). Or the change can be important.
Doubt means "strongly suspect" or "fear," starve means "die," trick means "characteristic," wanton means "luxuriant," and advertisement means "information."
Words not only change their meanings, they are frequently discarded from the language
altogether. In the past leman meant "sweetheart" and sooth meant "truth." The following
are some of the words used in Henry IV that are no longer in current English (you can usually figure them out from their contexts):
- MINION (I, i, 85):
- SACK (I, ii, 3):
- LEAPING HOUSES (I, ii, 9):
- QUIDDITIES (I, ii, 46):
- GIB-CAT (I, ii, 76):
- castrated tomcat
- COZENING (I, ii, 114):
- HARDIMENT (I, iii, 103):
- valor, courage
- CORRIVAL (I, iii, 217):
- associate, partner
- BOTS (II, i, 9):
- intestinal worms
- JORDAN (II, i, 19):
- FRANKLIN (II, i, 54):
- man with freehold land
- SQUIRE (II, ii, 13):
- measure, measuring instrument
- COLT (II, ii, 38):
- MANAGE (II, iii, 50):
- HEST (II, iii, 63):
- MAMMETS (II, iii, 97):
- SKINKER (II, iv, 24):
- one who draws wine, bartender
- NETHERSTOCKS (II, iv, 117):
- BOMBAST (II, iv, 331):
- cotton stuffing
- BOMBARD (II, iv, 457):
- wine vessel
- CRESSETS (III, i, 16):
- BOOTLESS (III, i, 74):
- CATES (III, i, 175):
- BATE (III, iii, 2):
- lose weight
- ANCIENTS (IV, ii, 24):
- OWE (V, ii, 77):
Shakespearean verb forms differ from modern usage in two main ways. Questions and
negatives could be formed without using do or did, as when Hotspur asks his wife
in Act II, Scene iii, line 100: "What sayest thou, Kate?" where today you would
say: "What do you say, Kate?" In the same speech Hotspur tells her: "I love thee not; / I care
not for thee, Kate" (94-96) where instead you would say: "I don't love you; I don't
care for you."
A number of past participles and past tense forms that were used then are considered
ungrammatical today. Among them are holp for "helped": "...which our own hands Have
holp to make so portly" (I, iii, 12-13); set for "seated":
Prince: Well, here I am set.
Falstaff: And here I stand.
(II, iv, 444-45)
and forgot for "forgotten": "If that the king / Have any way your good deserts forgot" (IV, iii, 52-53).
Shakespeare and his contemporaries had the extra pronoun thou, which was used to address
a person who was one's equal or social inferior. Frequently, a person in power used
thou to a child or subordinate, but was addressed you in return. For example, in
Act II, Scene iii, lines 78-79, when Lady Percy speaks to Hotspur:
Lady Percy: But hear you, my lord.
Hotspur: What sayest thou, my lady?
You was obligatory if more than one person was being addressed: "I know you all, and
will awhile uphold / The unyoked humor of your idleness." (I, ii, 200-201). It could
also be used to indicate respect, as in Act I, Scene iii, line 24, when the Earl
of Northumberland addresses the king: "Those prisoners in your Highness' name demanded...."
There is one more pronominal reference that you should know about. King Henry uses
the royal we to stress his sovereignty, as in "Then this remains, that we divide
our power." (V, v, 35).
Prepositions were less standardized in Elizabethan English than they are today. You'll
find several uses in Henry IV that you would have to modify in your contemporary
speech. Among them are on for "to," in "the victory fell on us"; with for "by," in
"Thence to be wrenched with an unlineal hand"; of for "from," in "For of no right, nor
color like to right"; and on for "of," in "enamored on his follies."
Contemporary English allows only one negative per statement. If you said, "I haven't
none" you would be considered ungrammatical. But Shakespeare often used two or more
negatives for emphasis, as in Act III, Scene i, line 127, when Glendower tells Hotspur: "No, nor you shall not" and in Act III, Scene iii, lines 115-117, when Falstaff tells
the hostess: "There's no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune, / nor no more
truth in thee than in a drawn fox."
Don't worry if all this seems confusing. Most of the language is clear as you read
the play, and almost every edition includes a glossary.
THE AUTHOR AND HIS TIMES
[Henry IV, Part 1 Contents] [PinkMonkey.com]
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