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Henry IV, Part 1
William Shakespeare


THE PLAY

THE PLOT

ACT I

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.

ACT II

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 London.

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 Wales.

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.

ACT III

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.

ACT IV

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 an answer.

At York, the archbishop is very worried because the king's army outnumbers the rebels three to one.

ACT V

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]


THE CHARACTERS

  • 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 them.

    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.

  • HOTSPUR

    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 him.

    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.

  • FALSTAFF

    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]


OTHER ELEMENTS

SETTING

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.

THEMES

Many themes run through Henry IV, Part 1. The following are some of the most important.

  1. 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 age.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. HONOR

    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?

  6. COUNTERFEITING

    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.

  7. 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 may be?

STYLE

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.

ELIZABETHAN ENGLISH

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):
darling

SACK (I, ii, 3):
wine

LEAPING HOUSES (I, ii, 9):
brothels

QUIDDITIES (I, ii, 46):
quibbles

GIB-CAT (I, ii, 76):
castrated tomcat

COZENING (I, ii, 114):
cheating

HARDIMENT (I, iii, 103):
valor, courage

CORRIVAL (I, iii, 217):
associate, partner

BOTS (II, i, 9):
intestinal worms

JORDAN (II, i, 19):
chamberpot

FRANKLIN (II, i, 54):
man with freehold land

SQUIRE (II, ii, 13):
measure, measuring instrument

COLT (II, ii, 38):
trick

MANAGE (II, iii, 50):
horsemanship

HEST (II, iii, 63):
command

MAMMETS (II, iii, 97):
puppets

SKINKER (II, iv, 24):
one who draws wine, bartender

NETHERSTOCKS (II, iv, 117):
stockings

BOMBAST (II, iv, 331):
cotton stuffing

BOMBARD (II, iv, 457):
wine vessel

CRESSETS (III, i, 16):
beacons

BOOTLESS (III, i, 74):
unsuccessful

CATES (III, i, 175):
delicacies

BATE (III, iii, 2):
lose weight

ANCIENTS (IV, ii, 24):
ensigns

OWE (V, ii, 77):
own

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 STORY

THE AUTHOR AND HIS TIMES


ECC [Henry IV, Part 1 Contents] [PinkMonkey.com]

© Copyright 1984 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
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