English 304: Shakespeare: Major Plays (Prof. Boyer)
Reading Questions for Henry IV, Part 1
(Keyed to The Norton Shakespeare)
The best beginning procedure is always to familiarize yourself with the cast of characters and then to read the play (or at least an act or a scene) all the way through so that you know what's happening. The notes can help if you're stuck, but try to get the big picture of a scene before getting bogged down in details. Read through, then go back and clear up details. Then you're ready to think about the questions.

Background
Act 1
Act 2
Act 3
Act 4
Act 5
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BACKGROUND

King Edward III (reigned 1327-1377) had too many sons. His eldest son, Edward, a leader in Edward III's wars against France (the first phase of the Hundred Years' War) died a year before his father, so Edward III was succeeded in 1377 by his young grandson, Richard II. Shakespeare's play Richard II covers the last years of Richard II's reign. For reasons that aren't important here, Richard exiles Henry Bolingbroke, son of Edward III's fourth son, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. When John of Gaunt dies, Richard confiscates his estates, denying Bolingbroke his rightful inheritance. Bolingbroke returns to seek his inheritance while Richard is trying to subdue Ireland, and when Richard returns he quickly capitulates and abdicates, leaving Bolingbroke as the first Lancastrian king, Henry IV. Soon thereafter Richard is killed, although Henry denies that he knew about it. The play ends with Henry IV saying "I'll make a voyage to the Holy Land / To wash this blood off from my guilty hand" (5.6.49-50). Henry's son Prince Hal does not appear in Richard II, but King Henry says:

Can no man tell me of my unthrifty son?
'Tis full three months since I did see him last.
If any plague hang over us, 'tis he.
I would to God, my lords, he might be found.
Enquire at London 'mongst the taverns there,
For there, they say, he daily doth frequent
With unrestrainèd loose companions--
Even such, they say, as stand in narrow lanes
And beat our watch and rob our passengers--
Which he, young wanton and effeminate boy,
Takes on the point of honour to support
So dissolute a crew. (5.3.1-12)

The wildness of Prince Hal (and his "miraculous" change into one of England's great hero-kings) was well known to Shakespeare's audience.

A note on the spelling of Owen Glendower's name: The Norton Shakespeare uses the Welsh spelling of Owen Glendower's name. These notes use the more traditional spelling.

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ACT 1

1.1

1.

What is the mood of the opening of the play? What does the King plan to do, and what has he done about it so far? What news keeps him from carrying out this plan?

2.

What has happened in Wales (1.1.37-46)? What does the detail about the Welsh women do to our image of the Welsh?

3.

What has happened in Scotland (1.1.49-75)? Why does this make King Henry think of his own son (1.1.77-90)? What has Hotspur ("young Percy") told the King about the Scottish prisoners? How does Westmoreland explain this?

1.2

1.

We meet Prince Hal and his companion Sir John Falstaff.. What do you make of their language? It's a good idea to try reading it aloud.

2.

In the first part of the scene (1.2.1-93), what sort of person is Falstaff? What does he consider his "vocation" to be? What future event is he looking forward to? What does he expect will happen then? What job does Hal offer him when Hal becomes king? Does the Hal we see here match the description of him we've been given?

3.

What news does Poins bring with him when he arrives at 1.2.94? What does he propose to Falstaff (1.2.94-141)? How does Hal respond? (Note that Gadshill is a person, perhaps named after Gads Hill, a hill on the London road near Rochester. The same Gads Hill shows up in literature about 250 years later as the site of Charles Dickens' home.)

4.

Once Falstaff leaves at 1.2.141, what does Poins suggest to Hal, and how does Hal respond (1.2.142-172)? What seems to be the real selling point for Hal?

5.

How does Hal's soliloquy (1.2.173-195) change our image of him? Read this speech carefully. How do the language and form of the speech differ from the rest of the scene? What is Hal saying in this speech, and what images is he using? Do you agree with lines 182-183? How well is Hal going to be able to carry out this plan? Is he truly in control, or is this an equivalent of Mark Twain's "I can quit smoking whenever I want to. I've done it a thousand times"?

1.3

1.

What is the King's attitude at the beginning of 1.3? How does Worcester respond to what the King is telling him? What does the King tell Worcester to do (1.3.14)? Why?

2.

Who are Northumberland, Worcester, and Hotspur and how are they related? (Look at the list of characters on p. 1157, and note the relationship identified in 1.3.136.)

3.

What different versions of the story of Hotspur's prisoners do we get in 1.3.22-79? What sort of person is Hotspur?

4.

How is the issue of Mortimer related to the issue of the prisoners (1.3.76-122)? What different versions of the Mortimer story do we get? Who is Glendower (remember 1.1.34-46)? What is now the relationship between Glendower and Mortimer? (Note in the list of characters on p. 1157 that Mortimer's title is Earl of March, which refers to the English frontier with Wales. And note that Lady Percy, Hotspur's wife, is Mortimer's sister. Remember Worcester and Northumberland, add the Scots, and you've got King Henry's enemies for this play.)

5.

What happens when Hotspur, Northumberland, and Worcester are alone (1.3.123-254)? What are Northumberland and Worcester trying to do? How cooperative is Hotspur? What do we learn about Mortimer in lines 143-155? How does King Henry compare to King Richard to these men (1.3.156-174)? As we will learn more clearly later in the play, Worcester, Northumberland, and Hotspur were the first supporters of Bolingbroke when he returned from exile to claim his title and estates as Duke of Lancaster.

6.

What is Worcester trying to do in lines 185-254? (See lines 185-191.) How cooperative is Hotspur? What do we learn about his character and behavior in this portion of the scene? Does it match the picture we got of him earlier in the scene? Note especially lines 197-208 and Hotspur's idea about using a starling (lines 218-224).

7.

Once Worcester finally gets Hotspur's attention at line 255, what does Worcester propose (1.3.255-296)? What other plotter is mentioned? (See lines 263-270. Don't worry--except for a brief appearance in 4.4, York and his plot don't appear until Part 2.)

8.

Looking back at the entire scene 3, what sort of person is Hotspur? How does he compare to his father and uncle? Which of them has the best chance of success in his/their endeavors? Which of these characters do you find most interesting and attractive?

9.

We've now seen the two worlds of the play, the court world of high politics, and the tavern world of Hal and Falstaff, centering on the tavern in Eastcheap (where we get to in 2.5). Actually, it's better to think of three groups of characters: the King and his supporters, the rebels (Hotspur, Worcester, Northumberland, Glendower, and Mortimer), and Hal and his tavern companions.

10.

How many women have we seen in Act 1? How many women have been referred to? What sort of women are they? What does all this suggest about the world of this play?

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ACT 2

2.1

1.

What is happening in the first part of the scene (2.1.1-29)? What happens when Gadshill joins them (1.3.30-44)? The carriers are suspicious of Gadshill--should they be? (Remember 1.2.94-118.) What do you make of the language in this part of the scene?

2.

Who is Robin Ostler and what do we learn about him (1.3.10-12)? Why is he even mentioned?

3.

What does Gadshill learn from the Chamberlain (1.3.46-58)?

4.

Read 1.3.59-76 carefully (especially Gadshill's long speech)? What is Gadshill saying about his companions? Who are they? How does what he says change in lines 73-76? What is he saying about the ruling class of the country? Have we seen anyone yet who might "prey on" the commonwealth"? What happens if you get caught stealing a purse? What happens if you get caught stealing a kingdom? Have we met anyone yet who might be said to have stolen a kingdom? Have we met anyone yet who might be said to want to steal a kingdom?

2.2

1.

How successful is the robbery by Falstaff and the others?

2.3

(2.2 continues in most editions)

1.

How successful is the trick Hal and Poins play on Falstaff and the others?

2.4

(2.3 in most editions)

1.

What do we learn about the rebels' plot in 2.4.1-29? What seems to be the message and attitude of the writer of the letter Hotspur is reading?

2.

From the scene between Hotspur and his wife (2.4.30-108), what do we learn about these two characters? What sort of relationship do they have as man and wife? Does Hotspur love Kate? Does she love him? (If you have read Julius Caesar, you may find this scene similar to the one between Brutus and his wife Portia.)

3

Kate is the first woman we've met in the play? Is she a believable character? How do you like her as a character?

2.5

(2.4 in most editions)

1.

Finally we get to the tavern in Eastcheap (in the heart of London). What has Hal ("Prince") been doing (2.5.1-18)? Why might it be important eventually for Hal to be able to "drink with any tinker in his own language during my life" (17-18) and to "command all the good lads in Eastcheap" (12-13)? In our terms, does this make him a good politician? How would the King react to this accomplishment of Hal's? Keep watching for an emphasis on different kinds of language in the play.

2.

What trick to Hal and Poins play on Francis (2.5.18-75)? How well does it work? Given what we've seen so far in this scene, what does Hal really think of Francis and the other drawers?

3.

What is Hal saying in 2.5.91-102? How does he describe Hotspur and his wife? Does this picture match what we've just seen in 2.4? And notice Hal's interest in having a play (2.5.100-101; also see lines 256-257).

4.

The selling point that got Hal to agree to trick Falstaff was to hear what Falstaff would say about it. Does Hal get what he wanted? How does Falstaff describe his encounter with the thieves (2.5.104-222)?

5.

How does Falstaff respond when Hal and Poins tell him what happened (2.5.223-260)? Who wins in this contest of wits? What really happened (2.5.274-297).

6.

Meanwhile, what has happened to change the direction of the scene (2.5.261-273 and 299-332)? What is the news from court. Have we heard this before?

7.

Since Hal now has to see his father, what do he and Falstaff plan to do next (2.5.333-343)? How well does Falstaff play the King (2.5.344-393)? What advice does this "father" give to Hal about his companions? What does this "father" think of Falstaff? Do you think Hal is going to agree?

8.

Why does Hal "depose" Falstaff and how does Falstaff respond (2.5.394-398)? Is this the first time in the play that we've heard about things like deposing a king?

9.

Next Hal plays his father and Falstaff plays Hal (2.5.399-439). What does this "father" think of Falstaff? How does this "Hal" respond? Is this really Falstaff playing Hal responding, or is it Falstaff himself responding? How does this "Hal" defend Falstaff? Do we accept or reject his arguments in favor of Falstaff? (See especially lines 426-431.) What are "Pharaoh's lean kine" (431) and why are they relevant to Falstaff's argument? (Look them up in Genesis 41.3-4.)

10.

What is Hal's conclusion (2.5.439)? Is this Hal speaking as his father or is he speaking as himself? Is he joking, or is he serious? In the confusion of the knocking, does Falstaff necessarily hear this line? Does Hal want Falstaff to hear it, or is this something Hal is actually only thinking? (Compare 1.2.173-195.)

11.

In the next part of the scene (2.5.440-480), who is at the door? What is Falstaff afraid of, and how does Hal respond? What does Hal tell the sheriff, and what does he promise?

12.

What has happened to Falstaff, and what do Hal and Peto do to him (2.5.481-494)? You may get the joke a little better if you know that there are 12 pence ("d"--don't ask why!) in a shilling ("s") and that "ob." is a halfpenny (penny=pence). (There are 20 shillings in a pound.) So Falstaff has spent 128 pence on rich food and sack (liquor) and only ½ pence on bread.

13.

In lines 494-501, how does the main plot of the play now enter the tavern plot? What does Hal promise to do for Falstaff? Given what we saw of Falstaff on foot in the robbery scene (2..2-2.3), how successful do we expect Falstaff to be as a soldier in charge of a troop of foot soldiers?

14.

How would you describe the relationship between Hal and Falstaff? What does each one get from the relationship? Do Hal and Falstaff see the relationship in the same way? There's lots to think about here.

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ACT 3

3.1

1.

Now we have the rebels together, especially Glendower and Hotspur. How do Hotspur and Glendower react to each other in 3.1.1-66? How effective do you expect this collaboration to be?

2.

What is going on in lines 67-136? How have the rebels arranged to divide their spoils? Does this seem to be a good idea? What does Hotspur object to, and how do the others respond to his idea? What are the military plans (3.1.80-87)? You might find it helpful to look at a map of Britain to understand what the portions look like.

3.

What does Hotspur think of music (3.1.118-131)? And notice how the play's emphasis on language is being echoed here. Remember "I can drink with any tinker in his own language during my life" (2.5.16-17).

4.

What happens when the wives join the men at line 186? What is the problem with Mortimer's marriage to Glendower's daughter? Why does the play only give us stage directions like "The Lady speaks in Welsh" at line 195 instead of giving her words to speak? And notice that here is another example of the idea of language in the play.

5.

How would you compare Hotspur and Kate to Mortimer and his wife? Is Kate's behavior here what you would expect based on her previous appearance (in 2.4)?

3.2

1.

Here is the meeting between Hal and his father that was anticipated in 2.5. Read this meeting, lines 1-161, carefully. What complaints does the King have? How does Hal respond to those complaints?

2.

Are we surprised that a father talks to his son in terms of "When I was your age"? What, according to the King, did the King do right that Hal is doing wrong (3.2.39-91)? Whom does the King say Hal is acting like? To whom does the King compare himself in the past? Is the King's interpretation of Hal's behavior correct? What do we know that the King doesn't know? (Remember "I know you all," 1.2.173-195, and compare the images that Hal uses there, like the sun coming out from behind the clouds, with the images the King uses for his own behavior, especially the comet, 3.2.47, and the sun at line 79.)

3.

What promise does Hal make to his father? (Read 3.2.129-159 carefully.) What is Hal's plan? And note the echo in line 132 of "Redeeming time when men think least I will (1.2.195)? Is the King pleased with Hal's response?

4.

What do you think of Hal at this point? Do you like him or not? Do you think he will be able to do what he promises to do? How different is he really from his father?

5.

What are the King's military plans (3.2.162-180)?

3.3

1.

What concern seems to be on Falstaff's mind in his talk with Bardolph (3.3.1-43)? What is he saying about Bardolph's nose?

2.

What does Falstaff accuse the Hostess of (3.3.44-78)? What do we know about what was actually in Falstaff's pocket? (Remember 2.5.483-494.) What does the Hostess accuse Falstaff of? How does Falstaff respond to her accusation?

3.

How does Hal resolve these arguments when he arrives (3.3.79-160)? How does Falstaff justify himself (3.3.151-155)? How does this echo Falstaff's language in 3.3.1-43?

4.

What is the news at court (3.3.161-190)? How has Hal handled the results of the robbery? What has he obtained for Falstaff in the war, and how does Falstaff respond (3.3.171-172)? What is Falstaff to do tomorrow (3.3.183-186)? It will be Falstaff's responsibility to obtain his own soldiers by impressing them, a certain number from each community, according to English law. We'll get a report of how he does that 4.2. In Part 2 we actually get to see Falstaff impressing a group of soldiers (2H4 3.2).

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ACT 4

4.1

1.

What information does Hotspur get from his father Northumberland, and how does Hotspur respond to it (4.1.1-85)? Given the reactions of Douglas and Worcester, is Hotspur's response a realistic one?

2.

What is the first bit of news that Vernon brings to Hotspur (4.1.86-93)? What does Hotspur think of Hal, and how does Vernon try to correct his impression (4.1.94-111)? Does this change Hotspur's impression of Hal (4.1.112-124)?

3.

What is the second bit of news that Vernon brings, and how do Hotspur and the others respond to it (4.1.125-137)?

4.2

1.

What does Falstaff tell us about his soldiers and how he got them (4.2.11-42)? How has Falstaff made money off of this adventure? (There are at least two ways.) What does he think his soldiers are good for (4.2.58-60)? Does this cause you to change your opinion about Falstaff? Is this any way to run an army? But would any intelligent army (is there such a thing?) have Falstaff as an officer?

2.

How do Hal and Westmoreland respond to Falstaff's soldiers (4.2.43-73)?

4.3

1.

What are Hotspur, Worcester, Douglas, and Vernon arguing about at the beginning of the scene (4.3.1-31)?

2.

What offer does Sir Walter Blunt bring from the King (4.3.32-53)?

3.

What complaints does Hotspur articulate (4.3.54-107)? Why do the rebels feel that the King has not dealt honestly with them? (What we hear from Hotspur is his interpretation of key events that Shakespeare portrayed in Richard II.)

4.

Is this the answer the rebels want Blunt to take to the King (4.3.108-115)?

4.4

1.

What is the Archbishop of York doing? What does he expect to happen in the battle? Why does he feel the need to make plans? How much faith does he have that Hotspur can defeat the King? (Remember that the Archbishop of York was mentioned at 1.3.263-270, and he'll be mentioned again at the very end of the play, 5.5.35-45. Shakespeare is setting things up for Part 2.)

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ACT 5

5.1

1.

How does the King greet Worcester (5.1.9-21)? In the following exchange (5.1.22-29), what is the effect of Falstaff's comment at line 28? Does it change the tone of the scene? As you read the scene, consider the effect of having Falstaff on stage the entire time.

2.

How does Worcester justify the rebellion (5.1.30-71)? Is this essentially the same version of events we heard in 4.3? What is the effect of repeating it here?

3.

How does the King respond (5.1.72-82)? How is this reaction to a "story" similar to his reaction at 1.3.76-91 and 112-122? How good a king is Henry IV based on what we've seen?

4.

What does Hal propose (5.1.83-100)? Why does the King reject Hal's proposal (5.1.101-103)? What might the King expect to happen?

5.

What offer does the King make to Worcester and the rebels (5.1.103-114)? Is this a wise move?

6.

What do Hal and the King think will happen (5.1.115-120)?

7.

What is the nature of the brief exchange between Hal and Falstaff (5.1.121-126)? How does Falstaff respond to the mention of "debt" (5.1.127-129)?

8.

Read Falstaff's famous discussion of honor carefully (5.1.129-139). What is Falstaff's understanding of honor? Is this just a coward's version of something he doesn't understand? Is there some truth to what he says? Does that mean that honor is always a bad thing? Remember that we've heard Hotspur talk a lot about honor, especially at 1.3.199-206, but also see 4.1.1-10.

5.2

1.

Why won't Worcester tell Hotspur about the King's offer (5.2.1-27)? What is Worcester saying about his motive in lines 16-23? What does this do to your estimation of Worcester? What is the effect of having this exchange take place immediately after Falstaff's speech on honor?

2.

What does Worcester actually tell Hotspur, and how does Hotspur respond (5.2.28-44)? How does Hotspur respond to Hal's challenge to single combat (5.2.45-50)?

3.

Again Vernon praises Hal (5.2.51-68; compare 4.1.97-111). What is the effect of these descriptions of Hal? How does Hotspur respond (5.2.69-78)? What does Hotspur mean in line 77?

4.

What is the effect of having Hotspur not read the letters brought by the Messenger at line 79? What might be in those letters? What has been in the letters we've already seen Hotspur receive (in 2.3 and 4.1)?

5.

What is the effect of Hotspur's last speech (5.2.90-100)?

5.3

1.

Why does Douglas attack Sir Walter Blunt, and what happens in that fight (5.3.1-13)? What does Hotspur then tell Douglas, and how does Douglas respond (5.3.14-29)?

2.

What happens when Falstaff finds Blunt's body (5.3.30-34)? What has happened to Falstaff's soldiers (5.3.35-37)?

3.

What happens when Hal asks to borrow Falstaff's sword (5.3.39-54)? How does Hal respond to Falstaff now? Does this suggest a new Hal?

4.

How does Falstaff respond (5.3.55-59)? How do you feel about Falstaff and what he says now? Is Falstaff wrong when he says "Give me life" (line 58)?

5.4

1.

How are Hal and his brother Prince John doing in the battle (5.4.1-23)?

2.

What happens when Douglas fights the King (5.4.24-42)? How do the King and Hal respond (5.4.43-57)?

3.

Finally Hal and Hotspur meet, an encounter both of them have wanted (5.4.58-73)? What happens? (Make sure you look closely at the stage direction after Falstaff's short speech at 5.4.74-75, but forget the stage direction that says Falstaff "falls down as if he were dead." Instead, think of what you would see if you were in the audience.)

4.

How does Hotspur respond to his wound, and how does Hal treat the dead Hotspur (5.4.76-100)? Hal has now done what he promised to his father at 3.2.132-159. What is the effect of having Hal complete Hotspur's last sentence?

5.

How does Hal respond when he sees Falstaff apparently dead (5.4.101-109)? Is this a fitting epitaph given the relationship between Hal and Falstaff that we've seen? Again, treat this scene as if you were watching it--all you saw was Douglas attack Falstaff and Falstaff fall.

6.

That makes Falstaff's rise at line 110 all the more surprising. It's almost as if Falstaff here is some sort of life force that cannot be killed. What do you think an audience's reaction would be when he gets up?

7.

What specifically does Falstaff respond to when he gets up? Read his speech (5.4.110-125) carefully. What, according to Falstaff, is a counterfeit? We've had the idea of counterfeiting before in the play, as both playacting and coining. Even Northumberland's illness sort of sounds like a counterfeit one, and we've seen at least one counterfeit king--Sir Walter Blunt. To the rebels, even Henry IV is a counterfeit king. What thematic importance might the idea of counterfeit have for the play? Given what Hal says in his soliloquy at the end of 1.2, is he a counterfeit?

8.

What does Falstaff do to Hotspur's body, and why (5.4.118-125)? What will he claim?

9.

How does Hal respond to seeing Falstaff alive (5.4.126-133)? What does Falstaff say about killing Percy (5.4.134-146)? What does Falstaff expect as a reward (lines 135-137)?

10.

What does Hal tell Falstaff in lines 150-151? Who will people believe killed Hotspur? (In Part 2, people are afraid of Falstaff because of his reputation as the killer of Hotspur.) What about line 149? Do real noblemen carry dead bodies? Do they even carry their own suitcases?

11.

In his last soliloquy (5.4.155-157), what does Falstaff say he will do if he "grow[s] great" (that is, becomes a nobleman)? Have we heard this sort of language from him before?

5.5

1.

What happens to Worcester and Vernon (5.5.1-15)? What happens to Douglas (5.5.16-33)? What's next (5.5.35-45)?

2.

And so the Hotspur-Hal contest has been resolved. Has the contest between Falstaff and the King over who is Hal's "father" been resolved yet? What do you expect the ultimate outcome to be?

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