Analysis of Shakespeare's King Henry IV Part I

253 views 8 pages ~ 2141 words
Get a Custom Essay Writer Just For You!

Experts in this subject field are ready to write an original essay following your instructions to the dot!

Hire a Writer


Among Shakespeare’s plays, Henry IV, Part I is still among his most popular works even in the modern day society. Believed to have been written no later than 1597 (Cliff Notes), the play clearly illustrates cultural and historical events in England, integrating comic sub plots while still relaying powerful factual messages. It deals with keeping audience entertained and excited whilst educated. It brings out historical events similar to his other works such as Raphael Holinshed’s The Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (Mazzeno). In his work, Shakespeare was able to show patriotic events of the English History, altering and enhancing historical material to achieve a successful creation of art enriched with dramas. This is very evident in the case of Henry IV, part I.

Analysis of Shakespeare's King Henry IV, Part I

This essay clearly analyses the Shakespeare’s King Henry IV, part I, basically examining some key themes ranging from, Relations to modern day, Honor, Leadership, Family values, Marriage and Gender. In a similar way, it looks at some style adopted by the writer in the play and their significances.

Main Discussion

Getting into political leadership in the modern day society, consumes a lot of energy, time resources and above all wisdom and wit. The level of democracy has matured so much and unlike in ancient England, people now have structures and constitutions to govern them. The royal family in England still exists, however, there still exists a formal governing structure that comprises of elected Members of Parliament under the leadership of the Prime Minister. In ancient England, becoming a King was not so easy and even harder, was maintaining the position. Ascending to power was often more characterized by wars and bloodsheds. The difference concerns to the fact that in today’s world, ascent to leadership is first of all the battle of wit while theirs was a battle of might. Succession was male oriented and followed by very strict rules and regulations. People believed a lot in the concept of divine King, where certain blood lines were believed to possess God’s anointing to rule over the others. A father was responsible for passing the mantle of leadership to the first born son, for the families’ legacy, honor and continuity. For the well-up, this meant passing over the chariots, horses and all the wealth while for the Kings, it was the Kingdom.

Analysis of Henry IV, Part I

In Henry IV, part I, the play opens with King Henry anticipation for unity and ending of the war that have for a long time engulfed the Kingdom. He brings out the fate of one whose leadership was gained unrightfully and against the normal divine ordinance. He is t confused that he is running out of time and needs to go for a holy pilgrimage to the holy city of Jerusalem to repent and have an atonement for his sins. In this act we see Henry IV, a man responsible for the death of the Gods’ anointed King, Richard II, making him a political shrewd with low public goodwill and reduced ability to govern. Despite, this act that is a clear proof of his sinful past, we see a man with good intentions but one who will never know a peaceful reign. At a doctrinal view point, Henry IV appears to suffering for his sins.

Henry’s own son, Harry is well known as Hal comes in as disappointed by his Father. Contrast between Hal and the dedicated and courageous Hotspur is obvious. In the words of Henry IV… In envy that my Lord Northumberland should be the father to so blest a son, A son who is the theme of honor'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 dishonor stain the brow Of my young Harry. O that it could be prov'd, That some night-tripping fairy had exchang'd In cradle-clothes our children where they lay, And call'd mine Percy, his Plantagenet! Then would I have his Harry, and he mine” clearly voices out his disappointment. Hal appears in scene two, as one who loves being in the tavern drinking, interacting with the low lives and teasing the maids. His friend, Falstaff is a clear emblem of riots, deceit, and all vices associated with that class of people.

Hal's Transformation

Despite coming out as disappointed, we cannot fail to see the wisdom that Hal holds. Without doubts, Hal will eventually become more popular king than Henry. He comes in as one who has an adequate knowledge of his subjects and acts as a link between two different worlds i.e. that of the privileged royals and the other of ordinarily citizens. Hal has a tactful nature and is really aware of his game plan. He knows clearly well who he is dining with and what his fate is as the next one to the crown. In his speech (213), Hal describes Falstaff as one devoid of any sense of obligation or responsibility.

Theme of Honor and Leadership

The contrast between Hal and Hotspur brings out a key theme of honor. Hotspur comes out as one true son of his father, one well bred and raised to bring honour to his house. His bravery precedes him. King Henry, on the other hand, rightly disqualifies his son as dishonorable. He even asks, whether he is really appropriate to govern his people as a king. There is a lot of controversy as far as this theme is concerned. For instance, it is practically impossible to talk about honor without rebellion appearing. Hotspur is so fixated with coming out honourable that he even asks for the King’s action. We see a man obsessed with honor his rational power is clouded and thus orchestrating his own downfall. So upset is he with the King’s failure to ransom Mortimer that is unable to listen to the power of reason of his father. His irrational decisions lead him to hasten the battle at Shrewsbury even when he is fully aware of the fact that he is not well prepared.

The existence of Falstaff and Hotspur comes in to help build the face for Hal. For one, Falstaff is a Lyar, and a Coward, a Glutton, and a Buffon, because all these qualities may agree in the same man"(Desai 258). To him, honor comes next to his ability to have a livelihood and make merry. Give me life! Which if I can save, so; if not, honour comes unlook'd for, and there's an end” (Mabillard). Eventually, Hal embraces his fate as the true heir to the throne and changes the literature about him. He fights for his father, a true indication of what an honourable son should do. He even triumphs when he gets to face Hotspur in the battlefield. Hal's absence of commitment offsets anybody picturing him as incapable of facing Hotspur, but in his wisdom, Hal uses Hotspur's obsessions to bring him down.

Role of Women in Marriage and Gender

In a period highly characterized by Chivalry, where principle was to set on customs rules and agreed upon behaviours, men placed loyalty to God, King and Family. Loyalty to God and Family, however, easily superseded that of Kings when his possession to the throne was questioned. In this regard, Hotspur could have easily appeared as a true prove of ideal honor if only he wasn’t blinded by its pursuit.

With honor comes leadership. The theme of leadership is also well featured in the play. Hal comes out as consciously and deliberately treacherous (Gaby 8) but eventually we see that, it is only an act and a training to adequately prepare him for the challenges that are ahead. In that he is well prepared to deal with the diverse characters of his subject. Regular or common human characters are represented by Falstaff. Those people who live their day to day life seeking opportunities for survival and who thrive or suffer as a result of the leadership of the day. Unlike in the modern society, the play brings out the Kingship as the method of leadership embraced then. In spite of that, one thing is common with current governments, in that, those in leadership must figure out ways of ensuring their citizens prosper and thrive under their leadership and adopt key measures to tackle the rebels within. King Henry IV’s main desire was to see the Kingdoms embrace peace. The crisis of succession that is present in the play would have also resonated with an important Elizabethan political issue since at the time it was written, Queen Elizabeth I had no children and no heir (Schmoop Editorial Team).

Theme of Marriage and Women's Role

Another popular theme featured in Henry IV, Part I, is the theme of marriage. The role of a woman is not greatly featured in the play but in those small parts it comes, it is very significant. For one, the institution of marriage is seen as one that softens the men making them weak. Women also appear to be rebellious and delicate in a similar manner deserving attention. Lady Percy feels like she is neglected. Further, she comes out as caring where we see her genuine care. When Hotspur is unable to get sleep she begs of him to come out and confide in her. On the contrary, however, we see masculinity domineering. Men like Hotspur don’t want to appear weak. Hotspur ignores the wife concerns and instead to concentrate on discussing some military information with a servant. A good question would be, what is the position of marriage and the wife for that matter in the face of the husband’s ambitions?

Analysis of Shakespeare's Style

Among some key styles adopted by Shakespeare in the play are; Parallel, Contrast and Symbolism. He integrates symbolism through creation of well-structured parallels and contrasts. A good example of parallel appears between King Henry and his Son Prince Harry. King Henry appears reserved and choosy in the type of people he associates with, while the son is in another world altogether as far as that is concerned. Due to that, we see that King Henry is not all that popular while Hal is well liked and in contact with all levels of the population. Similarly, humor is a key component of the play. The Character Falstaff, actions and comments light up the audience and his presence clearly elucidate the themes featured. For Instance, picturing Falstaff explaining how he was hijacked by a group of villains and his loot taken away is hilarious. Further, we observe Falstaff destroying his sword in order to prove his preposterous story of valiant resistance to attack, when in fact he ran away at the very first sign of danger, as the audience is well aware. Play within a play is evident in the play which inevitably calls into question the simplistic dichotomy between the ‘illusion” of the stage world and the ‘reality’ of the audiences (Boyd 7).


On one level, Henry IV, Part I is a true indication of some modern-day practices and customs. Through the characters, we see contrast between Hotspur and Falstaff, one being such a coward and devoid of honour while the other is quite the opposite, a true believer of honour to a point of madness. Prince Hal, on the other hand is the ultimate successful story and misleads Hotspur to a point of the latter pitying Hal's lack of military inclination. This Juxtaposition, however, is clearly symbolized later in the play when we witness Hotspur’s death due to his unending hunger for honor, while Falstaff lies next to him faking death, exposing his cowardice.

Shakespeare illustrates well that the end defines the means. True nature of honor is finally realized through Hal who comes out as the medium between Falstaff and Hotspur. Hal, unlike Hotspur, lives his life enjoying its diversions and humor, but still well cautious unlike the drunken and cowardly Falstaff. Hal comes out courageous, and very admirable when he defends his father and kingdom from Hotspur, but, in contradistinction to Hotspur, he is wise and avoids friction with his abettors as a result of redundant pride and belligerence.

Works Cited

Boyd, David. "The Player Prince: Hal in Henry Iv, Part I."(n.d.): 7.

Cliff Notes. "King Henry IV, Part 1."2010.

6 February 2018. .

Desai, R.W. Falstaff: A study of his role in Shakespeares's History Plays. Delhi: Doaba House, 1976.

Gaby, Rosemary. "Henry IV, Part I: Critical Reception."Internet Shakespeare Edition (2018): 12-14.

Mabillard, Amanda. "Henry IV, PArt I: General Commentary ."2000 Aug 20. Shakesoeares Online. 7 February 2018.

Mazzeno, Laurence W. ""Henry IV, Part I - Critical Evaluation"Critical Survey of Literature for Students Ed."2010. eNotes.

pdf. 06 January 2018.

Schmoop Editorial Team. "Henry IV, Part I Theme of Power."7 Feb 2018. Schmoop University Inc. 7 February 2018.

November 24, 2023

History Literature


British Empire

Subject area:

Henry IV

Number of pages


Number of words




Writer #



Expertise Henry IV
Verified writer

GeraldKing is an amazing writer who will help you with History tasks. He is the friendliest person who will provide you with explanations because he really wants you to learn. Recommended for your history or anthropology assignments!

Hire Writer

This sample could have been used by your fellow student... Get your own unique essay on any topic and submit it by the deadline.

Eliminate the stress of Research and Writing!

Hire one of our experts to create a completely original paper even in 3 hours!

Hire a Pro