King henry 4 part 1 summary
King Henry IV, Part 1 by William Shakespeare
I have read this play many times, and--although Shakespeare always shows me something new--this reading gave me little insight and few surprises. I was struck with two parallels, however--one within the play itself, and one within Shakespeares body of work.
First of all, I appreciated the subtle parallels between the Hotspur-Glendower and the Hal-Falstaff scenes. Each young man spends much of his time needling a self-important, older man who is such a windbag that the audience is almost automatically on the young mans side. Hotspur, whom we are inclined to respect because of his high spirits and his achievements as a warrior, is so easily irritated, and carries his own self-regard so close to the surface, that his needling of Glendower--although deserved--seem pointless, rash and injudicious. (It may, in fact, prove fatal, since Glendower fails to come to Hotspurs aid when most needed--a dereliction perhaps precipitated by the younger mans abrasive heckling.) Consequently, although we like Hotspur at the end of the scene as much as we liked him at the beginning, we respect him a good deal less.
Contrast with this the Hal-Falstaff exchanges. Hal, already characterized as a wastrel, punctures Falstaffs pomposity with such a controlled attack of pointed wit that we begin to admire him for his discipline (at least in conversation), and sense that there may be more to him than appears on the surface. In addition, Falstaff--unlike the humorless Glendower--is a worthy opponent, filled with wit and self-awareness, and the fact that Hal can more than hold his own--and keep his temper too--suggests a self-awareness, a deliberately cultivated distance from his degraded surroundings, that prepares us for his eventual transformation just as much as his soliloquy about the sun.
The other parallel--between plays--is closer, but certainly less important. Lady Percy, in her attempts to gain information about the coming rebellion, delivers a speech that is very much like Portias speech to Brutus in similar circumstances. Their conduct afterwards, though, is different. Portia--the stoic Roman--cuts herself in the thigh to prove her ability to keep a secret, but Lady Percy--a hardy warriors bride--tries to break her husbands little finger and force him to talk. (Like I said, this isnt that important, but it is interesting how a great dramatist can use similar materials in support of very different effects.)
Speaking overall, I am once again astonished by the great command of voices that Shakespeare demonstrates in this play. Hotspur, Falstaff, Glendower, Hal and Mistress Quickly all use language in very distinctive ways, and even the casual conversation of the servants in the stable yard is vivid and characteristic. I am also impressed with the expert and seamless blending of poetry with prose, history with comedy, rhetoric with wit.
By the time he wrote Henry IV, Shakespeare could not only do it all, but he knew exactly how--and when--to mix it up. This is indisputably the work of a master.
Henry IV Part 1 Summary
The king is not enjoying his reign. He feels guilty about the removal of Richard and it troubles his conscience. He'd like to go to the Holy Land on crusade to pay penance but there are troubles much nearer to home that need his attention. His reign is threatened by growing opposition from some of the very nobles who helped him to the throne — especially the Percy Family. Wales and Scotland are threatening rebellion as King Richard's nominated heir, Edmund Mortimer looms large on the horizon. King Henry's suspicious, rude and perhaps arrogant treatment of Henry Percy the Earl of Northumberland's son who is known as 'Hotspur' because of his courage and impetuous nature only makes matters worse. King Henry's own heir — his son, Prince Henry also known as Harry and Hal - is living a dissolute life, frequenting the taverns of Eastcheap in the company of Sir John Falstaff and other disreputable characters.
A little more than half the lines in Henry IV are in blank verse. The other half are in
Before we get started, you might want to take a look at this map of Britain so you can keep track of some of the important locations in the play. Now let's do this: The play opens at the palace in London, where a "shaken" and exhausted King Henry IV speaks to his council about recent civil strife in England which, by the way, he helped start by deposing and ordering the murder of King Richard in the preceding play, Richard II.
Angry, Hotspur gathers a rebellion, and Henry and Hal go to battle to stop him. Henry's army wins the battle, while Hal redeems himself from his wild youth and kills Hotspur. During his ascension, he was partially implicated in the murder of his cousin, Richard II, in prison. But his departure is prevented by news of disloyalty and civil unrest. There is also fighting in the north between the Earl of Douglas and Harry Hotspur, the warlike son of one of Henry's former allies. King Henry regrets that his own eldest son, Henry known as Hal spends most of his time in the taverns of London with vagabonds and ne'er-do-wells. The King demands Hotspur's allegiance and help against the Welsh.
Henry is presented first as a ruler who has been beset with troubles from the start: civil unrest in England, attacks by Scottish forces moving across the northern border, and the defeat and capture of the still-loyal Mortimer by Glendower. He thus is unable to fulfill his earlier vow to lead a crusade to the Holy Land. But there is one piece of good news: English forces led by young Hotspur have defeated the Scots at Holmedon and have captured the renowned Earl of Douglas. Yet this especially gives the harassed king reason to lament the dereliction of his son and heir, Prince Henry, who persistently has avoided the court and public responsibility and spends his time in the company of the elderly, high-spirited Sir John Falstaff, as well as the lowly patrons of the Boar's-Head Tavern in Eastcheap. The comic subplot deals most amusingly with this same Falstaff and his companions, including Prince Hal, as he is appropriately called in this setting. In the initial episode, Hal joins with Poins, Bardolph, and Peto in a plan to jokingly deceive Falstaff, contriving to have him participate in a robbery at Gadshill, be robbed in turn, and finally exposed as a coward and liar.