Although the play bears the name of the king who (known then as Bullingbrook) overthrew Richard the Second, the real characters of interest are Prince Hal, his rival Hotspur and the greatest of Shakespeare’s comic creations, Falstaff. We’ll examine this play one act per session, taking particular notice of Shakespeare’s masterful manipulation of each of the three strands of his plot-one strand focusing on the court of King Henry, one on those rebelling against Henry (chiefly, Northumberland and Hotspur), and one on the tavern crowd (chiefly Falstaff and, of all people, Prince Hal himself).
The ways in which these three distinct units interact and comment, often obliquely, on one another’s activities offer interesting commentaries on the nature of political power and ambition. Shakespeare appeared most taken with the question of whether it was possible for a person to be both a good ruler and a good person, particularly if that ruler was King Henry IV, who had gained the crown by questionable nonlinear means.
Jim Foley is Professor Emeritus of English at Worcester State University with interests in Shakespeare, 19th century American Literature, and drama of all periods.
REQUIRED BOOK: Any edition of Henry IV, Part I electronic or print.
READING FOR FIRST CLASS: Act I