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Shakespeare Explained: Quick Questions on Henry IV, Part 1


1. What was Henry preparing to do when news was brought of the fighting in Wales and also in the North?

Henry was preparing for a crusade.

2. What comparison does the King make between Hotspur and his own son?

The King wishes that Hotspur, "who is the theme of honor's tongue," were his son in place of his Harry, who loves riot and fast company.


3. How do you account for the fact that an audience of Shakespeare's day would sit through a scene like this and a modern audience would not? Is it interesting to you?

In Shakespeare's time, the theater was the chief place of amusement. There was not the hurry and bustle of the present. There was no scenery to shift and no waits between scenes. The speeches were the main attraction. In these speeches are lines which would be very funny to them, but would be meaningless to a modern audience.


4. Comment upon Shakespeare's power of description after reading this speech of Hotspur's — lines 29-70.

These lines show Shakespeare's wonderful descriptive power. Here is a man exhausted and dirty from battle, leaning on his sword, when one of the courtiers immaculately dressed comes up with a message from the King, demanding among other things, the prisoners. This courtier knew nothing of battle, and the sights disgusted him. The sight of him provoked Hotspur.

5. Why did the king refuse to ransom Mortimer?

Sir Edmund Mortimer was uncle to the young Earl of March, the next rightful heir to the throne after Richard II. Henry was probably afraid Mortimer might try to place his nephew on the throne.


6. What are the important points in this act?

This act shows Falstaff and Prince Henry at some of their mischief. It shows that Hotspur is worried about the rebellion. The sheriff goes to the tavern to arrest Falstaff for stealing, but the Prince saves him. During their revelry a messenger brings word of Hotspur's rising in the North; Henry says he will go to court the next morning.


7. How does Shakespeare bring Prince Henry into a favorable light?

By introducing the long interview with his father in which the Prince acknowledges his waywardness and arouses himself to a sense of his responsibilities.


8. How does Hotspur justify himself and his comrades for this war?

Hotspur says that after Bolingbroke became King Henry IV, he demanded tribute from the whole state; permitted March to lie in Wales without being ransomed; dismissed Worcester from the council-board; sought to entrap Hotspur; drove his father from court; and broke oath upon oath. Lines 90-105.


9. Why was Hotspur not informed of the King's offer?

Worcester says they will be all undone if Hotspur hears of the King's offer. He says the King cannot keep his word with them — that he will always suspect them. Lines 1-25.


10. Why was Hotspur's death necessary for the action of the play?

Hotspur had rebelled from the beginning of the play — there was no other solution than his death. He was the leading spirit in the rebellion. If he had been imprisoned there would have been continuous plots to release him. Prince Henry's killing him shows the audience that the Prince's courage is real courage; overcoming Falstaff in the stealing scene might not have required any valor.


11. What generous act does Prince Harry perform?

The Prince grants the Earl of Douglas his freedom without ransom. Lines 25-31.

12. Is this sudden conversion of Prince Henry a natural transition from boyhood to manhood, or does the author do this to make a spectacular ending for his play?

Some critics say Henry V is Shakespeare's only hero — others say that his memory was revered in history as no other English king's since Alfred. In the first part of the play he is used to show off Falstaff; in the last part the author makes him rise to the dignity of his position in a spectacular though natural way. Though extremely wild, Henry never shows any vicious or mean traits in the whole play.

13. What criticism would you offer of the play as a whole?

Henry IV's character does not stand out as prominently as the principal character usually does. It neither attracts nor repels. The most likable character in the play, Hotspur, is killed. The part of Prince Henry is interestingly drawn.

14. Give a critical estimate of the part of Falstaff in the whole production.

Sir John Falstaff is the most notable figure in English comedy. He makes his first appearance in I Henry IV, as the boon companion of Prince Henry. He is noted for his wit and his drinking. He is the one who adds the comic element to the play and prevents it from being a mere chronicle.

How to cite this article:
Lunt, Forrest. Shakespeare Explained. New York: Hearst's International Library, 1915. Shakespeare Online. 10 Jan. 2011. (date when you accessed the information) < >.

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