full title The History of Henry the Fourth (1 Henry IV)
author William Shakespeare
type of work Play
genre Historical drama, military drama
time and place written Probably 1596–1597, London
date of first publication 1598 (in quarto), 1623 (in folio)
tone The tone of the play alternates between very serious drama and rollicking comedy. The drama is grave and ominous, and is centered on the careworn figure of King Henry IV and the rebellion of the Percys. The comedy is fast-paced, rambunctious, and punning, and centers around the character of Falstaff and the other rogues at the Boar’s Head Tavern.
setting (time) Around 1402–1403
setting (place) London, especially the royal palace and the Boar’s Head Tavern; various other locales around England, including the battlefield of Shrewsbury, where the final act takes place
protagonist Prince Harry
major conflict The Percy family, encouraged by the hot temper of the young nobleman Hotspur, seeks to overthrow the reigning king of England, Henry IV. Simultaneously, Harry, the crown prince of England, must work to win back his honor and his place in his father’s esteem after squandering it by spending too much time with the rogue Falstaff and other unsuitable companions.
rising action The king’s confrontation with Hotspur; the robbery; the king’s confrontation with Harry; the Percys’ battle preparations
climax The Battle of Shrewsbury in Act V, specifically Harry’s duel with Hotspur
falling action The king’s strategizing after the battle, leading into the play’s sequel, 2 Henry IV
themes The nature of honor; the legitimacy of rulership; high and low language
motifs Doubles; British cultures; the multiplicity of language; magic
symbols The play is not heavily symbolic, though various characters represent various traits: for example, Hotspur represents the ideal of honor as a product of glory on the battlefield, and Glyndwr represents the folk magic of Wales.
foreshadowing Hotspur’s confrontation with the king; the king’s claim that Hotspur has more honor than Harry; Harry and Falstaff’s role-playing; the robbery; Hotspur’s confrontation with Kate.