Henry IV, Part 1
Family relationships are at the center of Henry IV, Part 1. King Henry IV and Prince Hal form one major father-son pair, with Henry in despair because Hal lives a dissolute life. The father-son pair of Hotspur (Lord Henry Percy) and his father, the Earl of Northumberland, is in seeming contrast; the king envies Northumberland “his Harry,” wishing he could claim the gallant Hotspur as his own. Meanwhile, Hal has entered into a quasi-father-son relationship with a disreputable but amusing knight, Sir John Falstaff.
Another strand of action centers on still more family relationships. Hotspur’s stand against Henry focuses on Hotspur’s brother-in-law, Mortimer. Mortimer, who fought against the Welsh magician Owen Glendower, was defeated and captured and has married Glendower’s daughter. King Henry pronounces Mortimer a traitor whom he will not ransom. Hotspur, in declaring war on Henry, sees himself as fighting for Mortimer, his wife’s brother.
Several of the details in the play that make these relationships prominent were created by Shakespeare; they are not found in the chronicles of English history that provide the play’s historical narrative. This rewriting and the resulting focus on relationships pulls us in: rather than distant historical figures, Henry, Hal, and Hotspur become characters caught up in relationships that resemble family situations today. The emphasis on relationships also reminds us that the wars for control of England, Scotland, and Wales in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were basically family struggles. Brothers, cousins, and nephews fought for the tantalizing prize of the crown.
Scholars believe that Shakespeare wrote Henry IV, Part I in 1596-97. It was published as a quarto in 1598.
Productions at the Folger
- Hamnet link to Folger Edition: PR2753 .M^ v2003 copy 2 v.09
- Adapted from the Folger Library Shakespeare edition, edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. © 1994 Folger Shakespeare Library.