William Shakespeare Context

.. spelling of some characters’ names may vary, depending on the particular edition that you are reading. Also, note that in 1 Henry IV, there are a lot of different factions, but everyone pretty much falls on one of two sides at any given moment: that of King Henry IV, or that of the rebellion led by the Percy family. Four Central Characters: King Henry IV – The ruling King of England.

He is not actually all that old, but at the time this play opens, he has been worn down before his time by worries: he won his throne through a civil war that deposed the former King (Richard II), and he nurses guilty feelings about that.Also, there has continued to be internal strife, which erupts in this play into an even bigger civil war. Finally, he’s vexed by the irresponsible antics of his eldest son, Prince Hal. Prince Hal – His real name is Henry (eventually, he will become King Henry V), and his title is Prince of Wales, but all of the prince’s friends call him Hal. He is also sometimes called Harry (usually by his father, King Henry, as in III.

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ii) or Harry Monmouth (as by Hotspur in V.v). Hal is a young man, but he is also the heir to the throne of England, and it upsets his father the king that Hal spends all his time hanging around on the bad side of London, wasting his time with highwaymen, robbers and whores. The rumors of his behavior are worse than the behavior actually is, but the behavior is bad enough.Hal has secret plans to transform himself into a real prince, and his regal qualities emerge as the play unfolds. Hotspur – The real name of the son and heir of the Earl of Northumberland is Henry Percy, but he’s earned the name Hotspur because of his fierceness in battle and his hastiness of action.

Sometimes he is also called Harry (as by his wife in II.iii), Percy, or Harry Percy (as in V.v). Hotspur is a member of the powerful Percy family of the north, a family that brought King Henry IV to power but now feels that the king has forgotten his debt to them. Hotspur’s uncle is the Earl of Worcester; he is married to Lady Percy, a.k.a.

Kate, with whom he has certain communication problems. In Shakespeare’s account, he is the same age as Prince Hal, and becomes his archrival. Sir John Falstaff – Falstaff is (in simplest terms) a fat old man, between the ages of about fifty and sixty-five, who hangs around in taverns on the wrong side of London and makes his living as a thief, highwayman, and mooch.He is Prince Hal’s closest friend, and seems to act as a sort of mentor to him, instructing him in the practices of criminals and vagabonds. He is the only one of the bunch who can match Hal’s quick wit, pun for pun. When Hal goes off to fight in his father’s wars, he brings Falstaff and the others with him. The figure of Falstaff fascinates critics; some, like Harold Bloom, equate him with Hamlet in the brilliance of his characterization.

Others, on Henry IV’s Side (Loyalists to the King): Earl of Westmoreland – A nobleman and military leader who is a close companion and valuable ally of King Henry IV. Be sure not to confuse him with the Earl of Worcester, Hotspur’s uncle, who fights on the opposite side.Lord John of Lancaster – This is the younger son of King Henry and the younger brother of Prince Hal. He proves himself wise and valiant in battle, despite his youth.

Sir Walter Blunt – A loyal and trusted ally of the king, and a valuable warrior. He’s killed by the Earl of Douglas at the battle of Shrewsbury, while acting as a decoy for the king. On Hotspur’s Side (the Percy Rebellion): Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester – Uncle to Hotspur, he is really the mastermind behind the Percy rebellion.

King Henry has him executed at the end of the play after the rebellion has been defeated. Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland – Northumberland is Hotspur’s father (that’s why they share the same name, Henry Percy). He conspires and raises troops on the Percy side, but he gets sick before the battle of Shrewsbury and does not actually bring his troops into the fray. Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March – Mortimer is Hotspur’s brother-in-law (that is, the brother of his wife), and son-in-law to the Welsh rebel Owen Glendower.

He is a conflation of two different historical figures, but for Shakespeare’s purposes, he matters because he had a strong claim to the throne of England before King Henry overthrew the last king, Richard II. Owen Glendower – The leader of the Welsh rebels, he joins with the Percys in their insurrection against King Henry.Glendower is the father of Mortimer’s wife–Lady Mortimer, a beautiful Welshwoman who does not speak any English. Well- read, educated in England, and very capable in battle, he is also steeped in the traditional lore of Wales and claims to be able to command great magic. He is mysterious and superstitious, and sometimes acts according to prophecies and omens. Archibald, Earl of Douglas – Usually called The Douglas (a traditional way of referring to a Scottish clan chief, at least in Shakespeare’s universe), he is the leader of the large army of Scottish rebels against King Henry, and fights with the Percys.

A deadly and fearless fighter, he kills Sir Walter Blunt and nearly succeeds in killing both Falstaff and King Henry himself. He is the father of Mordake, whom Hotspur captures and then releases early in the play.Sir Richard Vernon – A relative and ally of the Earl of Worcester, who helps him lead his troops and who is executed with him at the end of the play. The Archbishop of York – York (whose given name is Richard Scroop), he has a grievance against King Henry and conspires on the side of the Percys. Hal’s Friends: Ned Poins, Peto, Bardolph – Criminals and highwaymen, these are friends of Falstaff and of Prince Hal, who drink with them in the Boar’s Head Tavern, accompany them in highway robbery, and come with them to the war.

Gadshill – Another highwayman friend of Hal, Falstaff and the rest. Gadshill seems to be nicknamed after the place on the London road–called Gad’s Hill–where he has set up many robberies. Some texts also refer to this place as Gadshill, instead of Gad’s Hill.Don’t get confused–the person and the place are separate entities. Mistress Quickly – Hostess of the Boar’s Head Tavern, a seedy dive in Eastcheap, London. Her name has vaguely obscene connotations in Renaissance English.