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Part 2: How To Write A ‘Henry IV Part 1’ Critical Essay For Module B | Free Exemplar Response

We will guide you step-by-step through preparing Henry IV notes, unpacking essay questions, scaffolding your responses and finally writing them!

So you know Henry IV Part 1, but you’re struggling to write that essay? Don’t worry, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’re going to show you to write a Henry IV Part 1 critical essay for Module B.

But first, before we get to the step-by-step process, you want to make sure that you know the text. To refresh your memory, read Part 1, here.


Table of contents:

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What is Module B?

Module B is all about being a critic!

You need to assess whether a text is as “great” as everyone thinks it is.

This means that you need to ask yourself: “Is the text still relevant today?“, “Does it live up to the hype?“, “Is it significant?”

Let’s take a closer look at NESA’s rubric for Module B:

In this module, students develop detailed analytical and critical knowledge, understanding and appreciation of a substantial literary text. Through increasingly informed and personal responses to the text in its entirety, students understand the distinctive qualities of the text, notions of textual integrity and significance.

Students study one prescribed text. Central to this study is the close analysis of the text’s construction, content and language to develop students’ own rich interpretation of the text, basing their judgements on detailed evidence drawn from their research and reading. In doing so, they evaluate notions of context with regard to the text’s composition and reception; investigate and evaluate the perspectives of others; and explore the ideas in the text, further strengthening their informed personal perspective.

Students have opportunities to appreciate and express views about the aesthetic and imaginative aspects of the text by composing creative and critical texts of their own. Through reading, viewing or listening they critically analyse, evaluate and comment on the text’s specific language features and form. They express complex ideas precisely and cohesively using appropriate register, structure and modality. They draft, appraise and refine their own texts, applying the conventions of syntax, spelling and grammar appropriately.

Opportunities for students to engage deeply with the text as a responder and composer further develops personal and intellectual connections with the text, enabling them to express their considered perspective of its value and meaning.

Source: Module B Rubric from NESA website 


In our previous article, Module B: Understanding Henry IV Part 1: Overview, we broke down the Module B rubric into individual statements.

Let’s quickly summarise some key points that you need to remember: 

  1. Closely analyse a text and develop your own rich interpretation
  2. Examine whether or not the text has textual integrity (unity of form & ideas)
  3. Examine how these ideas reflect both contemporary values and values of its context
  4. Research, consider and evaluate the critical reception of the text over time by examining other’s (scholars, general public, peers) opinions.
  5. Develop a critical response that evaluates and analyses the text

So, let’s put on your glasses and critical caps and learn how to write a Henry IV critical Essay for Module B now!


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How to write a critical response for Henry IV

Let’s see how to write a Henry IV critical Essay for Module B

flowchart describing how How to Write a 'Henry IV Part 1' Critical Essay for Module B step-by-step in 5 steps


1. Preparing notes

Many students will fall into the trap of thinking that writing notes is a waste of time. However, it is quite the opposite!

Having well prepared, clear and concise notes will actually help you prepare for your assessments and exams.

This is because you will have a wide variety of evidence and thoughts that you can quickly draw upon when you are scaffolding your responses.

So, when you are reading, re-reading and re-reading Henry IV, you should be taking notes!

To see how you can read your texts effectively, check out Part 1: How to Easily Analyse Your English Texts for Evidence of our HSC English Skills Guide.

It will show you what you need to find in your 1st reading, 2nd reading and 3rd reading!


What do I have to look for?

Module B specifically requires that you criticise and evaluate Henry IV.

Remember, criticism includes both positive and negative opinions.

As such, there are many things you need to look out for when you are reading Henry IV:

  • Evidence from Henry IV (including structure, style and form)
  • Analysis of evidence
  • Location of technique in the text
  • Opinions and perspective on the text

Note: You also need to do some research about Henry IV‘s context and reception of the text over the years. We will go through this in detail in the next section.


How do I structure my Module B notes?

You need to structure your Module B notes in a way that clearly categorises your evidence, analysis, criticisms and the critic’s quotes.

Remember, you can structure your notes in any way that works for you! Just ensure that you have all the relevant information.

Here is one example. We use 2 tables to organise the information because it is easier to identify relevant information.


Notes #1: Overview of ‘Henry IV’


Example of Overview Notes:





Notes #2: Analysis of ‘Henry IV, Part 1’


Note: You can also document critic’s quotes in your “critics” column if it directly relates to the theme.


Example of Analysis Notes:





2. Research

It is especially important to research about Henry IV for Module B.

You need to find:

  • Information about Shakespeare’s context
  • Information about our context that relates to Henry IV
  • Critics’ opinions on and analysis of Henry IV (Including scholars and public opinions)

You might find that your opinions may change a few times as you read up on Henry IV.

This just means that your knowledge about Henry IV is becoming more sophisticated and complex.

Remember, you should be continually researching about Henry IV over the year and updating your notes.

This will ensure that you are consistently exploring different aspects of Henry IV and forming an informed opinion.


In Part 2 of our HSC English Skills Guide, we go through How to Research Your English Texts, in detail.

To quickly summarise some key points… You need to ensure that you:

  • Use sources from a credible, trustworthy and authoritative place – eg. Academic articles from JSTOR
  • Double-check your information with another source for reliability
  • Check the date of publication/research for relevance
  • Ensure that is directly related to Henry IV, or the themes you want to discuss.


So, let’s evaluate the reliability of an example source:

Bezio, Kristin. “The Filial Dagger: The Case of Hal and Henry IV in 1 & 2 Henry IV and The Famous Victories,” Journal of the Wooden O 14-15 (2016): 67-83.

  • Credibility: Article is published by the University of Richmond. It is credible and authoritative.
  • Date: Published in 2016 – It is quite recent. However, a more recent article may be more relevant in terms of analysing the text from a contemporary viewpoint.
  • Does it relate to Henry IV?: Yes. The article is a comparison between Shakespeare’s Henry IV, and the anonymously written The Famous Victories.

Therefore, this article is quite a good article to use.



3. Unpacking the question

Now that you have solid notes and research on Henry IV, it is time to write your critical response.

And, the first step to do this is to unpack the question!

This will help you understand what the question is asking you to do and answer it properly!

It is important that you always answer the question, instead of regurgitating a memorised piece of work.

This is because markers are assessing your abilities to use your critical skills and adapt your knowledge of Henry IV to a question, not how well you can memorise a response!

So, let’s get started.


3a. Read the question multiple times

Being an Advanced English student means that you will be asked questions that require you to do multiple things.

If you don’t properly unpack your question, you will miss an aspect or two!

This will inevitably cost you marks!

So, to ensure that you don’t miss out on any important parts of the question, you need to read it and re-read it again.


To do this effectively you should do assign a purpose for each reading. Here is an example:

  1. First Reading: Simply read the question to understand it as a whole
  2. Second Reading: Read the question again and break it down to different parts (see Part b. below)
  3. Third Reading: Highlight keywords and action verbs (see Part c. below)
  4. Fourth Reading: Figure out how different parts of the question works as a whole

We will go through each of these readings in detail in the next few parts.



3b. Break the question into different parts

In our second reading, we need to be able to identify double and triple barrel questions.

“Double barrel” questions are questions that require you to focus on 2 parts, whereas triple barrel are questions that contains 3 different aspects.


For example, let’s take a look at this question from our 31 Module B Practice Essay Questions to Save Your HSC article.

I fear thou art another counterfeit;
And yet, in faith, thou bear’st thee like a king:
But mine I’m sure thou art, whoe’er thou be,
And thus I win thee.”

Drawing ideas from the above statement, evaluate Shakespeare’s commentary on the ideal leader.

In your response, make detailed references to the play and the above quotation.


This is a “double-barrel” question.

We know this because it asks you to focus on 2 specific things:

  1. Drawing ideas from the above statement” & “make detailed reference to… the above quotation
  2. Evaluate Shakespeare’s commentary on the ideal leader

On your exam papers, you should draw a line between the phrases of the different parts.



3c. Highlight keywords & action verbs

When you are reading your question for the 3rd time, you need to highlight your keywords and actions verbs!

This ensures that you fully understand what each part of the question requires of you.

Also, it ensures that you are consistently answering your question throughout your responses.

Think about it.

When you are writing, you can always look back at the highlighted keywords to remind of you the different aspects you need to discuss and explore!


So, in the above example, the keywords are:

  • Drawing ideas
  • Evaluate
  • Shakespeare’s commentary
  • Ideal leader
  • Detailed references



3d. Define keywords

Simply highlighting the keywords is not good enough if you don’t fully understand what they mean.

That’s why you need to define them!

In this case, defining does not mean copying and pasting from!

Defining is explaining the keywords in simpler words or phrases.

However, you can use dictionary definitions to help you better understand each word to “define” it. This should help you better understand unclear parts of the question and help you tackle every aspect of it!

For example, let’s define the keywords of our example question:

  • Drawing ideas: Identify themes from the quotation and use them to inspire your response to the question (thesis and arguments)
  • Evaluate: Make a judgement on something’s significance or quality (very important in Module B)
  • Shakespeare’s commentary: Shakespeare’s message or purpose
  • Ideal leader: The qualities and values of a specific person satisfies society’s expectations of the perfect leader (person in charge)
  • Detailed references: Consistent, significant and in-depth links to the source (In this case, it is the play and the quote)





4. Scaffold a critical response

Too often, students skip out on the planning stage because they think it is a waste of time.

However, after you unpack your question, your mind is racing to find all the information you can use to answer it!

If you don’t scaffold, you will struggle to structure all your thoughts and opinions in an orderly and concise response.

This will cost you marks!

So, let’s go through how to scaffold a critical essay.




Step 4a: Formulate a quick answer to the question

Quickly list out your ideas in response to the question. You don’t need a fully refined thesis in this step yet!

However, remember that you still need to EVALUATE Henry IV.


Let’s use the example question from above:

I fear thou art another counterfeit;
And yet, in faith, thou bear’st thee like a king:
But mine I’m sure thou art, whoe’er thou be,
And thus I win thee.”

Drawing ideas from the above statement, evaluate Shakespeare’s commentary on the ideal leader.

In your response, make detailed references to the play and the above quotation.


Example ideas:

  1. Ideal leaders should act for the people and hold valued traits.
  2. Leaders can hold a false appearance of true leadership.
  3. There are different types of leaders. There is no right or wrong or ideal leader.
  4. Honour is a quality in all ideal leaders.



Step 4b: Quickly list out your arguments and evidence

Jot down as many arguments as you can for each idea AND list all the evidence you remember from the top of your head under its respective argument.

This will help you select the strongest thesis and arguments for your response.


For this example, let’s list out possible arguments and evidence for idea 1: 

  1. There are specific traits and values that ideal leaders hold; selflessness, courage, bravery, intelligence etc.
    1. Motif of honour (and its definition)
    2. Contrast between Hostpur’s and Hal’s character traits
  2. Despite holding false appearances, an ideal leader will rise in times of need because they hold valued traits (above)
    1. Motif of sun and clouds
    2. Symbolism of different characters’ dialogue – Iambic pentameter vs prose between Prince Hal and Hotspur

You need to do this with all the ideas that you think will make a strong thesis.

Then, select the thesis with the strongest arguments.



Step 4c: Refine your thesis

Now that you selected your strongest idea for your thesis, it is time to refine it.

Rewrite your thesis to make it more complex and in-depth.


For example let’s refine a thesis from Step 4a:

We will be combining ideas #1 and #2 to create a deeper and more complex thesis:

“In response to the rebellions against Queen Elizabeth, Shakespeare wrote a biased version of history that celebrated the Tudor ruling in Henry IV, Part 1. However, despite this, he still accurately explores how ideal leaders must possess selfless qualities and values that shine in times of need.”

See how we evaluated Henry IV‘s textual integrity? You need to ensure that you are always making a judgement about Henry IV in light of your question.



Step 4d: Figure out your main arguments

Select the strongest arguments for your thesis. You should already have a rough list of possible arguments from Step 4b.

These are arguments that:

  1. Directly supports your thesis
  2. You are confident writing about
  3. Have a reasonable amount of evidence to support


Let’s refine our main arguments now: 

  1. Shakespeare vividly explores how ideal leaders must possess certain traits and values that will allow them to act for the people and not for selfish interests.
  2. People will hold facades when it comes to leadership; whether it is feigning the qualities of an ideal leader or vice versa. However, ideal leaders will always rise when they are needed because they possess selfless traits and values



Step 4e: Select your strongest evidence

Look at your notes and select evidence that fully support your argument.

Ensure that there is a variety of high order techniques, stylistic techniques and techniques about form.


Let’s take a look at an example: 

Argument Evidence Analysis
Despite holding false appearances, an ideal leader will rise in times of need because they hold valued traits Symbolism of the contrasting dialogue between Prince Hal and Hotspur.

  • Iambic pentameter
  • Prose
In the play, the nobles speak in iambic pentameter, whilst the commoners use prose. Prose fiction seems much more refined, whereas prose seems rowdier.

Prince Hal talks in prose when he converses with his friends at the Tavern. However, in his soliloquy, he speaks in iambic pentameter. This highlights how Hal has innate noble traits, but chooses to connect with the common people.

On the other hand, Hotspur speaks in iambic pentameter when he converses with others., whilst he speaks in prose (and even uses slang insults) in his soliloquy. This highlights how he holds a facade of nobility and is not fit to be a ruler.

Motif of sun and clouds The clouds are symbolic of Prince Hal’s immaturity and playfulness. The sun is symbolic of his nobility and leadership qualities.

As such, when Hal says…

“Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world.”

He is implying that he may be immature and playful now, but he can rise into his noble role when the time is needed.



5. Write your essays

Now that we created a scaffold for our Henry IV critical essay, we need to write it!

Writing a critical essay for Henry IV follows the same structure as a traditional essay.

As such, we won’t be going over this step in too much detail.

Note: If you want to read on How to Write an Essay, check out Part 6 of our HSC English Skills Guide.


Step 5a: Write your introduction

When you are writing an introduction for Henry IV, you need to:


5a(i). Write your thesis.

Ensure that you are evaluating the significance and textual integrity of Henry IV and answer the question.


5a(ii). Introduce your thematic framework 

Introduce the chosen themes that you will discuss in your essays and how will you approach them.

We listed some themes from Henry IV in our Part 1: Overview of ‘Henry IV’ article:

  • Honour
  • Appearance vs reality
  • Legitimacy of rulership

Discuss these or other themes that support to your thesis.


5a(iii): Introduce your main arguments 

Allocate a sentence or 2 to introduce your main arguments. These are your signposts for your topic sentences.


5a(iv): Link it back to the Module B rubric

Finally, allocate the last line of the introduction to link it back to Module B rubric.

If you need a refresher about what Module B requires you to do, read our Part 1 Overview of Henry IV article.



Step 5b: Write your body paragraphs


5b(i): Write a topic sentence 

Write a concise and clear topic sentence that signposts what your body paragraph is about.

Remember to evaluate the significance of Henry IV.


5b(ii): Compose your argument for Henry IV using the T.E.E.L structure

Compose your arguments by using high-order techniques and a variety of different evidence.

For example, you can look for:

  • Stylistic techniques
  • High order techniques
  • Techniques about form
  • Unique techniques
  • Rhetorical evidence
  • Literary evidence

Remember, you are not only analysing evidence in a Henry IV essay, you also need to make a judgement.

This means that you need to figure out whether the evidence supports the text’s textual integrity and significance or not.


5b(iii): Write a concluding sentence 

Your concluding sentences should link your paragraph back to your thesis and the Module A requirements.


Step 5c: Write your conclusion

A strong conclusion will summarise your arguments and hammer your argument down.

This means, you need to:

  1. Restate the thesis
  2. Reassert your thematic framework
  3. Make a final statement about what you have learned from the Module

Written by Tammy Dang

Tammy is a former student of Matrix and is now studying Law / Media (Screen and Sound Production) at UNSW. She is a Digital Content Writer for the Matrix Education blog. Tammy aspires to become a lawyer in the future while continuing to run her art business.


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