This article is your cheat sheet for all the important "deets" about Henry IV, including the plot, characters, themes, genre, context and even a breakdown of the rubric to ace Module B!
Are you confused by Prince Hal? Not sure what Falstaff is all about? Don’t fear! Our Henry IV Part 1 – Overview will give you a head start understanding this historical drama’s plot, characters, themes, genre and form, context, and connect it all to the Module B Rubric!
Module B is all about evaluation and criticism.
You job is to keep an open but sharp mind and judge the quality of the text!
Is the text is as good as everyone makes it out to be? Is it still relevant – to you – today?
So, to do this, you need to closely read Henry IV and explore its:
You’re not going to do this in one reading, I’m afraid. You must aim to re-read the play a couple of times throughout the year. This will not only refresh your memory, but you will also discover new findings, perspectives, and criticisms!
Before we go into the gritty details about Shakespeare’s King Henry IV Part 1, we need to have a strong understanding of this historical drama. So, let’s see what it is all about!
King Henry IV rules England after he usurps the throne from Richard II. However, it is not an easy time for him; there is a rebellion in England and Scottish troops are attacking.
The play opens with King Henry IV postponing his crusade and Hotspur refusing to hand over the Scottish soldiers he captured. Although Henry is mad at Hotspur, he wishes that his own son, Prince Hal, displays the same qualities as Hotspur.
Hotspur returns to his family and recounts the earlier events. His family expresses their frustration; without their help, Henry IV would never become King. Yet, they are still treated badly by him. Ridden with anger, Hotspur and his family plans to overthrow Henry IV.
Meanwhile, as Henry IV grows more angry and anxious, Hal is drinking with Falstaff at Eastcheap’s Tavern. Their friend, Poins enters and shares his plan to rob a group of rich travellers. Hal refuses. However, once Falstaff is out of hearing range, Poins reveals that it is a prank on Falstaff. Hal agrees to help him.
So, once Falstaff manages to rob the travellers, Hal and Poins (in disguises) rob Falstaff of the stolen goods. When Falstaff returns to the Tavern he recounts an elaborate tale of how 100 men stole his treasure. Hal and Poins go along with his story before exposing Falstaff.
In the midst of the fun, a messenger calls for Hal; he is to return to the Royal court because his father fears an emerging civil war.
Hal returns and decides that it is time to reform into his princely role. He goes with his father into the Battle of Shrewbury to fight by his side.
During the battle, he saves his father’s life, defeats Hotspur and regains his father’s approval. He also stumbles across a “dead” Falstaff and gives a sorrowful eulogy. However, Falstaff wakes up and reveals that he faked his death to avoid the fight.
At the end of the play, King Henry wins and some of Percy’s family are sentenced to death. King Henry also sends his sons away so that the rebel forces won’t reach them.
Who are the main players in the text? it can get a bit confusing, right?
So, Prince Hal is Henry IV’s son… And Hostpur is the Earl of Northumberland’s [Lord Percy’s] son… So, who is the Earl of Westmoreland again?
Remembering all the characters and their relationships with one another can get a little confusing. But don’t worry, we got you covered!
Here is a quick character profile of the main characters in King Henry IV:
|THE COURT||Henry IV||Henry IV is the ruling English King who usurped the throne from Richard II. Throughout the play, he feels guilty about his past actions.|
He is also angry and disappointed in his son, Prince Hal and wishes that Hostpur was his son instead.
Although the play is named after him, he is not a very dominant character. He struglles to be a father figure to Hal.
|Prince Hal (Henry V)||Hal is Henry IV’s son. He is a dishonourable, an excessive drinker, hangs out with the common people and participates in criminal activities.|
However, throughout the play, Hal slowly grows into the noble man his father desires. Hal claims that his dishonourable facade only makes his transformation into an honourable man much more glorious.
|Earl of Westmoreland||He is a military leader and King Henry IV’s valuable companion.|
|Lord John of Lancaster||He is King Henry IV’s youngest son, and Prince Hal’s younger brother.|
|THE REBELS||Hotspur (Harry Percy)||Hostpur is the Earl of Northumberland’s son. He is fierce, hotheaded and rushes into decisions. Throughout the play, we see his mentally troubled side: insomniac, sees visions, multiple personalities.|
|Earl of Northumberland (Lord Henry Percy)||Earl of Northumberland is Hotspur’s father. Previously, the Percy family helped Henry IV usurp Richard II from his throne. In the play, Lord Percy feels as though the King forgot their debt to him. So, he plans to overthrow King Henry.|
|Earl of Worcestor (Thomas Percy)||He is Hostpur’s uncle and Lord Percy’s brother. He is the brains behind the whole conspiration against King Henry.|
|Edmund Mortimer (Earl of March)||Mortimer is the man who had a stronger claim to the throne than Henry IV.|
|Lady Percy||She is Hostpur’s wife. Her relationship with Hostpur reveals a lot about his character and how women were treated in Elizabethan society.|
|THE TAVERN||Falstaff||Falstaff is Hal’s closest friend and partner in crime. Although, he is a knight, he doesn’t act like one. Instead, he is an alcoholic, overweight old man who chronically lies and is very good with puns.|
Throughout the play, he acts as Hal’s other father figure.
|Bardolph, Poins, Peto||These 3 are the highwaymen criminals. They hang out at Eastcheap’s Tavern and drinks with Hal and Falstaff. They also accompany Hal and Falstaff in robberies.|
|Hostess||She works at the Tavern where Hal and the men go to drink.|
A little confused still? Don’t worry, further in the article, we attached an image of the Royal family tree. Take a good look at this image to understand how the characters relate to one another.
You should keep it open in another tab as you read. This will help you better understand the events of the play.
Remember, themes are the main ideas, concepts or issues that are explored in a text.
So, to find a theme of the text, ask yourself what the main issues are or what the composer’s message is.
Here is a quick list of some of the (many) themes in Henry IV:
The play is essentially about honour.
We see that the characters pursue honour; Hal transforming from a free-spirited teenager into a noble prince and Hotspur’s attempt to defend his family’s reputation are both examples.
However, that is not all. Throughout the play, the characters all share their opinions of what honour really means to them.
For example, Falstaff believes that honour is a waste of effort and questions whether it is worth a life.; On the other hand, Hal believes that honour is about being noble.
As such, these characters opinion about honour reflects who they are as a person.
Appearance vs reality:
Throughout the play, Shakespeare explores the idea that things aren’t always what they appear to be.
For example, Hal begins as a party boy… nothing remotely close to how a Prince should act. His father is disappointed in him and wishes that Hotspur was his son instead.
However, this was all Hal’s plan to make his transformation into a noble Prince much more dramatic. As such, his father is now extremely proud of his son.
This raises the idea that appearances can be used to deceive people.
Shakespeare raises questions like “What makes a good King?” and “Who is the rightful heir to the throne?”
Throughout the play, we see different versions of what a King can be and we decide which traits are necessary for a King.
We also see a series of different historical claims to the throne. Is Henry IV and Hal the legitimate rulers or is it Hostpur’s family?
Remember, King Henry IV is a historical play, based on the real-life political tensions during 15th Century England.
Here is a family tree to give you a visual representation of the characters’ relationships with one another
Keep this image nearby as you read through the drama. It will help you better understand what is happening.
Although the War of the Roses doesn’t occur in Henry IV, it is still an important historical event that influenced the creation of this drama.
The War was a complex battle for the Crown between two families, the Yorks and the Lancasters.
Here’s the TL;DR version (Refer to the family tree above to keep track of who is who):
Note: The Tudors married into the Lancaster family.
Elizabeth I was the 5th Tudor ruler in England.
However, the Tudors didn’t have a steady claim to the throne in England because there were rival claims to the throne (see the notes on the War of Roses above).
Rebellions were held against Henry VIII (Elizabeths I’s father) in an attempt to place a Yorkist as King instead. These rebellions continued well into Elizabeth’s rule as plots like the Babington Plot were hatched against her.
As such, there was a need to end the political unrest and subvert any questions of the Tudor monarchy.
People in Shakespeare’s era believed that the King or Queen were specifically chosen by God to represent Him on earth.
As such, ideas surrounding the “legitimacy of rule” were prevalent during this time because people wanted to know, and believe, that their King is rightfully anointed by God.
They also believed that God decided everyone’s fate before they are born. This is called predeterminism and was used to justify the ruling hierarchy..
This often meant that people are born into specific roles that are chosen by God. People were not allowed to challenge their social class and cannot rise up the ranks.
When we are studying Henry IV, Part 1 for Module B Critical Studies of Literature, we must evaluate its construction. This means examining its genre and form.
We’ll look at the rubric in detail in a second, but a key thing NESA tells us is that we need to:
“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.“
So, let’s see what Henry IV‘s genre and form is in detail.
Henry IV is one of Shakespeare’s historical play. However, you shouldn’t believe everything that’s written in it because it is still a fictional piece!
Remember all the civil unrest regarding the Tudor monarchy during Elizabeth I’s time?
Well, playwrights and writers (including Shakespeare!) during this time needed to censor history to show their support for the Queen.
As such, these works are often biased towards the Lancasters. Many aspects of history have been exaggerated, changed or removed completely to satisfy this view.
One notable feature about Henry IV’s form is the usage of verse and prose to represent the nobility and common people, respectively.
The nobles use Iambic pentameter
We see that exchanges made by the noblemen are often done in iambic pentameter.
This is a rhythmic pattern that sounds like 5 heartbeats:
ba-DUM, ba-DUM, ba-DUM, ba-DUM, ba-DUM
This makes their speech sound much more formal and structured. This helps symbolise how the noblemen have to act within specific boundaries to fulfil their noble role.
The commoners use prose
The commoners in Henry IV use prose in their conversations. This creates a large contrast between the noblemen and the commoners.
Prose seems much rowdier and out of control. However, this gives the characters a chance to make puns and use humour.
Prince Hal vs Falstaff’s dialogue
We see that Prince Hal switches between prose and verse.
When he talks to Falstaff and the other commoners he uses prose. However, when he alone he uses verse. This highlights how he is fit for the role that is expected of him, a noble Prince.
On the other hand, Falstaff uses verse when her converses with the other characters. This illustrates how he holds himself as a nobleman. However, when he is alone, he not only speaks in prose, but he even uses slang insults.
There are many ways you can interpret the contrast between the 2 characters.
Download an exemplar response with annotations from an HSC English Expert!
To properly understand and analyse Henry IV, we need to fully understand NESA’s Module B: Critical Study of Literature Rubric:
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.
Was that too much to take in?
Don’t worry. We will break it down together.
Note: To learn more about breaking down the Module B syllabus, read our HSC Guide to Module B: Critical Study of Literature.
“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.“
This means that you are not simply analysing a specific scene of Henry IV, you are expected to analyse the text as a whole. You need to be critical and evaluate the texts’ cohesiveness and it’s relevance in today’s society.
When you are doing this, you also need to examine the “distinctive qualities” of the text. This means that you have to figure out aspects of Henry IV‘s construction that make it unique:
Sounds like a lot of work? Well, you’re not done yet.
You also need to see whether or not Henry IV has textual integrity. So what is textual integrity?
Textual integrity often refers to these elements:
Once you have a solid understanding of Henry IV, judging textual integrity will come more easily to you.
To read more about textual integrity, check out our Essential Guide to Textual Integrity.
Another element that you need to examine is “significance”.
Significance refers to the importance or relevance of a text to a particular time and place (context).
As such, a text’s significance can fall or rise depending on what is happening in that particular context.
“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 judgement on detailed evidence drawn from their research and reading.”
You need to analyse the text’s form, ideas, themes, technique and style.
“Your own rich interpretation” means that you need to formulate arguments that you believe based on “detailed evidence” from “research and reading“.
This means that as you re-read Henry IV, discuss it with other people and Google things about the text, your opinion may change! That is OK.
As long as they are your own opinions and arguments that you genuinely believe in, you are developing your “own rich interpretation”.
“In doing so, they evaluate notions of context with regard to the text’s composition and reception;“
Context refers to what is happening at a particular time and space, including personal, environmental, historical, social and political contexts. These ideas and values influence a text’s composition.
To evaluate the notions of context, you need to:
“investigate and evaluate the perspectives of others; and explore the ideas in the text, further strengthening their informed personal perspective”
We went on about how you need to develop your own personal opinions and arguments. However, it is also important that you see what other people think about Henry IV.
This means that you need to:
Doing this will help you develop depth in your perspective about your text, and subsequently your arguments.
“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.“
This rubric point refers to your Year 12 assessments.
As such, you may be asked to respond to Henry IV in a variety of ways like persuasive essays, multimodal presentations, imaginative recreations.
Each of these modes of assessments will require different approaches. You need to consider different registers, structures and modality.
To see more on how to analyse texts, you should read Part 2 of our Beginners’ Guide to Acing HSC English: How to Analyse Your Texts.
“They draft, appraise and refine their own texts, applying the conventions of syntax, spelling and grammar appropriately.”
This means that you need to be able to engage in the drafting process. You need to draft, re-write, edit and receive feedback for your work.
Doing this will help you produce a refined work.
“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.“
This point refers to how you need to engage deeply with the text to analyse and evaluate it. You will also need to discuss your personal views and opinions and evaluate the significance of Henry IV in contemporary society.
While you can’t argue that it hasn’t been significant in the past, you can question its ongoing relevance to you and your society.
In Part 2, we explain how to write a Mod B critical response for Henry IV