Sunday, August 25, 2019

King Henry IV, First Part by William Shakespeare

King Henry IV, first part by William Shakespeare 

England did never owe so sweet a hope ~ Sir Richard Vernon regarding Prince Henry

Henry IV, part one is the second play in Shakespeare’s tetralogy or Henriad: four plays regarding the succession from King Richard II – Henry IV – Henry V. Written in the late 16thcentury, it covers part of the reign of Henry IV, who reigned from 1399 – 1413.

In the previous play, Henry Bolingbroke usurps the crown from his cousin King Richard II, and becomes King Henry IV. Although this play is named for Henry IV, it is really more about his son Prince Henry, who will later become King Henry V.

If this were a novel, I’d call it the coming of age tale of Prince Henry.

Early in the play, Prince Henry is something of a wastrel. 

But when his father’s reign is in peril, and after being chided by the King, Prince Henry vows to become a better man and worthy of his line to the throne. The prince assures his father, that he will redeem himself in defense of the Kingdom.

     And God forgive them that have so much sway’d
     Your Majesty’s good thoughts away from me!
     I will redeem all this on Percy’s head,
     And, in the closing of some glorious day,
     Be bold to tell you that I am your son:
     When I will wear a garment all of blood,
     And stain my favours in a bloody mask,
     Which, wash’d away, shall scour my shame with it

And in short, the prince makes good on his vow. 

Although this is a historical play, it contains a bit of comedy. Prince Henry, who associates with the craven Sir John Falstaff, often mocks him for his laziness, cowardice, and hedonism. Prince Henry says to Falstaff, who is quite fat:
How long is’t ago, Jack, since thou sawest thine own knee?

In the rebel camp, Lady Percy, wife of Henry Percy aka Hotspur is coaxing Lady Mortimer to sing.
Lady Percy:…hear the lady sing in Welsh
Hotspur: I had rather hear Lady, my brach Howl in Irish
Lady Percy: Woulds’t thou have thy head broken? 
Hotspur: No 
Lady Percy: Then be still

I enjoyed this play very much, mostly because as I said, it is the coming of age of Prince Henry. I am vaguely familiar with the noble character he will become – at least in Shakespeare’s rendering – and so it was satisfying to see the prince abandon his youthful indiscretions and become a Prince.

The quotation at the beginning of this review:
England did never owe so sweet a hope ~ Sir Richard Vernon regarding Prince Henry
…is notable, as Vernon was among the conspirators, or enemy of the King and prince, and yet he would still make such a testimony to the prince.

Modern day colloquialisms from Henry IV part one
Give the devil his due
The better part of valour is discretion


  1. One of my all-time favorite plays. I can heartily recommend The Hollow Crown if you want to see a first rate film version of the RII/HIV/HV. I want to rewatch it myself, but it is excellent.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation...I will check it out (not till I've read HV though).

  2. I also love how Shakespeare includes comedy in his histories. There are some gems in there!

    1. I'm certain I miss much of the humor. I'm sure there are many lines that he intended dripping with sarcasm.

  3. as you are reading Shakespeare, if you haven't watched it yet, I highly recommend All is True (2018) with amazing actors, on the last 3 years of his life

    1. That does look awesome...and Kenneth Branagh portraying Shakespeare...that's appropriate.


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