King Henry IV, Part I Characters guide studies each
character's role and motivation in this play.
King Henry IV: Rising to power by replacing
King Richard II (See Shakespeare's Richard II),
King Henry IV has seen recent civil strife or war take
its toll on his country. He is saddened that brother
had fought brother and is anxious to unite his people
under an already much delayed religious crusade.
The threat of rebellion from the Percy family and the
capture of Mortimer force him to again delay his plans.
On a personal level, King Henry IV is saddened that
his son, Prince Henry lacks what he feels are the qualities
required of a future king. He worries that Hal is wasting
his life and fears that those like Hotspur who earn
the people's admiration are more likely to succeed
him, not his own son.
As a leader, King Henry IV is cautious but disciplined.
He does not let Hotspur forget his obligations to him
and wisely offers the rebels generous terms for their
surrender to avoid war. King Henry IV also appears to
be cunning, placing many look-alikes to himself on the
battlefield to confuse the rebels...
Henry, Prince of Wales: Also known as Prince
Henry, Prince Hal Hal, or as his father King Henry IV
addresses him, Harry, Hal shows the greatest character
development in this play. Originally apathetic to the
affairs of state, Hal prefers instead to pass time with
thieves Gadshill, Peto, Falstaff, Poins and Bardolph.
However we quickly learn from Hal's first soliloquy
that this is merely an act, he is acutely aware of the
bad company he keeps, but prefers to show his true colors
when necessary, wisely concluding that because expectations
of him are so low, his accomplishments when shown will
shine that much brighter.
Willing to laugh at his friend's expense, Hal
is honest, reimbursing those robbed by his friends and
humble, wishing to be valued by his own actions not
his royal title. Nonetheless, Hal appears to enjoy the
immunity his title confers, allowing him to do what
others may not (steal) without consequences.
Though confident of his abilities, Hal's envy
of Hotspur suggests he is not completely confident,
since Hal needs to compare himself to others. When called
to fight the rebellion, Hal comes of age, shedding his
apathetic ways, even enlisting Falstaff his thieving
friend to fight, symbolic of Hal finally accepting and
assuming responsibility for himself and others.
When Hal advises his father King Henry IV, that the
rebellion will not accept King Henry's pardon offer,
we see Hal's insight and later on the battlefield
his prowess and nobility (respecting Hotspur). Indeed
it may be argued that Hal comprises two characters,
one before the rebellion and one after it...
John of Launcelot: King Henry's other
son, his role in the play is minor, limited chiefly
to that of messenger...
Earl of Westmoreland: An ally of King Henry,
his forces fight on the side of King Henry IV.
Sir Walter Blunt: Another loyal man to King
Henry IV, Sir Walter Blunt, disguised as King Henry
IV is slain by Douglas on the battlefield. Also responsible
for communicating King Henry's first offer of pardon
to the rebels for stopping their rebellion.
Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland: The senior
Percy in the rebellion against King Henry, he like his
son Hotspur, initially apologizes to King Henry for
withholding prisoners to him but later joins the rebellion
against King Henry. Unavailable to fight King Henry
IV owing to illness, his son must fight the King Henry's
forces without him...
Henry Percy surnamed Hotspur, son of Henry Percy,
Earl of Northumberland: Described as valiant, courageous
and brave, Hotspur is a source of pride for his father,
Henry Percy and one of regret for King Henry IV who
sees his own son Hal, as lacking compared to Hotspur.
Rash and blind in the face of defeat, Hotspur blindly
ignores bad news when it continuously confronts him
as seen in Act V when reports suggest he will be increasingly
outnumbered on the battlefield. Renowned on the battlefield
for defeating the Scot Douglas whom later joins him
in the rebellion against King Henry IV.
Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester: Known in the
play as Worcester, this rebel denied Hotspur any knowledge
of King Henry's generous terms to the rebels to avoid
war. Though Sir Richard Vernon disagreed, Worcester's
position prevailed and Hotspur fought King Henry, none
the wiser that King Henry IV had made an offer to avoid
bloody conflict. At the end of the play, Worcester along
with Sir Richard Vernon are put to death.
Sir Richard Vernon: Another rebel against King
Henry IV, Vernon opposed Worcester's plan to deny Hotspur
any knowledge of King Henry's generous terms for ending
the rebellion in Act V, Scene II; a decision that leads
to the defeat of Hotspur's forces and ultimately to
Worcester's and Vernon's demise when King Henry decides
to have these rebels put to death.
Archibald, Earl of Douglas: Described as a vile
Scot, he is initially introduced to us as the man Hotspur
defeated at Holmedon when Hotspur was still fighting
on the side of King Henry IV. Later in the play he joins
the rebellion against King Henry, fighting side by side
with Hotspur, the man who defeated his forces in Act
In Act V, Douglas kills Sir Walter Blunt thinking
he is King Henry and nearly kills the real King Henry
until Hal drives him off. Douglas nearly kills Hal's
friend Falstaff but Falstaff feigns death and Douglas
moves on. When the rebels are defeated, Hal gives Douglas
his freedom for his noble manner, whilst Vernon and
Worcester are put to death.
Richard Scroop: The Archbishop of York, Scroop
is also involved in the rebellion. He does not fight
but in a conversation with Sir Michael his friend, reveals
that he does not believe the rebellion will succeed
when first the Earl of Northumberland (Henry Percy),
and Owen Glendower's forces become unavailable
to fight. In Act V, Scene V, we learn that his forces
are gathering with those of Northumberland's for
future war against King Henry (See Henry IV Part II).
Sir Michael: A friend to the Archbishop of
Owen Glendower: A key figure in the rebellion
along with Douglas, Hotspur, The Earl of Northumberland
and the Archbishop of York, Glendower initially fought
against King Henry's forces led by Mortimer. Later
it is revealed that Mortimer, taken prisoner by Glendower,
had joined the rebellion. Glendower's forces do
not make it to the final battle since they needed two
more weeks to gather dooming Douglas and Hotspur to
near certain defeat against King Henry in Act V.
Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March: Hotspur's
brother in law and a key figure in the rebellion. Originally
fighting Glendower on King Henry's behalf, Mortimer
is captured by Glendower and is one of the reasons King
Henry IV again delays his religious crusade.
Mortimer arguably is also a contributing cause for
the rebellion as he is the reason King Henry believes
Hotspur refused to hand over prisoners to him. Along
this line of thought, King Henry believed Hotspur was
holding the prisoners to lever King Henry into paying
Mortimer's ransom, freeing him from Glendower.
We later learn from King Henry that far from being
a prisoner, Mortimer married Glendower's daughter,
the daughter of his supposed enemy. This and the fact
that Mortimer led a thousand men to their deaths to
then join his "enemy" convinces King Henry
to order the prisoners off Hotspur without paying Mortimer's
ransom, angering Hotspur who later joins the rebellion
against King Henry.
Like the forces of Northumberland and Glendower, Mortimer's
forces are unavailable to the rebels, sealing Douglas
and Hotspur's fate of being defeated...
Sir John Falstaff: Considered one of the most
complex comic (and yet dramatic) characters of Shakespeare's
plays, Falstaff has generated an enormous amount of
academic discussion for what is admittedly a very peripheral
character in this play.
A leader of the gang of thieves, Hal spends time with
for fun, Falstaff initially is introduced to us as a
petty, though witty thief with little time for the responsibilities
of the world, preferring like Hal to enjoy life without
accountability and consequence instead.
As Hal is forced into showing his maturity by the Percy
rebellion, Falstaff too in unwittingly enlisted by Hal
to lead a ragtag group of troops into battle. Forced
into a position of responsibility, Falstaff shows great
character development in his caring for and support
for his men. When they quickly become decimated on the
battlefield, Falstaff famously questions the value of
honor if one dies to achieve it.
A survivor above all else, Falstaff fakes his own
death to avoid a real one at the hands of Douglas to
later claim that he killed the already dead Hotspur.
By this action we can see Falstaff's pragmatism at work.
He will not overlook gaining honor in battle if he can
do so by avoiding its risks.
At the end of the play, Falstaff surprises Hal by
being alive and later petitions him for a title for
killing Hotspur, one Hal who knows the truth, gladly
A complex character, Falstaff is both comic and dramatic
with a propensity and a real gift in his ability to
both avoid trouble and negative judgment by his unending
ability to redeem himself by his words and actions.
He later reappears in King Henry IV, Part II
Poins: One of Gadshill's gang of thieves, Poins,
along with Hal, mischievously plot to steal Falstaff
and company's taking from a robbery so they can both
enjoy Falstaff's lies for losing his groups' loot. This
succeeds and we see little more of Poins in the play.
Gadshill: Leader by name only (Falstaff is
the real leader) of a group of petty thieves, Gadshill
is also the location at which the Gadshill gang makes
a robbery only to then be robbed by a disguised Hal
Peto: Member of Gadshill's gang.
Bardolph: Member of Gadshill's gang.
Lady Percy (Kate): The wife to Hotspur and sister
to Mortimer, she shows a fine wit and a resistance to
blindly loving her husband as does Lady Mortimer.
Lady Mortimer: The daughter of Glendower and
wife to Mortimer, her blind adoration of her husband,
due in part to a language barrier (Mortimer speaks English,
Lady Mortimer, Welsh), prompts Hotspur to wish his wife
Kate was similarly as adoring of him, earning Hotspur
instead, several icy comments in Act III, Scene I.
Mistress Quickly: The Hostess of the Boar's
Head Tavern in Eastcheap, she argues with Falstaff over
a bill, Falstaff says he has no money to pay. Her Tavern
is a key location for dialogue between Poins and Hal
and later Falstaff in Act II, Scene IV before the play's
action turns to preparations and battle with the Percies
in the second half of the play.
Lords, Officers, Sheriff, Vintner, Chamberlain,
Drawers, two Carriers, Travelers, and Attendants.