King Henry IV, Part I Commentary provides a comprehensive
description of every act with explanations and translations
for all important quotes.
Act I. Scene I. - London. The Palace.
King Henry IV: "So shaken as we are, so wan with
care, / Find we a time for frighted peace to pant...."
A tired and drained King Henry IV explains to us
that a civil war in England has left its mark on his
kingdom. He hopes a much-delayed religious crusade will
unite his people again under one purpose.
Unfortunately the Earl of Westmoreland informs the
King Henry of trouble in his land. First we learn that
Mortimer, The Earl of March was captured in a battle
with the irregular "Glendower" which resulted
in a thousand deaths for Mortimer's men. Next we
learn that though Young Henry Percy (Hotspur) protected
Holmedon from the Earl of Douglas in the north, Hotspur
has kept the prisoners for himself rather than give
them to King Henry IV, his king.
King Henry laments that his own son is not nearly
as capable as Hotspur and regrets that these two problems
(Mortimer and Hotspur) will force a further postponement
of his already delayed religious crusade...
The play begins with England's current ruler,
King Henry IV, speaking to the Earl of Westmoreland
about the troubles of his recent rule and his plans
to start a religious crusade...
The king is weary and his opening dialogue conveys
the feeling that the civil strife England has endured
has taken its toll on both king and country.
King Henry IV describes this vividly when he says "So
shaken as we are, so wan with care, / Find we a time
for frighted peace to pant," (Line 1).
King Henry explains that his people have fought one
another (Lines 4-13) with a fury "close of [to]
civil butchery," (Line 13), but now, he believes
his once divided people will "March all one way,
and be no more oppos'd / Against acquaintance,"
(march together and no longer fight those they know),
(Line 15) because the English people will be united
together in a religious crusade against those enemies
of Christianity in Jerusalem (Lines 18-27).
King Henry himself refers to this when he describes
the purpose of his crusade as being to "chase these
pagans in those holy fields" (Line 24).
This comment is a reference to those who now inhabit
the holy fields where King Henry explains, Jesus Christ
once walked and later was crucified or "nail'd"
(Line 26) for the advantage or benefit of all Christians
four hundred years before (the time of this play is
during rule of King Henry IV), (Lines 24-27).
King Henry also explains that this religious crusade
is not a new project, saying "our purpose [the
crusade] is a twelvemonth [one year] old," (Line
King Henry now learns some unpleasant news from the
Earl of Westmoreland... The crusade will again have
to be postponed since news has come that "the noble
Mortimer [Earl of March]," whilst leading the men
of Herefordshire against the "irregular and wild
Glendower," was captured "And a thousand of
his people butchered;" (Line 42).
The Earl, adds that the ensuing mutilation or "shameless
transformation" (Line 44) performed on their corpses
cannot be described without much shame in the telling
King Henry resigns himself to the inevitable conclusion
that this current crisis will delay "our business
for the Holy Land", specifically his crusade (Line 48).
The Earl now adds that there is more bad news from
the north:."On Holy-rood day, the gallant Hotspur"
(Line 52) also known as the Young Henry Percy commanded
King Henry's troops against "the brave Archibald,
/ That ever-valiant and approved Scot," (The Earl
of Douglas), (Line 53) in a battle at Holmedon.
Unfortunately the messenger telling the Earl of Westmoreland
this news "did take horse," or left the scene
of the battle "Uncertain of the issue any way"
(uncertain who actually won), (Line 61).
King Henry now fills the Earl in on the missing points.
From Sir Walter Blunt, who has just arrived or in King
Henry's words who is "new lighted from his
horse," (just off his horse), (Line 63), King Henry
IV has learned that Westmoreland's news is good
Not only was Holmedon kept in their (King Henry's)
hands (Line 65) but the Earl of Douglas was defeated
with some "Ten thousand bold Scots, two and twenty
knights, / Balk'd in their own blood" or heaped
up in their own blood dead from what Sir Walter Blunt
could see (Line 68).
As for prisoners, King Henry IV continues, Hotspur
(The Young Henry Percy) took "Mordake the Earl
of Fife," the eldest son of the beaten Douglas
and the Earls of Athol, Murray, Angus and Menteith.
King Henry asks the Earl of Westmoreland, "is
not this an honourable spoil? A gallant prize?"
(is not this a honorable spoil or booty / loot, a gallant
prize), (Line 75).
The Earl of Westmoreland agrees, saying, "It is
a conquest for a prince to boast of" (Line 77).
That last line saddens King Henry who says as much
King Henry explains that Young Percy's victory
saddens and marks him in sin that he should envy "my
Lord Northumberland" (Line 79) for being so blessed
as a father to have Percy for a son, "A son who
is the theme of honour's tongue;" (Line 81)
whilst King Henry "by looking on the praise of
him [Young Percy]," (Line 84) can only see "riot
and dishonour stain the brow [forehead] / Of my young
Harry (his real name is Henry but King Henry IV calls
him this) ", King Henry's own son (Line 84).
King Henry wishes his son was as noble and gallant
as Lord Northumberland's son, Young Percy who defeated
his enemies on the battlefield whilst his own son did
King Henry IV now laments that if only "some night-tripping
fairy" (a fairy) had exchanged their children in
their "cradle-clothes" (toddler clothing /
when the boys were young) (Line 88), then he would have
a son he could truly be proud of (Lines 77-91).
King Henry now asks the Earl of Westmoreland what he
thinks of Hotspur or "young Percy's pride?"
that he keeps the prisoners he has taken for his "own
use" giving King Henry only Mordake the Earl of
Fife rather than give them all up to his king? (Line
Westmoreland explains that Young Percy's (Hotspur's)
lack of respect is the result of "his uncle's
teaching," (Line 96), the Earl of Worcester whom
Westmoreland describes as being "Malevolent"
or opposed to King Henry IV in all aspects.
It is the Earl's influence on Young Percy (Hotspur),
Westmoreland explains, that makes Young Percy "prune
himself, and bristle up / The crest of youth [summon
up the crest of youth] against your dignity [King Henry
IV]" (Line 99).
King Henry IV now explains that he has sent for Young
Percy to explain himself, saying "for this cause
a while we must neglect / Our holy purpose to Jerusalem"
(because of this problem we must ignore our plans for
a crusade a little longer), (Line 101).
King Henry tells Westmoreland that next Wednesday they
shall hold their council in Windsor, telling Westmoreland
to inform the Lords and to return quickly for as King
Henry puts it, "more is to be said and to be done
/ Than out of anger can be uttered" (Line 106).
Act I. Scene II. - The Same. An Apartment of
Prince Hal (Prince Henry): "My reformation, glittering
o'er my fault, / Shall show more goodly and attract
more eyes / Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
I'll so offend to make offence a skill; / Redeeming
time when men think least I will."
We are introduced to Prince Hal, or Prince Henry,
the son King Henry IV called "Harry" in the
earlier scene and the son, King Henry IV wishes was
more like the valiant Hotspur. Far from acting as a
Prince arguably should, Hal is keeping company with
petty thieves. We are introduced to Falstaff, one such
thief and Poins who is planning a robbery at Gadshill
Poins explains that he and Hal (both disguised)
will steal what their friends have already stolen from
carriages running along Gadshill and will both enjoy
Falstaff's false explanations of what how they
were robbed afterwards. In an important soliloquy, Hal
reveals that though he has been keeping bad company,
he will soon show his true colours at the right time...
Meanwhile in Prince Henry's (Hal's) apartment
in London, Prince Henry is speaking with Falstaff (Sir
John Falstaff). Falstaff introduces himself to us by
asking Hal (Prince Henry) what time it is.
Prince Henry replies that Falstaff whom he describes
as "fat-witted," or slow witted "hast
[has] forgotten to demand that truly which thou [you]
wouldst [would or should] truly know" (Line 6),
adding that unless hours were cups of sack, minutes
were capons, dials the signs of leaping-houses "and
the blessed sun himself a fair hot wench [women] in
flame-colour'd taffeta," why should he care?
Falstaff, who refers to Prince Henry as "Hal",
explains that thieves such as himself "that take
purses go by the moon and the seven stars," (Line
15), adding that should Hal one day become King of England,
or "as, God save thy Grace,-majesty," (Line
19) he believes "for grace thou wilt have none,-"
(for grace you shall have none), (Line 19).
This comment from Falstaff who clearly shows little
respect or deference for the Prince Henry's title and
position angers Hal into saying "What! none?"
Again Falstaff presses home his friendly insult, completely
unafraid of his friend Prince Hal (Line 22).
Falstaff now suggests that when Prince Henry is made
"king," they should both be "gentlemen
of the shade, minions of the moon;" adding that
men should consider them both "men of good government,
being governed as the sea is, by our noble and chaste
mistress the moon, under whose countenance we steal"
(men of good government who like the sea should be governed
by the moon or the darkness under which they are allowed
or able to steal), (Line 33).
Falstaff's comments that they should both steal
whilst being considered men of good government, shows
us that Prince Henry is certainly running with a less
than honest crowd and certainly not the crowd one would
expect to produce a fair, honest and conscience future
King of England.
Thus we first see Henry as a man perhaps more willing
to run with interesting company ignoring their moral
inadequacies for the thrill, excitement and interest
of living with a more interesting crowd than Prince
Henry would otherwise know, not unlike many privileged
youth today who choose friends with exciting but often
less privileged lives to bring excitement their own.
We also can see from this good natured exchange that
though Prince Henry would like to think his wits are
faster than Falstaff's the opposite may well be
Returning to the play, Falstaff and Hal discuss their
recent activities, in particular discussing the merits
of "the hostess of the tavern" (Line 46) and
in a moment suggesting seriousness, Falstaff tells Prince
Henry that when he is king, "Do not thou, when
thou art king, hang a thief" (do not when you are
king, hang a thief), (Line 70).
The two now exchange further witticisms over the hanging
of thieves, Falstaff mockingly suggesting that his relationship
with the Young Prince has corrupted him (Line 101) and
that before meeting Hal, Falstaff "knew nothing;"
but now he is damned, jokingly suggesting that his life
must be given over to redeem himself (Lines 73-115).
The Prince suggests that he sees a change in the better
for Falstaff, "from praying to purse-taking"
Poins now enters, Prince Henry exchanging witticisms
before discussing an upcoming robbery (Lines 116-136).
Poins now explains the robbery, saying that "There
are pilgrims going to Canterbury with rich offerings,
and traders riding to London with fat purses:" (Line
138). Poins has made meticulous plans (Lines 137-146)
adding that "If you will go I will stuff your purses
full of crowns; if you will not, tarry at home and be
hanged" (Line 147).
Falstaff suggests that if he does stay home, he will
hang Poins for going...
Falstaff now asks Hal (Prince Henry) if he will join
this Gadshill led robbery, Prince Henry coyly saying
"Who, I rob? I a thief? not I, by my faith"
Falstaff now goads Hal suggesting "There's
neither honesty, manhood, nor good fellowship [friendship]
in thee [you], nor thou camest not [you did not come]
of the blood royal, if thou darest not stand for ten
shillings" (Line 154).
Tellingly in view of the fact that Hal is a prince
with obligations of conduct, Prince Henry replies "Well,
come what will, I'll tarry at home" (Line
161), choosing not to join the robbing party.
Falstaff protests that "I'll be a traitor
then, when thou [you] art [are] king" (Line 164),
Hal telling him "I care not" (Line 165).
Poins now tells Falstaff to leave him and the Prince
alone, he will convince the Prince to join them.
Falstaff now leaves for Eastcheap, one of the stops
on the robbing trip, and Poins begins to convince Hal
to join them saying, "I have a jest [joke] to execute
[perform] that I cannot manage alone" (Line 179).
Poins explains that Falstaff, Bardolph, Peto and Gadshill
(the person not the location) shall rob the men they
have already described but Poins and Prince Henry will
not be there, instead they will rob them once they have
the booty. Poins is very serious about this suggesting,
"if you and I do not rob them, cut this [my / Poin's]
head from my shoulders" (Line 185).
The Prince however is unsure they can lose the rest
of the thieves. Poins tells him not to worry; they will
appoint a place to meet, not turn up and Falstaff and
company will continue the robbery without them (Lines
The Prince is still worried they will be identified.
Poins again tells the Prince not to worry, they will
hide their horses and Poins has brought cases of "buckram"
to "inmask our noted outward garments" or
to camouflage their distinguishing clothes from Falstaff
and company (Lines 197-201).
Again Hal has his doubts, saying he doubts they will
be easy to steal from (Line 202).
Poins again has the answer. Two of them Poins is certain
are cowards and the third is unlikely to fight "longer
than he sees reason," (Line 204).
Poins now explains that the virtue or fun of this little
jest or joke will be the "incomprehensible lies
that this same fat rogue [Falstaff] will tell us when
we meet at supper: how thirty, at least, he fought with;
what wards, what blows, what extremities he endured;"
(how thirty men attacked him with made up details) and
in the reproof or retelling of what really happened,
will lie the jest or joke on Falstaff, Poins explains
The Prince is convinced, he will go with Poins, telling
him to meet with him tomorrow night at Eastcheap, where
he will have supper.
Now alone, Prince Henry tells us what steel his character
is truly made from...
Prince Henry explains to us that while he has indeed
been idle (Lines 217-229), he will soon cast off this
lazy lifestyle (Line 230).
He explains that he knows he has been keeping bad company,
describing his keeping bad company as akin to the sun
which allows itself to be smothered by "the base
contagious clouds" (Line 220), (a metaphor for
his bad company), but which will rid itself of these
contaminants when the sun chooses again to see and show
itself for what it really is (Lines 218-225).
Prince Henry also adds that this change of character
will shine like "bright metal on a sullen ground,"
(Line 234), the more so because it is unexpected and
more than if he had been truly honorable to begin with
(Line 237), adding that before he does this, he will
offend so much as to make it seem a skill, only then
reforming when everyone least expects it.
Prince Henry ends the scene saying:
"My reformation, glittering o'er [over]
my fault, / Shall show more goodly and attract more
eyes / Than that which hath no foil to set it off. I'll
so offend to make offence a skill; / Redeeming time
when men think least I will" (Lines 235-239).
Act I. Scene III. - The Same. The Palace.
King Henry: "I do see / Danger and disobedience
in thine eye."
King Henry punishes the Earl of Worcester, The Earl
of Northumberland and Hotspur (Young Henry Percy, Northumberland's
son) for forgetting their obligations to the king. Hotspur
and father offer the prisoners gladly, arguing their
refusal to do so was a misunderstanding.
King Henry IV disagrees, believing Hotspur (Young
Henry) wanted to use the prisoners to lever King Henry
IV into paying the ransom of Lord Mortimer, his brother-in-law.
King Henry IV will not, arguing that this man betrayed
his forces by marrying the daughter of Glendower, his
enemy on the battlefield!
Hotspur is ordered to hand over the prisoners but
refuses. Worcester suggests a plan to deal with King
Henry, which involves Douglas, Glendower and the Archbishop
of York against King Henry. Hotspur will hand over the
prisoners to buy time...
Back at the King Henry's palace, an angry King Henry
IV is verbally punishing The Earl of Worcester (Lines
1-13), The Earl of Northhumberland and his son Young
He reminds them all that they have "tread upon
my patience:" (Line 4) warning them that he will
use force to bring them into line if necessary (Lines
This leads Worcester to remind King Henry IV that his
house (The Percy family) does not deserve "The
scourge of greatness to be used on it;" (the king's
forces to be used against it), (Line 11) adding that
the very greatness (King Henry's throne) King Henry
IV now threatens them with would not have been possible
without their help (Lines 10-12).
King Henry IV now tells Worcester to "get thee
gone;" or leave since he sees "Danger and
disobedience in thine [your] eye" (Line 16).
Turning to Northhumberland, King Henry hears Northhumberland
voice the opinion that the prisoners his son "Harry
Percy" (Hotspur, Young Henry) took, which are now
demanded by King Henry IV are not denied more strongly
to the him than they are offered.
Northhumberland goes on to suggest that envy or "misprison"
is guilty of this fault and not his son (Lines 23-28).
Hotspur (called Harry by his father) now defends himself
saying, "I did deny [to the king] no prisoners:"
(Line 29) but also that he was greeted by a man shortly
after battle requesting the prisoners for the king.
Unfortunately this "popinjay," (Line 50)
so angered him with his noble disdain for the smells
and scenes of battle that Hotspur did answer this man
representing the king somewhat "neglectingly, [rudely
/ disrespectfully]", Hotspur asking that this incident
does not come between him and his love of his majesty,
King Henry IV (Lines 29-69).
Sir Walter Blunt now speaks, suggesting to the king
that "Whatever Harry Percy then had said / To such
a person and in such a place," (Line 71) be best
forgotten (Lines 70-76).
King Henry now replies to all this, saying "yet
he [Hotspur] doth [does] deny his prisoners, / But with
proviso and exception," suggesting that it was
Hotspur's intent to use the prisoners to levy King
Henry IV into providing the ransom for his brother-in-law
Mortimer, the Earl of March and the very man who "wilfully
betray'd" the forces he led (Line 81).
On top of all this, King Henry IV reminds all present
that Mortimer then went on to marry the daughter of
the "damn'd Glendower," (Line 83) the
man he led his forces to fight.
King Henry now asks, "Shall our coffers [funds]
then / Be emptied to redeem a traitor home?" (Line
Hotspur now defends his brother in law vigorously,
explaining that the "noble Mortimer "(Line
111) is no traitor, having taken wounds in his battle
against Glendower (Lines 93-112).
King Henry IV, though is far from convinced, explaining
to Percy (Hotspur) that Mortimer never met with Glendower
(Line 114) and now instructing Hotspur to send his prisoners
to him as quickly as possible, telling Hotspur "Send
me your prisoners with the speediest means, / Or you
shall hear in such a kind from me / As will displease
you" (send me your prisoners as quickly as possible
or you will hear from me in a way I am sure you will
not like), (Line 120).
King Henry IV, Sir Walter Blunt and the Henry's train
or followers now depart, leaving a furious Hotspur who
refuses to obey his king.
Hotspur is adamant nothing will change his mind, adding
that "if the devil come and roar for them [the
prisoners], I will not send them: I will after straight
/ And tell him so; for I will ease my heart, / Albeit
I make a hazard of my head" (if the devil himself
asks for the prisoners, I will not give them. I will
tell him this straight for I will ease my heart even
if I now place my head and my life at risk), (Line 125).
Northhumberland, Hotspur's father tries to tell
his son to calm down but Worcester now returns and Hotspur
starts another outburst, pledging his loyalty to Mortimer
and saying "I will lift the down-trod [downtrodden]
Mortimer / As high i' [in] the air as this unthankful
king," (Line 136).
Hotspur now mentions that King Henry turned pale at
the mention of the ransom for Mortimer, suggesting that
King Henry IV was "Trembling even at the name of
Mortimer" (Line 144).
Worcester explains why, saying he is not surprised,
asking "was he not proclaim'd [proclaimed]
/ By Richard [King Henry's predecessor, Richard
II] that dead is the next of blood?" (was he not
proclaimed as the successor to Richard II, the last
king), (Line 146).
Worcester explains that King Henry IV has very good
reason to fear Mortimer. King Richard II, whom King
Henry IV replaced as King of England with the help of
the Percies, named Mortimer as his successor. Thus Mortimer
represents a threat to the legitimacy of King Henry's
rule over England.
Northhumberland, Worcester and Hotspur now retell recent
history, explaining that Richard II made that proclamation
shortly before his Irish expedition after which he returned
to England and was soon after deposed (removed from
power) and then murdered (Lines 147-152).
Worcester echoes how the death of Richard II scandalized
the "world's wide mouth" (Line 153) and
Hotspur asks whether King Richard II did "Proclaim
my brother Edmund Mortimer / Heir to the crown?"
(Line 156) learning that he did and that King Henry
IV has forgotten the Percy family who helped him become
king notably in the Bolingbroke revolt (Line 176).
Worcester now interrupts to suggest a dark and secret
plan which he describes as "a secret book,"
to be unclasped or opened of a matter both dangerous
and deep (Lines 187-193).
Hotspur is enthusiastic, especially since it involves
honor (Line 196) and because it involves danger (Line
Northhumberland now remarks that the thought of some
great exploit drives Hotspur beyond the bounds of patience
(Line 200), Hotspur now confirming this (Lines 201-211).
Hotspur (Young Percy, Young Henry, Harry) now mentions
that he will keep all his Scottish prisoners, Hotspur
saying that for refusing him the Mortimer's ransom
or even to speak Mortimer's name, Hotspur will
"holla 'Mortimer!'" in King Henry's ear when
he is asleep (Lines 219-226).
Hotspur pledges to defy "this Bolingbroke: / And
that same sword-and-buckler Prince of Wales," (Prince
Henry), (Line 229) who Hotspur believes the king does
not even like and would be happy if he were poisoned.
Northumberland now succeeds in cooling down his hot
headed son, allowing Worcester to instruct him to return
the prisoners to King Henry IV to calm him down and
throw the king off guard whilst he also is to make peace
with Douglas through his son, to secure them Scottish
support and forces for their plan (Lines 260-263).
Worcester now tells Northhumberland to seek out the
Archbishop of York who has taken his brother's
death hard. Hotspur is excited that soon the power of
"Scotland and of York," will soon join with
Mortimer (Line 281).
Worcester now sets Northhumberland and son Hotspur
(Young Percy) on their separate ways, telling them to
be ready to receive word, which could be sudden, that
the plan to remove King Henry is afoot.
At this point, Worcester explains that he will go to
Glendower and Lord Mortimer where Douglas and "our
powers at once,- / As I will fashion it,-shall happily
meet," (Line 298) to fight united against King
Henry described as "much uncertainty" (Line