King Henry the Fourth characters guide studies each  player's role and motivation in this  famous play
William Shakespeare's plays, sonnets and poems at
Home Plays Sonnets Poems Quotes Summaries Essays Glossary Links Help

HOME > King Henry IV , Part I Study Guide > King Henry IV, Part I Characters

King Henry IV, Part I Characters

Study Guides
Julius Caesar
King Henry IV
King Lear
Merchant of Venice
Romeo and Juliet
The Tempest
Twelfth Night

Bard Facts
Globe Theatre

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 I.

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 York.

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 agrees to…

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 and Poins.

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.

Copyright 2000-2005 All rights reserved.  Contact Us  Privacy  Awards