Questions on Shakespeare’s Histories
Shakespeare, William. The First Part of Henry the Fourth (Norton Histories, 2nd ed. 595-672).
1. In Act 1, Scene 1, what problems does Henry IV (Bullingbrook from Richard II) enunciate at the play’s beginning? How does he mean to resolve them, and what is keeping him from carrying out his resolutions? How would you describe the pattern of his reign so far?
2. In Act 1, Scene 2, what concerns seem most proper to Sir John Falstaff, the play’s resident Lord of Misrule? What is he complaining about? What plot do Falstaff’s friends set in motion against him, and why?
3. In Act 1, Scene 2, how does Prince Harry regard Falstaff and his other low-ranking friends at the Boar’s Head Tavern? How does the Prince respond to Falstaff’s jests? Why is he hanging around with such rascals in the first place, and what plan does he apparently have in mind for the future, now that his father is king and great events are in the offing?
4. In Act 1, Scene 3, we are introduced to Harry Hotspur, Henry Percy’s (Northumberland’s) son. What seem to be Hotspur’s characteristics? In what sense is Hotspur admirable, and in what sense flawed? What attitude does he take up towards the King and towards his familial elders Worcester and Northumberland?
5. In Act 2, Scenes 1-2, how do the robbery and mock robbery play out? How does Falstaff treat the people he robs — what does he say to them, and what do you draw from such comments regarding Falstaff’s self-image? How does he behave at the moment when he, in turn, is robbed of his spoils?
6. In Act 2, Scene 4, what additional things become apparent about Hotspur? What attributes does Hotspur’s wife, Kate (Lady Percy), possess? How well does Hotspur relate to her? Why, for example, does he choose to hold back information from her about his key role in the rebellion against King Henry IV?
7. In Act 2, Scene 5, what is Prince Harry up to at the beginning of the scene? Why does he associate with the Tavern’s “drawers” — what does he learn from them? Why does he make fun of the drawer Francis — how does Prince Harry’s remark at lines 5.2.86-88 (“I am now of all humours …”) perhaps explain the motivation for his jests regarding that common laborer?
8. In Act 2, Scene 5, what accusations does Falstaff level at Prince Harry and others upon re-entering the Boar’s Head Tavern after the robbery? How does Falstaff describe what happened during the robbery at Gadshill? How does Prince Harry undercut Falstaff’s lies, and what do Falstaff’s attempts to vindicate himself reveal about his outlook on life?
9. In Act 2, Scene 5, what is the serious point underlying Prince Harry’s comic play-acting the roles of King and Crown Prince (which latter, of course, he actually is) with Falstaff? Moreover, how does the play-acting carry darker undertones respecting Falstaff’s tenure as “Lord of Misrule” in Prince Harry’s life?
10. In Act 2, Scene 5, towards the end of the scene, how does Prince Harry deal with the lawmen who come looking for Falstaff because of his thievery at Gadshill? What promise does he subsequently make Falstaff about his place in the war against the rebels besetting Henry IV, and how does Falstaff react to that promise?
11. In Act 3, Scene 1, what do the rebels discuss? Why don’t Hotspur and Owen Glyndwr get along — what differences in outlook and personal expression keep them apart? What attributes does Glyndwr possess that differ markedly from Hotspur’s?
12. In Act 3, Scene 2, what reproaches does Henry IV make against his son Prince Harry, heir to the throne? What wisdom does he try to impart to the young man, and what unsavory comparison does he make between Prince Harry and King Richard II, whom Henry deposed back when he was still called “Bullingbrook”? How does Harry console and re-inspirit his father: how does he cast his imperfect past and what promises does he make for the present and future?
13. In Act 3, Scene 3, what is the nature of Falstaff’s quarrel with the Hostess and with Prince Harry at the Boar’s Head Tavern? What is Falstaff’s mood on the eve of the fight against the rebels Glyndwr, Hotspur, and others?
14. In Act 4, Scene 1, what is happening on the rebel side? How does Hotspur take the bad news he receives? How does he deal with the praise that Richard Vernon heaps upon Prince Harry, and what does Hotspur’s attitude towards his rival reveal about him?
15. In Act 4, Scene 2, what has Falstaff done in the wake of the Prince’s procuring for him “a charge of foot” back at 3.3.171? How does Falstaff apparently construe the significance of war? In what sense does his standing in the play begin to decline at this point?
16. In Act 4, Scene 3, how does Hotspur describe his kinsmen’s role in helping Henry Bullingbrook depose Richard II and become King Henry IV? How does Hotspur characterize King Henry’s reign up to the present time? How do the rebels’ prospects look at this point, just before their direct meeting with the King in the next Act?
17. In Act 5, Scene 1, how does King Henry IV counter the rebels’ interpretation of the events leading to the present’s imminent hostilities? What offer does the King extend to those massed to fight against him? Does it seem realistic? Why or why not? How does Prince Harry treat the reputation of Hotspur (here called Henry Percy)?
18. In Act 5, Scene 1, what “catechism” (see 5.1.127-39, “‘Tis not due yet …”) does Falstaff offer regarding the concept of chivalric honor? Why does he call it a catechism? How does his speech reflect upon or connect to the chivalric meeting we have just seen between the King, Prince Harry, and the enemies against whom they are about to do battle?
19. In Act 5, Scene 2, why does Worcester keep the knowledge of the King’s offer from Hotspur? What is Hotspur’s present attitude towards his rival, Prince Harry? How good a rhetorician or public speaker is Hotspur on the eve of battle? How do his skills compare with those of others in this play?
20. In Act 5, Scenes 3-4, what two “redemptive” acts does Prince Harry perform, in light of his previous promises to his father? Describe the Prince’s actions and what he says about them to others. Consider as well his brief meeting with Falstaff during this heroic scene: how does he react to his old friend’s behavior now?
21. In Act 5, Scenes 3-4, how does Falstaff conduct himself during the battle? Why does Prince Harry go along with Falstaff’s deceptive claim to have killed Hotspur? Doesn’t doing so undercut the redemptive storyline Prince Harry has been working up to since the end of Richard II and all through I Henry IV? Or is there a different way to understand Harry’s genial treatment of Falstaff at this point? Explain.
22. In Act 5, Scene 5, what is the kingdom’s status at the end of the play? How secure is Henry IV’s throne, and overall, what is your impression of him at this point? How do the victors deal with those they have captured, and what still remains to be done?
Edition: Greenblatt, Stephen et al., eds. The Norton Shakespeare. 2nd edition. Four-Volume Genre Paperback Set. Norton, 2008. ISBN-13: 978-0-393-93152-5.
Copyright © 2012 Alfred J. Drake