Character Directory

KING HENRY IV

Henry IV, is historical figure and title character in 1 and 2 Henry IV. (The same figure appears in Richard II as Bolinbroke.) King Henry is not the most prominent character in the plays that take his name, but he is nonetheless an important figure. The major concern of the plays is the growth of his son and successor, Prince Hal. The question of what constitutes a good ruler is thus paramount, and as king. Henry personifies the issue. He is viewed from three distinct points of view in Part 1: he sees himself as a weary but effective monarch; Hotspur regards him as a dishonorable politician who first deposed a king (as is enacted in Richard II) and then betrayed those who helped him do so; and Falstaff considers him a cold, rigid opponent of comfort and license. By Part 2 Henry is almost a tragic figure. The cost of power shows itself in his illness and fatigue, while he himself suggests that his decline and death are the deserved fate of a usurper. 

Henry is presented as a strong ruler: for instance, his dismissal of Hotspur and Northumberland in 1.3.116-122 of Part 1 makes it clear that he does not tolerate insubordination, and in 3.1 of Part 2 he overcomes his illness and melancholy to face the rebellion squarely, saying, 'Are these things then necessities? then let us meet them like necessities' (3.1.92-93). He is also politically astute to the point of cynicism. In Part 1 (3.2.39-59) he describes the appearance of regal splendor that he assumed during his rebellion against Richard II in order to win the hearts of the populace (Richard also describes this in Richard II, 1.4.23-36), and his distinctly Machiavellian deathbed advice to Hal—divert potential rebels by engaging in wars abroad—is chilling. 

But, despite his strength, Henry's principal characteristic is weariness. From the first line of Part 1 Henry presents himself as a sick and tired man who wants to embark on a crusade to the Holy Land to atone for his role in the murder of Richard II. Moreover, his disappointment over Prince Hal's dissolute life embitters him. In 3.1 of Part 2 he comments that the terrible burden of power prevents him from sleeping; he broods, 'uneasy lies the head that wears a crown' (3.1. 31). He goes on to wish, 'Oh God, that one might read the book of fate . . .' (3.1.45), in tones that foreshadow the darkly brilliant meditations of Shakespeare's tragic heroes. 

Hotspur sees Henry as a treacherous usurper who has turned against his allies. Henry himself is very much aware that he has been a rebel. In his deathbed conversation with Hal, he plainly suffers guilt for the 'by-paths and indirect crook'd ways' (2 Henry IV, 4.5. 184) by which he gained power, a reference to the deposition and murder of Richard II. He observes that many of his allies against Richard later resented his assumption of power. He anticipates that Hal will have an easier time when he ascends the throne, being legitimately descended from a sitting king. This indeed proves to be so, as the end of 2 Henry IV and all of Henry V demonstrate. However, as Shakespeare and his contemporaries were well aware, the disputes over the royal succession that Henry's actions had triggered were settled only by the disastrous Wars of the Roses, and Henry's sense of guilt is a reflection of the curse that his sinful usurpation has brought upon himself, his family, and his country. Nevertheless, Henry is the established power in these plays, and Hotspur and his allies sin in rebelling against him and are repeatedly condemned as a result. 

Henry's ultimate significance in the drama is as the holder of the position for which Prince Hal must equip himself. While Henry's cold. Machiavellian world of political manipulation is too rigid and inhumane for the young man to grow up in, he does in the end enter it. In 4.5, in a reprise of the king's lament over the stresses of kingship (2 Henry IV, 3.1.4-31), Hal rhetorically addresses Henry's crown and speaks of the burden that kingship demands. He accepts that burden for himself, emphasizing his decision by placing the crown on his own head. One consequence of this decision is that he must become like Henry to some degree; he must enact in the real world the disciplinarian's role he had taken in the tavern burlesque of Part 1. Hal is often criticized for his icily brutal dismissal of Falstaff in 5.5; readers have thought that, in rejecting Falstaff, Hal also rejects part of his own humanity, but it may equally well be argued that he is simply adopting a different type of humanity, that of his weary, careworn father.

The history of Henry's reign is strenuously compressed in the plays, producing an impression of greater civil disorder than in fact occurred. While the various rebellions of the play did take place, they were widely spaced and relatively easily suppressed. Henry was a strong king, although he was not a competent administrator and his regime had persistent financial troubles. Two significant variations from history in the plays concern Henry personally. First, in Part 1 Henry is committed from the very beginning (indeed, from Richard II, 5.6.49-50) to a crusade to ease his conscience, thus stressing sin and retribution as the uitimate causes of the unrest of Henry's reign. In fact, and in Shakespeare's sources, Henry did not propose a crusade until late in his reign, when it seems to have been intended to expand his influence in European diplomacy. Second, Henry's illness, which he actually developed only a year before his death, plagues him for most of his reign in the plays, dominating all his appearances in 2 Henry IV. Shakespeare may have been influenced in this direction by Samuel Daniel, whose Civil Wars stresses Henry's deathbed struggles with his bad conscience. The effect produced, a melancholy sense of impending death, makes more fateful and solemn Hal's acceptance of his kingly burden.

PRINCE HENRY

Prince Henry of Wales (Hal, later King HENRY V) (1387-1422), Historical figure and character in 1 and 2 Henry IV, the oldest son of King Henry IV. The central concern of the Henry IV plays is Prince Hal's preparation for assuming the throne. (He appears as the king in Act 5 of 2 Henry IV and in Henry V.) The Prince must find his way between two undesirable extremes—anarchy and obsessiveness—represented respectively by the irresponsible debauchery of Falstaff and the exaggerated sense of honor of the war loving Hotspur. In neither play is the Prince the most prominent character, but Hotspur in Part 1 and Falstaff in both plays derive their importance from their relationship to the Prince. In Part I the Prince becomes a chivalric hero by conquering Hotspur, though he remains friendly with Falstaff. In Part 2 he integrates himself more fully into the world of statecraft, assumes the crown upon his father's death, and makes the final, irrevocable break with Falstaff in his famous rejection' speech in 5.5. 

The comparison of Hal and Hotspur is foreshadowed in Richard II, when Hotspur, then known as Percy, tells of Hal's disreputable life among harlots in London (5.3.13-19). In 1 Henry IV the dissolute Prince is contrasted with the valorous Hotspur. However, Hal assures Henry that 'the time will come' (3.2.144) when he will conquer Hotspur. Significantly, the Prince does not have to change his character to arrive at this resolution, for he is conscious of his destiny from the outset. As he makes clear in his famous 'reformation' speech (1.2.190-212), he intends to fulfill his inherited duties. He simply chooses to remain in Eastcheap until 'being wanted he may be more wonder' at' (1.2.196). Once Hal has asserted his readiness to assume his proper position as Prince when the time comes—and of course, Shakespeare and his original audiences were very much aware of Hal's future success as Henry V—the ground is laid for the climactic hand-to-hand combat in which the Prince kills Hotspur. 

Shakespeare took care to have Hal spurn some of the temptations offered by Falstaff, as when he rejects the old man's lascivious suggestions about a barmaid in 1.2.46. The playwright thus establishes that the Prince is not the reckless and vicious playboy of the well-known farce The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, but rather a good king in the making. 

The essential question of the Henry IV plays is: can a ruler successfully combine cold-blooded political skills with the spiritual values that derive from social contacts and appreciation of one's fellows. Hal's development take place in the irresponsible world of Eastcheap because the Machiavellian world of King Henry cannot nurture humane values. At the Boar’s Head Tavern, however, Prince Hal learns about the lives of ordinary people, and he knows that this education has a purpose. 'When I am King of England, I shall command all the good lads in Eastcheap', he says in 2.4.13-14). At the same time, the Prince is learning about himself as well. He places himself in different contexts: highway robbery, in 2.2 of Part 1, and menial service in 2.4 of both plays. In the mock drama he enacts with Falstaff in 2.4 of Part I, he even samples the role of king. In Eastcheap the Prince is free to make mistakes, to take positions he will later reject—in short, to learn. 

In Part 1, although Hal plans to forsake Eastcheap life at some point, he still participates fully in it. He rejects duty in favor of pleasure, sending Falstaff to dispose of the king's messenger, and when the rebellion against his father is introduced, he boldly suggests, in the callous manner of a soldier, that a campaign brings the opportunity to 'buy maidenheads ... by the hundreds' (2.4.358-359). His merriment in the same scene includes a disrespectful charade of his father. While he does go to Shrewsbury and defeats Hotspur, the battle seems to be only an interval in his life with Falstaff. At the end of the fighting, he is ready to corroborate Falstaff’s lie about his courage 'with the happiest terms I have' (5.4.156). 

However, as his kingship draws closer, the Prince avoids Falstaff. In Part 2 Hal returns to Eastcheap only once. The Prince arrives in London from the battlefield in 2.2, and the uproarious tavern scene (2.4) closes with his being called back to action. Falstaff’s world is now an interlude for the Prince, rather than a primary focus. Moreover, his exchange with Falstaff is more hostile than friendly; he does not accept Falstaff’s bantering excuses, as he has in the past, and Hal departs with only a cool 'Good night, Falstaff.' Therefore, when, as Henry V, Hal coldly spurns Falstaff in 5.5, we have no reason to be surprised. 

Prince Hal's rejection of Falstaff is often considered callous and unfair, but in its historical context it may be seen as both necessary and relatively mild. Falstaff’s behaviour is downright criminal in both plays—in fact, the scenes dealing with his corrupt recruitment of troops (/ Henry IV, 4.2; 2 Henry IV, 3.2) were designed as incriminating satires of contemporary practices—yet Hal merely dismisses him with a pension. (The imprisonment imposed by the CHIEF JUSTICE—to an institution reserved for aristocrats—was understood by the playwright and his audience to be lenient and temporary.) While Hal can be thought to be rejecting part of his humanity in order to make himself fit for power, he is in fact simply adopting a different humanity, that of his weary father. In Henry V the new king will apply the capacity for fellowship he has learned in Eastcheap; first, in 2 Henry IV, he becomes a king. 

The crucial moment of Hal's development, and the climax of 2 Henry IV, is Hal's encounter with his dying father in 4.5. Addressing the crown as it lies beside the king, Hal recognizes the burden that kingship demands and he accepts that burden, emphasizing his decision by placing the crown on his own head. Henry, thinking that Hal has selfishly desired his death in order to wear the crown, delivers an impassioned speech on the dangers England will face once his son is king, crying, 'The wilcT dog shall flesh his tooth on every innocent' (4.5.131-132) and regretting the collapse of the order he has striven to preserve. This speech asserts powerfully, if negatively, the value of social discipline. After Hal has sworn loyalty to his father—and, implicitly, to the values just expressed—the king advises that Hal keep would-be opponents busy with overseas wars. This militarist solution—honorable in Shakespeare's world, though reprehensible in our own—is related to Henry's view of a ruler's basic duty, the maintenance of order and the avoidance of civil war. The Prince accepts this lesson and receives his father's wishes for a peaceful reign and a final blessing (4.5.219). 

Shakespeare altered Hal's biography to suit his dramatic ends. Hal is introduced as an adult at a time when he was only 12 years old, as part of the playwright's strategy of presenting him and Hotspur as contemporaries, though Hotspur was in fact a generation older. Also, Hal did not fight Hotspur at Shrewsbury; the rebel died at the hands of an anonymous warrior. Shakespeare may have believed that the two heroes had met—his sources are ambiguous—but he would surely have had them do so in his play, even if they had not historically done so, to enhance the play's impact. 

Prince Hal's wild life was evidently real, for contemporaries recorded his conversion to good behavior upon being crowned. It was reported that the Prince was given to drunken brawling—and even gang warfare—in Eastcheap. Shakespeare and his contemporaries believed in the truth of a tradition that Hal had hit the Chief Justice and been imprisoned for it, but since this story cannot be traced earlier than 1531 (to an account that omits physical assault), its authenticity is dubious. A more reliable early account stated that Hal had robbed his own agents on the highway; a later version changed the victims to bearers of the king's money. Shakespeare omitted a striking anecdote, well known to the Elizabethans, that is probably true: Hal, perhaps in a spirit of atonement, approached his father wearing a dog collar and a strange garment with many needles sewn to it. This mystifying story has never been explained, and Shakespeare may have simply found it too distracting to use. Hal's unwise wearing of his dying father's crown came from Shakespeare's sources, but it is quite plainly apocryphal. 

In any event, reports of 'wild Prince Hal' probably reflect only isolated incidents, and not a committed way of life, in the youth of a privileged and high spirited soldier. Certainly, much of the Prince's energy was devoted to serious military training, for he fought in Wales beginning in 1400, and he was considered competent at the age of 16 to command a wing of Henry's army at Shrewsbury. He governed part of Northumberland shortly thereafter, and he served in increasingly important offices over the next eight years. In 1411 Hal was dismissed from the king's council, an event that is alluded to in 7 Henry IV, 3.2. where it is associated with the supposed assault on the Chief Justice.  In fact, it appears that King Henry suspected his son of treasonous disloyalty, a reconciliation was effected a year later, not long before Henry’s death, and this appears to be the germ of the reconciliation scenes in the plays.

LANCASTER

Prince John of Lancaster (1389-1435) is the younger son of King Henry IV and brother of Prince Hal. (The same figure appears in Henry V and 1 Henry VI as the Duke of Bedford.) In 1 Henry IV Lancaster first appears in Act 5, at the battle of Shrewsbury, where his energy and valor are praised by the king and Prince Hal. He speaks only five lines, but his presence heralds his greater role in 2 Henry IV. In that play he negotiates a truce with the rebels led by the Archbishop, only to seize the unsuspecting leaders once they have disbanded their troops. This treachery is followed by Lancaster's self-righteous utterance, 'God, and not we, hath safely fought today' (4.2.121). Then, in 5.5, he sanctimoniously praises Hal's rejection, as King Henry V, of Falstaff. 

Lancaster is portrayed as an uncompromisingly cold, calculating, humorless man. Falstaff says of him,'. . . this same young sober-blooded boy doth not love me, nor a man cannot make him laugh; but that's no marvel, he drinks no wine' (2 Henry IV, 4.3.85-88).  He presents an extreme alternative to Falstaff’s irresponsibility. But, although Falstaff is a far more attractive character, Shakespeare clearly felt that Hal's course as king must lie closer to Lancaster. Prince John's ruse at Gaultree Forest is not disparaged in the play. Such ploys were common in late medieval warfare, and neither Shakespeare's sources nor the playwright himself treat it as particularly heinous when compared to the much greater crime of rebellion against an anointed ruler. 

Shakespeare inaccurately depicts the historical Prince John. His presence in 1 Henry IV is fictional; he was only 13 years old at the time of Shrewsbury, and he does not appear in Shakespeare's sources until several years later. However, in addition to preparing for 2 Henry IV, Shakespeare wished to bring the Lancaster family together at a point of crisis. Also, the 16-year-old Lancaster was not responsible for the negotiations at Gaultree; as Shakespeare knew, they were conducted by the Earl of Westmoreland. The playwright wished to attach this manoeuvre to King Henry's family, thus focusing on the web of treachery and conflict that followed Henry's usurpation of the throne (enacted in Richard 7/).John was not Duke of Lancaster—Hal bore that title, in fact—but Shakespeare's sources were confused on this point, and the playwright doubtless thought he was correct. The historical Prince John was a successful military leader who achieved distinction against the Scots and who was later, as Bedford, to help govern the kingdom when Henry VI was a minor.

WESTMORELAND

Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland (1364-1425) In 1 and 2 Henry IV, Westmoreland is a loyal adviser to King Henry IV, though he is rather faceless. In 1.1 of 1 Henry IV he brings grave news of military setbacks, introducing the unrest that besets Henry's reign. He later appears briefly at the battle of Shrewsbury. In 2 Henry IV Westmoreland is again a solid supporter of the king, defending Henry against the rebellious noblemen's claims of mistreatment. In 4.2 he seconds Prince John of Lancaster in his fraudulent offer of a truce to the rebels at Gaultree Forest, and he arrests the leaders after they have unsuspectingly sent their troops home. In 4 4 he brings news of the final defeat of the rebels, closing the history of revolts against Henry.  

In Henry V Westmoreland has a minor role and is notable only for expressing a wish for reinforcements just before the battle of Agincourt, provoking King Henry V famed 'St. Crispin's Day' speech (4.3.18-b7). The historical Westmoreland was not present at Agincourt, having been placed in command of the Scottish border. His more prominent role in the Henry IV plays reflects his historical position more accurately, though here, too, Shakespeare altered reality Westmoreland backed Bolingbroke, later Henry IV, in his deposition of Richard II, although Richard had granted him his earldom. He served the new king loyally, as the plays show. It was he who actually tricked the rebel leaders at Gaultree, not Prince John who was a youth at the time. Shakespeare de-emphasized Westmoreland in order to keep the focus on Henry s family.  Westmoreland married twice and fathered 16 children, and several of his descendants appear in Shakespeare's plays. By his first wife he was the grandfather of the Westmoreland who appears in 3 Henry VI-by the second he was the father of the Earl of Salisbury of 2 Henry VI and grandfather of the Earl of Warwick, known as the 'kingmaker', of 2 and 3 Henry VI.

SIR WALTER BLUNT

Blunt (3), Sir Walter (d. 1403) is a follower of King Henry IV.  Blunt is a respected adviser and emissary, and his calm personality contrasts with that of the tormented Henry and the temperamental Hotspur.In 1.3 Blunt attempts to mediate the quarrel between the King and Hotspur. In 3.2.163-179 he brings the dramatic news that the rebel forces are gathering at Shrewsbury, a report that propels Prince Hal into action. In 4.3 Blunt acts as the King's ambassador, and he is properly short with the bellicose Hotspur. In 5.3 he is dressed as the King, in a standard medieval battlefield tactic, and is killed by Douglas. The sight of his corpse causes Falstaff to remark ironically, 'There's honor for you!' (5.3.32).

The historical Blunt was a long-time follower of King Henry's father, John of Gaunt. He was Gaunt's executor, and he naturally became one of Henry's chief advisers. He was indeed killed at Shrewsbury, but he was not among those disguised as the King. He bore the King's standard, a position of honor that suggests a sound reputation as a military man. He was the father of Sir John Blunt, who appears in 2 Henry IV, and great-grandfather of Sir James Blunt of Richard III.

EARL OF WORCESTER

Worcester, Thomas Percy, Earl of (1343-1403) is the uncle of Hotspur and a leader of the rebels against King HENRY IV.  Worcester is presented as a malevolent figure who introduces the idea of rebellion against Henry, beginning in 1.3.185, and formulates its strategy later in the same scene. In 5.2, in an illustration of the evil that attends rebellion, Worcester destroys the rebels' last chance for peace on the eve of the battle of Shrewsbury by concealing Henry's offer of amnesty, fearing that in a state of peace, the king would single him out for punishment. Although his efforts to control Hotspur's impetuosity in 4.1 and 4.3 show that Worcester well understands the likelihood of catastrophe in the coming battle, he calculatingly permits his cause to court defeat because his personal interest may be at stake. After the battle, in which he is captured, Henry sentences him to death, and he justifies himself, saying, 'What I have done my safety urg'd me to' (5.5.11). 

Shakespeare followed his primary historical source, Holinshed, in presenting a perfidious Worcester. Modern scholarship finds the truth unclear, but, while Worcester was certainly a leader of the revolt, he was probably not its instigator. He was in fact executed after Shrewsbury, but the tale of the negotiations is probably untrue. On the day of the battle it was apparently Henry who broke off the talks and began fighting. Before the time of the play, Worcester had served ably in the government of King Richard II, who had made him an earl in 1397. Two years later he allied himself with Bolingbroke when he usurped the crown and became Henry IV (as is enacted in Richard II; although Worcester does not appear in that play, his actions are described in 2.2.58-61 and 2.3.26-28).

NORTHUMBERLAND

Northumberland is a supporter of Bolingbroke against Richard II in the first play, and a rebel against him—after he has begun to rule as Henry IV—in the two later works. In Richard II Northumberland is Bolingbroke's chief lieutenant; in 2.1 he leads others into rebellion against Richard by providing a rationale for revolt: 'The king is not himself, but basely led by flatterers ...' (2.1.241-242). In 2.3 Northumberland himself resorts to flattering his leader unctuously, and in 3.3 he hypocritically conveys Bolingbroke's false declaration of loyalty to Richard. In 4.1 Northumberland takes on the most boldly disrespectful functions in the process of removing the king from his position, and in 5.1 he is the hard-hearted deputy who separates Richard and the grieving Queen. On that occasion he tersely states a cruel principle that aptly represents the new world of Machiavellian politics that Bolingbroke has inaugurated: replying to a request for mercy, he observes, 'That were some love, but little policy.' (5.1.84) 

In the Henry IV plays he is a less prominent but no more likeable figure. Northumberland and his son, the fiery Hotspur, join in rebellion against King Henry, whom they perceive as ungrateful to the Percy family. However,' the earl fails to appear with his forces at the crucial battle of Shrewsbury, sending word that he is ill; the rebel forces are defeated there and Hotspur killed. At the outset of 2 Henry IV the personification of Rumour claims that Northumberland was 'craftysick' (Ind. 37), and in 2.3 Lady Percy, Hotspur's widow, chastises her father-in-law for having dishonorably abandoned his son; no other evidence is presented that Northumberland's illness was feigned, however. The earl then deserts the rebels again, fleeing to Scotland rather than supporting the renewed efforts of the Archbishop of York. His final defeat is reported in 4.4.97-101.

The historical Northumberland did first rebel with Bolingbroke and then against him, but Shakespeare exaggerates his treachery and alters the facts of his life considerably. A man of King Henry's age in the play, Northumberland was actually a generation older; this change is part of Shakespeare's development of the rivalry between Hal and Hotspur by making them contemporaries. Northumberland, a major landowner in northern England and a distinguished warrior in the Scottish border conflicts, was a close friend and supporter of King Henry's father, John of Gaunt. Like Gaunt, he had supported Richard II against Thomas of Gloucester, but he was alienated by Richard's seizure of Gaunt's estate, and when Bolingbroke returned from exile, the earl became one of his chief allies, as in Richard II. His despicable personality as Bolingbroke's lieutenant may derive from the playwright's knowledge of a famous incident that, surprisingly, he did not use. Sent by Bolingbroke to negotiate with Richard, Northumberland swore a sacred oath that Bolingbroke intended to allow Richard to remain in power if he were restored to Gaunt's title and estates. Richard was thus induced to forgo escape by sea and leave the castle in which he had taken shelter. He was promptly ambushed by Northumberland and taken to London, where he was deposed. It is not known whether or not Northumberland used this ploy under orders, but it was reported in Shakespeare's source, Holinshed’s Chronicles, as a heinous betrayal.

Once Henry was in power, disputes arose between him and the Percies, eventually leading to their revolt. However, Northumberland's role in it in the Henry IV plays is almost wholly fictitious. According to Shakespeare, his unforeseen illness shocks the rebels, disturbs their plans, and contributes to their defeat at Shrewsbury, but in reality he had been sick for some time and his absence had been anticipated.. The playwright's version is dramatically more interesting, and it allows the rashness of Hotspur and Douglas to be  emphasized. The earl's pretending to be ill is also unsupported by Shakespeare's sources; it is simply an appropriately nasty rumor to associate with his Machiavellian character. Further, his betrayal of the Archbishop is untrue; Northumberland was the elected leader of the renewed rebellion, and the Archbishop commenced the uprising prematurely, before Northumberland could join him. Only after the disaster at Gaultree Forest, when Henry marched on his headquarters at Warkworth Castle, did Northumberland flee to Scotland. Several years later, after recruiting arms and money in Flanders and France, he again revived the rebellion and invaded England, dying in unsuccessful but valorous combat, according to Holinshed. This account of tenacious courage did not at all suit Shakespeare's model of a contemptible rebel, and he simply ignored it.

HOTSPUR

Hotspur (Henry Percy, 1364-1403) Historical figure and character in 1 Henry IV, a rebel against King Henry IV. Hotspur, a fiery warrior, is repeatedly contrasted with Henry's son, Prince Hal. The Prince's dissipation in the company of Falstaff is compared unfavorably with Hotspur's military prowess and chivalric honor. The play's major theme is Prince Hal's decision to abandon the tavern for the field and to compete with Hotspur, whose example inspires the Prince to adopt his proper role as a military hero. At the play's climax, the two young men meet in hand-to-hand combat at Shrewsbury, where the Prince kills his rival. The play makes clear that Hotspur's volatile temper has led to his defeat and to the failure of his rebellion: he has carried his ideal of chivalric honor to excess. In this sense, he is contrasted with Falstaff, whose self-indulgent cowardice represents an opposite extreme. Hotspur thus resembles a figure from the Morality Plays, a symbol of a value or attitude. Even before he appears. Hotspur is associated with military honor and prowess, as well as with excessive pride, in King Henry's account (1.1.66-74, 90-91) of his capture—and arrogant possession—of Douglas.

Hotspur begins the play in the service of the king, but the Percy family harbors a simmering resentment over Henry's apparent ingratitude for the help they gave him when he usurped the throne (as enacted in Richard II). When a dispute erupts over Hotspur's failure to relinquish custody of Douglas, and the king refuses to ransom a Percy relative, Lord Mortimer, the Percys decide to rebel. Hotspur's reputation for courage and his proven success in combat, make him the natural leader of the rebellion, but his older relatives—his father, the Earl of Northumberland, and his uncle, the Earl of Worcester—must struggle to curb the young man's temper. Ultimately, they are unable to do so, and Hotspur's rash insistence on fighting against the odds at Shrewsbury dooms the rebellion to defeat.

Hotspur's virtues are manifest; he is a fine military leader in a world that values this trait highly. King Henry's regret that his own son is not more like Hotspur is genuine, and the Prince himself, after killing his rival, acknowledges his worth in a warm eulogy (5.4.86-100). However, Hotspur represents, like Falstaff, an unbalanced attitude towards life. He lives only for battle and identifies himself entirely with his reputation for military valor. His rhetoric grows windy on the subject, as in 1.3.199-206 and 4.1.112-123. As his wife, LADY (10) Percy, tells us in 2.3.48-63, he even fights battles in his sleep. Utterly single-minded, he rejects even sex, declaring that 'this is no world to play with mammets, and to tilt with lips' (2.3.92-93).

His impetuosity makes him as much a liability as an asset to his allies. He has no control over his emotions, letting his enthusiasm for honor dominate all other considerations; his own father calls him 'a wasp-stung and impatient fool' (1.3.233). At Shrewsbury, messengers present a steady procession of reasons for caution, as the rebel fortunes grow increasingly uncertain, but Hotspur's response is almost ludicrously inappropriate: 'Come, let us take a muster speedily— / Doomsday is near; die all, die merrily' (4.1.133-134). His foolish refusal to wait for reinforcements condemns his cause to defeat; he is so overwrought at the approach of battle that he cannot even read his dispatches, saying that life is too short to waste on such petty activity. Hotspur's impulsiveness is evident even in minor details of his speech—e.g., in his habit of interrupting himself, as in 1.3.155-184 and 4.1.13. Characteristically, he dies in mid-sentence. However, he is not merely a stock emblem of fiery and foolish chivalry; he displays intelligence, humor, and high spirits, and he has a loving wife whose affection emphasizes his humanity.

The historical Hotspur was as celebrated—and evidently as vain and foolish—as Shakespeare's character, and the play presents his role at Shrewsbury accurately, except in two important respects. First, his death in the battle cannot definitely be attributed to Hal, or to anyone else. Second, and more significant, he was not Hal's contemporary, being in fact older than King Henry. The alteration in his age serves to make him a more satisfying foil to Prince Hal, but at the time of Shrewsbury, when Hal was 16, Hotspur was a veteran soldier of 39, having been a famous warrior on the Scottish border—where he won the nickname Hotspur—for more than 20 years. The alteration in Hotspur's age is established in Richard II, in which young Percy, who becomes Hotspur, is introduced as a boy.

A theatrical tradition of playing Hotspur as a stutterer—an effective indication of his excitability—seems to have arisen in 19th-century Germany, where the respected translator Schlegel interpreted Lady Percy's recollection of her husband's 'speaking thick' (2 Henry IV, 2.3.24) as 'stammering'. Shakespeare may have been referring to his Northumbrian dialect or, more likely, to his habit of speaking rapidly. In any case, there is no record concerning the historical Hotspur's speech. 

Hotspur's son, another Henry Percy, was still a boy when first his father and then his grandfather were killed fighting against King Henry. Prince Hal, upon his accession as King Henry V, pardoned young Percy and permitted him to resume the family title. As a result, he fought for Hal's son, Henry VI; he was the Earl of Northumberland whose death in the first battle of St. Albans is reported in 1.1.4-9 of 3 Henry VI. His son and successor, Hotspur's grandson, appears as the Earl of Northumberland later in that play.

MORTIMER

Edmund Mortimer (1376-1409) is a rebel against King Henry IV. Originally an army commander for the King, Mortimer's capture by Glendower is reported in 1.1.  However, the King learns that Mortimer has married Glendower's daughter, and he refuses to ransom him.  This becomes a bone of contention between the King and Hotspur—whose wife, Lady Percy, is Mortimer's sister—as the revolt begins. Mortimer appears at the rebels' council of war in 3.1, where he proves to be a moderate negotiator among more difficult personalities. He attempts to maintain amity between Hotspur and Glendower. He tries to control Hotspur's temper, and he forthrightly defends his fatherin-law against the firebrand's slurs. Mortimer can only speak to his bride, now Lady Mortimer, through the translations of her father, for he speaks no Welsh and she no English. Nevertheless, he sentimentally asserts his love for her in an episode that lends humanity to the rebel cause. 

Following errors in his sources, Shakespeare confused Mortimer with his nephew, another Edmund Mortimer, who was Earl of March and thus an heir to the English throne. The rebels speak of his claim several times (e.g., in 1.3.144-157 and 4.3.93-95) in making the case for their fight against Henry. Although an explicit intention to place him on the throne if their rebellion succeeds is not mentioned, Mortimer is to receive England in the division of the kingdom contemplated at the war council. 

The historical Mortimer had supported Henry's usurpation of the crown several years| earlier, which Shakespeare depicted in Richard II, although Mortimer does not appear in that play. The rebels of 1403, depicted in 1 Henry IV, intended to place the younger Mortimer on the throne, and this Mortimer acted in support of his nephew, as well as for Glendower. After Shrewsbury, Mortimer and Glendower were pursued by the King, as Henry stipulates he will do in 5.5.40, and Mortimer died in the unsuccessful defense of Glendower's capital at Harlech in 1409.

ARCHBISHOP OF YORK

Archbishop of York, Richard Scroop (d. 1405) Historical figure and character in 1 and 2 Henry IV, a leader of the rebels against King Henry IV. In 1 Henry IV the Archbishop appears only briefly, in 4.4, where he confers with his friend Sir Michael. He predicts the defeat of Hotspur at Shrewsbury and lays his plans for the rebellions to be enacted in 2 Henry IV.  Shakespeare may have intended the episode as a preparation for the later play, or it may simply have served to remind the audience that the battle of Shrewsbury was not to be the last of Henry's troubles. 

In 2 Henry IV the Archbishop leads the continuing revolt, although his cause is doomed by the treacherous withdrawal of the Earl of Northumerland. In 4.1 he states the" dilemma of the good man who is provoked into rebellion by poor government but nevertheless believes in the divine right of kings. However, the Earl of Westmoreland firmly asserts the point of view of the play: rebellion is a heinous violation of the natural order, and the gravity of the offence is aggravated when the rebel is a clergyman, for a representative of God should not oppose a divinely appointed king. In 4.2 the Archbishop disbands his army, after Prince John of Lancaster promises that his grievances will be considered, and is then arrested for treason and sentenced to death. 

The historical Archbishop had sided with Henry when he deposed Richard II, although several members of his family supported Richard, including his brother Stephen Scroop, who appears in Richard II. (Later, Stephen's son. Henry SCROOP [I], was executed for treason by HENRY V, as is enacted in Henry V.) The Archbishop's cousin William Scroop, Earl of Wiltshire, was one of Richard II's favourites and was executed by Henry in 1399, as is reported in Richard II (3.2.142). In 1.3.265 of 1 Henry IV where Warwick is incorrectly identified as the Archbishop's brother, this execution is said to have sparked the prelate's rebellion against Henry. Although Shakespeare took his information from Holinshed, it is not true. The Archbishop supported the new King until 1405, when he and a number of northern barons—among them his brother-in-law Northumberland—joined to oppose the heavy taxes Henry had levied in order to finance his wars against earlier rebels. Once in revolt, the Archbishop was not betrayed by Northumberland; instead, he impetuously began his campaign against the King before his allies were prepared to fight, and he accordingly found himself outnumbered and then outsmarted at Gaultree Forest.

DOUGLAS

Archibald, Earl of Douglas (1369-1424) is the leader of the Scottish army that joins the rebels against King Henry IV. Douglas' appearance is preceded by word of his reputation for courage and military prowess. In 3.2 the King speaks of his renown by way of praising Hotspur, who has captured him at the battle of Holedon, and Falstaff describes him as 'that sprightly Scot of Scots, Douglas, that runs a-horseback up a hill perpendicular . . .' (2.4.339-340). In accordance with Worcester’s plan, Hotspur frees Douglas and recruits him for the rebellion against Henry. A bold talker ('. . . there is not such a word spoke of in Scotland as this term of fear' [4.1.84-85]) and fighter, Douglas' fiery temperament resembles Hotspur's, and both men urge the rebels into the battle of Shrewsbury without waiting for reinforcements. During the battle, in 5.3-4, Douglas seeks out Henry, first slaying Sir Walter Blunt. He nearly kills the King, but Prince Hal drives him away. He then attacks Falstaff, who feigns death. In 5.5 Douglas' capture is reported, but Prince Hal declares that he shall be freed without the payment of ransom, as a tribute to his valor. Black Douglas, as the historical figure was known, was indeed a famous warrior, although he may have been a bad commander, for he was never on the winning side in a major battle. He was not in fact released at Shrewsbury; he was only freed five years later, after the payment of a very large ransom. Shakespeare followed his source, Holinshed, in this error. Douglas later fought against the English for King Charles VII of France in the Hundred Years War, and he died in France.

OWEN GLENDOWER

Glendower, Owen (c. 1359-c. 1416) is a military leader from Wales who joins rebellious English noblemen against King Henry IV. In 3.1, at a rebel council of war, Glendower boasts of supernatural powers, displaying the superstitiousness traditionally associated with the Welsh, to the disgust of Hotspur. The clash of these two personalities almost upsets the alliance, though Glendower, admiring his hot-headed ally, makes peace several times during the scene. In a lighter vein Glendower interprets for his daughter, Lady Mortimer, who is in love with her husband, Lord Mortimer, but does not speak English. Father and daughter together reveal their lyrical sentimental streak and a love of music, also traits stereotypically associated with the Welsh. 

Later, in 4.4.16-18, Glendower is reported to have absented himself from the crucial battle of Shrewsbury, 'o'er-rui'd by prophecies'. This episode adds Glendower's superstitiousness to the general weakness and incapacity that plague the rebel cause. Also, the account lends Hotspur's defeat an ominous, fated quality that is in keeping with the play's condemnation of rebellion. 

Although Shakespeare's sources mention Glendower's training in law and his youthful service at the English court, he is chiefly portrayed as a barbaric and ruthless Welsh outlaw, as is reflected in the report on him by the Earl of Westmoreland in 1.1.40-46. However, Shakespeare amplifies and softens this figure, and his Glendower is a composer and scholar whom Mortimer can describe as 'a worthy gentleman, . . . valiant as a lion, and wondrous affable, and as bountiful as mines of India' (3.1.159-163). Traditional English bias against the Welsh may account for the brute of the chronicles; the music-loving sage of the play may reflect Shakespeare's acquaintance with Welsh residents of London. Glendower's superstitiousness may also derive from the playwright's personal knowledge, for the English stereotype of the superstitious Welshman was grounded in the survival of a strong Celtic religious sensibility in Wales. Although Hotspur finds this trait ridiculous (3.1.142-158), Shakespeare himself apparently regarded it more sympathetically, as a humorous failing. Glendower is on the whole a positive figure, if a weak one. Even Hotspur's raillery against him is enjoyable rhetoric. 

The historical Glendower led the last and most nearly successful Welsh rebellion against the English. In 1400, shortly after Henry IV's deposition of Richard II, Glendower led an uprising that grew from a quarrel with his English neighbour into a full-scale revolt. In 1403 the Welsh rebels joined with those from northern England led by Hotspur, and only Henry's decisive advance on Shrewsbury prevented their forces from combining. That Glendower's superstition led him to abandon the rebels at Shrewsbury is not reported in Shakespeare's sources; Holinshed, in fact, mistakenly says that Glendower was at the battle, and DANIEL, like modern historians, attributes his absence only to King Henry's superior generalship. In 1404, with most of Wales under his control, Glendower established a national government at Harlech, where a parliament elected him Prince of Wales, and he entered into an alliance with England's enemy, France. In 1405, with French troops reinforcing his own, he invaded England but was defeated by Henry. This was the high-water mark of his rebellion, and by 1409 Glendower had lost even Harlech and had retreated deep into the mountains. After 1410 he disappears from history, though he is thought to have lived somewhat longer. Although only briefly successful, Glendower united Wales—a land of petty principalities before the English invaded in the 12th century—and led it to an independence it never again attained. He remains a great hero of Welsh culture.

VERNON

Richard Vernon (d. 1403) is a supporter of Hotspur. Vernon arrives at the rebel camp before the battle of Shrewsbury with news that the King's armies are approaching. He describes Prince’s Hal’s forces in a speech (4.1.97-110) famous for its vivid imagery In 4.3 he advises vigorously against Hotspur's insistence on entering battle before his reinforcements arrive and in 5.1 he participates, with Worcester, in the negotiations that precede the battle. Captured in the little, he is sentenced to death by King Henry IV in The historical Vernon, a powerful magnate of Cheshire, in western England, was in fact captured and beheaded at Shrewsbury, although he was not a participant in the negotiations between the two sides.

FALSTAFF

Sir John Falstaff is physically huge, stunningly amoral, and outrageously funny—is generally regarded as one of the greatest characters in English literature. Lecherous, gluttonous, obese, cowardly, and a thief, he lies to the world but is honest with himself. His monumental presence, both literal and metaphoric, dominates the plays in which he appears, and he has become one of the most familiar of Shakespeare's creations, having inspired work ranging from pub signs and ceramic mugs to operas and symphonic works.

In the Henry IV plays Falstaff, although an entirely credible human being, also functions as a symbol of an extreme lifestyle. In Henry IV, Part 1 young Prince Hal begins to come to grips with his role as the future King of England, and he is presented with strong figures who suggest modes of adulthood. Unlike Hal's father, the calculating and politically shrewd King Henry IV, and unlike the intensely single-minded warrior Hotspur, Falstaff, in the free and dissolute ambience of the Boar’s Head Tavern, indulges in food, drink, and adventure, whether sexual or criminal, and rejects life's demands for courage or honor. From the beginning the Prince states his intention to reject Falstaff’s world, in the famous 'reformation' speech (1.2.190-212). Still, throughout the play he is clearly delighted with his friend's bold effronteries and witty lies; at its close he promises to support Falstaff’s claim to have killed Hotspur. In Part 1 Falstaff is a decided rascal, cowardly and deceitful, but his common sense and tolerance counter the values of Hotspur and King Henry.

In Henry IV, Part 2 the Prince is closer to his assumption of power, and he is accordingly more remote from Falstaff. Falstaff dominates this play entirely. He is still very funny—as he puts it, 'I am not only witty in myself, but the cause that wit is in other men' (1.2.8-but he is presented in a significantly darker light, contributing to the play's atmosphere of disease and death. He is ill; his first words deal with a diagnosis (1.2.1), and he describes himself as sick on several occasions. He refers to his age several times, as when he doubts his attractiveness to Doll Tearsheet, say-ing, 'I am old, I am old' (2.4.268). In Part 1 he says he is in his 50s (2.4.418-419), while in Part 2 his acquaintance with SHALLOW is said to date from 'fifty-five year ago' (3.2.205), making him at least 70. 

Most important, his misdeeds are distinctly more serious in 2 Henry IV. In Part 1 his extortion of bribes from draft evaders is merely reported (4.2.11-48), while we actually see it happen in Part 2, 3.2. Moreover, his impressed soldiers, anonymous victims in Part 1, take human shape in Part 2 as such sympathetic, if minor, figures as Shadow and Feeble. The recruiting scene is hilarious, but it remains on the record as evidence of Falstaff’s criminality. In fact, the episode was clearly intended as a satirical condemnation of a real practice that plagued the English poor in Shakespeare's time. Perhaps Falstaff’s most serious offence is his selfish exploitation of his friends. He promises love but instead bleeds money from his loyal admirer the Hostess, as she herself describes in 2.1.84-101. The preposterous Shallow is a natural victim, but Falstaff’s cynical rationale for fleecing him—If the young dace be a bait for the old pike, I see no reason in the law of nature but I may snap at him' (3.2.325-326)—is, however wittily put, morally repugnant. 

Hal is distant and hostile to Falstaff when they meet in 2.4, and when the knight seeks to profit from Hal's succession to the crown, the new king forbids his presence. Hal is cold and forceful—although he mercifully provides his former friend with a generous pension—and Falstaff’s fall seems abrupt, although it has been prepared for throughout both plays. The needs of the greater, political and military world of Prince Hal triumph in the end. Still however fully one may endorse Prince Hal's rejection of Falstaff (and many people do not accept it at all), the fat knight remains a generally sympathetic figure If his misdeeds would be offensive in real life, they are frequently delightful on stage. He deflates pretension with the needle of his satire, and he counters excessive rigor with his entertainingly flexible morals. His combination of grandiose rhetoric, penetrating wit, and common sense shines in such virtuoso passages of comic monologue as his battlefield rejection of courage (7 Henry IV, 5.4.110-120)-leading to a particularly outrageous gesture, the stabbing of Hotspur's corpse—and his tribute to wine (2 Henry IV, 4 3 85-123), long acclaimed as one of the most delectable discourses in English literature. In the plays’ tavern scenes (2.4 in each) he is uproarious and hearty. His ceaseless flow of parody and imitation evokes a wide and enjoyable range of personages from aristocrats to highwaymen.   

Falstaff is a figure of immense psychological resonance; through him we can enjoy our own fantasies of life without responsibilities. When it seems he can offer no excuse for some misdeed and must surely be brought down, like the rest of us, he devises some extravagant lie or joke and escapes. His vitality seems limitless; as he puts it himself, 'banish plump Jack, and banish all the world' (Henry IV, Part 1 2.4.473-474). However Falstaff is banished, for he also represents amoral disloyalty, criminal exploitation, and weak social values. Less sternly, he is often compared to spring like weather in autumn (e.g., in Henry IV, Part 1 1.1.154-155, and Henry IV, Part 2 2.2.112), a common metaphor for youthful energy in old age. The fat knight clearly reflects Shakespeare's fond appreciation of tavern lite and its pleasurable delinquencies, but one of the values most important to the playwright-as is especially plain in the History Plays—was the maintenance of social order. Thus Falstaff is repudiated in no uncertain terms, both in the Henry IV plays and in The Merry Wives, part of Falstaff s humor lies in his burlesque of the chivalric values of the aristocracy, and part of his vital force in his energetic individuality.    

These traits lead many modern readers to think of the Henry IV plays as ironical satires of war and government and of Falstaff’s rejection as proof that human authenticity is tragically at odds with the practice of politics. However, this ascribes to Shakespeare the views of our own age, when the worth of the individual is placed above that of traditional societal values. But in earlier times Falstaff was held to be flatly villainous. The first great Shakespearean editor, Nicholas Rowe, called him a Thief Lying, Cowardly, Vainglorious, and in short every way vicious' in his 1709 edition of the plays.  A little later, Samuel Johnson wrote that Falstaff has nothing in him that can be esteemed'. Although Shakespeare himself was surely less critical of his creation, he certainly would have understood their point of view. In the Renaissance the potential of the individual was beginning to be recognized, as Shakespeare's interest in and respect for human psychology exemplify, but the ancient, biblically sanctioned, hierarchical society of medieval Europe is persistently championed in the plays, as well as in other works of Elizabethan literature. Therefore, necessity—that national order be restored after a civil war—demands the rejection of the thoughtless pleasures and the irresponsibility that Falstaff displays. Falstaff’s popularity on the Elizabethan stage prompted Shakespeare to announce, in the Epilogue to Henry IV, Part 2, that the fat knight would appear in another play. However, he does not appear in Henry V, although he may have been a character m a lost, probably unacted version of that play. A number of textual peculiarities make it clear that Henry V was altered after it was first written; most strikingly, Pistol takes on Falstaffian characteristics in several passages. Following his humiliation in 5.1, he speaks of growing old and of losing Doll Tearsheet, lines that are plainly more appropriate to Falstaff. Also, Pistol's capture of the French Soldier parallels Falstaff’s comic achievements in 1 and 2 Henry IV. Scholars speculate that in an original draft of the play, Falstaff was the chief comic character, that he was deleted by the playwright—for it appears that the present version of the play derives from Shakespeare's manuscript—and that much of his part was transferred to Pistol. This theory cannot be proven, but it does explain the textual evidence. 

The fat knight's death is instead described in Henry V 2 3 by Pistol, the Hostess, Bardolph, and Nym and their affection for him reflects the playwrights. When Bardolph wishes he were with Falstaff where some'er he is, either in heaven or in Hell! (2.3.7-8), the Hostess asserts that he is surely in heaven; she goes on to describe his death-bed touchmgly:'... after I saw him fumble with the sheets and play with flowers and smile upon his fingers' end, I knew there was but one way; for his nose was as sharp as a pen and a babbled of green fields ... a' cried out "God, God, God!" three or four times . . .' (2.3.14-20). Thus Falstaffs humanly believable end summons our sympathy one last time for the knight who had 'more flesh than another man, and therefore more frailty' (7 Henry IV, 3.3.167-168).

The Merry Wives of Windsor was written before Henry V, probably during the creation of 2 Henry IV, and here Falstaff is a less complex figure than the giant of the Henry IV plays. His function is more purely comic and stands at the centre of the play rather than in contrast to the realities of history. He is more nearly a traditional character type, the comic villain whose downfall is obvious from the outset. He is also associated with another type, the foolish and boastful would-be lady's man, although in attempting to seduce the wives to get at their husbands' money, Falstaff is not erotically inclined. However, he is thereby linked with the familiar theme of the jealous husband, and the sexual side of his story links him with the sub-plots centered on the courting of Anne Page.  The complications caused by Falstaff’s greedy impulses lead him to receive a humorous retribution and then forgiveness. His personality has not changed—he is still brassy, shrewd, and amorally selfish—but the resourceful prankster and brazen reprobate of the Henry IV plays no longer has the initiative. He is easily tricked by the wives, not once but three times. This is sometimes regarded as an unfortunate trivialization of a great character, but it may also be argued that Falstaff’s lesser magnitude in The Merry Wives suits his simpler function as a comic butt. In the world of Prince Hal, Falstaff was a shrewd courtier in addition to his other roles, and he never forgot his status—indeed, several of his fantastic excuses for his misbehavior refer to the exalted position of the Prince.  In Windsor he assumes regal attitudes: he tyrannically bullies Pistol and Nym, and he attempts to lord it over the townspeople. His changed behavior—-in addition to demonstrating Shakespeare's acute perception of social relations—makes Falstaff an entirely appropriate target for a comic comeuppance.   This aspect of the character is particularly evident in Falstaff’s apologetic confession following his final humiliation (5.5.122-129)—often seen, in its 'un-Falstaffian' quality as evidence of a lost source play. However, in the masquelike finale, where none of the characters present their ordinary characteristics, symbolic expression is given to the play's implicit moral—the triumph of domesticity. Here, then, Falstaff makes the formal surrender that his status as a traditional comic butt requires.

In this respect, Falstaff has been seen as a representation of an ancient fertility spirit in a tradition that in the playwright's time was still alive in remote regions of Britain and was still generally understood. As such, his figurative role was that of the sacrificial victim punished for the sins of society in ancient religious practices. This image need not be taken literally to see that the Falstaff of The Merry Wives is identified with common human foibles.  Indeed, Falstaff has the same function in the Henry IV plays as well. He moves us, in a way that Hal or Hotspur or Anne Page cannot, because, like him, we all often feel irresponsible, dishonest, selfish inclinations. We know that Falstaff is part of us, like it or not.  In the Henry IV plays he represents a childish, self centered universe of pleasure that adults are doomed to leave and that is defeated by a harsh and demanding political ideal, insistent on duty and order. In The Merry Wives Falstaff is again opposed by a triumphant principle, in this case the world of domestic security. In both cases, he embodies the need of each of us to rebel against the constraints of society and thus find our individual potential, and his defeat symbolizes the need to sublimate that rebellion in light of our innate dependence on each other. 

In his first appearance, Hal excuses Falstaff from even an awareness of time, 'unless hours were cups of sack, and minutes capons, and clocks the tongues of bawds, and dials the signs of leaping-houses, and the blessed sun himself a fair hot wench in flame-coloured taffeta' (1 Henry IV, 1.2.7-10). The essential nature of Falstaff’s personality is revealed in this passage, for the thrust of his wit, and of his life, is to elaborate this fantasy and to defend it against the demands of reality.  We delight in the brilliant energy of his efforts, and we mourn the impossibility of their success.

SIR MICHAEL

Sir Michael is a friend of the Archbishop of York. In 4.4 the Archbishop and Sir Michael discuss the rebels' likely defeat against King Henry IV at Shrewsbury. The episode introduces the Archbishop's subsequent further rebellion against the King, to be enacted in 2 Henry IV. No historical Michael is known among the Archbishop's associates. Sir Michael's presence in the play may reflect a lost source that the playwright consulted, or he may be Shakespeare's invention.

POINS

Poins, Ned Character in 1 and 2 Henry IV, friend of Prince Hal. Poins suggests the two jokes that he and Hal play on Falstaff. In 1 Henry IV, 1.2.156-185, he devises the plan to rob Falstaff of his takings in the highway robbery of 2.2, and in 2 Henry IV, 2.2.164-165, he proposes that he and the Prince disguise themselves as Drawers and spy on Falstaff. He also participates in the Prince's joke on Francis in 2.4 of 1 Henry IV. In 2.4 of 2 Henry IV Falstaff, unaware of Poins' presence, describes him, insultingly but with considerable accuracy, in a hilarious presentation of a rowdy, empty-headed party boy (2.4.241-250). In 2.2.42 Poins demonstrates his blindness to Prince Hal's true character, expecting him to be pleased at the imminent death of his father, King Henry IV. But in 2.2.61-65 he is conscious of his position as part of the world of delinquency that the Prince must reject, and he accepts his own limitations.  Poins is Shakespeare's version of a character named Ned in the Famous Victories, his chief source for the material on Hal's riotous early life. His last name may refer to the lace ribbons, known as points, that were a prominent feature of a 16th-century courtier's elaborate garb.

GADSHILL

Gadshill is a highway robber and friend of Falstaff and Prince Hal. In 2.1 of 1 Henry IV Gadshill uses a well-known highwayman's tactic: an accomplice, the Chamberlain of an inn, tips him off about the travel plans of rich guests. Then he and Falstaff and others rob these Travelers in 2.2, only to be robbed in their turn by the Prince and Poins. Gadshill—a professional thief, unlike Falstaff and the Prince—serves to demonstrate the depths of delinquency from which the Prince must emerge. Gadshill is a nickname taken from Shakespeare’s anonymous source, the Famous Victories, where it is applied to a highwayman whose favorite working locale was Gad’s Hill. No proper name is given for Shakespeare's character.

PETO

Peto is a follower of Falstaff. Peto participates in the highway robbery in 2.2 of 1 Henry IV, and he later tells Prince Hal how Falstaff attempted to disguise his cowardice. In 2.4 of 2 Henry IV Peto brings the Prince news of the King's preparations against the rebellion, stirring Hal to action.  Peto was originally given the name Harvey, but the name was changed after early performances, probably to avoid offending a prominent aristocrat, William Harvey.

BARDOLPH

Bardolph is a Character in 1 and 2 Henry IV, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Henry V, a follower of Falstaff. In 1 Henry IV Bardolph participates in the highway robbery of 2.2, and in 2 Henry IV he assists the fat knight in his illicit recruiting efforts in 3.2, collecting bribes from men who wish to avoid service. When Falstaff is rejected by Prince Hal in 5.5, Bardolph goes to prison with him. In The Merry Wives Bardolph is only a minor figure who occasionally delivers messages to Falstaff. In Henry V he is a soldier in the army of King Henry V. In 2.1 he defuses the feud between Pistol and Nym. In 3.2.28-57 the Boy convincingly describes him as a coward and thief. In 3.6 we learn that Bardolph is to be executed for having stolen a sacramental vessel from a French church, and in 4.4 the Boy reports that Bardolph has indeed been hung.  

Despite his swaggering, he has little distinctive personality. His peacemaking role in Henry V ironically counters King Henry V's bellicosity in an anti-war reading of the play, but if one interprets Henry as a epic hero, then Bardolph remains a comic soldier, a petty villain whose end helps to demonstrate the King's dedication to justice. Bardolph's most prominent characteristic is his diseased facial complexion, florid and fiery, 'all bubukles, and whelks, and knobs, and Hames o' fire' (Henry V, 3.6.105-106). He is teased mercilessly about his skin disorder by Falstaff and other characters, finding himself compared to lamps, torches, blushing maids, red wine, red petticoats, hellfire, and even 'Lucifer's privy kitchen' (2 Henry IV, 2.4.330).  

Bardolph was originally called Rossill, but after 2 Henry IV was written the name was changed, probably to avoid offending a prominent aristocrat, William Russill, Earl of Bedford. The fact that the name Bardolph had already been assigned to another character in 2 Henry IV, Lord Bardolph, is only one instance of Shakespeare's tolerance for minor confusions and inconsistencies in his plays.

FRANCIS

Francis is an indentured servant at the Boar’s Head Tavern. In 2.4 of 1 Henry IV Prince Hal teases Francis, engaging him in conversation while Poins, by pre-arrangement, summons him. The endearingly simple-minded Francis can only reply with the well-known protest of the harried waiter, 'Anon, anon', as Hal has predicted. Hal suggests that Francis might run away from the tavern, and then he extravagantly promises Francis £1,000 for a packet of sugar. He next asks if Francis will rob the innkeeper and goes on to speak of Francis' likely future 'Why then your brown bastard is your only drink' he says, 'for look you, Francis, your white canvas doublet will sully. In Barbary, sir, it cannot come to so much' (2.4.72-74). Francis is now hopelessly confused, and he exits hurriedly as Poins, Hal, and his boss, the Vinter, all call him at once. This puzzling exchange has elicited a number of explanations, the simplest of which is that Hal is merely playing a practical joke on Francis, an example of the idle tavern life that he will later reject. However, while a joke is clearly intended, the Prince is deliberately placing himself on familiar terms with an 'under skinker' (2.4.24), continuing his exploration of the lives of the common people whom he will later rule. Thus the episode helps to demonstrate that Hal's participation in Falstaff’s world is part of his preparation for his greater role, and not simply dissipation. He suggests as much when, asked by Poins what the point of the joke was, he replies that he is now 'of all humours' (2.4.90) and compares his good mood with Hotspur’s mania for war. In Francis' humble life, he has seen a contentment that the warrior can never discover Further, Hal observes that, if Francis will not be tempted by theft or flight, he must accept the low life of a servant. This may reflect, albeit in a resigned manner, Hal's attitude towards his own destiny.  In 2 Henry IV, Francis seems to have been promoted as he organizes the service for Falstaff’s dinner in 2.4

LADY PERCY

Elizabeth Percy Lady (1371-c. 1444) Historical figure and character in 1 and 2 Henry IV, wife, and then widow, of Hotspur. In 2.3 of 1 Henry IV Lady Percy is distressed that her husband apparently intends to return to war. She playfully attempts to extract his plans from him, but he teasingly refuses to tell her. In 3.1, just before Hotspur departs for Shrewsbury, she joins him. He affectionately teases her about her refusal to sing while Lady Mortimer serenades her husband. He finds another target in her mild oath 'in good sooth' (2.3.240), and he fondly scorns her temperance. These episodes reveal that the fiery Hotspur, whose rivalry with Prince Hal is the play's major theme, is also a loving husband who has plainly inspired affection in his wife. Hotspur's warm relationship with his wife complements the fierce fixation with battle that otherwise dominates our picture of him. Without these scenes, Hotspur might seem so one dimensional that we could not accept the favorable opinion of him held by King Henry IV and Hal. Lady Percy also displays a personality of her own, that of a modest, possibly somewhat stiff, but spirited and pleasant young matron.

In 2.3 of 2 Henry IV Lady Percy makes a single appearance, joining her mother-in-law, Lady Northumberland, in persuading Lord Northumberland not to rejoin the revolt. Lady Percy bitterly observes that the elderly lord had failed to assist the rebels when Hotspur was still alive, and she goes on to eulogise her late husband glowingly.

Lady Percy's name in Shakespeare's source, Holinshed’s Chronicle, is given inaccurately as Elianor, but Hotspur calls his wife Kate. Shakespeare was decidedly fond of this name—he frequently used it, perhaps most notably for Katherina in The Taming of the Shrew—and he may have regarded it as an affectionate nickname for a woman, regardless of her real name.

LADY MORTIMER

Lady Catherine Mortimer (active 1403-1409) Historical figure and character in 1 Henry IV, daughter of Glendower and wife of Lord Mortimer.  Lady Mortimer speaks only Welsh (with the consequence that her lines are dropped from many productions of the play) and must converse with her husband through the interpretation of her father Glendower reports that she is upset that her husband is leaving for battle and that she is likely to cry.  Through him, she asks her husband to lie in her lap while she sings to him. She sings in Welsh, to the amusement of the fiery Hotspur, in an episode that lends humanity to the rebel cause. It is thought that the scene may have been prompted by the presence of actors from Wales in the Chamberlain’s Men, one of whom played Lady Mortimer. Practically nothing is known of the historical Lady Mortimer. She is thought to have died in London after being taken prisoner when her father was defeated and her husband killed at Hartech in 1409.

MISTRESS QUICKLY

Hostess Character in 1 and 2 Henry IV and Henry V, the proprietress of the Boar’s Head Tavern in Eastcheap. The Hostess, a good-hearted woman whose affection for Falstaff withstands his exploitation of her purse, is comically loquacious. Aspiring to conversational brilliance, she displays a considerable vocabulary, but she unfortunately misplaces one word for another, in an ancient comedy routine, going so far, in a state of great excitement, as to confuse 'honeyseed' and 'honeysuckle' for 'homicide' and 'homicidal' (2 Henry IV, 2.1.49-51). She is a denizen of the quasicriminal underworld of London (she associates with highwaymen and harlots and is arrested when a murder is said to have occurred in her tavern), but no crimes are explicitly attributed to her. Indeed, her amiable and forgiving nature contains no hint of villainy. 

The Hostess' role in 1 Henry IV is very minor. In 2.4 she is an amused spectator of the mock drama played by Prince Hal and Falstaff, and in 3.3 she disputes with Falstaff over his debt to her. He mocks her, and his insults spark her honest indgination. 

In 2 Henry IV the Hostess is a somewhat more substantial character. She escalates her dispute with Falstaff by summoning two officers, Fang and Snare, to arrest the fat knight for debt. She elaborates on her complaint, remembering at length (2.1.83-101) that he had promised to marry her in order to borrow money. However, Falstaff not only talks her into calling off her legal action but also into lending him more money. She weeps, but she agrees, showing the gullibility and kindness that mark her relationship with him. In 2.4, when Falstaff is called to join the armies assembling to oppose the rebels against Henry IV, the Hostess displays her sentimental attachment to him, weeping and saying, 'Well, fare thee well. I have known thee these twenty-nine years, come peascodtime, but an honester and true-hearted man—Well, fare thee well' (2.4.379-382). Even the Hostess' credulousness does not extend to a belief in Falstaff’s honesty; she is merely expressing her love with conventional sayings that come first to her mind. The Hostess' tolerance and affection for Falstaff are important in Shakespeare's presentation of the fat rogue as an humane, though flawed, person. It comes as a shock when the Hostess and her friend Dolltearsheet are arrested in 5.4, in a demonstration of the rigorous law enforcement of the new regime, anticipating Prince Hal's rejection of Falstaff in 5.5. In Henry V the Hostess (now married to Pistol) has a small but striking role, as she describes her attendance at Falstaff’s death-bed, in a speech (2.3.9-27) that is one of the masterpieces of English comic literature, being simultaneously extremely funny, even bawdy, and touchingly tender. Her efforts to comfort a dying and conscience-stricken sinner reflect Shakespeare's own forgiving humanity. 

The Hostess is given the name Mistress Quickly in all three plays (e.g., in 7 Henry IV, 3.3.90; 2 Henry IV, 2.1.44; Henry V, 2.1.19), but she is plainly a different person from the Mistress Quickly of The Merry Wives of Windsor; Shakespeare simply reused the name and comical verbal habit of the Hostess with his customary disregard for questions of consistency. Some scholars hold that the correct pronunciation of Quickly should be 'quick-lie', a legitimate Elizabethan variant that carries an obvious implication that she is a prostitute.  Falstaff hints that she is (e.g., in 1 Henry IV, 3.3.128), but, although she consorts with Doll, who is a courtesan, there is no other evidence to support this. It is more probable that her name, pronounced ordinarily (as it commonly was in the 16th century), is simply intended to suggest the hustle and bustle of an innkeeper's life.

Sheriff

Sheriff is a policeman who investigates the highway robbery committed by Falstaff. The Sheriff, who has a witness who knows Falstaff, accepts Prince Hal’s word that Falstaff is not present at the inn and that the Prince will guarantee the return of any stolen money; he then leaves.

Vintner The wine steward at the Boar's Head Tavern who commands Francis to attend t his duties in 2.4.
Chamberlain An employee who scouts for the highwayman Gadshill.  In 2.1 he spots two rich travelers.  In Shakespeare's time these were employees for inns and taverns.
First Traveller One of the unfortunate pilgrims that get robbed by Falstaff and his crew of highwaymen.
Messenger Member of Hotspur's rebel army who brings news of the King's impending forces.

 

 

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