Character Directory


Rumour is the speaker of the Induction. Rumour serves as a Chorus and introduces the play. Rumour wears a costume 'painted full of tongues' (Ind. 1, stage direction), in a medieval tradition ultimately derived from a description in Virgil’s Aeneid, written in the4st century B.C. An unpleasant figure full of scorn for human credulity, he describes his own potential to cause disruption and states that he is now going to give the Earl of Northumberland the false news that the rebels against King Henry IV, led by the Earl's son, Hotspur, have won the battle of Shrewsbury. Act 1 then commences with Northumberland's receipt of this news. 

Rumour serves three functions. First, he recounts that Henry has won the battle and that there remain other rebels, under Northumberland, who are still active. Then, in asserting that Northumberland has missed the battle by being 'crafty-sick' (Ind. 37), he introduces the idea that treachery infects the rebel cause, part of the play's unfavorable presentation of revolt. Most significantly,. Rumour, introduces the idea that uncertainty cannot be avoided, saying, 'which of you will stop the vent of hearing when loud Rumour speaks?' (Ind. 2). This pessimistic proposition reflects the play's dark mood and is an underlying element of the play's message that order must be maintained in society.


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 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.


Thomas, Duke of Clarence (1388-1421) Another son of King Henry IV and younger brother of Prince Hal. In 2 Henry IV Clarence receives advice from his dying father on dealing with Hal after he succeeds to the throne. In Henry V, although he receives a command from the King in 5.2.84, he does not reply, nor is he named in the stage directions or the Dramatis Personae in most editions of the play. 

The historical Clarence was an important figure in the regimes of his father and brother. A young governor of Ireland in the first years of Henry IV's reign, Clarence replaced Hal on the King's council when the latter was dismissed in 1411, and he led a successful military expedition in Gascony in 1412. Late in the reign of Henry V, Clarence was killed in battle in FRANCE (1).


Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (1390-1447) is the youngest son of King Henry IV and the brother of King Henry V and the dukes of Clarence and Lancaster. He is an important figure in the aristocratic disputes of the Henry VI plays, presented as the chief cause of the English loss to France in the Hundred Years War. In the later works, where he is a younger man, he is a minor character. 

In the Henry VI plays Gloucester engages in a running dispute with his uncle the Bishop of Wincester. He is depicted as a valorous defender of England's honor, whereas Winchester is an opportunistic politician. Their feud rages through 3.1 of Part 1, after which it is replaced in importance by that between York and Somerset. In Part 2 Gloucester's wife, the Duchess of Gloucester, is convicted on charges of witchcraft and banished. Then, in 3.1, Gloucester himself is arrested at Bury ST. Edmunds, falsely charged with treason, and killed. Hired murderers fjee the scene of the crime at the beginning of 3.2; the Second Murderer regrets the deed because the duke's death had been marked by religious penitence. 

After Gloucester's death the country slides into civil war, and we are meant to see him as having been the guardian against such an event. In order to magnify the duke's virtues, two otherwise irrelevant anecdotes are inserted into the story. In 2.1 Gloucester demonstrates his perceptiveness by exposing the imposter Simpcox, and in 3.1 he wisely postpones a potentially explosive issue, York's appointment as regent in France, until a marginally related dispute can be resolved. These incidents demonstrate the qualities of prudence and judgment that are shortly to be denied the country by the duke's murder. 

The historical Gloucester was very different from the 'good Duke Humphrey' (2 Henry VI, 3.2.322) of these plays. Shakespeare, following his sources and the established opinion of his own time, was opposed to the political position of Gloucester's enemies and he thus depicted Humphrey as a patriot. Winchester headed a 'peace party' that advocated a withdrawal from a war virtually lost. Gloucester and the 'hawks' of the day, however, insisted that the war go on. In the History Plays Shakespeare presents the view that the French were able to drive the English from France only because of English disunity, and Gloucester's insistence on continuing the war was taken to demonstrate a patriotic faith in English arms that the 'peace party' lacked. 

Gloucester was in fact selfishly ambitious, quite willing to pursue his own interests at the expense of the country's, once the restraining influence of Henry V was gone. After Henry's death Gloucester's power was restricted by a council of nobles who recognized his headstrong selfishness. He rebelled; the dispute with Winchester at the Tower of London (1 Henry VI, 1.3) reflects Gloucester's actual coup attempt of 1425. A year later, he eloped with the wife of a close friend of the Duke of Burgandy, England's most important ally, and then recruited an army to support his new wife's claims. A duel with Burgundy was avoided only by the annulment of the marriage. This affair was among the grievances that Burgundy cited when he eventually defected from the English alliance against France. Later Gloucester scandalously married his mistress, Eleanor Cobham, who, as Duchess of Gloucester, was found guilty of treason and witchcraft. No evidence has ever been offered to support the belief that Gloucester was murdered. Although he died while in Suffolk's custody, historians generally believe that his death was natural. No question of murder arose at the time, and Suffolk's banishment only occurred some years later, for different reasons. 

In 2 Henry IV and Henry V, set years earlier, Gloucester's role is minor. He is present at his father's deathbed in 4.4 and 4.5 of the first play, and in 5.2 he commiserates with the Chief Justice on the treatment the jurist expects to receive from the new king, whom he believes is an enemy. In Henry V Gloucester is an almost anonymous member of the king's entourage.


Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick (1382-1439) Historical figure and character in 1 Henry VI, 2 Henry IV, and Henry V. In 1 Henry VI Warwick declares for Plantagenet in 2.4, and in 3.1 he presents King Henry VI with a petition in favor of Plantagenet's restoration as Duke of York. He is present but unimportant in later scenes. In 2 Henry IV and Henry V we see Warwick as a younger man. In 2 Henry IV he is an adviser to King Henry IV. He soothes the king's melancholy and rouses him to action in 3.1, and he defends Prince Hal in 4.5, asserting that his debauchery is instructing the young man in the ways of evil, from which he will reform himself. This passage is intended to confirm the essential nobility of the future King Henry V. In Henry V Warwick speaks only one line as a member of the King's court. 

The historical Warwick was much more important in the affairs of his time than the character is in the plays. As a young man, under Henry IV, he distinguished himself in the army, serving against Glendower’s Welsh rebellion and at the battle of Shrewsbury. He was a highly successful general under Henry V and governed the occupied towns of Calais and Rouen at various times. Upon the king's death, the infant Henry VI was placed in Warwick's care. In 1Henry VI Warwick is overshadowed by York, whom Shakespeare wished to emphasize, although the earl was actually a more successful and prominent figure. When he died, Warwick was governing occupied France as regent for Henry VI. 

Shakespeare confused Richard Beauchamp with Richard Neville, a later holder of the same title: in 2 Henry IV, 3.1.66, Beauchamp is misnamed Neville, and in 2 Henry VI, 1.1.117-120, episodes from his military career are claimed by Neville. It is sometimes thought that Neville was expressly intended as the Warwick of 1 Henry VI, but, although the chronology of that play is hopelessly skewed, certain key features point to Beauchamp. Although Shakespeare was seemingly unaware of the distinction, it seems likely that Richard Beauchamp is the Warwick depicted.


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.


Thomas Fitz-Alan, Earl of Surrey (1381-1415) Historical figure and minor character in 2 Henry IV, a follower of King Henry IV. In 3.1 Henry sends for Surrey and Warwick and tells them of his troubles.  Surrey does not speak. The historical Surrey was much more important than this slight role suggests. His father had been executed in 1397, along with Thomas of Gloucester, by King Richard II in the conflict that was to trigger the events enacted in Richard II. Surrey, who fled to Flanders after his father's arrest, joined Henry IV, when, as Bolingbroke, he deposed Richard, and he remained a strong supporter of the king against the rebellions enacted in 1 and 2 Henry IV. He was a friend of Prince Hal who later, as King Henry V, entrusted him with the command of major military expeditions.


Gower is a messenger. In 2.1 Gower brings the Chief Justice a report that King Henry IV and Prince Hal have returned to London from fighting rebels in Wales, and he answers the judge's questions about military news. His knowledge suggests that he is in the army, but there is no other evidence to link him with Captain Gower in Henry V and he is generally regarded as a different character.


Harcourt is a messenger. In 4.4 Harcourt brings King Henry IV news that Lord Bardolph and the Earl of Northumberland have been defeated, thus ending the rebellion that began in 1 Henry IV.


Sir John Blunt (d. 1418) Historical is an aide to Prince John of Lancaster. Blunt appears only once and says nothing; he is assigned to guard the captive Coleville (4.3.73). Blunt was also mentioned in two stage directions in the Quarto edition of the play (1600), but these references are absent in the First Folio (1623) and have generally been omitted since. It is speculated that this alteration may reflect minor cuts made for an early production, perhaps by Shakespeare himself.  The historical John Blunt was a minor courtier, the son of Walter Blunt, who appears in 1 Henry IV.

Lord Chief-Justice

Lord Chief Justice is the highest-ranking judicial officer of England. The Chief Justice chastises Falstaff twice. In 1.2 he observes that only Falstaff’s success at the battle of Shrewsbury has kept him from being prosecuted for the highway robbery at Gad’s Hill in 1 Henry IV, and he warns the knight against continuing his dissolute life. In 2.1 he orders Falstaff to repay a debt to the Hostess. In both cases the Chief Justice has enough intelligence and humor to appreciate Falstaff’s wit and to recognize that the fat knight cannot be cajoled into an honest life, but his own sense of public morality urges him to make the attempt. 

In 1.2.55-56 Falstaff’s Page calls the Chief Justice 'the nobleman that committed the Prince for striking him about Bardolph', referring to an earlier imprisonment of Prince Hal. In 5.2, after Henry IV's death, the Chief Justice expects to find the new King vengeful, but when he defends his action, noting that he was right to follow the law irrespective of the offender's rank, the former Prince approves entirely and confirms him in his office. The young King asserts that he will be guided by the justice, and when he rejects Falstaff in 5.5, his formal diction seems to reflect the judge's influence. The Chief Justice later implements Hal's decision to banish Falstaff. 

The story of Hal's assault on the Chief Justice was part of the popular legend of 'wild Prince Hal': he is said to have been reprimanded by the justice for seeking a favorable ruling on behalf of a delinquent acquaintance whereupon he struck the judge and was gaoled for it; as in the play, he maintained the justice in office upon becoming Henry V. However, this tale is almost surely fictitious; the earliest written reference to any such event did not appear until 1531, more than a century later, in Thomas Elyot’s The Boke named the Gouemour. Moreover, Elyot reports no assault, merely the Justice's reprimand, which the Prince accepted meekly. The assault and incarceration occur only in The Famous Victories, a 16th-century farce that has no historical validity whatsoever. Shakespeare doubtless knew this, but the tale was too dramatic to waste.  The Chief Justice of Hal's day, unnamed in the play or in any of Shakespeare's sources, was Sir William Gascoigne (c. 1350-1419), a distinguished jurist who had long served King Henry IV, having been his attorney when he was in exile as Henry Bolingbroke (as enacted in Richard II). As King Henry's chief legal officer, Gascoigne had presided over the sentencing and execution of the rebels captured at Gaultree, although Shakespeare does not associate him with this event in 4.3 of the play.


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.


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.


Lord Thomas Mowbray (1386-1405) is a rebel against King Henry IV. An ally of the Archbishop of York and Lord Hastings, Mowbray argues against accepting the peace offered by Prince John of Lancaster at Gaultree Forest in 4.1, but he is ignored. When Lancaster's offer proves treacherous, in 4.2, Mowbray is arrested with the others and sentenced to death. The  historical Mowbray, not yet 20 years old when he was executed, was the son of Thomas Mowbray, whose quarrel with Henry Bolingbroke, later to become Henry IV, was enacted in Richard II.


Lord Ralph Hastings (d. 1405) is a rebel against King Henry IV. An ally of the Archbishop of York, Hastings makes several errors of judgment, first advocating that the rebels proceed against the King despite the desertion of Northumberland and then, when they find themselves outnumbered at Gaultree Forest, recommending that they accept the peace offered by Prince John of Lancaster. Lancaster's offer proves treacherous, and Hastings and the other rebels are arrested and sentenced to death. The historical Hastings was a minor nobleman of northern Yorkshire.


Lord Thomas Bardolph (1368-1408) is a follower of the Earl of Northumberland and a rebel against King Henry IV. He is invariably referred to as Lord Bardolph to distinguish him from Bardolph, who appears in the same play. Lord Bardolph brings Northumberland a mistaken report of a rebel victory in 1.1, and he helps to encourage the crestfallen Earl after the real news arrives. In 1.3 he urges caution on his fellow rebels, Lord Hastings and the Archbishop of York, who insist on challenging the King. Although he then disappears from the play, the defeat of Lord Bardolph and Northumberland is reported in 4.4; he thus seems associated with Northumberland's betrayal of the rebel cause. 

The historical Lord Bardolph, like Northumberland, did not desert the rebellion. He fought with distinction and died in battle several years after Gaultree Forest.  A speech prefix in the Quarto edition of the play (1600) indicates that Lord Bardolph's part in 1.1 was originally written for Sir John Umfreville, another follower of Northumberland's, whose part was assigned to Lord Bardolph in order to reduce the number of actors required.


Sir John Colevile (Coleville) of the Dale (d. 1405) is a rebel knight captured by Falstaff. After the rebels have been tricked into dispersing without a battle, Colevile peaceably surrenders to Falstaff, who makes much of his own valour as he turns his prisoner over to Prince John of Lancaster. Lancaster sends Colevile to be executed. The episode provides a comical glimpse of Falstaff in the long and otherwise entirely political Act 4. Shakespeare took Colevile's name from Holinshed, who lists him among the executed rebels, but it is possible that Colevile was pardoned and lived to be recorded as Sir John Colvyi, who fought in France With Henry V.


Travers is a follower of the Earl of Northumberland and a rebel against King Henry IV. In 1.1 Travers brings Northumberland the mistaken news that the rebel forces have won the battle of Snrewsbury, an account shortly belied by the eyewitness account of Morton. The episode helps to develop a secondary theme of the play, the uncertainty of knowledge.


Morton is a follower of the Earl of Northumberland and rebel against King Henry IV. In 1.1 Morton arrives at Warkworth Castle with an eyewitness report—settling a distressing uncertainty—that the rebels have lost the battle of Shrewsbury and that the Earl's son, Hotspur, has been killed by Prince Hal. He then joins with Lord Bardolph in rousing Northumberland from the despair this news causes him. In doing so, Morton announces (1.1.187-209) the plans of the Archbishop of York, whose continuation of the rebellion will provide the central action of the rest of the play. Morton's account presents rebellion in terms of subverted religion that help to establish the play's disapproving attitude towards revolt (although Morton himself, as a rebel, finds it acceptable).


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.

Page Robin goes by several ‘names’ in different plays.  In Merry Wives, he uses his proper name but in Henry IV, Part 2 he is known as Page and Henry V, he goes by Boy.  In Henry IV, Part 2 he simply performs routine tasks and says little. However, in 2.2, where he ; bests Bardolph in a battle of wits and is rewarded with money by Prince Hal and Poins, the Page saucily comes into his own, in the manner of the part 'young pages in the plays of John Lyly, whose works were well known to Shakespeare.  Robin’s diminutive stature is frequently referred to in humorous terms by the other characters.

In Henry V he accompanies his late master's cronies to France as part of King Henry V’s army. In 3.2.28-57 he elicits our sympathy by regretting his association with such cowardly thieves. At the battle of Agincourt he acts as an interpreter between Pistol and the captive French Solider in 4.4, and after this sorry episode he again bemoans his continued connection with Pistol; he also reveals that Bardolph and Nym have been hung. In this speech (4.4.69-80) he remarks that only he and other boys guard the English baggage train, which would thus make a good target for the French, if only they knew the situation. With this observation the Boy grimly heralds his own death, for in 4.7.5 Gower reports the French massacre of all these youngsters.


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.


Pistol appears in Henry IV, Part 2, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Henry V and is a braggart soldier and follower of Falstaff. The comical Pistol serves as Falstaff’s aide in King Henry IV's campaign against the rebels in Henry IV, Part 2. He first appears at Falstaff s dinner party at the Boar’s Heard Tavern in 2.4, and he offends everyone present with grandiose insults while asserting his chivalric honor with distorted snatches of rhetoric from Elizabethan drama and literature. This vigorous mode of address is Pistol's principal attribute in all of his appearances. To some extent. Pistol satirizes military pretensions, but his rhetoric is more pointedly a literary parody; Shakespeare exaggerates the florid language of Marlowe and his followers. Pistol is called an ancient; ancient, or ensign (standard-bearer), is a military rank, the equivalent of lieutenant, which Bardolph calls Pistol in Henry V, 2.1.38.  Pistol may actually be an ancient, or he may have simply appropriated the title, for part of his absurdity is his singular unsuitability for command.

Like the 16th-century sidearm for which he is named. Pistol is violently loud but incapable of serious damage. Also, the pistol was commonly associated, in Elizabethan humor, with the penis; much is made of this in Henry IV, Part 2 2.4.109-135.  When the Quarto edition of Henry IV, Part 2 was published in 1600, its subtitle made particular reference to Pistol, whose appeal was already recognized, and he has been among Shakespeare's most popular characters ever since. His extravagant rhetoric makes him hilarious even to audiences for whom the original parodies are meaningless.

In The Merry Wives Pistol is again in Falstaff’s entourage (apparently as a civilian), but he refuses to deliver his master's love letters, rejecting the task as unsoldierly, and Falstaff fires him. He and Nym seek revenge, and they inform Ford and Page that Falstaff has designs on their wives, thereby triggering the principal sub-plot of Ford's jealousy. Pistol is insignificant thereafter, although he does appear in the final Masque like scene, disguised as a fairy. This may simply reflect the employment of the actor who played Pistol in another role, but Pistol's appearance in character might have been taken by 16th-century audiences as a clue to the ceremonial nature of the scene, in which personality is wiped out.

In Henry V, Pistol mourns the passing of Falstaff with his new wife, the Hostess, whom he has presumably dazzled with his extravagant braggadoccio.  Once on campaign in France, he proves himself a coward in 3.2; following this episode, the Boy remarks on the villainy of Pistol, Nym, and Bardolph.  In 3.6 Pistol pleads unsuccessfully for Fluellen’s intercession on behalf of Bardolph, who has been sentenced to death for looting; in 4.1 he is one of the soldiers whom the incognito King Henry V encounters the night before the battle of Agincourt, though he has little to say, merely making a nasty remark about Fluellen.

In 4.4 Pistol captures a French Soldier and demands ransom of him, threatening to kill him otherwise. Since he speaks no French and the soldier no English, the scene is comical, but Pistol is unquestionably an unpleasant character, vicious and overbearing.The Boy acts as interpreter, saving the soldier's life, and he remarks afterwards of Pistol, 'I did never know so full a voice issue from so empty a heart' (4.4.69-70).  Pistol is last seen in 5.1, where Fluellen forces him to eat a leek. The last survivor of FalstafFs followers, Pistol in Henry V serves to show that the anarchic element represented by Falstaff is finally rendered both harmless and completely disreputable. On the other hand. Pistol may also be seen as a symbolic parallel to King Henry's militarism: he satirizes notions of military honor, while most of the combat actually presented involves Pistol at his most degenerate. Most strikingly, his threat to kill his prisoner in 4.4 foreshadows Henry's own order that 'every soldier kill his prisoner' (4.6.37).

It is thought that Falstaff appeared in an early, unacted version of Henry V and was then excised by Shakespeare, with remnants of his part going to Pistol, who displays Falstaffian characteristics in several scenes, particularly 5.1. This theory cannot be proven, but it is supported by textual evidence. 

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.
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.

Robert Shallow is a Gloucestershire Justice of the Peace. A garrulous old man who thinks himself sophisticated but is in fact very gullible, the Shallow of Henry IV, Part 2 is a perfect victim for Falstaff’s exploitation. Given to lying about his youthful adventures with Falstaff and pluming himself on his status as a justice, he is somewhat ridiculous. As Falstaff remarks in a soliloquy at 3.2.296-322, he remembers the youthful Shallow as a laughing-stock, and he is certainly a comical figure in old age. However, he is never simply laughable, despite Falstaff’s elaborate and comically uncomplimentary description. Upon their initial appearance, Shallow and his cousin Silence seem amusingly empty-headed as their conversation shifts from the deaths of old acquaintances to the price of livestock in 3.2.33-52, but while the exchange is a tour de force of subtle comedy, the characters are also movingly human: two old men whose minds wander as they confront mortality. Shallow's age and something more of his earlier life are mentioned in 3.2.205, where Silence remarks that it was 'fifty-five year ago' that Shallow entered Clement's Inn, a law school. Supposing him to be about 20 years old at that time, we see that he is about 75 at the time of the play. Clement's Inn, as Shakespeare's audience will have known, was an institution similar to the Inns of Court but less socially and intellectually elite. As his capacities in old age suggest, he was not accepted by the top law schools in youth. Such a circumstantial biography helps make Shallow a real person and not simply a comic butt.

Throughout the play. Shallow is a sympathetic character. He presents the pleasant world of the small landowner in Henry IV, Part 2's remarkable panoply of English scenes, hosting Falstaff and his men with a bountiful dinner of home-grown food. His incautious friendship is repaid when he is jailed along with Falstaff in 5.5, when Falstaff is banished by the Prince.  In The Merry Wives, although Shallow is more prominent and appears in far more scenes than in Henry IV, Part 2 he is less strikingly drawn. He is the avuncular promoter of a marriage between his dim-witted young relative Slender and the desirable Anne Page. Also seconding the Host in 2.1, 2.3, and 3.1, he helps avert the duel between Evans and Caius, in a sub-plot that contributes to the play's conciliatory quality.

As The Merry Wives opens. Shallow—making pompous claims of aristocratic ancestry—threatens a lawsuit against Falstaff; this suit is immediately forgotten in the play, and it is sometimes thought that its purpose was solely to link the laughable country justice with some real person whom Shakespeare had disputed with and was now making fun of (see William Gardiner; Thomas Lucy). However, this is highly questionable, and the episode's peculiarly truncated quality probably reflects the haste with which the play was apparently written, or perhaps it survives from a lost play sometimes hypothesized as a source for The Merry Wives.


Silence is a rural justice of the peace, cousin of Justice Shallow. Silence, as his name suggests, says very little. In 3.2 he clearly admires his cousin's youthful career as 'lusty Shallow' (3.2.15), and he politely responds to Shallow's remarks. In 5.3, at Shallow's delightful garden party, Silence comes to life under the influence of wine: six times, he breaks into song—two of these excerpts are from known 16th-century ballads, and the others are presumed to derive from lost works—and he has to be carried to bed at the end of the evening. Although we hear of his daughter Ellen and his son William (3.2.6,8), Silence's own first name is never mentioned. 

In the Quarto edition of 2 Henry IV, Silence's name is spelled Scilens on 18 occasions. This edition derives from Shakespeare's manuscript, and therefore the spelling is presumed to have been used by the playwright. Its only other known occurrence is in the 'Hand D' pages of the manuscript of Sir Thomas More (where it is a common noun); this piece of evidence, along with others, leads scholars to conclude that Shakespeare wrote these pages.


Davy is the steward to Justice Shallow. In 5.1 Davy makes the necessary arrangements when Falstaff visits Shallow and conducts ordinary business—seeing to minor repairs, planting, paying the blacksmith, and so on—at the same time. As a typical resident of Gloucestershire, he is part of the play's delightful 'presentation of English country life. On behalf of his friend William Visor, Davy asks his master for a favorable ruling in a lawsuit, offering a humorous look at small-time legal chicanery. At Shallow's drinking party in 5.3, Davy manages to function as host, guest, and servant


Ralph Mouldy is a countryman enlisted by Falstaff in his capacity as an army recruiter in 3.2. After joking about his name, Falstaff drafts Mouldy over the man's objections. However, once recruited. Mouldy bribes Corporal Bardolph to secure his own release from service, along with that of his friend Peter Bullcalf.


Simon Shadow is one of the men whom Falstaff recruits for the army in 3.2. Shadow is extremely thin, and much is made of the appropriateness of his name. While hardier men bribe their way out of service, Falstaff justifies his choice of Shadow by observing that he will be as hard for a marksman to hit as 'the edge of a penknife' (3.2.262). It is thought that Shadow was originally played by John Sincklo, an exceptionally thin actor who was among the Chamberlain’s Men, the company for whom Shakespeare wrote the play.


Thomas Wart is one of the men whom Falstaff recruits for the army in 3.2.  Wart, who is dressed in rags, is initially rejected as being too poor a specimen of soldier. However, after two draftees offer bribes to Falstaff’s assistant, Bardolph, they are released from service and Wart is taken. He is put through an incongruous marching exercise in 3.2.267-272. The episode satirizes the notorious greed of 16th-century recruiters.


Francis Feeble is one of the men whom Falstaff recruits for the army in 3.2. Feeble is selected over hardier men who bribe their way out of service, and Falstaff justifies the choice by saying that Feeble will be useful in retreat, being already inclined to run. However, Feeble is willing to fight if he has to, saying, I will. do my good will, sir, you can have no more' (3.2.155), and '. . . he that dies this year is quit for the next' (3.2.233). Feeble gives his occupation as a 'woman's tailor', which gives rise to ribaldry: 'tailor' was Elizabethan slang for the genitals, male or female.


Peter Bullcalf is one of the men whom Falstaff recruits for the army in 3.2.  Bullcalf claims to be ill, despite the robust appearance his name suggests, but he is recruited anyway. However, his friend Ralph Mouldy secures release for them both by bribing Corporal Bardolph. The episode satirizes the notoriously corrupt practices of 16th-century recruiters.


Fang is a constable who attempts to arrest Falstaff for debt. In 2.1 the Hostess employs Fang and his assistant, Snare, to arrest the fat knight, but when Falstaff and his companion, Bardolph, draw their swords, the officers are helpless. The Chief Justice appears and resolves the situation without their assistance. Fang's name, which in Elizabethan English meant 'snare' or 'trap', is appropriate to his function, if not to his abilities.


Snare is a subordinate to the constable Fang. In 2.1 Fang and Snare are hired by the Hostess to arrest Falstaff for debt. Snare is nervous about the likelihood of armed resistance, and, indeed, when Falstaff and his companion, Bardolph, draw their swords. Fang and Snare are helpless. Snare's name, like Fang's, indicates his function, if not his capabilities.


Lady Northumberland (Margaret Neville, d. c.1400) is the wife of the Earl of Northumberland. In 2.3 Lady Northumberland and her daughter-in-law Lady Percy plead with the Earl not to join the rebels against King Henry IV. He bows to their pressure and flees to Scotland. The incident demonstrates the weakness of Northumberland's allegiance. The historical Lady Northumberland died some time before the period of the play, but Shakespeare revived her in order to create a situation in which family loyalties oppose political ones. She was a sister of the Archbishop of York, a relationship that Shakespeare ignored.


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.


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.


Doll Tearsheet is a lover of Falstaff. Doll joins Falstaff at his uproarious dinner at the Boar’s Head Tavern in 2.4. She is clearly a prostitute, but her affection for Falstaff is more than commercial. Although they fight with gusto. Doll's sentimental fondness for the fat knight is evident. She invokes their long-standing friendship in a hard world: 'Come, I'll be friends with thee, Jack, thou art going to the wars, and whether I shall ever see thee again or no there is nobody cares' (2.4.64-66). He feels comfortable enough with her to admit, 'I am old, I am old', and she assures him, 'I love thee better than I love e'er a scurvy young boy of them all' (2.4.268-270). When Falstaff departs to join the troops, Doll is genuinely upset, unable to speak for tears. 

In 5.4 Doll and the Hostess are arrested for their involvement in a murder, and Doll's capacity for invective and deceit comes to the fore as she berates the Beadle while claiming a fictitious pregnancy, potentially useful in court. This episode emphasizes the criminality of Falstaff’s world and indicates a change in the lax moral climate that has existed in London, foreshadowing the crucial scene in which Prince Hal rejects Falstaff. 

Doll was a name conventionally applied to prostitutes. Moreover, as other allusions in 16th- and 17th-century literature make clear. Doll's last name is also related to her profession, implying vigor in its practice. In Henry V, Pistol says that Doll is in hospital with a venereal disease (2.1.74-77), and her death is reported in 5.1.85.


In 4.1 the Messenger brings the rebel leaders report that the army of Prince John of Lancaster is approaching.

Porter Gatekeeper at Warkworth Castle, home of the Earl of Northumberland.  The porter admits Lord Bardolph.  At the outset of the play, he embodies ordinary lives amid the doings of the aristocracy, an important aspect of the play.
Drawers Drawers are any of several servants at the Boar’s Head Tavern. In 2.4 the Drawers, who 'draw' wine from casks for their customers, prepare for Falstaff’s dinner party. They enjoy an anecdote in which Prince Hal taunts Falstaff about his age, and they plan for entertainment with a musician named Sneak. Among their number is Francis, who also appears in 1 Henry IV. The Drawers present one of the many glimpses of working-class life in the Henry IV plays.

Beadles are any of several petty London officials assigned to whip the Hostess and Doll Tearsheet. In 5.4 the Beadles drag the two women across the stage. One of them speaks, remarking that the punishment has been decreed because the women have been involved in a murder.  Both women insult the chief Beadle, referring to his skeletal appearance. In the Quarto edition of the play, a stage direction identified this Beadle as John Sincklo, a very thin actor, and it is presumed that Shakespeare wrote this scene with him in mind.

Groom Any of several servants attending to Henry during his coronation.


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