Family relations are at the heart of Henry IV Part 1. Shakespeare is particularly concerned with father-son relationships between Hal and King Henry, Hal and his surrogate father-figure, (Falstaff), and Northumberland and Hotspur. On the one hand, the meditation on family relations offers a way for the play to humanize the historical figures Shakespeare makes into characters of political intrigue. Yet, the play also reminds us that civil war and the struggle for the crown is a family affair. Male relationships dominate the play, but Henry IV Part 1 also takes a look at husbands and wives. As it contrasts the relationships between the Percys and the Mortimers, it explores Elizabethan notions of gender and sexuality.
In Henry IV Part 1, the tumultuous relationship between King Henry and Prince Hal dramatizes, on a small, intimate scale, the civil rebellion that threatens to destroy England.
Northumberland's abandonment of his son, Hotspur, at a crucial moment in the play suggests that parents cannot always be trusted to care for and protect their children.