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Themes

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.

Questions About Family

  1. Why does King Henry say he wishes Hotspur were his son? Why focus so much attention on a family relationship in a political play about rebellion and power?
  2. Aside from Prince Hal's tumultuous relationship with King Henry, what other father-son relationships are examined in the play?
  3. How would you characterize the relationship between Lady Percy and Hotspur? Is Hotspur cruel? Teasingly affectionate? How would you stage their intimate moments? How do these moments compare to scenes that portray the Mortimers?
  4. There aren't any literal mothers in the play (what's up with that?), but Henry IV Part 1 does compare English soil to a cannibal mother in Act 1, Scene 1. Why is that?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

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.

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