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Themes

Henry IV Part 1 offers an interesting meditation on gender. For the most part, the play is concerned with masculinity and honor and relations between men – fathers and sons, uncles and nephews, brothers, cousins, male colleagues, and so on. Given that the play's main story line is one of primogeniture (how the prince will inherit the crown from his father), this is unsurprising. The play's three female characters are marginally significant but the play goes out of its way to dramatize and examine relations between husbands and wives. In Henry IV Part 1 women are always linked with rebellion and are frequently viewed as threats to masculinity.

Questions About Gender

  1. Why is Hotspur so angry at the "certain lord" who appears on the battlefield to collect the war prisoners?
  2. How many female characters appear in the play? What kinds of roles do they play? Do they influence the plot? What's their function?
  3. What does Lady Percy reveal about her relationship with her husband when she complains about being neglected? What does this suggest about Hotspur's relationship to masculinity?
  4. What does Mortimer do after he's captured by the Welsh? Why doesn't he fight at the battle at Shrewsbury?

Chew on This

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

In the play, marriage is portrayed as an institution that can make men soft and weak, limiting their ability to fight in battle.

For Hotspur, masculinity is intricately linked to courage and honor, which can only be gained on the field of battle – a space that primarily excludes women.

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