Henry IV Part 1 offers an elaborate meditation on kingship. As a monarch who has usurped the throne and alienated his most important allies, King Henry must figure out a way to maintain power while the rebels challenge the legitimacy of his reign. The play also considers the qualities and characteristics that make one a good leader by examining the younger generation. By contrasting the calculating and manipulative Prince Hal to his courageous and valiant foil, Hotspur, Shakespeare explores the relationship between principles and monarchy. The play's dramatization of the crisis of succession would have also resonated with an important Elizabethan political issue – at the time Henry IV Part 1 was written, Queen Elizabeth I had no children and no heir.
While the play initially establishes Hotspur as a talented young leader who would be a desirable king, it ultimately suggests that Prince Hal's cunning and charisma make him a more suitable leader than young Percy.
In Henry IV Part 1, Shakespeare rebelliously portrays kingship as a kind of "role" that can be "played" by anyone with the right demeanor and costume.