Henry IV Part 1
Analysis: Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis: Tragedy
Christopher Booker is a scholar who wrote that every story falls into one of seven basic plot structures: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, the Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. Shmoop explores which of these structures fits this story like Cinderella’s slipper.
Plot Type :
Typically, Henry IV Part 1 is seen as a play that fits into the genre of a "History Play," with Prince Hal as a protagonist at the center of the story. But, if we think of the play in terms of Christopher Booker's notion of "tragedy," we can see how Hotspur may be read as Shakespeare's tragic hero, which has some pretty cool implications for the story. (You can compare this to our discussion of the play as a Shakespearean history in "Genre." Also, be sure to check out our discussion of "Character Roles.")
Hotspur demands that King Henry ransom Mortimer in exchange for his war prisoners.
For Booker, this is the stage where the tragic "hero" is "unfulfilled," so his thoughts turn to "hope of some unusual gratification." We can see that Hotspur's pursuit of "honour" and glory leads him to challenge the king's authority. When Henry demands that Hotspur turn over his war prisoners, the young Percy refuses to do so unless the king pays the Welsh to ransom his brother-in-law, Mortimer, who Hotspur believes is the true heir to the throne.
Hotspur commits to rebellion against the king.
When the king brushes off Hotspur's cocky attempts to challenge his authority, Hotspur and his family plot rebellion against the king. This, Hotspur believes, will bring him and his family a great deal of "honour."
Hotspur quarrels with his comrades as they plot against the king.
Things begin to go wrong for Hotspur, who grows frustrated in his pursuit of honor. His wife complains of being neglected, Hotspur quarrels with and alienates his comrades, and he's anxious about moving from the planning stage to the real action he craves: battle.
Northumberland and Glendower won't be joining Hotspur's rebel forces but Hotspur forges ahead.
For Booker, this is the stage where things begin to slip out of control and the hero has a "mounting sense of threat and despair." Well, it's true that things are getting out of control for Hotspur. He learns that his father is too "sick" to join the battle at Shrewsbury and Glendower has yet to amass his troops to support the rebel cause. The thing about Hotspur, though, is the way he forges ahead impetuously, disregarding all threats of danger. This is where we see Hotspur diverge from Booker's model. Unlike most other tragic heroes, Hotspur ignores obvious signs of danger.
Destruction or Death Wish Stage
Hotspur is killed by Prince Hal in battle.
In the last stage, Hotspur is defeated by a "force" (the king) he has himself provoked, which leads us to agree that he has what Booker calls a "death wish." For Booker, the thing that makes a story a "tragedy" is the way it ends with the finality of death. (Think of Hamlet.) Insofar as Henry IV Part 1 is a story about Hotspur, this is true enough. Yet, the play is about much more than the young Percy. His death is climactic, sure, but it's so not the end of the story. We talk about this in "What's Up With the Ending?", so be sure to check it out.