Study Guide

Henry IV Part 1 Rules and Order

By William Shakespeare

Rules and Order

KING
What think you, coz,
Of this young Percy's pride? the prisoners
Which he in this adventure hath surprised
To his own use he keeps, and sends me word
I shall have none but Mordake, Earl of Fife. (1.1.90-94)

King Henry admires Hotspur's courage on the battlefield and his taking of noble prisoners, despite the fact that Hotspur is insubordinate by denying the king's rights to the captives. (Kings had first dibs on all war prisoners, especially those who could fetch a hefty ransom.) A few lines later, King Henry will lament that his son, Prince Hal, acts like a rebellious brat whose embarrassing antics threaten the safety of the kingdom (the prince is set to inherit the throne). Henry, of course, doesn't realize that Hotspur is the real threat. As we know, the young Percy will lead the rebellion against the king.

WESTMORELAND
This is his uncle's teaching. This is Worcester,
Malevolent to you in all aspects,
Which makes him prune himself, and bristle up
The crest of youth against your dignity. (1.1.95-98)

Henry believes Worcester's a bad influence on Hotspur and we think he may have a point. Although the young Percy challenges King Henry's authority all on his own (by denying the king his war prisoners, by talking back, etc.), Worcester seems to manipulate his nephew's penchant for honor at every turn. So, what do you think? Is there evidence in the play that Worcester plays puppet master? Take a very close look at Act 1, Scene 3 (where the Percys first talk about rebellion) and get back to us on this.

PRINCE
Thou art so fat-witted, with drinking of old
sack and unbuttoning thee after supper and
sleeping upon benches after noon, that thou hast
forgotten to demand that truly which thou wouldst
truly know. What a devil hast thou to do with
the time of the day? Unless hours were cups of
sack, and minutes capons, and clocks the tongues
of bawds, and dials the signs of leaping-houses,
and the blessed sun himself a fair hot wench in
flame-colored taffeta, I see no reason why thou
shouldst be so superfluous to demand the time
of the day. (1.2.2-13)

When Hal berates Falstaff for asking what time it is, he points out that Falstaff spends all his time eating, drinking, whoring, and sleeping. In other words, Falstaff is the very embodiment of riot and disorder. Literary critics frequently link Falstaff's character to "carnival." Carnival is a religious festival season that celebrated the inversion of social order and the indulgence of unruly and riotous behavior. Like Mardi Gras, it was seen as a temporary way for commoners to cut loose and thumb their noses at authority, without getting into trouble. In Elizabethan England, during the Feast of Fools, a "Lord of Misrule" was often appointed to reign over the festivities, which included drinking, eating, and raucous theatrical productions, much like what goes on at the Boar's Head Tavern, where Falstaff reigns supreme.

FALSTAFF
What, shall we be merry? Shall we have a play
extempore? (2.4.291-292)

Falstaff and Hal sure do like to play-act, don't they? In the infamous scene in the Boar's Head, Falstaff and Hal turn the tavern into a mock "castle" and play the roles of "King Henry" and "Prince Hal," which is an incredibly rebellious thing to do. By dramatizing a little play-within-the play, Shakespeare reminds us that the Elizabethan theater was in fact associated with rebellion and disorder. Check out our discussion of "Art and Culture" for more on this, but get right back because we're not done here.

PRINCE
Who, I rob? I a thief? Not I, by my faith. (1.2.144)

It's pretty obvious that Hal's a rebellious son – he lies, steals, cheats, hangs with criminals and commoners, and takes every opportunity to thumb his nose at authority. We love this moment where Hal plays coy after his friends invite him to take part in a highway robbery, which he does, by the way. But, at the same time, Hal's "who, me?" remark reminds us that after his pals rob the king's exchequer (treasury) at Gads Hill, Hal returns the stolen loot. Perhaps Hal is telling the truth when he claims (at the end of Act 1, Scene 2) that he's not really a bad boy, he's just pretending to be one for now.

KING
Why, yet he doth deny his prisoners,
But with proviso and exception
That we at our own charge shall ransom straight
His brother-in-law, the foolish Mortimer,
Who, on my soul, hath willfully betrayed
The lives of those that he did lead to fight
Against that great magician, damned Glendower,
Whose daughter, as we hear, the Earl of March
Hath lately married. (1.3.79-87)

Here, King Henry calls the English Mortimer a traitor and refuses to ransom him from his Welsh captors. (It's likely Henry wants Mortimer to remain in Wales because he was declared heir to the throne by King Richard II.) What interests us about this passage is the way it draws our attention to Mortimer's marriage to Glendower's Welsh daughter, which, for Henry, is evidence that Mortimer is the worst kind of traitor. Throughout the play, disobedience and disorder are frequently associated with women. In fact, the only three female characters in the play – Mistress Quickly (who runs a wild tavern), Lady Percy (married to Hotspur), and Lady Mortimer (daughter of the Welsh rebel leader and wife to the traitor Mortimer) are directly linked to rebellion. What's up with that? Check out our discussion of "Gender" for some of our thoughts.

HOTSPUR
But shall it be that you, that set the crown
Upon the head of this forgetful man
And for his sake wear the detested blot
Of murderous subornation—shall it be
That you a world of curses undergo,
Being the agents or base second means,
The cords, the ladder, or the hangman rather? (1.3.164-170)

When Hotspur reminds his father and uncle of their participation in the deposition of King Richard (which goes down in the preceding play, Richard II), the audience is reminded that King Henry was once a rebel who led an uprising against a monarch. King Henry, then, has paved the path for future acts of anarchy. Hmm. Sometimes it's so hard to tell the difference between a rebel and a monarch in this play.

FALSTAFF
O, thou hast damnable iteration and art
indeed able to corrupt a saint. Thou hast done
much harm upon me, Hal, God forgive thee for it.
Before I knew thee, Hal, I knew nothing, and now
am I, if a man should speak truly, little better than
one of the wicked. (1.2.96-101)

We know Falstaff is full of bologna when he compares himself to a saint whose been "corrupted" by Prince Hal, but this is partly why we love Falstaff. It's pretty clear that Falstaff's the one whose been doing the corrupting (even though Hal is most definitely a willing participant in Falstaff's antics).

HOTSPUR
[…] yet time serves wherein you may redeem
Your banished honors and restore yourselves
Into the good thoughts of the world again,
Revenge the jeering and disdained contempt
Of this proud king (1.3.184-188)

Here, Hotspur insists that overthrowing the king is a way for the Percy family to "redeem" their "banish'd honours." The play takes seriously the idea that rebellion can be honorable and even justifiable, don't you think? Hotspur's never portrayed as a mustache-twirling villain (even when he's being ridiculous) and, in fact, much of what he has to say about the king makes sense, especially in the play's early scenes. But, does the play sustain this indulgent attitude toward Hotspur and the rebellion throughout the play? What do you think?

GADSHILL
Case you, case you. On with your vizards.
There 's money of the king's coming down the hill.
'Tis going to the King's Exchequer. (2.2.55-57)

It's no coincidence that Hal and his rebellious cronies rob the king's exchequer at Gads Hill. The robbery of the king's treasury (during which time the thieves steal coins called "crowns") is meant to parallel the rebels' plot to steal the king's crown and power. Shakespeare uses this kind of doubling technique throughout the play to connect the two plots and also, perhaps, to shed a comic light on the Percy family's uprising.