Study Guide

Henry IV Part 1 Art and Culture

By William Shakespeare

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Art and Culture

Henry IV Part 1 makes several self-conscious references to the workings of Elizabethan theater. Most notably, the wild impromptu skit at the Boar's Head tavern presents a "play-within-a-play" that offers an opportunity for Shakespeare to explore the relationship between rebellion and the stage. Because it's a space where Prince Hal can practice being "king," the tavern is also a kind of training ground or important rehearsal space for the young man who will inherit the throne. Frequent play-acting and character impersonation throughout Henry IV Part 1 give voice to the notion that "kingship" is just another "role" to be played. The play's concern with meta-theatricality aligns it with other important works, including Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew, and A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Questions About Art and Culture

  1. What kinds of play-acting do we see characters participate in throughout the play?
  2. Why do Hal and Falstaff put on an impromptu skit at the Boar's Head Tavern?
  3. What does Falstaff focus on when he plays the role of "Prince Hal" during the tavern skit? Is he interested in accurately portraying the "prince"? Or, does he have a different agenda?
  4. How does Shakespeare draw our attention to the fact that we are an audience as we watch (or read) the play? What's the larger purpose of this technique?

Chew on This

By portraying a play-within-a-play at the Boar's Head Tavern, Shakespeare highlights the relationship between the theater and rebellion.

Henry IV Part 1 explores the relationship between theatricality and leadership – ultimately, the play suggests that kingship is merely a "role" that can be "played" by anyone with acting skills and the right "costume."

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