“Henry IV” by William Shakespeare Essay

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Mar 12th, 2020


Shakespeare recounts the circumstances under which King Henry ruled Britain. In preceding acts, King Henry had overthrown King Richard II before declaring himself King over Britain. However, his reign was characterized with constant rebellion. The Percys who had aided him to be King were behind the uprisings. Previously, they had helped him overthrow King Richard II (Hacht 226).

However, they turned against King Henry with claims that he did not fulfill his part of the agreement. Civil war threatened to tear apart the nation as King Henry IV pondered his next move. Moreover, His loyalists such as Hotspur, among others also turned against him.

Furthermore, he wondered if his son Hal was capable of ruling Britain. This paper will explore Hal’s relationship with his father. It will also examine his relationship with Sir. John Falstaff (Hacht 227).

Summary of the plot

King Henry IV plans a crusade for peace in his troubled nation. However, he is interrupted with news of war and defeat. Glyndwr, the Welsh rebel has defeated his troops in the south. Moreover, his supposedly loyal army commandant Percy disobeys his order to send the King captives. In addition, the king is troubled by his son’s actions. Hal keeps bad companies. He is fond of Sir.

John Falstaff, a thief and a liar who lives by his wits. The noblemen that helped King Henry IV into power are strategizing on ways of overthrowing him. However, disgruntled members of the rebels cut their plan short. They are now forced to wage war as fast as possible since they are losing members. In addition, they fear that word may reach the King on their plans.

Henry is summoned to the palace where his father admonishes him for his acts. He obeys his father and joins him in war in which they triumph over Percy’s soldiers. However, this is not the end as more rebels emerge (Perlman 88-122).

Hal’s relationship with his biological father

Hal’s relationship with his father is weak. This is evident when his father voices his suspicion of Hal’s ability to join forces with the Percys to overthrow him. However, Hal does not feel that way. Hal loves his father. This is evident when his hand is forced to assure his father of complete loyalty and support amidst tension. Tension between father and son forces King Henry to summon Hal back to the palace.

The fact that Hal obeys his father’s call is important as it shows his obedience to his father. Hal’s father called him Harry. It should be noted that Hal provokes his father’s anger through his association with criminals such as Falstaff, among others. Hal’s actions angers his father since he disobeys his advice on morals expected of a prince.

It can be noted that Hal’s relationship with his father is strained in the beginning. In fact, it reaches a point when his father prefers Hotspur as his heir than Hal his son. This is evident in earlier acts where King Henry calls Hotspur “the theme of honor’s tongue.” Moreover, he wishes that the two (Hal and Hotspur) were switched at birth. This shows how much he disapproved his son’s ways (Harold 81).

However, their relationship takes a new turn when the Percys front for war against King Henry. After a sincere talk between the father and the son, Hal promises to change his ways. In fact, he does exactly that by joining his father’s forces. He even saves his father’s life in war. He goes on to be a courageous and obedient son. His father is delighted in him once more. He looks to Hal as his heir once again.

This is evident when king henry allows him to command his troops for war in which thy triumph (Hacht 235). It can thus be observed that Hal manages to convince his father that he truly cares for him. He shows king henry compassion by confirming his allegiance to him.

Moreover, he saves his life in the battle. Tentatively, it can be noted that Hal learns from his father. However, his father does not recognize it until Hal wages war against his father’s enemies.

Hal’s relationship with his adoptive father

Hal’s father disapproves his association with criminals like Sir. John Falstaff. However, he continues to have him around. In fact, he leaves palace to be with his vicious friends. While Hal is benevolent, courageous, and honest in his dealings with his biological father, it is quite difficult to attest to this concerning his adoptive father. This is evident when he plots with Peto to steal from Falstaff as well as deceive him.

This shows that the kind of relationship they had was not emotional. This relationship can be described as loosely figured. Based on the sincere discussion between Hal and his father Henry in the third act, it is obvious that Hal needed to explore himself. This brings him to Falstaff.

Thence, it can be said that Hal’s interaction with Falstaff was coincidental as their relationship. Although King Henry taught Hal many things, Falstaff took another side of things. He gave Hal the opportunity to choose his destiny (Perlman 88).

Falstaff provided Hal with company, love, and entertainment. However, this did not change the facts that Hal was a prince. In fact, it can be said that Hal come to Falstaff in order to know the ways of the people he was to rule. It could also be said that Hal came for an adventure. Surely, it would have been difficult to deceive a person he considered as a father to him. Besides, Hal outgrows his attachment to Falstaff.

He goes back to the palace and commits his life to kingship. In addition, he shows that he learnt a lot from his biological father. It can then be said that his relation with Falstaff was inconsistent, deceptive, and changeable. A long lasting love would continue even when status changes.

However, Hal turns against criminals and rebels aiming to topple his father. In essence, he disregards the teachings of Falstaff. This reinforces the loosely figured relationship between Hal and Falstaff.

Hal’s lessons from the two fathers

Hal learnt military skills from his biological father. This is evident in his triumph at Shrewsbury war, among others. Moreover, he closely monitored his father’s leadership skills, taking what was necessary and leaving what he thought was unnecessary. This is evident in his disregard for his father’s advice and instead he turns to Falstaff for friendship. Hal wants to learn much more than King Henry can provide.

This is evident in the way he leaves the palace for adventure. However, he does not forget the skills learnt from his father. He uses these skills to save his father and triumph over Hotspur, one of his father’s loyalists turned foe (Harold 89).

Hal learns about the world from Falstaff and his friends. In fact, it is here that they plan with Peto to deceive Falstaff. That is, he learns shrewdness from Falstaff and his friends. This helps him in organizing his father’s troops for triumph. It can also be noted that Hal learns other unruly ways from Falstaff. However, he does not take them back to the palace since he remains obedient to his father.

Tentatively, it can also be said that Hal realizes the importance of his father while he spends time with Falstaff. In addition, he realizes that his friends are deceptive since Peto himself plans to rob Falstaff. Therefore, Hal learns to be courageous, loving, and benevolent during his time with Falstaff.

His benevolence and loving nature is evident when he at first refuses to rob Falstaff. He only accepts when Peto tells him it is just a play on Falstaff. Moreover, Hal shows benevolence when he saves his father from death and defend his reign (Perlman 120).


Henry IV part one talks majorly of the rise of Hal. Shakespeare focuses on Hal’s development as a leader. He also explores Hal’s intrigues. Hal’s relationship with his biological father is loosely figured just as his relationship with Hotspur and Falstaff.

However, when his father’s reign faces danger, he defends him and protects his reign from faltering. It can be noted that Hal cared for his father even though he wanted time for self-determination. In the end, his relationship with both fatherly figures was important in aiding his governance and triumph in war (Perlman 91).

Works Cited

Hacht, Anne. Shakespeare for Students: Critical Interpretations of Shakespeare’s Plays and Poetry Vol. 1 (2nd ed.). Detroit: Gale, 2007. Print.

Harold, Bloom. Shakespeare’s Histories, London: Chelsea House Publishers, 2000. EBSCOhost. Web. 11 April. 2013.

Perlman, Elihu. William Shakespeare: The History Plays, New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992. Print.

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