Henry IV Part 1

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Appearances Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Appearances Theme Icon
Honor Theme Icon
The Right to be King Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
Warfare Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Henry IV Part 1, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Appearances Theme Icon

By playing constantly with characters’ appearances, Henry IV Part 1 asks questions about the difference between appearance and essence—about the difference between what a character seems to be and what that characters is—and about the possibility (or impossibility) of concealing one’s true character. The play opens with King Henry’s lament that his son Prince Hal does not seem to be princely material at all, which leads the king to wonder whether his Harry (Prince Hal) was mistakenly born as the Earl of Northumberland’s son Harry (Hotspur), a young man whose honor and ferocity seem much more princely. Although King Henry’s wondering is more hope than actual suspicion, it raises a very real question: must one seem royal to be royal? Prince Hal’s trajectory through the play demonstrates that the answer is both Yes and No. Though he begins the play as a party boy who seems a misfit prince and an embarrassment to his father the king, by play’s end Prince Hal has become the man King Henry always hoped he would become and fulfills the role his birthright has prescribed for him: he is a serious, brave, honorable prince who appears just as noble and authoritative as a monarch is expected to appear. Yet even before he undergoes his outward transformation in appearance, Prince Hal alerts the audience to the power of his essential character to transform his outward semblance. In his aside in Act I, Hal explains that he will begin acting like a dignified prince soon and that his errant behavior will in fact end up enhancing the honorability and nobility of that new (true) appearance by providing a dramatic contrast.

In addition to the major transformation of Prince Hal’s appearance, the play is full of smaller demonstrations of the power of true vs. false appearances. Poins and Prince Hal’s ruse of robbing their friends after their friends had themselves robbed some travelers presents a virtuosic play on appearances: they conceal their identities to rob Falstaff and his cronies in order first to enjoy Falstaff’s attempts to appear courageous as he concocts his story of being robbed and, second, to reveal their ruse, demonstrating that the robbery was not what it appeared to be and laughing at Falstaff’s extreme cowardice, exposed for all his friends to see. Falstaff and Prince Hal also constantly reference one another’s appearances, making relentless fun of each other’s respective corpulence and skinniness as if their looks were inextricably connected to their essential characters. At play’s end, appearances play a crucial role in the Battle of Shrewsbury as King Henry’s side dresses up numerous soldiers in the king’s robes to deceive their opponents. Douglas cannot even discern who the real King Henry is and thinks that he’s killed the king when he’s actually slain Sir Walter Blunt. Still, Blunt’s commitment to his false appearance (he maintains that he’s King Henry until his dying breath) reveals his true loyalty to the king. At the same time, Falstaff acts out the appearance of a corpse in order to save his life and reasons to himself that playing dead makes no false appearance at all, since only a real corpse is a real “counterfeit.” Ultimately, the play suggests that, no matter how contradictory appearances might seem, they can also provide fairly faithful mirrors for essences.

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Appearances Quotes in Henry IV Part 1

Below you will find the important quotes in Henry IV Part 1 related to the theme of Appearances.
Act 1, Scene 1 Quotes

…thou mak’st me sad and mak’st me sin
In envy that my Lord Northumberland
Should be the father to so blest a son—
A son who is the theme of honour’s tongue,
Amongst a grove the very straightest plant,
Who is sweet Fortune’s minion and her pride—
Whilst I, by looking on the praise of him
See riot and dishnor stain the brow
Of my young Harry. O, that it could be proved
That some night-tripping fairy had exchanged
In cradle clothes our children where they lay,
And called mine Percy, his Plantagenet!

Related Characters: King Henry IV (speaker), Prince Hal (Henry, Prince of Wales), Hotspur (Henry Percy), Northumberland
Page Number: 1.1.77-88
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, King Henry IV criticizes his own child, who shares a first name with the child of Lord Northumberland: Henry. Half-seriously, half-jokingly, Henry IV wishes that his and Northumberland's children had been switched at birth: his own child is a disobedient youth, while Northumberland's child is proud and honorable.

Little does Henry IV that his child, Prince Hal, will grow up to be arguably the greatest of all English monarchs, Henry V. For now, though, Hal appears to be a disgrace to his family--he spends all his time goofing around and getting drunk. Henry IV is understandably upset that his child isn't a more accomplished leader, because he's thinking about his own legacy as a monarch; he needs a suitable male heir to ensure that his "line" will endure.


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Act 1, Scene 2 Quotes

So, when this loose behavior I throw off
And pay the debt I never promised,
By how much better than my word I am,
By so much shall I falsify men’s hopes;
And like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation, glittering o’er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
I’ll so offend to make offence a skill,
Redeeming time when men think least I will.

Related Characters: Prince Hal (Henry, Prince of Wales) (speaker)
Page Number: 1.2.215-224
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Prince Hal first demonstrates his status as a devious, skillful politician. Contrary to his father's beliefs, Hal is fully aware of his dishonorable behavior. Hal chooses to behave so badly, he claims, because ultimately his bad behavior will make his future honor and ascendancy to the throne of England more impressive. Basically, Hal wants to tell the best "story." An obedient, loyal child is no fun. But a disobedient child who becomes a great king--now that's a good story.

It's possible to interpret Hal's words ironically, of course. Like so many spoiled rich kids who never amount to anything, Hal might just be telling himself that he'll turn a new leaf somewhere down the line, despite the fact that he has no real ability to do so--what he thinks is just an act may have become his real character.

Act 2, Scene 3 Quotes

Thy spirit within thee hath been so at war,
And thus hath so bestirr’d thee in thy sleep,
That beads of sweat have stood upon thy brow,
Like bubbles in a late-disturbed stream;
And in thy face strange motions have appear’d
Such as we see when men restrain their breath
On some great sudden hest. O, what portents are these?
Some heavy business hath my lord in hand,
And I must know it, else he loves me not.

Related Characters: Lady Kate Percy (speaker), Hotspur (Henry Percy)
Page Number: 2.3.58-67
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Hotspur is preparing to instigate an all-out rebellion against King Henry IV. Hotspur's wife, Lady Kate Percy, notices that Hotspur is preparing for war of some kind, but doesn't understand what Hotspur is planning. Kate is perceptive enough to notice that Hotspur hasn't been himself lately: he's been sweating at all times, and making strange noises in his sleep.

Kate's observations are interesting because they paint a picture of what Hotspur is like when he's not on the battlefield. Hotspur, as we might have guessed, can't turn off his warlike instincts, even when he's around the people he loves. Lady Kate has no problem telling that Hotspur is planning something; a clear sign that Hotspur has no gift for lying or deception. The success of Hotspur's plan depends on his ability to mask his feelings--thus, the passage suggests that Hotspur's plans won't amount to much.

Act 2, Scene 4 Quotes

Why, hear ye, my masters: Was it for me to kill the heir-apparent? should I turn upon the true Prince? why, thou knowest I am as valiant as Hercules: but beware instinct; the lion will not touch the true Prince. Instinct is a great matter; I was now a coward on instinct. I shall think the better of myself and thee during my life; I for a valiant lion, and thou for a true prince.

Related Characters: Sir John Falstaff (speaker), Prince Hal (Henry, Prince of Wales)
Page Number: 2.4.279-286
Explanation and Analysis:

Here we meet Falstaff, who has just come from a skirmish with masked attackers--whom we know to be Prince Hal and his friends. Falstaff boasts about winning his encounter with the attackers, and offers various details about the skirmish. After Falstaff has bragged enough, Hal coolly reveals to Falstaff that he knows the truth: he was the one who attacked Falstaff. Surprisingly, Falstaff has no trouble recovering from his rhetorical setback: he backpedals and boasts about being perceptive enough to recognize Hal in disguise, and showing mercy to him because he recognized that he couldn't hurt the "true Prince."

Falstaff, is one of the most interesting characters in the play, famous for both his boorish comedy and his perceptive cynicism. Here he skillfully (if comically) "spins" his cowardice to look like discretion and intelligence, arguing that he's too honorable to touch Prince Hal. While some have interpreted Falstaff as a dishonorable, amoral character, it's difficult to deny Falstaff's charm--even when he's being a coward, Falstaff's gift for language entertains us. Moreover, Falstaff's deftness with language suggests that he's an important mentor for Prince Hal.

Act 3, Scene 1 Quotes

…at my nativity
The front of heaven was full of fiery shapes,
Of burning cressets; ay, and at my birth
The frame and huge foundation of the Earth
Shaked like a coward.

Related Characters: Owen Glendower (speaker)
Related Symbols: Celestial Events
Page Number: 3.1.13-17
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Glendower has joined forces with Hotspur to conspire against Henry IV. Glendower insists that Henry has always had it out for him because he was born under a series of unusual signs: on the day Glendower was born the sky was full of fire, and the earth shook.

Glendower doesn't just say that Henry IV treats him as dangerous because of celestial events; Glendower implies that he really is special because of the manner of his birth. Unlike Hotspur (or, we'll see, Hal), Glendower is highly superstitious, and believes that natural signs can be prophesies of the future. Glendower has been brought up to believe that he is special; that his birth was somehow divinely ordained, and he is capable of shifting the natural order of the country. In a way, Glendower's confidence in his own special powers is a self-fulfilling prophecy: because Glendower believes that he's special, he has the courage and the ingenuity to attempt to overthrow Henry IV.

Act 5, Scene 1 Quotes

These things, indeed, you have articulate,
Proclaim’d at market-crosses, read in churches,
To face the garment of rebellion
With some fine colour that may please the eye
Of fickle changelings and poor discontents,
Which gape and rub the elbow at the news
Of hurly-burly innovation:
And never yet did insurrection want
Such water-colours to impaint his cause

Related Characters: King Henry IV (speaker), Earl of Worcester
Page Number: 5.1.73-81
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Henry IV comes to negotiate with the Earl of Worcester, one of the rebellious aristocrats who have allied with Hotspur. Henry IV asks Worcester why he's rebelling, and Worcester "paints a picture" of Henry IV's traitorous behavior: as Worcester sees it Henry has caused the rebellion by provoking Hotspur's family for so many years. Henry's response to Worcester is interesting: instead of acknowledging that Worcester has a point, he just dismisses Worcester's points as a sob story. He essentially says that Hotspur is just greedy to be king, and so has concocted this story of grievances and declared it all over the country in order to make his grab for the throne seem sympathetic and legitimate.

The passage reinforces the fact that Henry IV has seriously underestimated his own actions. Even now, he refuses to believe that he's mistreated his aristocrats in rising to the throne, suggesting that Henry believes in his own inherent right to rule--a serious flaw for a monarch, particularly one who himself only became king by overthrowing the previous ruler. Furthermore, Henry IV doesn't use his conversation with Worcester as an opportunity to negotiate at all--he just makes Worcester madder by refusing to accept Worcester's point of view. Henry IV is, in short, out of touch with his own followers--and that's why some of these followers have banded together against him.

Act 5, Scene 2 Quotes

It is not possible, it cannot be,
The King should keep his word in loving us;
He will suspect us still, and find a time
To punish this offence in other faults:
Suspicion all our lives shall be stuck full of eyes…
Look how we can, or sad or merrily,
Interpretation will misquote our looks…
Therefore, good cousin, let not Harry know,
In any case, the offer of the King.

Related Characters: Earl of Worcester (speaker), King Henry IV
Page Number: 5.2.5-27
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Earl of Worcester has returned to his fellow rebels, including Hotspur. Worcester has just learned that Henry IV will pardon the rebels if they surrender to him right away. Worcester doesn't quite trust that Henry will keep his word--he's sure that even if Henry doesn't kill the rebels, he'll still find ways to punish them and their families. Therefore, the rebels' only chance is to go through with their fighting. Nevertheless, Worcester is worried that if Hotspur finds out about Henry's offer of a truce, Hotspur will accept it. (Crucially, Worcester knows that he, Worcester, will be punished more harshly than Hotspur.) Therefore, he decides to keep Henry's offer of truce a secret, and instead to relay the message the Henry was crass and argumentative.

Even at this late point in the play, war could be avoided if Worcester had just told Hotspur the truth about Henry IV. Worcester's decision to keep his information secret underscores the power of language and communication--a few sentences perhaps could have prevented battle altogether.

Act 5, Scene 4 Quotes

I fear thou art another counterfeit;
And yet, in faith, thou bear’st thee like a king:
But mine I’m sure thou art, whoe’er thou be,
And thus I win thee.

Related Characters: Earl of Douglas (speaker)
Page Number: 5.4.35-38
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Henry IV faces off against the Earl of Douglas, one of the rebels. On the battlefield that day, at least one man (Sir Walter Blunt) has already pretended to be the real king, thus protecting Henry's life. (The warriors are so covered with armor that it's easy to disguise one's identity.) Douglas here worries that Henry IV is another impostor--someone pretending to be the monarch in order to protect the "real" Henry IV.

The passage is an important encapsulation of the ambiguities of kingship in the play. In one sense, it suggests that the only thing that really makes a king are appearances and external trappings--a crown, royal armor, etc. Thus any king at all could be a "counterfeit," and Henry's only right to the throne is the fact that he was strong enough to take it by force. But Douglas also admits that Henry bears himself "like a king," suggesting that there is something inherently royal about true monarchs. This connects to the idea of "divine right," or the belief that kings are naturally chosen by God to rule, and something in their very blood makes them royal and different from other men.