Henry IV Part 1

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Themes and Colors
Appearances Theme Icon
Honor Theme Icon
The Right to be King Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
Warfare Theme Icon
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Like every one of Shakespeare’s plays, Henry IV Part 1 explores language: its power to inspire action, to transform attitude, to reveal a character, and to conceal one. Prince Hal’s character transformation is initially expressed not by actions but by words: he confides to the audience in an aside that his essential nobility will cancel out his wild appearance. Soon after, he describes his remorse for the past and ambition for the future to King Henry and the king is fully convinced by (and overjoyed to hear) his son’s articulate confession. The words that describe his son’s wish for transformation are, the King feels, as valid as the actions that will prove that transformation complete.

As much as it is a play about the English throne, Henry IV Part 1 is thus also a play about the English language and about the ways in which a person’s language is connected to that person’s destiny and social position. The scenes of the play skip between the high language of the court scenes in verse and the low language of the tavern scenes in prose. Prince Hal is compelling (and powerful) in part because he can hop so adroitly between these realms and can speak comfortably in each. He is, crucially, the only character capable of such acrobatic feats of eloquence. While it intertwines high and low speech, the play also mashes together different kinds of English, featuring Welsh and Irish alongside British English. And, if Prince Hal illustrates how to effectively use language to consolidate power, the play also illustrates misuses of language and the disempowering consequences of such mistakes. Unlike the savvy and adaptable Prince Hal, Hotspur is unable to control his language and often lets his prideful anger run away with his rhetoric, speaking furiously and acting rashly until his eventual demise at Hal’s hand. The entire Battle of Shrewsbury, in fact, is fought because of mangled, misrepresented language: instead of conveying King Henry’s true, peaceful message to Hotspur, Worcester recounts that message as a crass, disrespectful goad to war, prompting Hotspur and the rebels to charge onto the battlefield. Had King Henry’s language been conveyed faithfully, the play implies, it’s possible that the bloody Battle of Shrewsbury might have been avoided.

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Language Quotes in Henry IV Part 1

Below you will find the important quotes in Henry IV Part 1 related to the theme of Language.
Act 1, Scene 3 Quotes

With many holiday and lady terms
He questioned me; amongst the rest demanded
My prisoners in your majesty’s behalf.
I then, all smarting with my wounds being cold—
To be so pestered with a popinjay!—
Out of my grief and my impatience
Answered neglectingly, I know not what—
He should, or should not—for he made me mad
To see him shine so brisk, and smell so sweet,
And talk so like a waiting gentlewoman

So cowardly, and but for these vile guns
He would himself have been a soldier.

Related Characters: Hotspur (Henry Percy) (speaker), King Henry IV
Page Number: 1.3.47-66
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Henry IV tries to resolve a dispute with Hotspur, the young warrior for whom he has great respect. Hotspur has refused to turn over some prisoners of war to Henry IV. He explains that he's refused to turn them over because the messenger whom Henry IV sent to demand the prisoners was overly effeminate in his manner. Hotspur goes off, criticizing everything about the messenger.

The passage suggests that Hotspur isn't as great and honorable a leader as Henry IV has imagined: on the contrary, Hotspur is easily angered, and he allows his anger to cloud his judgment. Hotspur can't stand being around men who seem effeminate or cowardly--in other words, he's a great soldier but a pretty horrible diplomat. Hotspur is, as his name suggests, too hot-tempered to ever be much of a leader, except perhaps on the battlefield.


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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

I am so good a proficient in one quarter of an hour, that I can drink with any tinker in his own language during my life. I tell thee, Ned, thou hast lost much honor, that thou wert not with me in this sweet action.

Related Characters: Prince Hal (Henry, Prince of Wales) (speaker)
Page Number: 2.4.17-21
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage is a great example of how Prince Hal's experiences as a drinker and "party animal" actually prepare him well for the monarchy. Hal spends a lot of time in taverns, but he uses this time as an opportunity to hone his skills as a politician, a negotiator, and a communicator. Hal has become so adept at making friends with strangers that he can bond with anyone over a beer in just 15 minutes.

From the perspective of Hal's father, Henry IV, Hal's behavior is disgraceful, a mark of how far from the monarchy he really is. And yet we can already tell that Hal is a better politician than his father--he knows how to get along with his subjects and use words and rhetoric to get what he wants. Another important aspect of this is that he's hanging out with commoners--the kind of people the king actually rules, and who make up the majority of the country, but who in a typical monarchy have little to no contact with the royal court. Thus Hal seems surprisingly egalitarian and openminded in his ruling strategy, however "dishonorable" it might seem to the nobility.

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

…you are too willful-blame;
And since your coming hither have done enough
To put him quite beside his patience.
You must needs learn, lord, to amend this fault:
Though sometimes it shows greatness, courage, blood—
And that’s the dearest grace it renders you,--
Yet oftentimes it doth present harsh rage,
Defect of manners, want of government,
Pride, haughtiness, opinion and disdain…

Related Characters: Earl of Worcester (speaker), Hotspur (Henry Percy)
Related Symbols: Blood
Page Number: 3.1.182-191
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Earl of Worcester confirms what we already knew about Hotspur: his hot-headedness is getting in the way of the group's plan to start a rebellion. Hotspur finds it nearly impossible to control his own warlike instincts. While such instincts may be useful on the battlefield, the Earl acknowledges, they need to be controlled during peacetime. As a result of his hot-headedness, Hotspur has already alerted Henry IV to the possibility of another rebellion--something that Henry wouldn't have been aware of had Hotspur just controlled his temper.

In short, Worcester is trying to act as an informal mentor to Hotspur. Worcester wants Hotspur to be a great politician as well as a great warrior. If the rebellion is to be a success, then Hotspur will have to do a better job of masking his real ambitions and controlling his language.

Act 4, Scene 3 Quotes

…the King hath sent to know
The nature of your griefs; and whereupon
You conjure them from the breast of civil peace
Such bold hostility, teaching his duteous land
Audacious cruelty. If that the King
Have any way your good deserts forgot,
Which he confesseth to be manifold,
He bids you name your griefs; and with all speed
You shall have your desires with interest,
And pardon absolute for yourself and these
Herein misled by your suggestion.

Related Characters: Sir Walter Blunt (speaker), Hotspur (Henry Percy), King Henry IV, Earl of Worcester, Earl of Douglas, Sir Richard Vernon
Page Number: 4.3.47-57
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Henry IV sends a messenger to Hotspur and his followers, who by this point in the text have instigated a full-out rebellion against the king. Henry asks Hotspur to reconsider his actions--he promises to forgive Hotspur for his act of rebellion and pay Hotspur's peers well if they declare their loyalty to him. In short, Henry IV is trying to avoid a bloody war--but too late.

Henry IV's actions show that he's generally a good king, and prefers peace to bloodshed, even if it's "honorable" bloodshed. If he were as volatile as Hotspur, he certainly never would have offered any kind of apology or reparations, but would have immediately launched into battle. At the same time, were he as agile as Prince Hal, Henry might have been able to use rhetorical skill and timing in a better way, to actually prevent war.

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.

Arm, arm with speed: and, fellows, soldiers, friends,
Better consider what you have to do
Than I, that have not well the gift of tongue,
Can lift your blood up with persuasion.

Related Characters: Hotspur (Henry Percy) (speaker)
Page Number: 5.2.78-82
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Hotspur tries halfheartedly to rally his troops with language. Hotspur is a hot-headed youth, and loves a good fight, but he knows that he has no talent for words. Instead of trying to "pump up" his troops with rhetorical flourishes, Hotspur just orders them to go out and fight the enemy.

The passage is another confirmation of Hotspur's weaknesses as a leader. Hotspur is a good warrior, but he doesn't know how to lead other warriors--doing so takes a talent for communication that Hotspur lacks altogether. In Henry V, the sequel to Shakespeare's Henry IV plays, we'll see a masterly example of how to whip a group of soldiers (a "band of brothers") into a frenzy with Hal's "Saint Crispin's Day" speech.

Act 5, Scene 5 Quotes

Ill-spirited Worcester, did not we send grace,
Pardon, and terms of love to all of you?
And wouldst thou turn our offers contrary,
Misuse the tenor of thy kinsman’s trust?
Three knights upon our party slain today,
A noble earl, and many a creature else
Had been alive this hour,
If like a Christian thou hadst truly borne
Betwixt our armies true intelligence.

Related Characters: King Henry IV (speaker), Earl of Worcester
Page Number: 5.5.2-10
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the battle, Henry IV and his troops have won, and the Earl of Worcester has been captured. Henry IV is surprised to learn that Worcester hasn't passed on his offer of peace to the other rebels--Worcester deliberately concealed the opportunity for a truce from Hotspur and the others. Henry IV points out that Worcester could have prevented mass slaughter if he'd just told the truth "like a Christian" instead of thinking only of himself.

Henry IV's observation is right, but wrong. Henry is smart enough to respect the power of language and communication--because Worcester refused to pass along the message, many innocent people died. And yet Henry can't see that he himself also could have avoided a rebellion. If he'd been more attentive to his people and his followers, he could have nipped it in the bud.