Henry IV Part 1

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Warfare 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.
Warfare Theme Icon

Like many of Shakespeare’s history plays, Henry IV Part 1 builds towards a critical, throne-determining battle at play’s end. Knowing the historical facts of the story, the audience already knows how this battle is going to turn out. Still, Shakespeare uses the circumstances leading up to the fighting and the conditions of the battlefield itself to offer deeper meditations on warfare, applicable to any battle at any point in history. Many of these meditations intertwine the theme of warfare with the theme of honor, and contemplate violence’s participation in each. Prince Hal describes the way he’ll go about accruing honor through war imagery: “When I will wear a garment all of blood / And stain my favour in a bloody mask, / Which, wash’d away, shall scour my shame with it.” Yet the grotesque savagery of these images calls into question whether honor won by violent acts should really be considered noble. Indeed, Hal seems most noble when he mercifully releases the war prisoner Douglas at the end of the play out of respect for Douglas’ bravery. King Henry, by contrast, is admirably reluctant to go to war and keenly aware of what a horrific toll battle takes on human life. He continually attempts to persuade Hotspur and the rebels to negotiate peace. Yet, even as King Henry is trying to avoid war in England, he starts out the play with no qualms about fully supporting violent crusades in the Middle East. This hypocrisy suggests that King Henry’s compassion for human life may not extend beyond the borders of his own nation. Although, for the most part, characters appreciate and hope to preserve a peaceful England, the play also refers to the evils bred by long peacetime: widespread complacency and weak, cowardly men.

As in the theme of honor, Falstaff proves the most penetrating thinker in the play. His reflections on drafting soldiers are, as often with Falstaff, both superficially funny and devastatingly resonant: by drafting rich, fearful men, he amasses a wealth of pay-offs and ends up conscripting only the poor, beggarly Englishmen least fit to be soldiers. Brushing off Prince Hal’s appalled reaction to the quality of his troops, Falstaff reminds the prince that they’re just “food for powder, food for powder; they’ll fill a pit as well as better:…mortal men, mortal men.” Indeed, his description of what it means to be a soldier is painfully apt—most soldiers’ only role is to add one more faceless body to a human wall of defense. Though select individuals end up honored warriors, the majority of men die on the field. Indeed, as Falstaff notes later, only three of the men he conscripts survive the Battle of Shrewsbury.

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Warfare Quotes in Henry IV Part 1

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

No more the thirsty entrance of this soil
Shall daub her lips with her own children’s blood;
No more shall trenching war channel her fields,
Nor bruise her flowerets with the armed hoofs
Of hostile places...
The edge of war, like an ill-sheathed knife,
No more shall cut his master.

Related Characters: King Henry IV (speaker)
Page Number: 1.1.5-16
Explanation and Analysis:

At the beginning of the play, England has just finished a great civil war. Out of the civil war, Henry IV has emerged victorious, cementing his status as the unquestioned monarch of England. Henry IV's victory in the civil war is crucial, because it establishes him as the strongest force in the land, and therefore, presumably, the man most deserving of the title of monarch.

But Henry IV does more than simply boast of his own military might. Rather, he frames his victory in the civil war as a victory for England as a whole. Cleverly, Henry presents himself as reinforcing the natural order of life, preventing his country's "children" from killing one another. In such a way, Henry plays the part of a kindly, loving father, implicitly accusing all his rivals to the throne of upsetting the natural order and causing undue bloodshed. (Henry's rhetorical maneuvers are crucial, because his own status as a monarch is rather questionable, since he began his career by overthrowing Richard II.)


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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.

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 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 3, Scene 2 Quotes

…I will wear a garment all of blood
And stain my favour in a bloody mask,
Which, wash’d away, shall scour my shame with it.

Related Characters: Prince Hal (Henry, Prince of Wales) (speaker)
Related Symbols: Blood
Page Number: 3.2.140-142
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Hal meets with his long-suffering father, Henry IV. Henry angrily chastises his son for being reckless and drunken in public. He urges Hal to act more honorably, like a proper monarch.

Prince Hal, who's far smarter and more politically-minded than his father imagines, knows exactly what to tell the king. He promises to become a great warrior and defeat Hotspur, who is now leading a rebellion against the monarchy. Hal's speech, which emphasizes blood and carnage, is tailor-made to appeal to society's general idea of "honor" as being closely tied to success in battle. Just as he's planned all along, Hal is preparing to switch from lout to king overnight, pleasing his father and redeeming his reputation.

Act 4, Scene 2 Quotes

Tut, tut; good enough to toss; food for powder, food for powder; they’ll fill a pit as well as better: tush, man, mortal men, mortal men.

Related Characters: Sir John Falstaff (speaker)
Page Number: 4.2.66-68
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Falstaff has assembled a ragtag group of soldiers to fight on behalf of Hal in the war with Hotspur. Falstaff introduces his troops to Hal, who immediately criticizes them for their meagerness and cowardice. Indeed, most of the troops Falstaff has recruited have paid off other people to fight in their place--with the result that Falstaff's troops are skinny, weak, and generally bad soldiers, but Falstaff himself has gotten richer. Falstaff defends his troops on the grounds that they're just as good as any other soldiers--all soldiers are mortal, after all.

Falstaff's words have been interpreted in many different ways. Falstaff is making the argument that a man is a man, at the end of the day--in other words, a good soldier is basically the same as a bad soldier, because in the harsh reality of war, death comes to most, and it comes at random. Falstaff's phrase, "food for powder" implies that his troops are doomed to be nothing more than "food"--i.e., they're just pawns in a vast war. It's nobles like Henry and Hotspur who make all the decisions and win all the glory, while thousands of nameless soldiers just fight and die for their rulers' cause. In general, Falstaff shows himself to be cynically perceptive of the harsh realities of combat, even as he's also being incredibly callous.

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

Well, ‘tis no matter; honour pricks me on. Yea, but how if honour prick me off when I come on? How then? Can honour set a leg? No. Or an arm? No. Or take away the grief of a wound? No. Honour hath no skill in surgery, then? No. What is honour? A word. What is in that word “honour”? What is that “honour”? Air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it? He that died o’Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No. Doth he hear it? No. ‘Tis insensible then? Yea, to the dead. But will it not live with the living? No. Why? Detraction will not suffer it. Therefore I’ll none of it. Honour is a mere scutcheon. And so ends my catechism.

Related Characters: Sir John Falstaff (speaker)
Page Number: 5.1.131-142
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Falstaff--who's about to go into battle on behalf of Prince Hal--criticizes the concept of honor. Falstaff has been pressured to fight because of the principle of honor (i.e., Falstaff's loyalty to Hal, and his confidence in his own abilities). And yet Falstaff doesn't see the point of honor at all. Honor is a meaningless concept because it compels men to go to battle, causes them to be injured, and then doesn't act as a "surgeon." In short, honor demands a lot of people, and doesn't give anything back. Furthermore, Falstaff sees honor as a mere "scutcheon"--an ornamented shield--essentially, a fancy word to cover up the harsh realities of greed, ambition, and violence.

Falstaff's speech seems pretty reasonable by modern standards: the old English code of honor (which compelled thousands of men to fight in silly wars and brutally lose their lives) doesn't hold much currency anymore. Of course, it's also important to note that Falstaff is really only criticizing the concept of honor because he's frightened of fighting. Falstaff is "wrong but right"--honor may be a sham, but Falstaff is still a hypocrite for boasting of his bravery and then fearing to fight.

Act 5, Scene 2 Quotes

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 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.

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.