Henry IV Part 1


William Shakespeare

Teachers and parents! Our Teacher Edition on Henry IV Part 1 makes teaching easy.

Henry IV Part 1: Foil 2 key examples

Read our modern English translation.
Act 2, Scene 3
Explanation and Analysis—A Good Plot:

Though Henry IV Part 1 is named for the King, its dramatic action pits two different figures named Henry (and often called Harry) against each other: Henry Percy, nicknamed “Hotspur,” and Prince Henry. These two young men serve as foils for each other throughout the play, each casting into sharper relief the distinctive traits and characteristics of the other. Hotspur’s only soliloquy in the play emphasizes some of these key differences. Speaking to himself after reading a letter from the Archbishop of York that denied material aid to his rebellion and cast doubts upon its possibility of success, Hotspur states: 

Say you so, say you so?
I say unto you again, you are a shallow, cowardly
hind, and you lie. What a lack-brain is this! By
the Lord, our plot is a good plot as ever was laid,
our friends true and constant—a good plot,
good friends, and full of expectation; an excellent
plot, very good friends. What a frosty-spirited
rogue is this! Why, my Lord of York commends
the plot and the general course of the action.
Zounds, an I were now by this rascal, I could brain
him with his lady’s fan.

Hotspur is, as his name suggests, hot-headed. When faced with opposition, he doubles down on his original position and rouses himself into a state of fury. When the Archbishop expresses his doubts regarding Hotspur’s plans, the young nobleman condemns him harshly and stubbornly insists upon the strength of his plan, which he describes repeatedly as “a good plot as ever was laid,” “a good plot,” and “an excellent plot.” His speech, with its clumsy repetition, lacks the slick eloquence that comes so easily to Prince Hal. So too does his speech show little of the shrewd intelligence or capacity for self-criticism that characterizes Hal's many soliloquies.

Act 2, Scene 4
Explanation and Analysis—Percy's Mind:

In a key scene in the tavern, Prince Hal comments directly upon the differences between his temperament and that of Hotspur, emphasizing the extent to which these two young men serve as foils for each other throughout the play. Drinking alongside his companion Poins, the young prince reflects upon the upcoming military conflict and his inevitable showdown with Hotspur: 

I am not yet of Percy’s
mind, the Hotspur of the north, he that kills me
some six or seven dozen of Scots at a breakfast,
washes his hands, and says to his wife “Fie upon
this quiet life! I want work.” “O my sweet Harry,”
says she, “how many hast thou killed today?”
“Give my roan horse a drench,” says he, and answers
“Some fourteen,” an hour after. “A trifle, a

Here, he satirizes Percy in a hyperbolic speech that imagines a conversation between Percy and his wife on an ordinary day. After killing “some six or dozen of Scots at a breakfast,” he “washes his hands” and then complains to his wife of boredom. Within an hour, that number has increased to “[s]ome fourteen,” which the (satirical) Percy characterizes as nothing but “a trifle.” Hal, then, imagines Hotspur in a somewhat exaggerated fashion as an unthinking killing-machine for whom combat is a way of life. He acknowledges that he is “not yet of Percy’s mind,” and, indeed, his speech in this scene lays bare the key differences between their personalities and values. 

Unlock with LitCharts A+