Henry IV, Part 1 is a history play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written no later than 1597. It is the play in Shakespeares tetralogy dealing with the successive reigns of Richard II, Henry IV. From the start it has been a popular play both with the public and critics. Henry Bolingbroke—now King Henry IV—is having an unquiet reign and his personal disquiet at the usurpation of his predecessor Richard II would be solved by a crusade to the Holy Land, but broils on his borders with Scotland and Wales prevent that. Moreover, he is increasingly at odds with the Percy family, who helped him to his throne, and Edmund Mortimer, adding to King Henrys troubles is the behaviour of his son and heir, the Prince of Wales. Hal has forsaken the Royal Court to waste his time in taverns with low companions and this makes him an object of scorn to the nobles and calls into question his royal worthiness. Hals chief friend and foil in living the low life is Sir John Falstaff, fat, old, drunk, and corrupt as he is, he has a charisma and a zest for life that captivates the Prince. The play features three groups of characters that interact slightly at first, and then together in the Battle of Shrewsbury. First there is King Henry himself and his immediate council and he is the engine of the play, but usually in the background. Next there is the group of rebels, energetically embodied in Henry Percy and including his father, the Scottish Earl of Douglas, Edmund Mortimer and the Welshman Owen Glendower also join. Finally, at the centre of the play are the young Prince Hal and his companions Falstaff, Poins, Bardolph, streetwise and pound-foolish, these rogues manage to paint over this grim history in the colours of comedy. As the play opens, the king is angry with Hotspur for refusing him most of the prisoners taken in a recent action against the Scots at Holmedon, Hotspur, for his part, would have the king ransom Edmund Mortimer from Owen Glendower, the Welshman who holds him. Henry refuses, berates Mortimers loyalty, and treats the Percys with threats, stung and alarmed by Henrys dangerous and peremptory way with them, they proceed to make common cause with the Welsh and Scots, intending to depose this ingrate and cankered Bolingbroke. By Act II, rebellion is brewing, meanwhile, Henrys son Hal is joking, drinking, and thieving with Falstaff and his associates. He likes Falstaff but makes no pretense at being like him, Hal believes that this sudden change of manner will amount to a greater reward and acknowledgment of prince-ship, and in turn earn him respect from the members of the court. The revolt of Mortimer and the Percys very quickly gives him his chance to do just that, the high and the low come together when the Prince makes up with his father and is given a high command. He vows to fight and kill the rebel Hotspur, and orders Falstaff to take charge of a group of foot soldiers, Henry needs a decisive victory here. He outnumbers the rebels, but Hotspur, with the hope of despair
The first page of Henry the Fourth, Part I, printed in the First Folio of 1623
John Farmanesh-Bocca as Prince Hal in the Carmel Shakespeare Festival production of Henry IV, Part 1.
Hal confronting Falstaff with his lies in Henry IV, Part 1, engraving after Robert Smirke