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Read "Henry IV part I"

By heaven, methinks it were an easy leap,
To pluck bright honour from the pale-faced moon...

-- Hotspur, Act 1 scene 2

Can honour set a leg?  No.  Or an arm?  No.  Or take away the grief of a wound?  No…. Who hath it?  Why, he that died a Wednesday…. Therefore I’ll none of it.
-- Falstaff, Act 5 scene 2

The action of this play follows directly upon Richard II, as we follow the careers of Henry Bolingbroke, who usurped Richard's throne; his black sheep son Prince Hal; the genial rascal Falstaff, Hal's drinking buddy; and Hotspur (Harry Percy), Hal's rival - the one King Henry wishes were his own son and not that of his enemy. Henry IV part I combines rich comedy, serious political questions, battle scenes and touches of tragedy.  It’s a play of complexities and divergent views: about rule, rebellion and allegiance; fathers and sons; the claims of life, laughter and pleasure vs. duty and honor; and how one prepares to become a king. 

More quotations and synopsis follow the Logistics section.

LOCATION & LOGISTICS: We'll be in the downstairs meeting room at the University branch of Seattle Public library at NE 50th and Roosevelt Way NE.  (This event is not sponsored by the Seattle Public Library.)  See here for directions A lot of buses go nearby, and there's free parking in the library lot or on 9th Ave NE - 2 hr parking in front of the homes on 9th  or unlimited parking along the edge of the playfield on 9th south of 50th, or a bit further north on 9th above 50th, in front of the school or church where the yellow School Load Only signs are (they aren't in effect on Sat.).

We can bring food and (non-alcoholic) drink into the meeting room as long as we clean up afterwards. 

This is a long play.  Between distributing parts, reading aloud, taking a break, and (optional) discussion afterwards, it will probably take most of the afternoon.  Bring a copy of the text if you have one, but if you don't, don't worry - we'll have extras or  can share.  It's not necessary to read the play before hand, but it's helpful to be familiar with the plot.  You can see below for a synopsis and quotations.  For a parts list, look in the Files section under "More" at the the top of this page.

For the family tree of the disputing descendants of Edward III, see

Synopsis of King Henry IV part 1:

So shaken as we are, so wan with care...
--King Henry IV, Act 1, scene 1

In the first years of the 15th century, Henry IV, King of England, is finding that wearing a crown is more complicated than seizing one.  As the returning exile Henry Bolingbroke he had marched against the unpopular and ineffective King Richard II, defeated him, deposed him and ordered his assassination.  Now King Henry is anxious about the precedent of rebellion and regicide that he himself has set.  He dreams of leading a crusade to the Holy Land to expiate his guilt, but finds he cannot leave his troubled kingdom unattended. 

There are battles on the borders against the Welsh leader Owen Glendower and the Scots Earl of Douglas.  Mistrust is growing between the king and those who were formerly his greatest allies, the proud and powerful Percy family (the Earl of Worcester, his brother the Earl of Northumberland, and Northumberland’s warrior son, Harry Percy, known as Hotspur). 

Nonetheless, the king envies Northumberland for having, unlike himself,

A son who is the theme of honour’s tongue….
--King Henry IV, Act 1, scene 1

The elder Percys, on the other hand, find Hotspur’s rash and voluble temper a bit exasperating:

What a wasp-stung and impatient fool
Art thou….

- - Northumberland, Act 1, scene 3

Nor is the king’s own son Harry, known as Prince Hal, impressed:

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.”
- - Prince Hal, Act 2 scene 4

Prince Hal himself seems cheerfully bent on driving his father to despair by dragging the royal family name through the mud, roistering about the taverns in the disreputable company of the jovial old rogue Jack Falstaff.

If sack (wine) and sugar be a fault, God help the wicked!  If to be old and merry is a sin, then many an old host that I know is damned:  if to be fat be to be hated, then Pharoah’s lean kine are to be loved.
- - Falstaff, Act 2 scene 4

Hal salutes Falstaff with affectionate insults:

How now, my sweet creature of bombast, how long is’t ago, Jack, that thou sawest thine own knee?
- - Prince Hal, Act 2 scene 4

Falstaff returns them in kind, and doesn’t stand on ceremony when upset:

Hang thyself in thine own heir-apparent garters!
- - Falstaff, Act 2 scene 2

Yes – black sheep Hal is the heir-apparent to the kingdom.  Or is he?  The Percys, having second thoughts about their support of King Henry, are beginning to think Hotspur’s brother-in-law Edmund Mortimer has a better claim to the throne, since he was named heir by the former King Richard II.  Perhaps King Henry is afraid of that too, because when Mortimer is captured by Glendower, the King refuses to ransom him, which sends Hotspur into a fury.

Revenge the jeering and disdain’d contempt
Of this proud King….

- - Hotspur, Act 1, scene 2

Is Prince Hal incorrigibly allergic to responsibility, or just sowing his wild oats, or is he playing at being the bad boy for reasons of his own?  When his tavern buddies turn highway robbers, how far will he go?  Can he reconcile with his father and rise to the occasion when the Percys join forces with the other rebels, and civil war threatens the realm?

(Stop reading now if you want to be surprised - SPOILERS AHEAD!)

In a painful meeting, his father rebukes Hal and doubts his son’s loyalty.  Stung, Hal swears to redeem himself in his father’s eyes by defeating Hotspur in combat, and finally the two Harrys meet on the field of battle, coming to respect each other at the end.

O Harry, thou hast robb’d me of my youth!
… O, I could prophesy,
But that the earthy and cold hand of death
Lies on my tongue….

- - Hotspur, Act 5 scene 4

… Fare thee well, great heart!
Ill-weav’d ambition, how much art thou shrunk!
When that this body did contain a spirit,
A kingdom for it was too small a bound;
But now two paces of the vilest earth
Is room enough.

- - Prince Hal, Act 5 scene 4

Seeing Falstaff lying still and bloody on the field, Hal mourns him too:

What, old acquaintance, could not all this flesh
Keep in a little life?  Poor Jack, farewell!
I could have better spared a better man.

- - Prince Hal, Act 5 scene 4

But Falstaff, a true survivor, has just been playing possum, and turns up telling outrageous lies, which Hal agrees to cover for. How long Hal’s amused lenience will hold, will be tested in the sequel Henry IV part 2.  We'll read that next, on Feb. 15th.  Stay tuned!  

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  • Barbara

    Super fun, as usual........BEST OF ALL, Andrew was reunited with his Oxford Shakespeare.

    1 · February 2, 2014

  • Aidan

    Delightful as always. Thanks Nancy for organizing, and thanks to everyone for reading!

    1 · February 1, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    Much better understanding of the play after reading it aloud.

    1 · February 1, 2014

  • Caryl C

    I've got the flu, so sorry to miss it!

    January 24, 2014

    • Nancy E.

      It's not til next weekend, (Feb. 1st), so you have time to recover!

      January 24, 2014

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