Henry IV, parts 1 and 2

Henry IV, Part 1, culminates in the battle of Shrewsbury between the king’s army and rebels seeking his crown. The dispute begins when Hotspur, the son of Northumberland, breaks with the king over the fate of his brother-in-law, Mortimer, a Welsh prisoner. Hotspur, Northumberland, and Hotspur’s uncle Worcester plan to take the throne, later allying with Mortimer and a Welsh leader, Glendower.

As that conflict develops, Prince Hal—Henry IV‘s son and heir—carouses in a tavern and plots to trick the roguish Sir John Falstaff and his henchmen, who are planning a highway robbery. Hal and a companion will rob them of their loot—then wait for Falstaff’s lying boasts. The trick succeeds, but Prince Hal is summoned to war.

In the war, Hal saves his father’s life and then kills Hotspur, actions that help to redeem his bad reputation. Falstaff, meanwhile, cheats his soldiers, whom he leads to slaughter, and takes credit for Hotspur’s death (reproduced with permission from Folger).


Henry IV, Part 2 continues the story of Henry IV, Part 1. Northumberland learns that his son Hotspur is dead, and he rejoins the remaining rebels.  When Hotspur’s widow convinces Northumberland to withdraw, the rebels are then led by the archbishop of York and Lords Mowbray and Hastings, who muster at York to confront the king’s forces.

Sir John Falstaff, meanwhile, glories in the reputation he has gained by falsely claiming to have killed Hotspur, and he uses his wit and cunning to escape charges by the Lord Chief Justice. Prince Hal and his companion Poins disguise themselves to observe Falstaff, and they hear him insult them both. After they confront him, Prince Hal and Falstaff must return to the wars.  The king’s army is again victorious, but more through deceit and false promises than through valor.

With the rebellion over, Prince Hal attends his dying father. Hal becomes Henry V, reassures the Lord Chief Justice, and turns away Falstaff, who had expected royal favor (reproduced with permission from Folger).

Productions of Henry IV, Parts I and II:

1896 Herbert Beerbohm Tree‘s company gave 29 performances (May through November) of Henry IV, Part 1 at the Haymarket Theatre (London). Tree played Sir John Falstaff, William Mollison played Henry IV, Frank Gillmore played Hal, Lewis Waller played Hotspur, Mrs. Tree played Lady Hotspur, while Kate Phillips and Alice Kingsley played Mistress Quickly (Wearing, I, 561-2).

1901 April 15 marked the opening of Frank Benson‘s festival season at Stratford-upon-Avon. The company presented for the first time at Stratford a cycle of the history plays: King John, Richard II, Henry IV, Part 2, Henry V, Henry VI, Part 2, and Richard III. The company presented five other plays as well, including Much Ado About Nothing (Loney, I, 8).

1909 On May 11, at the Lyceum Theatre, Lewis Waller revived Henry IV, Part I, and played Hotspur. Louis Calvert took the part of Falstaff and Minnie Griffith that of Mistress Quickly (Loney, I, 49).

1913 Frank Benson’s summer season of Shakespeare’s plays opened on August 2 with The Merchant of Venice; other plays performed that season were As You Like It, Hamlet, King John,Richard II, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Much Ado About Nothing, Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night, and Henry IV, Part 2 (Loney, I, 68).

1914 Frank Benson returned from the United States to direct the Stratford Summer Festival. He opened the four-week festival with Much Ado About Nothing. The company also presented Hamlet, Richard II, Henry IV, Part 2, Henry V, The Merry Wives of Windsor, The Merchant of Venice,Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, The Taming of the Shrew, and Romeo and Juliet(Loney, I, 73).