Henry IV Part 1

Exploring Prince Hal

Refer to the following soliloquy of Hal’s and consider the questions below.

I know you all, and will awhile uphold
The unyoked humour of your idleness:
Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wonder'd at,
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapours that did seem to strangle him.
If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work;
But when they seldom come, they wish'd for come,
And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.
So, when this loose behavior I throw off
And pay the debt I never promised,
By how much better than my word I am,
By so much shall I falsify men's hopes;
And like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation, glittering o'er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
I'll so offend, to make offence a skill;
Redeeming time when men think least I will.

(Henry IV, Part 1, Act 1, Scene 4)

Answer the following questions:

  • What is revealed to us about Hal’s attitude towards his royal responsibilities?
  • What does Hal reveal about himself in this stretch of text and why does he share it with the audience?
  • How does Hal describe his reformation and what symbol does he use to describe his ‘change’ to?

More questions for debate. As a whole class discussion, consider the following questions and offer personal opinions with reference to Henry IV.

  • Is there more evidence to suggest Hal will become a great leader or a man unsuitable to lead a country?
  • Hotspur poses many admired qualities known to many people, especially King Henry. Does Hotspur poses what it takes to be a great leader or is Prince Hal more suitable?
  • Hotspur’s real name is Henry Percy. Does his nickname suggest anything about his character and is that reflected in any of his actions?