King Henry IV
The ruling King of England; also known as Henry Bolingbroke. When the play opens, King Henry is anxious about the legitimacy and stability of his position. He nurses guilty feelings about having deposed the former King, Richard II, through a civil war (depicted in Shakespeare’s Richard II). In addition, his reign has not brought an end to internal strife in England, which has now erupted into an even larger, more violent civil war. Finally, the King is vexed by the irresponsible antics of his eldest son, Prince Henry. Regal, proud, and somewhat aloof, King Henry is not the protagonist of the play that bears his name, but he is its historical focus. He gives the play a center of power, though his actions and emotions are largely secondary to the plot.
Henry, Prince of Wales
King Henry IV’s son, who will eventually become King Henry V. Prince Henry is sometimes called Harry Monmouth, after the town he was born in, and he is known as Hal to his friends in Eastcheap. Though Prince Henry freely associates with highwaymen, robbers, and whores, he has secret plans to transform himself into a noble prince, and his regal qualities emerge as the play unfolds. Complex and shrewd, Prince Henry is the closest character this play has to a protagonist. However, exactly how we should perceive this simultaneously deceitful and heroic young Prince remains an unresolved question.
The son and heir of the Earl of Northumberland and the nephew of the Earl of Worcester. Though Hotspur’s real name is Henry Percy, he is usually referred to by his nickname, which he earned because of his fierceness in battle and hastiness of action. He is a member of the powerful Percy family of the North, which helped bring King Henry IV to power in Richard II. When Henry IV, Part One opens, the Percy family feels that the new King has forgotten his debt to them. In Shakespeare’s account, Hotspur is the same age as Prince Harry and becomes his archrival. Quick-tempered and impatient, Hotspur is preoccupied with the idea of honor and glory, to the exclusion of all other qualities.
Sir John Falstaff
A fat, lecherous, dishonorable old knight between the ages of fifty and sixty-five. Falstaff spends most of his time in the taverns of Eastcheap, a sordid area of London, and seems to make his living as a thief, highwayman, and mooch. He acts as a kind of mentor to Prince Henry, instructing him in the practices of criminals and vagabonds, and is the only member of the Eastcheap gang who can match Henry’s sharp wit pun for pun. However, despite their repartee, there is an edge to Falstaff and Prince Henry’s relationship. Though Falstaff seems to have real affection for the young Prince, Prince Henry continually insults and pulls pranks on Falstaff, and at the end of Henry IV, Part Two he dismisses his old friend completely.
Earl of Westmoreland
A nobleman and military leader, and a close companion and valuable ally to King Henry IV.
Lord John of Lancaster
The younger son of King Henry, and the younger brother of Prince Henry. Lancaster proves himself wise and valiant in battle, despite his youth.
Sir Walter Blunt
A loyal and trusted ally of King Henry IV, and a valuable warrior.
Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester
Hotspur’s uncle. Shrewd and manipulative, Worcester is the mastermind behind the Percy rebellion.
Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland
Hotspur’s father. Northumberland conspires and raises troops on the Percy side, but he claims that he is sick before the Battle of Shrewsbury and does not actually bring his troops into the fray.
Edmund Mortimer, called the Earl of March
A brave warrior, and the brother of Hotspur’s wife, Lady Percy. At the beginning of the play, Mortimer has been captured by the Welsh rebel Owen Glendower, and has converted to the rebel cause and married Glendower’s daughter. Mortimer has a strong claim to the English throne through Richard II, who was deposed by King Henry IV.
The leader of the Welsh rebels and father of Lady Mortimer. Glendower joins with the Percys in their insurrection against King Henry. Well read, English-educated, and highly capable in battle, Glendower is also steeped in the traditional lore of Wales and claims to command great magic. He is mysterious and superstitious and sometimes acts according to prophecies and omens. Some editions refer to Glendower by his Welsh name, Owain Glyndwr.
Hotspur’s wife. A feisty match for her hot-tempered husband, Lady Percy disapproves of Hotspur’s military plans.
The daughter of Owen Glendower, and the new wife of Edmund Mortimer. Lady Mortimer only speaks Welsh, so she cannot fully communicate with her beloved husband.
Archibald, Earl of Douglas
The leader of the large Scottish faction rebelling against King Henry. Usually called simply “the Douglas” (a traditional way of referring to a Scottish clan chief), the deadly and fearless Douglas fights on the side of the Percys.
Sir Richard Vernon
A relative and ally of the Earl of Worcester.
The Archbishop of York
The Archbishop, whose given name is Richard Scroop. The Archbishop conspires on the side of the Percys, lending the rebellion his authority as a religious leader.
Ned Poins, Bardolph, and Peto
Criminals and highwaymen. Poins, Bardolph, and Peto are friends of Falstaff and Prince Henry, who drink with them at the Boar’s Head Tavern, assist them in highway robbery, and accompany them in war.
Another highwayman friend of Harry, Falstaff, and the rest. Gadshill seems to be nicknamed after the place on the London road—called Gad’s Hill—where he has set up many robberies.
Hostess of the Boar’s Head Tavern, a seedy dive in Eastcheap, London, where Falstaff and his friends go to drink.
An assistant drawer, or tavern servant, at the Boar’s Head.