King Henry IV The eldest son of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and grandson of Edward III, Henry had returned from banishment on July 4, 1399, to claim the Crown denied to him by Richard II. As these events were dramatized in Shakespeare's Richard II, he led a revolt against the Crown, forced Richard to abdicate, and became the first of the Lancastrian rulers of England; subsequently he had Richard put to death. In Shakespeare's Richard II and on occasion in Henry IV, Part 1, he is referred to as Bolingbroke, from the place of his birth. History reports him as a brave, active, and self-restrained man who had been welcomed to the throne by all classes, pledging "to abandon the evil ways of Richard II" and to govern "by common counsel and consent." He is further described as being a good soldier, a careful administrator, and a wise statesman. Nevertheless, his position was insecure because of the manner in which he became king. Bitter experience was to make him somewhat suspicious and calculating.
Henry, Prince of Wales Prince Hal, as he is usually called in this play, the high-spirited eldest son of Henry IV, had indeed been a carefree, boisterous youth, and the "wild prince" stories were circulated beginning in his own lifetime. History records also that he distinguished himself in the Welsh wars and gained valuable experience in government. Holinshed, Shakespeare's chief source, says: "Indeed he was youthful lie given, growen to audaucitie. . . . But yet . . . his behavior was not offensive or at least tending to the damage of anie bodie." That he did become alienated from his royal father is historical fact. Again in the words of Holinshed, "The king after expelled him out of his privie councell, banisht him the court, and made the duke of Clarence (his younger brother) president of the counsell in his steed." Reconciliation followed, but much later than in Shakespeare's play. In the Henry IV plays, Shakespeare depicts the apparent irresponsibilty of the prince and the profound concern of the king, both happily resolved by Hal's chivalry and heroism at Shrewsbury.
Henry Percy, surnamed Hotspur Son of the Earl of Northumberland and nephew of the Earl of Worcester, Hotspur emerges as the rash leader of the northern rebels. Again it was Holinshed who provided the basic elements of his character; but it remained for Shakespeare to develop that character, consistent with his purpose of providing a strong contrast primarily to Prince Hal and secondarily to King Henry, that the Hotspur of this play is almost an original creation. He is identified only as "Percy" in Richard II; in King Henry, Part 1,, he is a major figure whose name suggests that the is indeed, in the words of Holinshed, "a capteine of high courage" spurring on the horse that carries him into battle.
Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland This is Hotspur's father, the titular head of the House of Percy, most powerful baronial family of the North Parts. He appears as he did in Richard II: cold and politic, in marked contrast to his son, a man who is, from the royalist point of view, certainly "a haughty, insulting" enemy of the Crown.
Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester Brother of the Earl of Northumberland and uncle of Hotspur, it is he who has especially influenced his impressionable young nephew. According to Holinshed, his "studie was ever . . . to procure malice, and set things in a broile." So he appears in this play.
Owen Glendower First referred to as "the irregular and wild Glendower" (I.i.40), he was a Welsh nobleman, descended from Llewellyn, last of the Welsh kings. He defeated and captured Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, who married one of Glendower's daughters. Upset because Henry IV had not provided him redress against a grasping neighbor in a quarrel over landed property, Glendower led a great following of his countrymen against English rule. Traditionally, certain supernatural powers were attributed to him.
Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March Mortimer is presented as the son-in-law of Glendower, the brother-in-law of Hotspur, and claimant to the throne of England. For the record, it was his nephew, a younger Edmund, who married Glendower's daughter and who, as son and proclaimed heir of Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, was claimant to the throne of England. By taking liberties with history here, Shakespeare magnified the dangers faced by Henry IV.
Prince John of Lancaster Younger brother of Prince Hal, he appears in the very first scene and on the battlefield at Shrewsbury, where he is distinguished for his courage. To some extent he functions as a foil to his older brother, the Prince of Wales.
Archibald, Earl of Douglas This "ever-valiant and approved Scot," as he is called by the Earl of Westmoreland (I.i.54), was a leader of the forces defeated by Hotspur at Holmedon. He then became an ally of the Percies in their revolt against Henry IV.
Sir John Falstaff Knight of the realm, enormously fat and white-bearded, he is the companion of the carefree Prince Hal. Falstaff is concerned largely with pleasures of the flesh and cheerfully rejects conventional ideas and behavior especially suitable to his rank and age. He emerges as the most paradoxical character in all fiction, dramatic or non-dramatic. His irrepressible humor and superior wit, by means of which he retrieves himself from embarrassing or difficult situations, make it practically impossible for one to pass moral judgment on his character.
The Earl of Westmoreland One of the noblemen who lead the king's army.
Sir Walter Blunt Another nobleman loyal to King Henry and a commander of the royal forces at Shrewsbury. He functions especially as an emissary for the king.
Sir Richard Vernon His role is exactly that of Sir Walter Blunt, but he serves the rebellious Percies, not the king.
Richard Scroop The Archbishop of York and an ally of the Percies in the rebellion.
Sir Michael A follower of the Archbishop of York.
Poins Prince Hal's companion at Boar's-Head Tavern in Eastcheap, Poins devises the plot to dupe Falstaff at Gadshill. His special relationship with Prince Hal suggests that he, in contrast to Peto and Bardolph, comes from a genteel family.
Gadshill, Peto, Bardolph These three are the riotous and rascally associates of Falstaff. The first (whose name is identical with that of the scene of the robbery) serves as advance man among the rogues, the one who ascertains all the necessary facts relating to the planned robbery; the last named functions as a kind of parasitical serving man to Sir John Falstaff.
Lady Percy Hotspur's wife, she is the sister of Mortimer.
Lady Mortimer Daughter of Glendower and wife of Mortimer, who excessively loves her. She speaks no English and her husband speaks no Welsh.
Mistress Quickly This is the kindly, if rather stupid and disreputable, hostess of the Boar's-Head Tavern in Eastcheap.