This was another play I read last year in my Shakespeare class, and one that I enjoyed quite a bit. The story and characters grew on me the more time I had to reflect on them, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked reading one of Shakespeare’s historical plays. I’ve only touched his tragedies and comedies, so broadening my perspective helped me see that his plays can still be interesting, even if I’m not a history buff.
I actually liked the conflict present in this play, between Prince Harry and Hotspur, because they were each likeable in their own ways. Although I secretly rooted for Harry the whole time (it may have had something to do with the Tom Hiddleston rendition I saw after reading it), Hotspur was an excellent “villain” because he was relatable. I’m sincerely looking forward to reading more in the War of the Roses series, and watching where Harry takes us next.
What I Liked: Spoilers!
- As I mentioned briefly, Hotspur’s dynamic with Harry is what made this so enjoyable. Strictly evil (or annoying) villains are boring and too traditional to keep my attention, so I’m pleased to say I was kept on my toes throughout this story. I like bad guys I can understand, ones that I can (at least a little) root for if I want to. I didn’t necessarily want Hotspur to take over control of England, but it was easy to see where he was coming from, how he wanted recognition for the help he’d given the throne in the past, and it was understandable that he reacted and rebelled the way he did. Harry, in contrast, with his devilry and irresponsible actions and attitude, springs up when his father needs him most and proves himself worthy of his name. Harry’s speech in Act 1 is by far one of my favorite monologues in all the Shakespeare plays I’ve read thus far. The two of them, when they come together, keep your interest and keep you guessing. You know Harry will win, because it’s historical, but part of you wants something else to happen because you love the conflict. These two kept me entertained the whole way through.
- Additionally, the family dynamics throughout this play kept me sympathetic towards the characters. Although Falstaff, Harry’s drunk, annoying friend, irritated me more than he amused me, his influence on Harry was sweet in a strange way. Henry IV’s brief speech about wishing Hotspur were his son instead of Harry broke my heart right from the beginning, but the development of the father-son relationship was just lovely to watch. I didn’t think I could care that much about historical figures, and perhaps I was just scared of reading a history play, sure that it would be boring, but Shakespeare made me care about them. They became very real to me, which is extremely important to a reader like me who thrives off feelings more than anything else.
What I Didn’t Like:
- It wasn’t entirely captivating the whole way through, which is why I thought it was okay instead of “really liking it,” as a higher rating would suggest. There were some downsides, slowdowns in the plot that sometimes made me wish I were reading something different instead. Although I liked it, for the most part, it still isn’t my favorite Shakespeare play, and there were certain passages I had to read several times before I understood what was going on. (This struck me again when I watched a film version with my dad, and had to keep pausing to explain what was going on—I only understood it because I’d talked about it in class.) So it was alright, but not great.
Overall: If you, like me, have been afraid of reading a historical play by Shakespeare, quell the fear now and pick up this play. It’s a good introduction, and even I, someone who is not at all interested in history (unless you count my Arthurian obsession), want to read on and see how this turns out. Henry IV, Part 1 leaves off on a slight cliffhanger, so I need to read Henry IV, Part 2 soon to see what happens. I definitely recommend this to those who are new to Shakespeare’s other types of plays and are interested in venturing past the standard Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet.