Henry IV, Part 1 (Signet Classics) - Sylvan Barnet, Maynard Mack, William Shakespeare This could have been called Henry V: The Prequel. The life of Henry IV is secondary to the development of Prince Hal from over-privileged rich kid to heir apparent. Hal’s unprincipled father figure, Sir John Falstaff, is well known to be one of Shakespeare’s most engaging characters. Without shame, he lies, steals and drinks. When caught, he adroitly changes topics (or lies) and never pauses to worry about the consequences. Witnessing the development of the carousing Hal into Prince Henry can have no clearer baseline. The banter between the rogue and royalty is the highlight of the play.

Elsewhere, Henry Percy (Hotspur), is a rebel in function only. His defiance of Henry IV is one-sided. For the king, Hotspur represents the warrior-noble he wishes to see in Hal. If Falstaff represents the depths, Hotspur is the heights to which Hal must attain.

In many ways, this is a great play. Not only does Falstaff provides endless entertainment, but Hal is surprisingly complex. He is rebellious in his own right, but wishing for his father’s approval. Fond of Falstaff, but contemptuous of him as well. Irresponsible, but painfully aware of his irresponsibility.