Reading Shakespeare: King Henry IV, Part 1


In a series of nine plays, Shakespeare dramatised a span of more than 100 years of English history. Themes such as succession, usurpation and the qualities needed for kingship are developed throughout the Cycle of History plays. One of the finest of the sequence of these plays is King Henry IV, Part 1.

The play opens at the beginning of King Henry IV’s uneasy reign. He is challenged on all sides by his enemies, while at home his son, Prince Hal, heir to the throne, rather than preparing for succession to the throne, prefers the company of tavern lowlife to that of the court. The prince’s regular companion is the witty but worldly Sir John Falstaff (possibly Shakespeare’s greatest comic creation).

The play’s strong characterisation and rich language reflect the political instability and diversity of that time in history, as well as commenting on Shakespeare’s own time. In this course, you will read and discuss the play and analyse its language and ideas.

What to bring:
Please bring a copy of the text with you to each session.

Target audience:
This course is for anyone who is interested in Shakespeare’s work.

Learning objectives:
By the end of this course, you will have:

  • studied the play in detail
  • gained an appreciation of the quality of Shakespeare’s language and dramatic structure
  • enjoyed the wit and humour of the comic scenes
  • discussed the contemporary ideas of the Divine Right of Kings, social order, and the concept of honour as presented by Shakespeare
  • gained an overview of Shakespeare’s Cycle of History plays and the Plantagenets.

Course outline:
Background material is provided at the start of the course. Each session includes:

  • participants reading aloud small sections of the play – usually a scene.
  • analysis of each section of the play with discussion on significant points.

Final comments and observations will be drawn at the end of the course.

A short break is held half-way through each session, and you are welcome to bring refreshments if you wish.

Janet Secker has a BA (Hons) in English from Manchester University (UK). She was a secondary school English teacher for many years and regularly teaches classes in Shakespeare and other English literature studies.

Related links:
Summer Shakespeare
School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies

For further information:
Continuing Education, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington 6140.
Phone 04 463 6556,  Email:

Please note: Courses need a minimum number of enrolments to go ahead. If your course doesn’t reach the number required, we’ll have to cancel it. If this happens, we’ll contact you by phone or email about a week before the scheduled start date and arrange a full refund. Please check your emails regularly.