Shakespeare's Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 -
Leadership and Change
Henry IV Parts 1 and 2
Henry IV, king of England.
Prince Henry (Harry or Hal), Henry IV’s eldest son and later Henry V.
Duke of Gloucester, Duke of Clarence and Prince John,
Henry IV’s other sons and Prince Henry’s brothers.
Falstaff, Prince Henry's friend.
Earl of Northumberland and his son, Hotspur.
Lord Edmund Mortimer, English aristocrat.
Owain Glyndwr, Welsh leader and Mortimer’s father-in-law.
Falstaff was Queen Elizabeth I’s (pictured right)
favourite Shakespearean character.
The English king, Henry IV:
- fights a Welsh rebellion (led by Owain Glyndwr).
- leaves behind his wayward, boozing son, Prince Henry (Hal).
Prince Henry (disguised) takes part in a robbery, led by his friend, Falstaff.
Prince Henry then agrees to help fight the rebellion - Glyndwr now having the support of:
- the Earl of Northumberland.
- the Earl of Northumberland's son, Hotspur.
Prince Henry persuades Falstaff to join him in battle. They help his father win the Battle of
Shrewsbury, where Prince Henry kills his rival, Hotspur, and
so saves his father.
Prince Henry wrongly assumes the death of the injured Falstaff, who stabs Hotspur's dead body to deceitfully
take the credit for killing him.
Falstaff is a likeable rogue, who takes bribes, cheats and steals. Mistress
Quickly, a mistress in a London tavern, attempts to have him arrested for fraud, but he dissuades her by
promising to marry her.
Falstaff even persuades her to pawn her silver for cash. But this doesn’t stop him seeing a prostitute,
(Orson Welles is pictured right as Falstaff in a 1965 film)
Meanwhile Prince Henry is worried about his father who can’t sleep due to
- the pressures of leadership.
- his tortured conscience (from killing Richard II to win the throne).
- anxiety about old allies becoming rebels (including the Archbishop of
York, Lord Mowbray and Lord Hastings).
After defeating the rebels, the king dies
Prince Henry vows to be a good king (as Henry V) and:
- renounces his old, irresponsible life.
- ends his friendship with Falstaff.
Lessons of leadership
Honour (acting according to your principles) is vital to good leadership.
Nobody trusts or respects Falstaff, because he hates:
He pretends death in battle, saying “the better part of valour is discretion” to excuse
But Hotspur proves that honour can be harmful, if you have the wrong values.
Hotspur's idea of honour is an obsession with avenging the murder of Richard II by
Henry IV, and his actions are based more on a vivid imagination than reality.
At the Battle of Shrewsbury Sir John Oldcastle tells Prince Henry that honour is no good to the dead.
“Honour is a mere scutcheon” he says (a scutcheon shows the coat of arms of a dead
2. Change is inevitable
The passing of time brings:
- bad things (even the happy-go-lucky Falstaff fears the inevitability of
- good things - Prince Henry’s transformation (from a lazy layabout to a responsible
leader - see point 3).
3. Continual learning
Prince Henry becomes a great leader by:
- accepting his irresponsible weaknesses (as explained by his father).
- leaving his wild youth behind.
He becomes more mature by:
- abandoning the roguish Falstaff.
- fighting his enemies (like Hotspur) with greater urgency.
- being modest and magnanimous in victory (generously
praising Hotspur's strengths after killing him).
4. Leadership is difficult
Henry IV shows how difficult it is to win power and keep it.
He is tortured by the
- guilt from murdering Richard II.
- burdens of leadership (becoming an insomniac who says “uneasy lies the head
that wears the crown”).
- yearns for the contentment of his poorest subjects.
- shows that power may not bring peace of mind.
5. Find the right balance between work and leisure
Prince Henry discovers that leisure is boring without work.
“If all the year were playing holidays, to sport would be as tedious as to work”, he says.
6. Put thought into action
A dying Hotspur says to Prince Henry that
“thought is the slave of life”.
In other words, thinking should be:
- provide solutions to life’s problems.
But he adds that thought is also
“life time’s fool”.
In other words, it can be used for the wrong purposes.
7. Have fun by mixing duty with desire
Despite his moral weaknesses, Falstaff is very likeable, because he is so full of fun with the ability to laugh
There is a bit of Falstaff in us all
“Banish plump Jack [i.e. Falstaff] and banish all the world”, he
tells Prince Henry.
But Prince Henry also learns from his servant,
may “outlive performance”.
In other words, desires will be damaging, if they distract you from doing something
responsible and worthwhile.
8. Adapt communication to your audience
Hal becomes a great leader because his language and behaviour suit his audience, rich or
Key quote on work and
If all the year were playing holidays, to sport would be as tedious as to work, Prince
Key quote on
Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, Henry IV.
Key quote on health
He hath eaten me out of house and home, Mistress Quickly (talking about Falstaff and the
origin of a well known English proverb).
Key quote on emotional intelligence
The better part of valour is discretion, Falstaff.
Key quote on the learning organization
Thought's the slave of life, Hotspur
Key quote on death
A man can die but once. We owe God a death, Feeble (a recruit for the king’s army).
Key quote on careers
'Tis no sin for a man to labour in his vocation,