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Exploring Archetypes in Shakespeare

Teachers' Rating:
  3 ratings

Henry IV, Part 1

March 2012
Ann Peebles teaches English at Westlake High School, Westlake, OH.

Plays/Scenes Covered
1 Henry IV, 3.2.48-56, 2.2.21-30, 4.1.117-123, 3.1.211-217, and 1.2.202-221
What's On for Today and Why

1 Henry IV is one of Shakespeare's histories that explores the political struggle for power in England during the 1400s.The characters in Shakespeare's histories, like most fiction, can be based on actual events and the people who shaped those events.

An archetype is considered the first mold of something --  a prototype. It is the original pattern from which all things of the same kind are copied. It can also be considered something that is unconsciously present and unchanging in individual psyches. In other words, it is a constant and unable to be anything else. In 1 Henry IV, there are several characters that can fit into a specific archetype. However, Prince Hal does not fit into any particular mold and this lesson explores both the dynamic and static aspects of his character that distinguishes him from others in the play.

Important definitions:

Dynamic character: one who undergoes significant inner change in personality/attitude during the course of a play/novel.

Also, often referred to as round or complex.


Static character: one who does not undergo significant change or growth during the course of a play/novel.

Also, often referred to as flat or two-dimensional.


Using performance, close readings of several passages, and discussion, students will have the opportunity to study archetypes from Shakespeare and in other forms of literature.

This lesson will take 3 x 50 minute class periods.

What You Need

Folger edition of 1 Henry IV

Handout: Literary Analysis

Handout: Lines from 1 Henry IV

Handout: Lines from other plays

Literary Analysis Handout
Lines from 1Henry 1V for archetype lesson
Lines from other plays
What To Do

Day 1

1. Introduce the students to the following four archetypes found in this play: the sovereign, the warrior, the fool, and the lover.


2. As a class, devise gestures associated with each archetype.


 3. Divide the class into four groups and assign an archetype to each group.


4. Have the students walk around the room using the gestures discussed in #2.


Suggested gestures:


The Sovereign: Place your hands on your head (like a crown) and walk as though carrying the weight of the world. Students should reflect an elevated hierarchical status in their walk.


The Warrior: Place your left hand on heart and your right hand straight up in the air (like a shield). Students should walk as though ready for battle while protecting those they love. Students should bear in mind that Warriors are often fierce and may put up their shield for the wrong reason.


The Lover: Place both hands on your chest and open up your arms to all. Students should be ready to act as hopeless romantics.


The Fool: Students should have fun smiling and twirling fingers at others. Students can be goofy and mischievous and even manipulative.


 5. Have students discuss how they felt about "playing" a specific archetype. How did they react when meeting other archetypes? Discuss the concept of status as represented by each archetype.


 6. Provide a segue into the study of characters in 1 Henry IV by informing students that while many characters in this play are archetypal, some defy categorization. For homework, have students make a list of characters they think represent each archetype discussed in class.


Day 2

1. Recap previous lesson and share homework responses.


 2. Review the gestures for each archetype.


3.Divide students into four groups and give them copies of the following scenes:

a. 3.2.48-56

b. 2.2.21-30

c. 4.1.117-123

d. 3.1.211-217

Do not write down the names of the characters who are speaking the lines because later, when students read the play, they will recognize them.


4. Assign one student from each group to refer to a dictionary in order to look up any unfamiliar words that are not in the glossary.


5. Have students first read the lines chorally; then take turns reading one line at a time.


6. After hearing the lines a few times, the students should decide which archetype would be appropriate for each character in each passage. Students should be prepared to justify their choices.


7. For homework, give students Prince Hal's lines, 1.2.202-221, and have them analyze the lines and decide which archtype is most appropriate for him. Again, students should be prepared to justify their choices.


 Day 3

 1. Review the homework assignment and have students share their responses.


2. Since Prince Hal is a dynamic character, he will not fit into just one archetype. His character is shaped by circumstance and motivation during the course of the play.


3. Distribute the handout on literary analysis and a list of several characters from other plays (Romeo, Juliet, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Othello.) Students may even use other characters from literature apart from Shakespeare. Have students decide on the character and identify the archetypes for which they are searching.

How Did It Go?

Did the students complete their journal/homework assignments and discuss their outcomes in ways that reflected an understanding of archetypes?

Did the students present different interpretations of Prince Hal's potential archetype or lack thereof?

Did the students find meaning in the language that helped them identify archetypes?

Were the students able to identify archetypes in other plays or forms of literature?



This lesson could be applied successfully to works such as Return of the Native (Thomas Hardy), Hard Times (Charles Dickens)


If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.

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