Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
It is no surprise that, near the beginning of the seventeenth century, Shakespeare and others in England were much concerned about the problems of royal succession. The aging Queen Elizabeth I had no direct heirs. Some feared a bloody war among potential claimants to the throne. As a means of illustrating what might happen should usurpation occur, the playwright drafted four plays centered on the deposition of an earlier monarch, Richard II, and the eventual rise to power of one of England’s greatest monarchs, Henry V.
The two parts of Henry IV dramatize the rebellion that plagued the reign of Henry IV, who had replaced his weak cousin, Richard II, as England’s ruler. At the play’s opening, the king’s forces are assembled to battle those of the rebels, led by Henry Percy, called Hotspur. While political machinations go on at court, Henry IV’s eldest son, Prince Hal, spends his time consorting with a group of dissolute brigands headed by the fat, life-loving Sir John Falstaff. Not until battle is imminent does Hal join his father; yet on the field at Shrewsbury he acquits himself well, felling Hotspur and leading the king’s forces to victory.
In the second play, which continues the story after the Battle of Shrewsbury, Hal seems to slip back into his old habits. Falstaff appears to be leading the prince into a life of crime, and the Lord Chief Justice enters the fray to arrest the criminals Hal calls friends. At the end of...
(The entire section is 619 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
After the battle of Shrewsbury, portrayed in Henry IV, Part I (pr. c. 1597-1598, pb. 1598), many false reports circulate among the peasants. The earl of Northumberland believes for a time that the rebel forces have been victorious, but his retainers, fleeing from the stricken field, bring a true account of the battle. Hotspur, Northumberland’s valiant son, has been killed by Prince Henry, and King Henry has vowed to put down rebellion by crushing those forces still opposing him.
Northumberland, sorely grieved by news of his son’s death, prepares to avenge his loss. Hope for his side lies in the fact that the archbishop of York has mustered an army, because soldiers so organized, being responsible to the church rather than to a military leader, should prove better fighters than those who fled from Shrewsbury field. News that the king’s forces of twenty-five thousand men have been divided into three units encourages his enemies. In spite of Northumberland’s grief for his slain son and his impassioned threat against the king and Prince Henry, he is easily persuaded by his wife and Hotspur’s widow to flee to Scotland. There, he will await the success of his confederates before he consents to join them with his army.
Meanwhile, Falstaff delays in carrying out his orders to proceed north and recruit troops for the king. Deeply involved with Mistress Quickly, he uses his royal commission to avoid being imprisoned for debt. With...
(The entire section is 1028 words.)
The rebellion that was raised against King Henry IV by Hotspur (Henry Percy) and his uncle (Thomas Percy, earl of Worcester) is nearly over: Hotspur has been killed in the battle of Shrewsbury by the king's newly reformed son, Prince Hal; Worcester has been executed; and the Scots leader, Douglas, has been captured but released for his bravery in combat. (The rebellion of the Percys against King Henry IV, as well as the dissolute life of Prince Hal, is the subject of Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part One.) The king is now intent upon defeating those who are left of the rebels' allies, namely: the earl of Northumberland (Hotspur's father), Archbishop Scroop, and the Welsh leader Owen Glendower. Meanwhile Northumberland, who played "craftysick" (Ind.37) thereby avoiding the fighting at Shrewsbury, hears rumors that the rebels have won the battle and that his son, Hotspur, is still alive. When these rumors prove false, he considers renewing the battle against the king by joining his ally Scroop, who has taken up the cause in the name of the murdered King Richard I, whom Henry IV had usurped. In London, Sir John Falstaff tangles with the chief justice about his involvement in highway robbery (see Henry IV, Part One). Since Falstaff has been drafted into the wars against the rebels, the chief justice lets him off with the admonition that he act his age and stop corrupting Prince Hal. In York at the...
(The entire section is 889 words.)