England’s Prince Henry, nicknamed Hal, is aware that his father, King Henry, has high expectations of him. Nevertheless, he is upset to learn that his father considers him a disappointment and perhaps even wishes that the other Henry, called Hotspur, had been his son. When the king confronts the prince about his behavior, he is forced to step up and promise that he is worthy of his position as Prince of Wales. In act 3, scene 2, the king rants about his son's faults:
. . .such inordinate and low desires,
Such poor, such base, such lewd, such mean attempts,
Such barren pleasures. . .
Hal responds with a serious pledge, saying that he will not even “break the smallest parcel of this vow”:
This, in the name of God, I promise here:
The which if I perform, and do survive,
I do beseech your Majesty, may salve
The long-grown wounds of my intemperance….
Because the country is plagued by rebellions, with many members of the nobility resentful over Henry’s defeat of Richard III, a total civil war is a real danger. Hal is compelled to stop goofing around and playing pranks, and get involved in the serious business of defending his father’s position on the throne. At the end of act 3, he meets Falstaff in the tavern and tells him the stolen money was repaid. The scene becomes serious as Hal announces he and his men will now march thirty miles to take on Percy’s forces:
The land is burning; Percy stands on high;
And either we or they must lower lie.
In act 5, scene 4, Hal fulfills his promise, fighting bravely despite being injured. His father has tried to get him to retreat, but instead he takes on Douglas, who has attacked his father, and drives him off.
Hold up thy head, vile Scot, or thou art like
Never to hold it up again! the spirits
Of valiant Shirley, Stafford, Blunt, are in my arms:
It is the Prince of Wales that threatens thee;
Who never promiseth but he means to pay.
They fight: DOUGLAS flies