Henry IV, Part I Act 1 Summary and Analysis
by William Shakespeare

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Act 1 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
King Henry IV: King of England; seized power from Richard II

Lord John of Lancaster: younger son to King Henry IV

Earl of Westmoreland: nobleman; loyalist to King Henry IV

Sir Walter Blunt: nobleman; loyalist to Henry IV

At the King’s palace in London, Henry expresses deep concern about the current rebellions in England and vows to stop all wars. As he promised when he became King, he sends an army to fight the Crusades to fulfill his vow. He asks Westmoreland what the council decreed regarding the matter of the Crusades, and Westmoreland replies that the issue was undergoing serious discussion when they received news from Wales that Mortimer, a nobleman, had been taken by Glendower, a Welsh rebel. In addition, thousands of Welsh were butchered, and Welshwomen performed atrocities on the corpses. This news causes Henry to cancel his army to the Holy Land to concentrate on stopping the rebellions at home. Westmoreland adds that on September 14, Hotspur engaged in a battle at Holmedon with Archibald, Earl of Douglas. Sir Walter Blunt brings the good news that the Earl of Douglas is taken, and that Blunt saw 10,000 Scots and 22 knights bathed in their own blood. He adds that Hotspur took Mordake, Earl of Fife and Douglas’ eldest son, Earls of Athol, Murray, Angus, and Menteith as prisoners. At this news, King Henry is disappointed that his own son Henry is not as valiant as Hotspur. Henry asserts that Hotspur has made it clear that he will keep for his own use all of the prisoners he has taken except Mordake, Earl of Fife. Westmoreland tells the King that Worcester, Hotspur’s uncle, is responsible for Hotspur’s arrogance. The King cancels the army to Jerusalem and arranges a council meeting for the following Wednesday at Windsor.

Henry’s opening line, “So shaken as we are, so wan with care,” establishes the chaotic atmosphere in which the actions of the play take place. He speaks of “frighted peace” that can scarcely catch its breath before it has to “breathe short-winded accents of new broils” on England’s shores. The personification continues as he vows, “No more the thirsty entrance of this soil / Shall daub her lips with her own children’s blood,” suggesting an image of England as a depraved mother detroying her own children rather than nurturing them. He adds that “No more shall trenching war channel her fields, / Nor bruise her flow’rets,” speaking as a king whose aim is to protect the motherland rather than to witness its destruction. The conditions of “civil butchery” must not be allowed to prevail as the “edge of war, like an ill-sheated knife, / No more shall cut his master.”

To reinforce the graphic imagery of civil wars that rend the country to its foundations, Westmoreland tells Henry that “the noble Mortimer” was taken, “a thousand of his people butchered,” and that to the corpses “there was such misuse, / Such beastly shameless transformation, / By those Welshwomen done.” In the north, Hotspur spent a “sad and bloody hour” fighting Archibald, Earl of Douglas, and the King adds that Sir Walter Blunt saw “ten thousand bold Scots…Balked in their own blood.”

When Henry hears about the conquests of Hotspur, he expresses his disappointment that his own son Henry is not as valiant as Hotspur. He suggests that perhaps “some night-tripping fairy had exchanged / In cradle clothes” his son Henry for Henry Percy’s son Hotspur when they were babies. The issue of Hal’s loose behavior provides the basis for the subplot that develops. The opening scene of the play establishes the chaotic world of Henry’s court where he attempts to restore order.

Act I, Scene 2

New Characters
Henry: Prince of Wales; also known as Hal among his friends

Sir John Falstaff: friend to Hal; chief member of the band of thieves

Poins: a member of Falstaff’s gang of ruffians

This scene takes place at the prince’s lodging at a London inn. The prince and Falstaff...

(The entire section is 2,052 words.)