Henry IV, Part I Act 4 Summary and Analysis
by William Shakespeare

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Act 4 Summary and Analysis

Act IV, Scene 1

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New Characters
Archibald: Earl of Douglas; captured by Hotspur; member of the rebel faction

Sir Richard Vernon: member of the Percy Rebellion

Messenger: brings letter from Northumberland to the rebels

Hotspur, Worcester, and Douglas meet in the rebel camp near Shrewsbury, and Hotspur tells Douglas what respect he has for him. At this time, a messenger enters with letters from Northumberland informing the rebels that he is sick and will not be able to join the rebellion. Worcester expresses concern that this will weaken the rebels’ cause, but Hotspur believes his father’s absence will make their plan more daring in the eyes of the opposition. Sir Richard Vernon enters with news that Lord John of Lancaster and the King are marching to Shrewsbury. This news incites Hotspur to battle, and he is eager to meet Hal in a single fight. Vernon adds that Glendower will not be able to join them for another 14 days.

In the rebel camp, we see how Hotspur has, as Henry pointed out to Hal, “Discomfited great Douglas; ta’en him once, / Enlarged him, and made a friend of him,” with Hotspur’s comment to Douglas, “a braver place / In my heart’s love hath no man than yourself.” At this, the rebels receive news that Northumberland, who “is grevious sick,” will not join them. Worcester fears that Northumberland’s “sickness is a maim” to the rebels; however, Hotspur does not perceive it as a weakness. Rather, he is of the opinion that if the rebels’ attempts fail, all of their forces will not be destroyed.

Worcester’s concern grows as he expresses his belief that others might perceive Northumberland’s absence as a sign of his disapproval of the rebels’ cause. Hotspur rejects Worcester’s ideas and claims that Northumberland’s absence “lends a luster and more great opinion, / A larger dare” to their undertaking. This difference of opinion amongst the rebels suggests the dichotomy between Worcester, who is cautious in his approach, and Hotspur, who is quick to act irrationally in spite of many warnings.

Sir Richard Vernon’s news that Westmoreland and Prince John with “seven thousand strong” and “the King himself in person” bodes ill for the rebels’ cause. When Hotspur mockingly asks where “the nimble-footed madcap Prince of Wales” may be, Vernon says he saw Hal “gallantly armed, / Rise from the ground like feathered Mercury.” The mythological allusion to the Roman god parallels Henry’s allusion to Hotspur as “Mars in swathling clothes.” The allusion is then continued in Hotspur’s response that “the mailed Mars shall on his altars sit” as Hotspur prepares the meet “Harry to Harry…hot horse to horse.” The mythological allusions elevate the contest between the rebel forces and the King’s forces to a battle of epic proportions between gods.

A final weakness in the rebel enterprise comes with the news that Glendower will not be ready for another 14 days, to which Hotspur responds with the quixotic, “My father and Glendower being both away / The powers of us may serve so great a day.” There are logical reasons to delay the battle, but Hotspur disregards them.

Act IV, Scene 2

On a road near Coventry, Falstaff discusses with Bardolph the ragtag army of men that remain after others he impressed were able to pay their way out of service. The Prince and Westmoreland enter, and Hal tells Falstaff that the men are a pitiful sight. Falstaff remarks that they are as good as any men to serve and be killed.

In contrast to a battle of the gods as suggested in the previous scene, Falstaff’s army consists of those men who remain after the ones he impressed “bought out their services.” Falstaff is disappointed that the men he has enlisted have turned out to be “such toasts and butter” because they paid their way out of service. He is also disgusted with those who are left, whom he describes as “slaves as ragged as Lazarus…discarded serving...

(The entire section is 1,478 words.)