Act 1 Summary

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Scene 1

The first scene of the play opens in the palace of King Henry, who reflects that England's civil war is now over, that peace is reestablished, and that he can turn his attention to a crusade in the Holy Land. But the Earl of Westmoreland has news that may upset the king's plan. Mortimer has been defeated and captured on the Welsh border by the “irregular and wild Glendower.” The English soldiers have been slaughtered and horribly mistreated.

There is yet more news. In the north, young Harry Percy, known as Hotspur, has defeated the Scot Archibald (also known as Douglas), but Hotspur refuses to send the prisoners of war to the king, as is customary and right. He will only send one man. The king believes that Hotspur's uncle, Worcester, has put him up to this near-rebellion, and he means to hold a council at Windsor to settle the matter. In the meantime, Henry wishes that his own eldest son, another Harry, would exhibit Hotspur's courage and military prowess.

Scene 2

Prince Henry, better known as Harry or Hal, is talking with Sir John Falstaff, his friend and drinking companion. The two carry on a lively banter about being men of the night and about what they will do when Harry becomes king. Harry teases Falstaff that he will make him the hangman. They are joined by the highwayman Poins, who is planning a robbery for the next day with Gadshill and some others. Falstaff will participate; Harry refuses.

After Falstaff leaves, Poins and Harry plan an escapade of their own. They will rob the robbers. 

When Poins departs, Harry muses to the audience that his wild actions are all part of a larger plan. His people expect nothing from him, so when he becomes king, he will make a sudden change for the better and impress everyone. The contrast will be so startling that it will attract all men to him.

Scene 3

The action returns to the palace. King Henry is with Hotspur, the Earl of Northumberland (Hotspur's father), the Earl of Worcester (Hotspur's uncle), and Sir Walter Blunt. Henry is angry at Hotspur's actions with the prisoners, and he dismisses Worcester, who protests the king's anger. Hotspur defends himself by claiming that he was exhausted by battle and wounds when he spoke in unthinking annoyance to a foppish messenger.

Yet Hotspur still refuses to turn over the prisoners. He wants the king to ransom Mortimer (Hotspur's brother-in-law) from the Welsh king. Henry refuses, for he thinks Mortimer, who is married to Glendower's daughter, lost the battle on purpose. When Henry leaves the scene (after threatening the group with his displeasure if he is not obeyed at once), Hotspur, Northumberland, and Worcester discuss Henry's disloyalty and insult to their family, which helped him to power in the past, and make a plan to rebel against the king in conjunction with Mortimer, Glendower, the Archbishop of York, and Douglas with his Scots. They will thus have their revenge on King Henry.

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Act 2 Summary