Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2151
Act V, Scene 1
At the King’s camp near Shrewsbury, Worcester enters and reminds the King of all the Percys did to ensure Henry’s power. The King notes his remarks and tells him that he isn’t saying anything that hasn’t already been said to give the rebel cause some justification. Hal adds that he will defend his father’s position and challenges Hotspur to a single fight. Again, the King makes his offer to the rebels and wants to be sent word about what they decide to do. He strongly suggests that they acquiesce or pay dire consequences.
When Worcester leaves, Hal tells his father that he doesn’t believe the rebels will accept the terms. At the end of the scene, Falstaff muses about the value of honor in fighting a battle.
The atmosphere in the King’s camp the morning of the battle is one which “foretells a tempest and a blustering day.” The King notices “How bloodily the sun begins to peer / Above yon bulky hill!” evoking the image of Mars, the Roman god of war, to which Hotspur was compared in a previous scene. The foreboding dawn, one of Shakespeare’s stylistic techniques, signals a crucial moment to come in the drama on the battlefield.
When Worcester arrives, he reminds Henry of all that the Percys did to help him gain power. However, Worcester’s words have become a cliché to Henry, who is faced with imminent battle. Henry addresses Worcester’s comments by telling him that what has been said is a way of distorting “the garment of rebellion / With some fine color that may please the eye / Of fickle changelings and poor discontents” in a feeble attempt so as to give their rebellion more credibility. Hal asserts that many lives hinge on this battle, and he even acknowledges there being no gentleman “more active-valiant or more valiant-young, / More daring or more bold” than Hotspur. Consequently, Hal challenges to let the battle rest “with him in single fight.” Henry concurs and once again tells Worcester “so tell your cousin, and bring me word / What he will do,” in one more attempt to avert the imminent bloodshed.
The scene ends with Falstaff’s speech about honor in light of the upcoming battle. In the form of questions and answers, Falstaff soliloquizes about the nature of honor, which has been the motivating force behind Hotspur. Hotspur believes that it is easy “to pluck bright honor from the pale-faced moon…and pluck up drowned honor by the locks.” Hotspur’s idealistic view of honor sharply contrasts Falstaff’s more realistic conclusion that honor is just a word with no substance because “’tis insensible.” The nature of honor also provides a suitable subject for Falstaff’s characteristic use of pun. Being insensible, honor can neither be heard nor felt by the dead who have died for it. For the living, honor is merely a coat of arms carried for the dead. Falstaff concludes his “catechism” by declaring, “I’ll none of it.”
Act V, Scene 2
Messenger: enters with news from the king
In the rebel camp near Shrewsbury, Worcester tells Sir Richard Vernon that Hotspur must not know about Henry’s offer of pardon, but Vernon thinks Hotspur should know. Worcester believes Henry will not keep his word and will punish the rebels. Hotspur and Douglas enter, and Hotspur releases Westmoreland since Worcester has returned safely. Worcester lies and tells Hotspur that the King will meet him in battle, so Douglas goes after Westmoreland to bring word back to Henry of the rebels’ defiance. Worcester adds that Henry called the rebels and traitors and will scourge their name. Douglas reenters and affirms that Westmoreland has delivered the offer which will be met with swiftly. Worcester does, however, tell Hotspur that Hal challenged him to a single fight.
After Hotspur’s eager acceptance of the challenge, Vernon says that Hal spoke highly of Hotspur, but Hotspur thinks Vernon is impressed with Hal’s reformed behavior. A messenger enters with news that the King is marching toward them as Hotspur prepares to do battle.
Worcester believes that Hotspur must not know “the liberal and kind offer of the King” because “it is not possible…the King should keep his word in loving us.” Worcester is sure Henry would eventually excuse Hotspur as “hare-brained” and “governed by spleen,” but Worcester feels Henry would not be so magnanimous with the other conspirators “as the spring of all.” To keep Hotspur in battle, Worcester lies and tells him that Henry “will bid you battle presently.” When Hotspur learns that Hal has challenged him to a single fight, he wants to know if the challenge was made with contempt.
Vernon tells Hotspur that he never heard “a challenge urged more modestly” in which Hal “trimmed up [Hotspur’s] praises with a princely tongue.” Hotspur accuses Vernon of being impressed with Hal’s reformation and calls to “Arm with speed.” Hotspur is ready to accept Hal’s challenge, unaware that Hal has proposed that the single combat determine the outcome of the rebellion.
Act V, Scene 3
On the battlefield at Shrewsbury, the King enters with his army. Douglas meets Sir Walter Blunt who is disguised as the King. They fight, and Douglas kills Blunt. Hotspur enters and lets Douglas know he killed Blunt, not the true king. He adds that there are many men disguised as Henry; consequently, Douglas vows to kill all of them whom he encounters.
Next, Falstaff enters and stumbles upon Blunt. When Hal enters and asks Falstaff why he is idle, he says that only three of his 150 soldiers are alive. Consequently, Hal asks for Falstaff’s sword, but Falstaff offers him a pistol. When the pistol turns out to be a bottle of sack, Hal realizes that Falstaff has been drinking and exits in disgust. This time Falstaff philosophizes about the value of an honorable death in battle.
When Douglas meets Blunt on the battlefield, Blunt is disguised as the King. After they fight and Douglas kills him, Hotspur tells Douglas that Blunt was “semblably furnished like the King himself” and that “the King hath many marching in his coats.” The disguise suggests the “counterfeit” nature of Henry’s position, in that he gained power through insurrection and regicide rather than through inheritance. To the Percys, Henry is not the true King. When Falstaff enters and sees Blunt’s body, he comments “There’s honor for you!” which supports his previous idea of honor being of no use to a dead man. Hal enters and asks Falstaff why he stands idle, and Falstaff responds that he killed Percy.
In the middle of battle, Falstaff still finds occasion for humor with his use of the word sack. When Hal asks Falstaff for his sword, Falstaff offers his pistol which turns out to be a bottle “that will sack a city.” As a pistol, the weapon could destroy a city by killing people; as a bottle of wine, the weapon could wreck a city by causing people to get drunk. In his final examination of honor, Falstaff admits that he does not like “such grinning honor as Sir Walter hath” and makes no attempt to look for a fight in which to engage.
Act V, Scene 4
On the battlefield at Shrewsbury, the King tells Hal to have his wounds tended to, but Hal refuses to stop fighting. Lord John, Hal’s brother, is eager to keep moving forward, and Hal is pleasantly surprised at his eagerness. Next, Douglas enters and meets Henry, whom he thinks is a counterfeit king. Consequently, they fight and Hal intercedes when he sees his father in danger. At this point, Douglas runs away. Hotspur comes on to the field and faces off with Hal, and Hal kills Hotspur.
At the same time in another part of the field, Douglas reenters and fights with Falstaff who feigns death and falls down. After Douglas runs away, Hal sees Falstaff whom he takes for dead. When Hal leaves, Falstaff gets up and sees Hotspur dead. Fearing that Hotspur is faking death too, Falstaff stabs him and carries him on his back. Hal and John enter again and are surprised to see Falstaff alive. At this time, Falstaff takes the opportunity to tell Hal how he and Hotspur had fallen out of breath, got up again, and continued fighting at which time he killed Hotspur.
The battle is taking place in various parts of the field as the King’s men meet the Percys. King Henry is concerned about Hal who is bleeding, but Hal will not let “a shallow scratch” stop him in action. Lord John of Lancaster is also eager to fight and says, “We breathe too long…our duty lies this way.” At this point we see further unity in the family at Hal’s recognition of John as “lord of such a spirit” who “lends mettle to us all!” Douglas, thinking he has encountered “another counterfeit” king, enters and remarks to Henry that “thou bearest thee like a king.” This statement reflects the Percys’ contention that Henry bears the outer trappings of a king but lacks the rightful claim.
As Hal defends his father, Hotspur enters for the final confrontation that has been prepared for in lofty images of war. Both men take a valiant stand. Hal declares that England cannot “brook a double reign of Harry Percy and the Prince of Wales,” and Hotspur responds, “Nor shall it Harry, for the hour is come / To end the one of us.” Subsequently, Hal fatally wounds Hotspur whose loss of “those proud titles” destroys him more than his mortal wounds. In another part of the battlefield, Falstaff had been fighting Douglas, and Falstaff fell down as if he were dead. Hal sees him and remarks, “O, I should have a heavy miss of thee,” in an attempt to cover his sadness by creating a pun with respect to Falstaff’s weight. When Falstaff gets up, he justifies his own cowardice by saying, “to counterfeit dying when a man thereby liveth is to be no counterfeit but the true and perfect image of life indeed.” For Falstaff, “The better part of valor is discretion,” in that valor needs to be regulated by discretion, and for Falstaff discretion means saving one’s own life.
In a final comedic act, Falstaff wounds the corpse of Hotspur and carries it upon his back. When Hal enters and sees this, Falstaff lies about how he fought Hotspur and killed him. Hal lets Falstaff off the hook this time by not contradicting him. In fact Hal says, “if a lie may do thee grace / I’ll gild it with the happiest terms I have.” Hal gives Falstaff a chance to bask in the “honor,” however counterfeit it may be.
Act V, Scene 5
King Henry, the Prince of Wales, Lord John of Lancaster, and Westmoreland enter with Worcester and Vernon as prisoners. The King denounces Worcester for having taken part in the rebellion, and Worcester accepts his fate. Henry orders Vernon and Worcester killed and inquires about the conditions on the field. Hal lets him know that Douglas was taken prisoner after he fled and that Hotspur was slain.
The King lets Hal decide Douglas’ fate, so Hal tells his brother John to free Douglas and then determine what his fate will be. Finally, Henry divides the remaining power. John and Westmoreland are to go to York to meet Northumberland and Scroop, and he and Hal are to go to Wales to meet Glendower and the Earl of March to put an end to more rebellion.
The final scene of the play leaves the rebel forces shattered. King Henry reminds “ill-spirited” Worcester of the message wherein he did “send grace, / Pardon and terms of love to all.” The King also places the burden on Worcester for not having “truly borne / Betwixt our armies true intelligence.” Henry recognizes Worcester’s lies and deceit and sentences him to death. Consequently, Worcester accepts his “fortune patiently.”
We also learn that Douglas, in one of his attempts to flee, fell down a hill and was captured. Hal asks for the privilege of disposing of Douglas, to which Henry agrees. Hal, in turn, gives John the right to “Go to the Douglas and deliver him / Up to his pleasure.” The relegating of power in this action foreshadows Hal’s acceptance as the role he will play in the future as king.
In his final speech, Henry divides the remaining power. John and Westmoreland are to take care of Northumberland and the Archbishop of York. He and Hal will march toward Glendower and Mortimer, over whose ransom the Battle of Shrewsbury was fought. The play ends as Henry and his forces set out to subdue the remaining rebels.