Henry IV, Part I Act 5 Summary and Analysis
by William Shakespeare

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Act 5 Summary and Analysis

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

New Character
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...

(The entire section is 2,151 words.)