Summary of the Play
King Henry IV of England cancels sending his army to the Holy Land in order to concentrate on the more serious situation in England where rebellions are occurring in Wales and Northumberland. After hearing about the valiant efforts of Hotspur, son to Henry Percy, the Earl of Northumberland, King Henry expresses his disappointment that his own son Hal is not as daring as Hotspur. To expedite matters, King Henry arranges a subsequent meeting at this council chamber.
As the serious business of war and rebellion occupy King Henry’s court, Prince Hal of Wales passes his time among his friends at the Boar’s Head Tavern, the local haunt of Sir John Falstaff and his gang of ruffians. After arranging a highway robbery with Falstaff, Poins, another member of the gang, enlists Hal’s aid in playing a practical joke on Falstaff. Hal goes along with the practical joke, and at the same time realizes that his life as a madcap is only a temporary one.
The council meeting that was arranged by King Henry takes place at the Windsor Castle. The central issue at the meeting concerns Hotspur’s denial of the prisoners he took while suppressing the rebellion in Northumberland. Hotspur explains that he did not intentionally deny the prisoners as was reported. He says that he was weary from the battle when the prisoners were demanded and, as a result, answered neglectfully. Henry adds that Hotspur’s denial of prisoners is worsened since it is Hotspur who has made Henry pay ransom for Mortimer who was captured by the Welsh rebel Glendower. When Henry calls Mortimer a traitor, Hotspur vehemently defends Mortimer’s actions, but King Henry does not accept Hotspur’s explanation and silences Hotspur on the issue. This dismissal further incites Hotspur with respect to the King, and after several outbursts, Hotspur is calmed down by Worcester who intimates the plot to usurp Henry’s power.
Meanwhile, at an innyard in Rochester, two carriers discuss the dilapidated conditions that exist in the hotel. Gadshill enters and tries to enlist the aid of the carriers and the chamberlain in his highway robbery. Subsequently, on a highway near Gad’s Hill, Falstaff, Peto, and Bardolph prepare to rob the travelers who are on their way to London. As the gang prepares for the robbery, Poins and Hal plan their practical joke on Falstaff. After Falstaff and his gang rob the travelers, Poins and Hal, disguised as travelers, set upon Falstaff and his gang and rob them. Falstaff, who is left befuddled and shaken by the whole incident, runs away leaving his money behind.
While the rebellion is being plotted, Hotspur receives a letter expressing concern about the dangers involved in the scheme. Hotspur becomes annoyed at the hint that the Percys’ plan may be less than successful, and Lady Percy comments on Hotspur’s erratic behavior. Hotspur tells her that he cannot reveal his plans but assures her that she will soon follow him to where he goes.
After the robbery on the highway at Gad’s Hill, Hal waits for Falstaff to return to the Boar’s Head Tavern in Eastcheap. While he waits for Falstaff, Hal enlists the aid of Poins to play a practical joke on Francis, the wine drawer at the inn. The practical joke is interrupted by the entrance of Falstaff, Bardolph, and Peto, who are visibly upset by the robbery. Next, Falstaff tells what happened to them but exaggerates the incident in terms of the number of men who attacked them and how they defended themselves. When Hal catches Falstaff in a contradiction about the robbery, Hal reveals the whole truth. Consequently, they all have a good laugh about the incident, and Falstaff suggests that they perform an impromptu play. At the same time, the frivolity at the inn is interrupted by a message from Sir John Bracy requesting that Hal come to court in the morning. As a result,...
(The entire section is 1577 words.)