Henry IV, Part I Additional Summary

William Shakespeare


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.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

After he forced the anointed king, Richard II, to relinquish his crown, Henry Bolingbroke became King Henry IV of England in 1399. Within only a few years, Henry himself has begun to face challenges to his kingship. The nobles who supported him against Richard II have begun to defy the new king and aspire to the throne themselves. Henry Percy, Jr., or Hotspur, fighting on behalf of Henry IV, defeats the invading army of Douglas of Scotland in northern England, but Hotspur then refuses to subordinate himself to the king’s authority and turn his Scottish prisoners over to the king.

Worried by the threat of revolt by Hotspur and other nobles affiliated with him, Henry IV postpones his planned trip to the Holy Land and begins to make preparations to confront the rebels. Among these are Owen Glendower, the Welsh leader and alleged magician who captures the earl of March, and Edmund Mortimer, who has been sent by the king to defeat Glendower. Angry because he had been Richard II’s chosen successor, Mortimer joins with Glendower, marrying his daughter and aligning himself with Glendower, Hotspur, and Hotspur’s father, Henry Percy, Sr. Also allied with Hotspur are the Scots under Douglas, whose defeat but retention by Hotspur precipitated the conflict. Realizing the serious threat represented by such a powerful alliance, Henry IV begins to gather his forces to protect his throne.

Notably absent from the king’s supporters is his own son, Prince Hal, who is occupied with drunken revelry with the prankster Sir John Falstaff and Falstaff’s thieving cohorts. Hal does not, however, join in the highway robbery performed by Falstaff and his friends, being content to play a joke on Falstaff by accosting the robbers, his friends, frightening them away, and then returning the stolen money to its owners. Hal’s enjoyable antics are terminated by a summons from his father, and upon being chastised for his waywardness, Prince Hal promises to atone for his inattention to...

(The entire section is 812 words.)