Act Summaries

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Act I
The rebellion that was raised against King Henry IV by Hotspur (Henry Percy) and his uncle (Thomas Percy, earl of Worcester) is nearly over: Hotspur has been killed in the battle of Shrewsbury by the king's newly reformed son, Prince Hal; Worcester has been executed; and the Scots leader, Douglas, has been captured but released for his bravery in combat. (The rebellion of the Percys against King Henry IV, as well as the dissolute life of Prince Hal, is the subject of Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part One.) The king is now intent upon defeating those who are left of the rebels' allies, namely: the earl of Northumberland (Hotspur's father), Archbishop Scroop, and the Welsh leader Owen Glendower. Meanwhile Northumberland, who played "craftysick" (Ind.37) thereby avoiding the fighting at Shrewsbury, hears rumors that the rebels have won the battle and that his son, Hotspur, is still alive. When these rumors prove false, he considers renewing the battle against the king by joining his ally Scroop, who has taken up the cause in the name of the murdered King Richard I, whom Henry IV had usurped. In London, Sir John Falstaff tangles with the chief justice about his involvement in highway robbery (see Henry IV, Part One). Since Falstaff has been drafted into the wars against the rebels, the chief justice lets him off with the admonition that he act his age and stop corrupting Prince Hal. In York at the archbishop's palace, Scroop and his allies weigh the odds of defeating the king without Northumberland's help, and decide to fight whether or not he joins them.

Act II
In a London street, Hostess Quickly (of the Boar's Head Tavern in Eastcheap) tries to force Falstaff to pay his debts to her, but winds up agreeing to give him another loan. Meanwhile, "exceeding weary" after the battle of Shrewsbury, Prince Hal has returned to his dissolute ways; he and Poins plot to take Falstaff by surprise at their old haunt, the Boar's Head Tavern (II.ii.l). At his castle in Warkworth, Northumberland is persuaded by his wife and his daughter-in-law (Hotspur's widow) to flee to Scotland rather than join with Scroop against the king. At the Boar's Head Tavern, Falstaff bickers affectionately with the prostitute, Doll Tearsheet, until his loud-mouthed ensign, Pistol, arrives and nearly causes a fight. After Pistol is driven out, the prince and Poins appear in disguise to spy upon Falstaff and Doll Tearsheet; they tease the fat knight for some insulting comments he makes to Doll about the prince. Peto arrives with the latest news of the rebellion, and the guilt-stricken Hal returns to court. When Falstaff is summoned to war, Doll and Hostess Quickly tearfully bid him farewell.

Sick and disheartened, King Henry spends a sleepless night at his palace in Westminster. The earl of Warwick arrives with news that the war against the rebels is going well and that Glendower has died. Meanwhile, with the help of an old acquaintance named Justice Shallow, Falstaff is recruiting troops for battle. In a soliloquy, Falstaff plans to swindle Justice Shallow after the war. (A soliloquy is a speech made by a character when he or she is alone. It is meant to indicate to the audience the character's frame of mind or what action he or she intends to undertake.)

Act IV
Near the forest of Gaultree in Yorkshire, Archbishop Scroop and his allies receive the news that Northumberland has fled to Scotland. The earl of Westmerland invites them to parley with the king's son Prince John, who promises to redress their grievances if they...

(This entire section contains 889 words.)

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send their armies home. Once Scroop and his allies do so, John promptly has them arrested for treason, explaining that while he vowed to correct those faults which the rebels found in the government, he did not promise to grant them amnesty for their treachery. Released from fighting, Falstaff sets of to dupe Shallow. After the dying king receives news that the rebels have been defeated and that his son Hal is still consorting with his disreputable friends in Eastcheap, he collapses and is carried to bed. Prince Hal arrives, and thinking that his father is dead, tries on his crown. When the king awakens, he is distressed at finding both Hal and his crown gone, and is convinced that his son wants him dead. The prince returns, deeply remorseful, and he his father reconcile at last.

Act V
Henry IV has died, and his retainers fear the worst for themselves and the commonwealth now that Prince Hal is to become king. But the prince surprises them all by announcing that he has given up his dissolute friends and behavior. Pistol appears at Shallow's house with the news that King Henry IV has died and that Hal is now King Henry V. Elated, Falstaff rushes back to London with his friends, convinced that the new king will give him preferential treatment. Meanwhile, in London, Doll Tearsheet is arrested for prostitution. On his coronation day, King Henry V banishes Falstaff from his company with a modest allowance and the admonition that he reform, observing, ''How ill white hairs becomes a fool and jester!'' (V.v.48). The act closes with Prince John prophesying peace at home and war with France—which form the subject of Shakespeare's Henry V.