Act 1, Scene 1 Setting: London, the court of Henry IV
The play opens with a speech by King Henry. He tells his lords how civil war in England, caused primarily by Henry's overthrow of King Richard, is at its end and that the country would now concentrate on foreign wars, namely the Crusades in the Middle East. The Earl of Westmorland, however, informs the king that there are insurgences in Wales, led by Owen Glendower, that must be tended to. The Welshman had already captured Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March. Still further, Westmorland tells of the English victory against the Scots at the Battle of Holmedon (Humbleton) Hill. He tells of the valiant achievements in the battlefield of Henry 'Hotspur' Percy and how he took many Scottish prisoners, including the Earl of Douglas, the leader of the Scottish rebellion. Henry then praises Hotspur, going so far as to say he wishes that he and the Earl of Northumberland (Hotspur's father) could have switched children at birth so that he might have Hotspur as a son and Northumberland Hal. But, the king is concerned about Hotspur's pride and the fact that he refuses to hand over the Scottish prisoners to him. Westmorland claims Hotspur's is being influenced by his uncle, the Earl of Worcester. Henry ends the scene by saying he shall soon meet with the Percies to discuss the issue at Windsor.
Act 1, Scene 2 Setting: London, a room of the prince's
In this scene, we are first introduced to Prince Hal and his portly tavern friend, Sir John Falstaff. The two immediately display that they possess a close relationship, as they exchange jokes and talk of the good times that will arrive when Hal finally becomes the King of England. Poins, another of Hal's tavern buddies, arrives and suggests they should rob a group of pilgrims who will be passing by on their way to Canterbury. Falstaff wholeheartedly agrees to the adventure, but Hal is hesitant. After dismissing Falstaff, Poins tells Hal of the real plan. He and Hal are to allow Falstaff and the others to rob the pilgrims, and they (Hal and Poins) are to immediately rob the robbers while in disguise. Poins points out that the funniest part of the story would be Falstaff's excuses as to why they were robbed. Hal agrees to play the prank. The scene ends with a soliloquy from Hal where he tells the audience of what he hopes to accomplish with all this bad behavior. He claims that, when he is king, any small accomplishment will seem like a grand achievement in comparison to his shabby behavior as a youth. Therefore, he will look truly valiant in the eyes of the people, even if he is not necessarily worthy of praise.
Act 1, Scene 3 Setting: The Court
The scene opens with an enraged Henry telling the Percies they have tried his patience too far, and he will not be so kind in future endeavors. Worcester claims the Percies should not be scolded after they put Henry on the throne in the first place, and he is immediately dismissed by the king. Hotspur then explains why he refused to give his prisoners to Henry: the effeminate lord that was sent into the bloody battlefield bothered him at the wrong time, when he was still resting after a long battle. Sir Walter Blunt says Percy shall be forgiven if he now hands over the prisoners, but the king claims that Hotspur still refuses to do so until Mortimer, his brother-in-law, is ransomed. Henry claims that Mortimer, who by this point has married Glendower's daughter, is a traitor and will not waste money to ransom him. Hotspur is enraged and tells of Mortimer's supposed achievements in battle. Henry dismisses Hotspur's exaggerations and angrily storms off, telling the Percies to hand over their prisoners or face the consequences.
After Henry's departure, Hotspur is angry and goes on an uncontrollable rampage against the king, claiming it was a mistake for men such as his father and uncle to put him on the throne. Northumberland then reveals that it is Mortimer, who Henry refuses to ransom, that was named by Richard as the rightful heir to the throne. This enrages Hotspur still further. Finally, Worcester suggests that they rebel against the king in favor of Mortimer. He tells Hotspur to release Douglas and the other Scots and join forces with them; Northumberland to join forces with the Archbishop of York who is beginning a rebellion to avenge his brother's death; and Worcester himself will inform Glendower and Mortimer of their plans. The rebels leave to perform their tasks.
Act 2, Scene 1 Setting: A stable yard of an inn on the road between London and Canterbury
There are several Carriers on the road to Canterbury complaining about the poor conditions at the inn in which they are staying. Gadshill arrives and asks the men for the use of a lantern and is rebuked. The carriers leave, and Gadshill confers with the Chamberlain about the robbery they intend to commit. Apparently, there will be a franklin in the party who is holding three hundred marks. Gadshill tells the chamberlain that he will get a share of the money they steal.
Act 2, Scene 2 Setting: On the road at Gad's Hill
Falstaff, Poins, Hal and the others prepare to rob the travelers as they walk by. Poins has stolen Falstaff's horse, much to the latter's chagrin. After thoroughly complaining about the loss of his horse and having to walk, Falstaff prepares to rob the men. The prince and Poins then put on their disguises and hide. Falstaff and the others rob the travelers and tie them up. While the thieves are dividing up their treasure, Hal and Poins come and rob them. The thieves run away in a cowardly fashion, and the prince and Poins share a good laugh.
Act 2, Scene 3 Setting: Hotspur's castle at Warkworth
The scene opens with Hotspur reading a letter from an unidentified man who advises him to tread carefully and that he may not have enough power to undertake an act so big as deposing Henry. Hotspur, of course, is more than confident that the forces that the rebels possess are more than capable of being successful. Hotspur's wife, Lady Percy, enters and wants to know why her husband has been so distant lately. The entire rest of the scene consists primarily of the argument between husband and wife about Hotspur going out to war and leaving Lady Percy in the dark about his adventures. Finally, after what he considers to be much nagging, Hotspur agrees to take his wife with him.
Act 2, Scene 4 Setting: Eastcheap tavern
This comic scene begins with Hal and Poins playing a joke on Francis, a drawer. The prince distracts Francis with questions about sugar he had earlier purchased from him, while Poins continuously calls out to him, forcing him to answer "Anon" over and over again. After the prank is over, Falstaff and the other defeated thieves arrive to tell their story. Falstaff goes into a fictitious retelling of the robbery scene where the number of men that he fought rises with every sentence he utters. Hal finally reveals that he and Poins saw them rob the travelers and then preceded to rob them. Falstaff brushes this revelation off by claiming he knew it was the prince and that he wouldn't dare kill the heir apparent. A messenger from the king arrives and Hal sends Falstaff to greet him. The messenger says that Hal must return to court the next morning to do his part in subduing the rebellion that is about to occur. Falstaff, after telling Hal of all the various enemies he will be up against, suggest that he should practice what answer should be given to his father. The scene that follows shows Falstaff playing the role of the king and Hal as himself. Falstaff begins by criticizing Hal for spending so much time in the taverns, than continues to praise himself. Hal, weary of Falstaff's performance as his father, demands they switch roles. Hal, as his father, says he must keep better company. Falstaff, as Hal, pleads to have mercy on Falstaff. Hal ends the act by claiming he will do what he has to when the time comes. This is foreshadowing of Hal's later rejection of his tavern friends. A sheriff arrives to arrest Falstaff for his part in the robbery. Falstaff hides, and Hal tells the sheriff he hasn't seen him, but that he will ultimately turn himself in. The sheriff departs, and Falstaff is found sleeping. Hal and Peto search his pockets and find a rather mismatched grocery list. The prince departs to the palace saying, as he leaves, that he will give Falstaff a group of soldiers to command and that the money that was robbed will be repaid with interest.
Act 3, Scene 1 Setting: Glendower's castle in Wales
Glendower, Mortimer, Hotspur and Worcester meet at Glendower's castle in Wales in order to discuss how England will be divided up after Henry is deposed. Hotspur begins by immediately insulting Glendower, after hearing of some of the Welshman's supernatural tales of his birth, and Mortimer must calm the argument. The four men then decide that the kingdom should be divided as follows: the south would go to Mortimer; Wales to Glendower; and all land north of the river Trent to the Percies. Hotspur then begins another argument on how the river curves through his land. Glendower ultimately gives in to Hotspur and then goes to retrieve the ladies. While he is gone, Worcester and Mortimer advise Hotspur to modify his temper, but Hotspur seems to treat them sarcastically. Glendower reenters with the wives of Hotspur and Mortimer, and Mortimer laments how he cannot communicate with his wife being that she speaks no English and he no Welsh. Lady Mortimer then begins to sing, while Hotspur makes rude and obscene comments to his wife, who then becomes annoyed with him. The scene concludes with the men preparing to go off to battle.
Act3, Scene 2 Setting: The palace of Henry IV
The scene consists mainly of a long lecture given by Henry to Hal, reprimanding him for his poor choice of friends and devious actions. Henry tells of how he won the people's hearts and was able to take the throne from Richard. He continues by telling how the rebel Hotspur shows more passion for the kingdom than Hal, the heir apparent, and then lists all of the enemies he must defend the kingdom against. Hal, who has been listening patiently, declares that he will win back his father's favor by killing Hotspur in battle. The king is pleased with this answer and gives Hal a unit to command. Blunt arrives and tells of the rebel activity at Shrewsbury, and the men set out to meet the rebels.
Act 3, Scene 3 Setting: An Eastcheap Tavern
Falstaff and Bardolph begin the scene by trading insults. When Mistress Quickly arrives, Falstaff questions her as to who picked his pocket. Quickly retorts by telling Sir John that he should worry about paying his own bills at the tavern first. Prince Hal enters and eventually tells Falstaff it was he who picked his pocket in order to pay back the money that Falstaff stole. Falstaff is angry about this, and Hal becomes even more enraged when he finds out Falstaff claimed he would beat Hal if he had anything to do with the pick-pocketing occurrence. The two ultimately settle down and Hal informs Falstaff that he has given him a squad of men to command in the upcoming battle. Hal tells Sir John to meet him the next day to find out the details of his charge, and departs.
Act 4, Scene 1 Setting: The rebel camp at Shrewsbury
Worcester and Douglas confer at Shrewsbury, when they are informed by a
messenger that Hotspur's father, Northumberland, will not be able to
join them in battle. Hotspur is devastated at first but appears a bit
more optimistic as the scene progresses. Sir Richard Vernon arrives
and tells of the various armies that the rebels must face, most notably,
one that includes Prince Hal. Vernon also informs the rebels that
Glendower and his troops will also not be able to join the battle in
time and that the king's forces total to 30,000 men. Hotspur is
discouraged, but still optimistic.
Act 4, Scene 2 Setting: The road to Coventry
Falstaff, Bardolph and their troops march towards Coventry, and Falstaff sends Bardolph forward to purchase him a bottle of sack. The two briefly argue over who should pay for the sack before Bardolph departs. Falstaff then delivers a long soliloquy where he speaks of the sorry excuses for soldiers he has mustered, most of which are rejects from the dregs of society. Hal and Westmorland then arrive and have equally bad things to say about the troops. Falstaff comes up with several ridiculous excuses for the poor shape of his unit, and the group heads off to Shrewsbury to face Hotspur's army.
Act 4, Scene 3 Setting: The rebel camp
The rebels debate their plan of action. Both Hotspur and Douglas believe they should attack the king's army that very night, while Worcester and Vernon feel they should hold off until more reinforcements come. Sir Walter Blunt arrives to announce that the king wishes to know what the rebels' grievances are and that he promises to do his best to amend them. Hotspur then delivers a lengthy speech telling of Henry's ungrateful behavior towards him and his family. He claims that it was the Percies who got the king to where he is; that Henry only wanted to claim the dukedom of Lancaster and then deposed and murdered the rightful king; and that he has broken many promises since he has become king. Hotspur tells Blunt not to deliver this message to the king, however, but that he will send someone the next morning to give him an answer to his offer of peace.
Act 4, Scene 4 Setting: York, the Archbishop's palace
Richard Scroop, the Archbishop of York and his friend, Sir Michael, discuss the rebels chances at Shrewsbury. The Archbishop feels that, without the help of Northumberland and Glendower, the forces of Hotspur and the rest may not be able to defeat the king's massive army. Sir Michael claims there are still many brave warriors on the side of the rebels. Scroop agrees but says they must be prepared if Hotspur is defeated because the king means to visit them next. Sir Michael departs with important letters to fellow rebels.
Act 5, Scene 1 Setting: Shrewsbury, the royal camp
The king and his army discuss the day when Worcester and Vernon arrive from the rebel camp. Henry reprimands the rebels for disturbing the peace, and Worcester gives a speech similar to Hotspur's, accusing the king of deposing the rightful monarch when all he claimed to want was the Dukedom of Lancaster, bringing up the fact that the Percies had helped him to do so. Prince Hal praises Hotspur and says he would be honored to challenge him to single combat. Henry, however, wants to avoid a battle at all costs because it would mean the needless death of many men. Therefore, he sends off the rebels, telling him that all will be forgiven if they dismiss their army. Hal and Falstaff are then left alone. Falstaff asks Hal if he will watch out for him in the field, and Hal basically replies that it is every man for himself and departs. Falstaff ends the scene with a soliloquy on honor and how it is not all it is cracked up to be.
Act 5, Scene 2 Setting: Shrewsbury battlefield, the rebel camp
The scene begins with a discussion between Worcester and Vernon, where Worcester says it would not be in their best interest to tell Hotspur of the king's peaceful answer. He claims that the king will forgive Hotspur and chalk his actions up to ambitious youth and that he and his brother, Northumberland, would take the entirety of the blame for the rebellion. Vernon reluctantly agrees to lie about the king's reply. Worcester tells his nephew that the king shunned their grievances and that he will give battle to the rebels immediately. Douglas goes to inform the king's army of the coming battle. Vernon then tells Hotspur that Hal humbly challenged him to single combat. Hotspur dismisses the prince's humility and says he will do him battle if he must. Several messengers arrive to tell of the imminent battle, and the rebels ready themselves.
Act 5, Scene 3 Setting: The battlefield
The Battle of Shrewsbury begins with an encounter between Douglas and Blunt. Blunt is disguised, as several others are, in the king's attire and tells Douglas he is the king. The two battle, and Douglas kills Blunt. Hotspur arrives and tells Douglas that it is Blunt, not the king, that he has killed. Douglas then vows to ultimately kill the king. Falstaff enters and finds Blunt's corpse, and we are reminded of his description of honor. We then hear that all but a few of Falstaff's men have been killed in battle. Hal enters and demands Falstaff's sword. Falstaff says as long as Hotspur is alive he will need his sword but offers him his pistol, which turns out to be a bottle of sack, which Hal angrily throws at him, tells him it is no time for jokes, and departs. Falstaff concludes the scene by claiming he will kill Percy if he encounters him, but will run if Percy finds him first so he does not suffer the same fate as Blunt.
Act 5, Scene 4 Setting: The battlefield
Prince Hal is wounded, and the king recommends that he rest. Hal refuses and goes back to the battle. The king is then accosted by Douglas, who believes him to be another imposter king. Henry, however, reveals himself as the real king, and the two do battle. Seeing his father in danger, Hal returns and fights off Douglas, saving Henry's life. The prince is then met by Hotspur. When the two identify themselves, it becomes clear that there is only room for one of them in the kingdom, and they fight. In the meantime, Douglas and Falstaff meet; Falstaff pretends to be killed by the Scotsman and lies limp on the ground. At this point, Hal fatally wounds Hotspur, who delivers a sad lament and dies. Hal, though sorry for killing his rival, claims it is Hotspur's "ill-weaved ambition" that has led to his demise. Hal then sees what he believes to be the corpse of Falstaff and delivers a semi-jocular lament over his body. After the prince leaves, Falstaff rises, stabs Hotspur's corpse in the thigh and plans to tell all it was he, not Hal, that killed the rebel. Hal and his brother,Prince John, return and, to their surprise, find Falstaff alive and well. Falstaff tells them he killed Hotspur. Hal denies this at first but ultimately decides to give his friend credit for the kill, most likely knowing that no one will believe him anyway. The two princes depart followed by Falstaff, who hopes for a reward, carrying Hotspur's body.
Act 5, Scene 5 Setting: The king's command post
play's final scene shows Worcester and Vernon being led as prisoners by
the king and his men. Henry reprimands Worcester for not returning the
peaceful reply he had given to his nephew and says he caused the deaths
of many men. Worcester merely claims he did what he had to. The king
than commands his men to execute both Worcester and Vernon. Hal reveals
that Douglas has been captured once again, but that he wishes to set
him free without ransom. The play ends with the commands of King Henry:
Prince John and Westmorland are to go after Northumberland and the
Archbishop; Henry and Hal will do battle with Glendower and Mortimer.
The king's final words mark that rebellion shall soon be quenched in