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Scene by Scene Synopsis

Scene: England

Act I, Scene 1:  King Henry IV's plans for a crusade are upset by a report from the Earl of Westmoreland that Welsh rebels under Owen Glendower have defeated and captured Edmund Mortimer. There is better news, however: young Henry Percy, nicknamed Hotspur, has defeated rebellious Scots under the Earl of Douglas and has taken many prisoners. Henry observes that Hotspur's honorable success in war reflects badly on his own son, Prince Hal, who leads a dissolute life in London. However, he goes on to complain of Hotspur's prideful refusal to turn over his prisoners to the king, as is customary. Westmoreland attributes this stubbornness to the influence of Hotspur's uncle, Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester.

Act I, Scene 2:  Prince Hal and Falstaff jest about their debauched life of petty crime, drunkenness, and wenching. Poins arrives with a plan for a highway robbery. At first, the Prince does not wish to participate, but, after Falstaff leaves, Poins proposes to Hal that they play a joke on Falstaff: they will go to the scene of the crime but avoid taking part; then, after Falstaff and the others have stolen the money, Poins and the Prince can steal it from them; the cowardice of Falstaff and his friends will make this easy. Later they will have the pleasure of listening to Falstaff lie about the episode, followed by the further delight of exposing the old rogue. Hal agrees, and Poins leaves. In a soliloquy the Prince reveals his intention to eventually abandon his life of idle dissolution and become a sound ruler.

Act I, Scene 3:  Hotspur tells the king that he had not refused to surrender his prisoners, as Henry believes, but had merely responded in hasty anger to the arrogant courtier who had presented the king's claim. Unappeased, the king observes that Hotspur not only still holds the prisoners but also insists that Mortimer be ransomed from the Welsh before he turns them over. Henry asserts that Mortimer, who has married Glendower's daughter, has treasonably defected to the Welsh, and he refuses to ransom him. Hotspur defends Mortimer, and the king exits angrily. Hotspur rages against Henry's ingratitude to the Percy family, which helped the king depose Richard. With difficulty, Worcester calms Hotspur and proposes that Hotspur should release his Scottish prisoners and enlist them in a rebellion against the king while his father, the Earl of Northumberland, recruits the Archbishop of York. Worcester himself will join Glendower when the time is ripe, and the three forces will rise simultaneously.

Act II, Scene 1:  At an inn in Rochester, two Carriers prepare to leave for London. Gadshill, a highwayman, appears and learns from them that they will be accompanied by some gentlemen carrying valuables. The Chamberlain of the inn tells Gadshill of these potential victims in more detail. Gadshill boasts of an accomplice in high places who can get them off if the theft goes wrong.

Act II, Scene 2:  The robbers assemble at Gad’s Hill, Hal arranges an ambush, placing himself and Poins in a reserve position just down the road. The Prince and Poins leave just before the Travelers appear. The thieves rob the Travelers and bundle them off-stage; when the thieves return, they are themselves effortlessly robbed by the Prince and Poins.

Act II, Scene 3:  Hotspur reads a letter from a nobleman who makes excuses for not joining the rebellion. Lady Percy appears, and Hotspur announces his imminent departure. She speaks worriedly of his absorption in his plans—he even speaks of military matters in his sleep—and she demands to be told what they are.  Hotspur playfully refuses to tell her, claiming military secrecy.

Act II, Scene 4:  At the Boar’s Head Tavern, Prince Hal teases Francis, a waiter, and he laughingly compares his own good humor with Hotspur's mania for war. Falstaff enters; egged on by Hal and Poins, he tells an elaborate tale of his courage in resisting the brigands who robbed him. After leading Falstaff on to ludicrous exaggerations, the Prince reveals the truth, and Falstaff comically claims to have recognized Hal at the time and to have fled so as to avoid harming the heir apparent of the realm. A message from King Henry commands Hal's presence in the morning; a rebellion, led by Hotspur, has begun. Falstaff anticipates the king's anger at Hal and suggests that the Prince rehearse his response. Falstaff pretends to be Henry and chastises Hal for the company he keeps, excepting only one commendable man called Falstaff. They change roles, and Hal, as the king, upbraids his 'son' for tolerating so bad a man as Falstaff. Falstaff, playing the Prince, defends Falstaff. He is interrupted by the approach of the Sheriff. Falstaff was recognized at Gad's Hill and has been traced to the tavern. Falstaff hides; the Prince assures the Sheriff that the thief is not present and that he, the Prince, will guarantee that any stolen money will be refunded. The Sheriff leaves, and Hal discovers that Falstaff has fallen asleep in his hiding place. The Prince looks forward to the campaign against the rebels.

Act III, Scene 1:  The rebel leaders convene to make a formal alliance, but friction between Glendower and Hotspur threatens to break up the meeting. The discussion turns to the division of the realm after King Henry has been deposed. Hotspur objects that his  portion is too small, and his arrogance offends Glendower. They argue again, but the Welshman gives in and a tenuous peace is maintained. Glendower leaves, and Mortimer and Worcester chastise an unapologetic Hotspur for offending a valuable ally. Glendower returns with his daughter, LADY (8) Mortimer, and Lady Percy. Mortimer regrets that he cannot speak Welsh, his wife's only language; Glendower interprets as the couple exchange loving remarks. Lady Mortimer invites her husband to lie in her lap while she sings to him. Hotspur humorously mocks this in conversation with his wife, whom he teases affectionately. After Lady Mortimer's song, the men leave to join their troops.

Act III, Scene 2:  Henry speaks to Prince Hal about his dissipated behavior and doubts his son's loyalty in the coming conflict. Hal apologizes for his debaucheries and assures his father that he intends to conquer Hotspur.  News arrives that the rebels have assembled at Shrewsbury, and the King devises a plan for the campaign; Hal is to command one of the armies.

Act III, Scene 3:  At the Boar's Head, Falstaff speaks of repentance for his ways but goes on to praise bawdiness and merriment. He teases Bardolph about his fiery complexion and banters with the Hostess. The Prince arrives, excited about the coming campaign; he tells Falstaff to meet him the next day to receive his orders.  He leaves, and Falstaff turns to his meal, wishing he could conduct his part in the war from the tavern.

Act IV, Scene 1: Hotspur, Worcester, and Douglas, encamped at Shrewsbury, receive word that Mortimer is extremely sick and cannot join them with his forces. Sir Richard Vernon reports the approach of the King's armies and reveals that Glendower's troops cannot come for another two weeks. Although the rebels are seriously outnumbered. Hotspur urges that they fight anyway.

Act IV, Scene 2:  Falstaff, marching towards Shrewsbury, soliloquizes on the money he has made selling exemptions from the draft. The Prince and Westmoreland meet him and urge him to hurry, for the battle will soon begin.  After they leave, Falstaff remarks to himself that he hopes to arrive just as the battle ends. 

Act IV, Scene 3:  Hotspur and Douglas argue for an immediate attack on the king's forces, but Vernon and Worcester want to wait for reinforcements. Sir Walter Blunt appears with a message from King Henry offering a negotiated peace. Hotspur condemns Henry's usurpation of the throne and his ingratitude towards those who helped him carry it out. However, he agrees to have Worcester meet with the king the next day.

Act IV, Scene 4:  The Archbishop speaks of the likely defeat of the rebels at Shrewsbury, and he begins to prepare for further opposition to the king.

Act V, Scene 1:  Worcester and Vernon arrive to negotiate with King Henry. Worcester justifies rebellion by pointing out the king's ingratitude. Prince Hal offers to fight Hotspur in single combat to settle all issues, but Henry rejects the idea, offering the rebels a last chance for surrender with amnesty: if they reject it, the two armies must fight. Worcester and Vernon depart. Falstaff asks the Prince to protect him in the battle; Hal, leaving, responds that he will have to take his chances. Falstaff muses that he will not follow an honorable course in the battle, for honor is a minor matter compared to life.

Act V, Scene 2:  Worcester insists to Vernon that they not tell Hotspur of the king's offer of an amnesty lest he accept it; he believes that Henry cannot be trusted and that, while Hotspur may be forgiven on grounds of youth and high-spiritedness, he, Worcester, would bear the brunt of the king's wrath. Worcester accordingly reports that the king has elected to fight, and he tells of Hal's challenge. Hotspur responds by preparing for battle.

Act V, Scene 3: During the battle Blunt, disguised as King Henry, is killed by Douglas. Falstaff meets Prince Hal and lies about his courageous combat, but the Prince discovers a bottle of sack in Falstaff's pistol case.

Act V, Scene 4:  During a lull in the battle the king suggests that his sons Prince Hal and Prince John of Lancaster retire from the fighting, but they both refuse. Lancaster rejoins the fray, and Hal lauds his fighting spirit before following him. Douglas appears and fights the king, nearly killing him; the Prince returns and slays Douglas. The king comments that Hal has proved himself. Henry exits, and Hotspur arrives to exchange challenges and fight with the Prince. Falstaff watches this combat until Douglas enters to fight him; Falstaff feigns death, and Douglas moves on. The Prince kills Hotspur and eulogizes his dead foe. He then sees Falstaff and, believing him dead, pronounces a more casual benediction before leaving. Falstaff rises, stabs Hotspur's corpse with his sword, and declares that he will take credit for killing him. The Prince and Lancaster return and are surprised to see Falstaff alive. Falstaff claims to have killed Hotspur and supposes that the king will reward him; out of friendship, the Prince agrees to corroborate his lie.

 Act V, Scene 5:  King Henry sentences the captured Worcester and Vernon to death, while Douglas is to be set free. The king begins to make plans to fight the remaining rebels.


To view other Henry IV, Part 1 sections:

Main Play Page      Play Text    Scene by Scene Synopsis     Character Directory     Commentary  


To view the other Plays click below:

By  Comedies    Histories    Romances    Tragedies

All's Well the Ends Well Antony & Cleopatra As You Like It Cardenio Comedy of Errors Coriolanus
Cymbeline Edward III Hamlet Henry IV, Part 1 Henry IV, Part 2 Henry V
Henry VI, Part 1 Henry VI, Part 2 Henry VI, Part 3 Henry VIII Julius Caesar King John
King Lear Love's Labours Lost Love's Labours Wonne Macbeth Measure for Measure Merchant of Venice
The Merry Wives of Windsor A Mid Summer Night's Dream  Much Ado About Nothing Othello Pericles Richard II
Richard III Romeo & Juliet Sir Thomas More Taming of the Shrew The Tempest Timon of Athens
Titus Andronicus Troilus & Cressida Twelfth Night Two Gentlemen of Verona The Two Noble Kinsman The Winter's Tale


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