Scene by Scene Synopsis
Induction: A personification of Rumor announces that he has put forth a false report, following King Henry IV’s victory at the battle of Shrewsbury—where Prince Hal has killed the rebellious Hotspur-that the king and Prince were killed and the rebels were victorious. This report. Rumor says, is now reaching Warkworth Castle, home of Hotspur's father, the Earl of Northumberland.
Act I, Scene 1: Lord Bardolph (no relation to Falstaff's Bardolph) brings Northumberland the false news of Hotspur's victory; however, Travers appears with two reports, one corroborating Lord Bardolph's account and the other telling of Hotspur's death and the rebels' defeat. Morton, an eyewitness, arrives to confirm the truth of the second story. In addition, he says that the victorious king has sent troops, under the Earl of Westmoreland and Prince John of Lancaster, to capture Northumberland. The earl rages madly, but his followers counsel calm; the revolt may still be alive. Morton says that the Archbishop of York has raised a rebel army to avenge the death of King Richard II, whom Henry deposed and murdered. Northumberland begins to make plans for the renewal of the war.
Act I, Scene 2: Falstaff jests about the comical disparity between his own huge bulk and that of his diminutive Page. He encounters the Chief Justice, who upbraids him for having refused to answer a summons, observing that, although Falstaff s service at Shrewsbury has allowed earlier offences to be overlooked, he must behave better in the future. Falstaff wittily dismisses this warning. The justice attempts to shame the old man for his foolishness, but to no avail. The knight asks to borrow money from the justice, who leaves. Falstaff then sends the Page with letters to the Prince, Lancaster, Westmoreland, and a woman whom he says he has promised to marry. Complaining of his gout, he declares that a limp will prove useful: he will seem to have been wounded in the war and will get a bigger pension.
Act I, Scene 3: The rebels, led by the Archbishop, lay their plans. Lord Bardolph advises that they postpone action until they can be sure of Northumberland's support. Lord Hastings, however, argues that the King's forces are divided, facing threats from the French and the Welsh as well as from themselves, and suggests that the rebels launch their campaign at once. The Archbishop agrees, citing the turn of public opinion against Henry, and they leave to assemble their forces.
Act II, Scene 1: The Hostess of the Boar’s Head Tavern enlists the officers Fang and Snare to arrest Falstaff for debt, but when they try to do so, he and his friend Bardolph draw their swords and prepare to fight. The furor brings the Chief Justice and his men. He asks the Hostess to explain her claim, and she states that Falstaff has proposed to her, in addition to owing her a great deal of money. Falstaff says that the Hostess is insane, but the Chief Justice insists that he recompense her. Falstaff speaks to the Hostess in private, and he wheedles another loan from her, along with a promise of dinner. The Chief Justice receives word that immediate preparations for battle against the rebels are being made.
Act II, Scene 2: Prince Hal jests with Poins, but when Poins twits him for not displaying sadness at his father's illness, the Prince observes bitterly that his dissipated life has left him with such a bad reputation that a show of melancholy could only be taken for hypocrisy. Bardolph and Falstaff s Page arrive with a saucy letter from the knight to Hal. The Page reports that Falstaff is dining with the Hostess and a harlot, Doll Tearsheet; the Prince and Poins concoct a plot to surprise him at his meal by disguising themselves as Drawers.
Act II, Scene 3: Lady Percy and Lady Northumberland try to dissuade Northumberland from joining the rebel armies. He pleads his duty, but Lady Percy reminds him that he failed to assist his own son, her late husband, Hotspur, whom she eulogizes. Humiliated, the Earl agrees to flee to Scotland.
Act II, Scene 4: At the Boar's Head, the Hostess, Doll Tearsheet, and Falstaff banter drunkenly. Pistol arrives and makes so much noise that Falstaff drives him away. The Prince and Poins, disguised, overhear Falstaff's assertions that they are inconsequential louts. When Hal confronts Falstaff, the fat knight says that he had disparaged the noblemen only in order to protect them from the ignominy of finding themselves admired by such wicked sorts as Doll and the Hostess. Peto appears with news that the king's army is urgently assembling. The Prince, conscience-stricken that he was indulging himself, hurries away. A further summons arrives for Falstaff, and he departs as well.
Act III, Scene 1: King Henry sends a Page with letters to the earls of Surrey and Warwick. He reflects on his heavy responsibilities, which keep him awake at night while his subjects sleep. Warwick and Surrey arrive and attempt to calm him, but he morosely speaks of the inevitable ravages of time and recalls the prophecy of Richard II (in Richard II, 5.1) that Northumberland would rebel. Warwick remarks that Northumberland's essentially false nature made such an outcome inevitable, and the observation restores Henry to a sense of the necessity for action. Warwick assures the king that the rebellion seems under control, for the Welsh leader Glendower’s death has been reported.
Act III, Scene 2: The country justices Shallow and Silence leisurely await the arrival of the king's army recruiter, Falstaff, I for whom they have assembled a group of villagers. Shallow reminisces windily on his student days in London, where he knew Falstaff. Falstaff appears with Bardolph and comically interviews the potential soldiers, selecting several for enlistment before adjourning for a drink with the justices. Bardolph collects bribes from two of the recruits, and upon Falstaff's return tells him which ones are to be released from duty. Falstaff justifies his choice of the least likely recruits in a humorous parody of military standards. After promising another visit, Falstaff leaves. In a soliloquy, he asserts that on his return he shall fleece the gullible Shallow.
Act IV, Scene 1: In Gaultree Forest the Archbishop tells his fellow rebels that Northumberland has deserted. Westmoreland appears and demands an explanation for the rebellion. The Archbishop asserts that the illness of the realm requires that they take up the role of surgeons. Westmorland states that Lancaster, the commander of the king's army, is prepared to hear their grievances during a period of truce. Mowbray is opposed to this offer, but the Archbishop states their complaints against the king, and Westmorland leaves. Mowbray asserts that the king will always distrust them and that they should continue to pursue victory, for only then can they be safe. The Archbishop and Hastings, however, argue that Henry genuinely desires peace.
Act IV, Scene 2: Lancaster meets the rebels and promises to redress all their grievances if they will disband their forces. The Archbishop and Hastings agree, but Westmoreland arrests them once their forces have dispersed. Lancaster says that he had promised only that their grievances would be redressed, not that they themselves would be pardoned, and he sentences them to death.
Act IV, Scene 3: Falstaff encounters a rebel officer, John Coleville, who recognizes him and surrenders. Falstaff transfers his prisoner to Lancaster, who sends Colevile to be executed. Lancaster announces that he must go to London, where his father, King Henry, is very sick. Lancaster grants Falstaff permission to return through Gloucestershire, and he leaves. Alone, Falstaff reflects that he cannot make the unconvivial Lancaster laugh because the prince does not drink. In a long, humorous soliloquy he praises strong drink, saying that it both improves the wit and warms the spirit. He asserts that Prince Hal is courageous only because the cold blood he inherited from King Henry has been heated by his drinking.
Act IV, Scene 4: The dying King Henry is attended by his younger sons, the dukes of Gloucester and Clarence, and by Warwick. Learning that Prince Hal is at his old haunts in London, the king rails against his dissipated son. Warwick defends Hal, asserting that he is merely studying the ways of evil men, the better to judge them as king. News arrives of the final defeat of the rebels, but the king suddenly feels much weaker and is taken into a bedroom.
Act IV, Scene 5: Prince Hal arrives and watches alone at his sleeping father's bedside. He addresses the royal crown, declaring that the cares and stress it represents have killed the king. Believing that his father has died, the Prince meditatively puts on the crown and absently wanders from the room. The king awakes and assumes that Hal has demonstrated an impatience to see him dead. When the Prince is found, weeping in another room, the king predicts dire disorder for England when he succeeds to the throne. The Prince explains why he took the crown and prays for the return of the king's health. The king, convinced, expresses his pleasure with the Prince and offers him advice. Having become king only through usurpation. Henry says he had made enemies. While the Prince, inheriting the crown, will be more widely accepted, he will still have some of the same enemies. The king recommends overseas wars to divert the would-be rebels and to provide an arena in which Hal can prove his velour and undo his sullied reputation. The others return, and the king asks to be taken back to the Jerusalem Chamber, where he wishes to die.
Act V, Scene 1: Shallow, with the help of his steward, Davy prepares to entertain Falstaff with a dinner. Before accompanying his host indoors, Falstaff belittles his intended victim.
Act V, Scene 2: Warwick and the Chief Justice regret the death of the king and the accession of the delinquent Prince. The Chief Justice expects trouble, for he once jailed the Prince. The Prince, now called HENRY v, arrives, and he suggests that the Chief Justice may regret that incident. The jurist defends his action, however, asserting the rule of law. Hal agrees and reappoints him to his post, vowing to mend his ways and become a proper king.
Act V, Scene 3: After dinner Shallow, Silence, and Falstaff drink together in Shallow's orchard. Shallow is drunkenly hospitable, and Silence sings snatches of various songs. Pistol arrives from London with word that the king has died. Falstaff, assuming that Hal, now king, will provide richly for his old friends, makes haste to go to London and claim his fortune. He promises Shallow and Pistol all they desire, and he vows vengeance on the Chief Justice.
Act V, Scene 4: The Hostess and Doll Tearsheet are under arrest, having apparently been involved in a murderous tavern brawl. They revile the Beadle who arrested them, but to no avail.
Act V, Scene 5: Falstaff and his entourage, including Shallow, attend the coronation parade. Falstaff boasts that the new king will welcome him, but when Hal appears, he rejects the old man, promising him a pension but requiring him to live at least 10 miles from court. Falstaff assures Shallow that the king has only put on a public front and will send for him later that night. Shallow is dubious. The Chief Justice, accompanied by Lancaster, arrives and sends the entire group to prison, pending their expulsion from London. Lancaster expresses satisfaction with Hal's kingly behavior and predicts that the new king will lead a military expedition to France.
Epilogue: A speaker, identifying himself as the author, apologizes for a recent unpopular play and hopes that this one has been more satisfactory. He then speaks of himself as a dancer whose performance may make up for the play's defects. He promises that another play featuring Falstaff will continue the story. In closing he observes that Falstaff does not represent the martyr OLDCASTLE.
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