King Henry IV:
So shaken as we are,
so wan with care,
Find we a time
For frighted peace to pant,
And breathe short – winded accents
of new broils
To be commenced
in strands afar remote.
Henry IV: His conscience weighs heavily with guilt of how he came to the throne.
Prince Hal: A rebel prince who goofs off and hangs around with degenerates; a disappointment to his father.
Hotspur: Hot tempered and impulsive, he is the son of the Earl of Northumberland and a foil to prince Hal.
The play opens with King Henry IV wishing to go on a crusade to the Holy Land but unable to because of unrest and rebellion in his kingdom. Henry is annoyed because his own supporter, Hotspur – son of the Earl of Northumberland, Henry Percy – is refusing to turn over Scottish rebels caught during the recent Battle of Holmedon. Hotspur wishes Henry would pay the ransom for Edmund Mortimer (his brother – in – law), who has been captured by Welshman Owen Glendower. After all, the Percys were instrumental in getting Henry the crown, so he kind of owes them a favour. The king refuses Hotspur’s request, causing the Percys to decide to band with the Welsh and Scottish rebels in their quest to dethrone Henry.
Meanwhile, the king’s son, Prince Hal, has been doing a little rebelling of his own, hanging out with a very unroyal crowd of drunks, thieves and one Sir John Falstaff, who is an old and overweight thief and a liar who nonetheless is witty and lives life to the fullest. Falstaff amuses Prince Hal, but Hal realizes that one day he will need to change his ways, step up to the royal plate, as it were, and start acting more princely. This time comes sooner rather than later with Hal receiving instruction from his father to return to the palace because a civil war is imminent. Given a position of high command, Hal promises the king that he will change and claims he will defeat Hotspur in battle to prove his sincerity. Hal asks Falstaff to assemble his own soldiers (who are also unfit for battle, naturally) and join him in the fight.
The Battle of Shrewsbury ensues – without Northumberland, who has fallen ill. Prince Hal saves his father from the sword of the Earl of Douglas, who then moves in to attack Falstaff, who falls and plays dead. Prince Hal fights and kills Hotspur. Falstaff ‘miraculously’ awakens from his pretend death and sees Hotspur’s lifeless body. He impales Hotspur with his sword and loudly claims credit for killing the young Percy – which Hal does not contest.
Henry IV is victorious. He orders the execution of Thomas Percy – and much of the Percy family – but decides to show mercy on Douglas, releasing him. The battle is over, but the war continues, as there are still many who wish to see the king dethroned, including Glendower and Hotspur’ father, the Earl of Northumberland.
The better part of valour is discretion – Falstaff