Henry IV Part 1 condensed

Henry Bolingbroke was crowned Henry IV near the end of the last play. Richard, the ex-king Richard II, had been stabbed to death at Pomfret Castle by a misguided supporter of Henry Bolingbroke, causing problems for the new king and those who follow.  The new king, Henry IV, had plans at the end of Richard II to visit the Holy Land to perhaps help with his redemption, but events at home kept him from that trip.  Henry IV was the only son of John of Gaunt, a legitimate hero to England. Henry IV was also a first cousin to the late Richard II, their fathers having been brothers. 

Act 1. The play opens with Henry IV learning that Hotspur has captured thousands of Scottish troops and refuses to release them to the king.  The king is furious, but aside lets us know that he envies Northumberland having such a son as Hotspur, “sweet fortune’s pride,” he says.  Separately we learn that Prince Hal and some of his buddies, Prince Hal being the king’s son, plan to rob some travelers at Gad’s Hill.  Actually, Prince Hal demurs, agreeing along with Poins to rob the robbers who rob the travelers, Falstaff being among the initial robbers.  The caper backfires, but it does give Prince Hal the opportunity to expose Falstaff for the coward he is.  Prince Hal discloses to us that he plans to “throw off this loose behavior.” 

Act 2.  Falstaff, Peto and Bardolph do rob the travelers.  As they are about to distribute the stolen goods, Poins and Prince Hal rob them, the robbers scattering, leaving the booty behind. Separately, Hotspur agrees to release his Scottish prisoners to the king, all but Douglas, who is a young and spirited Scotsman.  Edmund Mortimer, a feared competitor of Henry VI’s, is released from prison by Owen Glendower, the leader of the Welsh resistance.  Mortimer marries Glendower’s daughter.  Hotspur’s wife is Mortimer’s sister.  And Hotspur’s wife, Kate, is no pushover.  She is frightened for her husband, and she lets him know it.  Falstaff and the others are contacted by the sheriff at the Eastcheap tavern, Prince Hal disclosing the caper to the sheriff, calling a spade a spade.  Prince Hal settles up, again letting us know that he plans to change his ways.

Act 3.  The king calls his son to his side for a talk.  Prince Hal is Prince Harry to his father.  Henry VI and his oldest son have one of literature’s best father-to-son discussions. Prince Harry accepts his father’s request to help lead a group of soldiers in a proposed fight at Shrewsbury.  Westmorland (the king’s uncle and close aide) along with Prince Harry and Prince John lead the king’s forces. Prince Harry has enlisted Falstaff as a captain in his army.  Hotspur has irritated the leaders of the rebellion, questioning their plans.  Hotspur and Douglas lead the rebels to Shrewsbury.

Act 4. Hotspur’s father claims illness and stays behind. Glendower claims that he is delayed. Neither get to Shrewsbury. Confident and young Hotspur and Douglas press on. Sir Walter Blunt, representing the king, enters the rebels’ camp and asks them to let him know the nature of their grievances.  Hotspur does, eloquently.  Blunt lets Hotspur know that if the king accepts the grievances, that the rebels will be pardoned.  Hotspur defers. He tells Blunt that his aides will visit the king in the morning to discuss matters further.

Act 5.  During the morning meeting, Prince Harry steps up, offering a one-on-one duel between himself and Hotspur, winner-take-all, saving many lives in the doing.  Worcester and Vernon, the aides, decide it’s best to not tell Hotspur of the prince’s offer, fearing that the king will extract retribution for some other matter if they do.  The king, however, had made it clear that all bets are off if they don’t accept his offer.  Worcester, after convincing Vernon, tells Hotspur that “the king will bid you battle presently.”  Hotspur, a classy guy, delivers to his men one of Shakespeare’s most inspirational pep talks. Falstaff has found a way to avoid the conflict, asking rhetorically “What is honour?”  Hotspur and Prince Harry meet each other during the battle, Prince Harry saying “two stars keep not their motion in one sphere.”  They fight. Hotspur is killed.  Worcester and Vernon are captured and executed.  Douglas is captured and released.  Prince Harry has turned the corner, keeping his commitment to his father.