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1 Henry IV Synopsis

Henry IV, Part 1 bas relief

King Henry IV of England, formerly called Henry Bolingbroke, makes plans to set up a Crusade to the Holy Land. He is troubled by the fact that he was responsible for Richard II’s murder and that some of the nobles who helped him depose Richard II are now threatening his authority. Plans are interrupted by the news that Harry Percy, nicknamed Hotspur, has defeated the rebellious Scottish nobleman, Douglas, but refuses to relinquish his hostages into King Henry’s custody. Henry argues with Hotspur and his father, the Earl of Northumberland, over the hostages, and realizes that Hotspur is withholding his prisoners in hopes of gaining a ransom for his brother-in-law Mortimer, whom Henry considers a threat. The king refuses to grant this ransom. Hotspur and his father see Henry now turning against their family, treating them unfairly after their help in his ascension to the crown. They plot to start a rebellion.

Meanwhile, Prince Harry, nicknamed Hal, jokes about his future kingship at the Boar’s Head Tavern with his friend Sir John Falstaff, a corpulent knight of questionable integrity, who amuses himself by telling increasingly outrageous tales of his valour. When news of the rebellion comes from Court, Hal and Falstaff enact a scene in which Falstaff, as King Henry, scolds Hal for not fulfilling his duties as prince. Hal leaves the tavern to return to Court, promising to assign Falstaff a regiment of foot soldiers in the upcoming campaign.

Back at Court, King Henry scolds Hal for his disreputable antics. However, earlier in the play, Hal has revealed that his reckless behavior is an act; having established a tarnished reputation, he intends, when the time is right, to reform himself and take up his place as a deserving prince and heir to the throne.

As the rebellion moves forward, Hotspur’s uncle, Worcester, meets with the king and again explains the rebels’ grievances. Hal proposes to meet Hotspur in single combat in the hope of avoiding excessive fatalities on the battlefield. Worcester, doubtful of the king’s promise to pardon if the rebels surrender, insists that Hotspur is not told about the offer of single combat. The battle between King Henry’s army and the rebel forces begins. The confrontation between Hal and Hotspur at the Battle of Shrewsbury brings a dramatic conclusion to the play.

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