Follow Henry IV - Part One with our scene by scene synopsis.
A printable version of this synopsis is available in the downloads section below.
King Henry the Fourth
Prince Henry, afterwards crowned King Henry the Fifth
Prince John of Lancaster
Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester
Thomas, Duke of Clarence
Opposites against King Henry the Fourth:
Earl of Northumberland
Wife to Northumberland
Kate, Lady Percy, widow to Hotspur
Travers, servant to Northumberland
Morton, a messenger
Archbishop of York
Lord Mowbray, Earl Marshal
Sir John Coleville
Of the King’s party:
Lord Chief Justice
Servant to Lord Chief Justice
Earl of Warwick
Earl of Westmorland
Earl of Surrey
Sir John Blunt
Page to the King
Robert Shallow, a country justice
Silence, a country justice
Davy, servant to Shallow
Sir John Falstaff
Page to Falstaff
Fang and Snare, two sergeants
Three drawers, including Francis and Will
Three Strewers of rushes
Lords, Musicians, Officers, Soldiers, Attendants
Scene by Scene
Prologue - ‘Stuffing the ears of men with false reports’
‘Rumour’ announces that he intends to cause mischief and confusion by spreading false reports from the battle that ended Part 1. Rather than telling the truth (that Prince Hal defeated Hotspur), Rumour spreads the word that Hal is dead and the rebels were victorious. He arrives at the castle of the Earl of Northumberland – Hotspur’s father, whose illness caused him to miss the battle – who does not yet know that his son is dead.
Act 1 Scene 1 - ‘Say not that Percy’s dead’
Rumour’s plot has been a success. Lord Bardolph arrives to inform Northumberland that he has heard news of Hotspur’s success. One of Northumberland’s servants, however, has heard contradictory news, and Northumberland is not sure which to believe. Morton arrives directly from the battle and confirms Hotspur’s death. Northumberland curses the world, but his allies remind him that there is still hope, as the powerful Archbishop of York is plotting against the king. They go into Northumberland’s castle to plan their next move.
Act 1 Scene 2 - ‘I can get no remedy against this consumption of the purse’
With the battle over, Falstaff has returned to his old ways. He is confronted by the Lord Chief Justice, who wishes to discuss his involvement in the robbery (which took place in Part 1). He warns Falstaff that while his ‘service’ in battle is appreciated, it will not pardon his crimes. Falstaff is sent on an errand to York with Hal’s brother, John of Lancaster.
Act 1 Scene 3 - ‘So is the unfirm King in three divided’
The Archbishop of York meets with three of his allies – Bardolph, Mowbray and Hastings – and they discuss their situation. A great deal depends on whether or not Northumberland will support them, as he so disastrously failed to do in the previous battle. Hastings points out that the king is currently engaged in three separate battles: the English rebels, the Welsh and the French. They decide to press on with the rebellion as soon as possible.
Act 2 Scene 1 - ‘I’ll tickle your catastrophe!’
Mistress Quickly, the hostess of a tavern, has called on officers to arrest Falstaff for not paying what is by now a criminally large bar bill. Falstaff and his page boy try to fight them off. The Lord Chief Justice arrives and orders Falstaff to pay his debt he owes and get on with his errand to York. Falstaff convinces Mistress Quickly to drop the charge and even persuading her to pawn some of valuables in order to lend him yet more money. Gower arrives with news of the various new rebellions against the king.
Act 2 Scene 2 - ‘A most princely hypocrite’
Prince Hal admits to Poins that he is having doubts about his unruly lifestyle, particularly because his father has been so unwell. Falstaff’s page boy arrives with a letter for Hal from his master, which is long-winded and almost entirely lacking in any message. Hearing that Falstaff is going to be spending the evening with a prostitute, Hal and Poins decide to visit him disguised as servingmen to hear how he talks about them when he thinks they are not around.
Act 2 Scene 3 - ‘Never, O never, do his ghost the wrong’
Northumberland is preparing to join the rebels. Both his wife and his daughter-in-law – Lady Percy, Hotspur’s widow – beg him to stay. Northumberland concedes, and decides to flee to Scotland until it becomes clearer whether or not the rebels stand a chance of victory.
Act 2 Scene 4 - ‘It is the foul-mouth’dst rogue in England’
Back in London, Falstaff is in the tavern with Doll Tearsheet, a prostitute. They are interrupted by Pistol, who soon starts a fight and is thrown out. Falstaff and Doll flirt, thinking themselves to be finally alone. Hal and Poins arrive, disguised as servingmen, and listen as Falstaff mocks them both. They reveal themselves, and Falstaff tries and fails to wriggle out of the situation. Before it can escalate, Hal is summoned to meet his father at Westminster, and Falstaff is sent once again to the wars.
Act 3 Scene 1 - ‘Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown’
Burdened with worries about the wars, the king cannot sleep at night. He summons the Earls of Warwick and Surrey, and the three men discuss the rebels, and who can and cannot be trusted.
Act 3 Scene 2 - ‘We have heard the chimes at midnight’
The scene shifts to rural Gloucestershire and the house of Justice Shallow, an old friend of Falstaff’s. Shallow and his cousin Silence await the arrival of Falstaff, who is looking to recruit men for the army. When Falstaff arrives, Shallow presents him with a disorderly group of potential recruits. Falstaff ‘interviews’ them one at a time, before agreeing to join Shallow for dinner. While they are gone, two of the stronger soldiers – Bullcalf and Mouldy – bribe Falstaff’s servant to release them from service. Falstaff and Shallow return, and Falstaff declares that he is happy with the men available to him. Shallow protests that Falstaff has settled for the weakest men, but Falstaff talks him round. Left alone, Falstaff reveals that he plans to persuade Shallow to lend him money to pay off his debts.
Act 4 Scene 1 - ‘What well-appointed leader fronts us here?’
In Yorkshire, the rebels – led by the Archbishop of York, Mowbray and Hastings – meet and prepare for battle. The Archbishop breaks the bad news that Northumberland will not be joining them. A messenger arrives with news that around 30,000 royal soldiers are approaching, led by Hal’s brother Prince John of Lancaster. The Earl of Westmoreland, an ally of the king, arrives with a message from John. The rebels agree to meet John to discuss their demands.
Act 4 Scene 2 - ‘I do arrest thee, traitor, of high treason’
The rebels meet Prince John and are startled when he quickly agrees to comply with their demands, on the condition that the rebel army is immediately disbanded. The rebels agree, but as soon as word arrives that the army has dispersed, John has the rebels arrested and sent away to execution.
Act 4 Scene 3 - ‘Coleville of the Dale’
The battle effectively cancelled, Falstaff finally arrives at the field. He meets one of the rebels, Coleville, who is on his way home. Coleville recognises Falstaff and surrenders immediately, believing him to be the fearsome warrior responsible for Hotspur’s death (for which Falstaff falsely took credit in Part 1). Prince John arrives and has Coleville sent off to execution along with the other rebels, before announcing that he must return to the court – his father’s illness is getting worse. Falstaff decides to head home via Gloucestershire, in order to beg some money from Justice Shallow. Unlike his brother, John is not entertained by Falstaff’s sense of humour.
Act 4 Scene 4 - ‘Wherefore should these good news make me sick?’
Back in London, the increasingly frail king makes arrangements for his long-planned visit to Jerusalem, which he will undertake as soon as the current rebellion is over. He is distressed to hear that Hal is once again spending time with his disreputable friend. Westmoreland arrives with news that the rebels have been defeated and executed. The king is briefly overjoyed, but quickly falls sick and faints. He is taken into another room and put to bed with the crown beside his head on the pillow.
Act 4 Scene 5 - ‘Now my death changes the mood’
Hal arrives, and soon realises the extent of his father’s illness. Left alone with the sleeping king, Hal regrets that the crown has caused its owner so much distress. Seeing that his father’s body is not moving, Hal thinks he has died. He takes the crown, places it on his own head and leaves the room. As soon as he has done so, the king wakes and calls for his lords, who tell him of Hal’s visit. Warwick goes off to find the prince. Realising that Hal must have taken the crown, the king is furious that his son did not even have the decency to wait until he was dead before claiming his inheritance. Warwick returns, and tells the king that he found Hal in the next room, weeping. Hal comes in and explains, and the king is eventually convinced and forgives his son. In his dying moments, he advises Hal on how to avoid repeating his own
Act 5 Scene 1 - ‘They do bear themselves like foolish justices’
Back in Gloucestershire, Falstaff arrives at Justice Shallow’s house.
Act 5 Scene 2 - ‘You weigh this well’
The Lord Chief Justice hears the news of the king’s death, and fears for his fate under Hal’s rule (having pursued charges against Hal for his involvement in the robbery in Part 1). When Hal arrives, the Lord Chief Justice strongly defends his actions. Hal is impressed by the Lord Chief Justice’s unwavering principles, and – to everyone’s surprise – invites him to remain in his position.
Act 5 Scene 3 - ‘The laws of England are at my commandment’
Falstaff is enjoying a hearty meal with the Justices Shallow and Silence. They are interrupted by Pistol, who brings news from the court of the king’s death. Falstaff is delighted, assuming that he will enjoy luxury and favour with his friend Hal as king. He offers Shallow and the others senior positions at court, and prepares to head to London for the coronation.
Act 5 Scene 4 - ‘The constables have delivered her over to me’
Mistress Quickly and Doll Tearsheet are arrested – the officers claim that Pistol killed a man while in their company.
Act 5 Scene 5 - ‘I know thee not, old man’
Falstaff, Shallow, Pistol and others arrive to see the new king. Falstaff is surprised to see Hal arrive with their old enemy, the Lord Chief Justice, by his side. Hal at first ignores Falstaff, but eventually turns and publicly rejects the old man, blaming him for the bad decisions Hal made in his youth. Falstaff is stunned, but tries to convince the others – and himself – that Hal is only putting on a display of sternness, and that he will soon be called for in secret. This illusion is quickly shattered, however, when Prince John arrives with the Lord Chief Justice and orders that Falstaff and his entire company be taken off to prison. The play ends with John and the Lord Chief Justice discussing the new king’s regime, and the prospect of a war against France.