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Shakespeare at Winedale

Henry IV, Part 1 Synopsis

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Henry IV, King of England, deposed his cousin Richard II and had him killed. Now he faces attacks by the Welsh and Scots and rebellion from his own lords, which prevents him from going on crusade as he had intended. Henry also suffers because of the scandalous behavior of his son Hal, heir to the throne, who spends much of his time drinking and stealing in the company of Sir John Falstaff, a fat and disreputable knight.


When the play begins, Owen Glendower, a Welsh lord, has captured Lord Mortimer, Henry’s cousin and general, whom Richard II had proclaimed heir to his throne. Meanwhile, Mortimer’s brother-in-law Henry Percy, called Hotspur, has triumphed over the Scottish Earl of Douglas and taken several valuable prisoners, which he refuses to hand over to the King. Henry summons Hotspur, his father Northumberland, and his uncle Worcester, who originally helped put Henry on the throne, to discuss the prisoner situation.


Prince Hal and his friend Poins plan a prank on Falstaff and their other tavern companions. After allowing Falstaff and the others to rob some travelers, as they had all planned to do, Hal and Poins will then steal the prize from their friends.


Hotspur and Henry quarrel over Mortimer. Hotspur will not give Henry his prisoners until he agrees to ransom Mortimer, but Henry refuses, calling Mortimer a traitor because he married Glendower’s daughter. Henry demands the prisoners again and departs. Worcester and Northumberland reveal a plot to revolt against Henry and install Mortimer on the throne with the help of Glendower and Douglas.


The unsuspecting travelers prepare to depart, while the tavern crew’s contacts share information about the upcoming robbery. Falstaff and his companions rob the travelers and are then robbed by Hal and Poins.


Hotspur’s wife urges him to tell her his plans. He refuses, but allows her to accompany him on his journey to meet with his co-conspirators.


At the tavern, Falstaff claims that a large group of men robbed his gang. After allowing Falstaff to spin this story for a while, Hal and Poins reveal that they were the thieves. A messenger arrives from Henry to tell Hal about the rebellion and summon him to court. Falstaff and Hal act out the upcoming conversation between Hal and his father, first with Hal as himself and Falstaff as Henry, then the reverse.


In Wales, the rebels hold a contentious meeting to discuss dividing Britain into three parts. Mortimer and Hotspur say farewell to their wives.


Henry rebukes Hal for his behavior. Hal vows that he will redeem himself by defeating Hotspur. Henry agrees to give Hal military responsibilities. Hal recruits his tavern companions for the war. Falstaff takes advantage of the situation to make money by drafting rich men who will pay him off, so that he ends up with a company of poor and sick men.


The rebels discover that the royal armies are on their way and their own allies are not coming. They quarrel about whether to fight right away or wait for help to arrive. The King’s herald arrives to offer mercy. Worcester visits the king’s camp to air his grievances. The King offers pardon again, but Worcester does not accept and does not tell Hotspur about the offer. The rebels engage the king’s forces in battle, setting the stage for the final confrontation between Hal and Hotspur.