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Although it was one of Shakespeare's very first plays, Henry IV, Part 1 is a brilliantly thought out and executed literary work. The first showing of Henry IV, Part 1 is believed to have occurred at a date between 1590 and 1592. The first of a trilogy, it was highly successful, drawing in large crowds. The most amazing aspect of this play, though, is its timelessness; modern-day theatergoers enjoy it just as much as Elizabethan ones did.


Setting:

This physical action of the play takes place in England and Wales between the time periods of 1402 and July 1403. Each scene takes place in a different area as the dramatic events of the story unfold.

Act I. Scene I. – Inside the palace in London
Act I. Scene II. – Inside one of Prince Henry's apartments in London
Act I. Scene III. – Inside Windsor Castle
Act II. Scene I. – The yard of a Rochester inn
Act II. Scene II. – A highway running next to Gad's Hill
Act II. Scene III. – Inside Warkworth Castle
Act II. Scene IV. – Inside the Boar's Head Tavern in Eastcheap, London
Act III. Scene I. – Inside the Archdeacon's house in Bangor, Wales
Act III. Scene II. – Inside the palace in London
Act III. Scene III. – Inside the Boar's Head Tavern in Eastcheap, London
Act IV. Scene I. – The rebel camp, outside of Shrewsbury
Act IV. Scene II. – A country road outside of Coventry
Act IV. Scene III. – The rebel camp, outside of Shrewsbury
Act V. Scene I. – The King's camp, outside of Shrewsbury
Act V. Scene II. – The rebel camp, outside of Shrewsbury
Act V. Scene III. – Somewhere on the battlefield
Act V. Scene IV. – Somewhere else on the battlefield
Act V. Scene V. – Yet another place on the battlefield


Main Characters:

King Henry the Fourth – Current king of England, and father of John and Hal
Henry, Prince of Wales – Heir to the throne of England, also known as Hal
Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester – Conspirator to remove the king, Hotspur's uncle
Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland - Conspirator to remove the king, Hotspur's father
Henry Percy –Becomes the driving force behind the conspiracy, also known as Hotspur
Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March – Taken prisoner by Glendower, becomes conspirator
Archibald, Earl of Douglas – Scottish warrior of near legendary reputation, conspirator
Owen Glendower – Takes Mortimer prisoner and becomes his father-in-law, conspirator
Sir John Falstaff – Corpulent friend of Hal, has few morals and is a kleptomaniac
Poins – A thief, comrade of Hal in the scheme to embarrass Falstaff


Plot:

This play is full of intrigue and drama, but short in the number of actual events that take place. At the beginning of the play, Prince Hal hangs out in the company of thieves, including the likes of Falstaff and Poins. Falstaff and his crew of pickpockets have decided to rob a rich band of pilgrims heading for Canterbury. Unknown to Falstaff, however, Poins and Hal decide to skip out on the actual robbery itself. They plan on playing a huge joke on Falstaff by ambushing the brigands and taking their plunder. Meanwhile, Worcester, Northumberland, Mortimer, and Hotspur discuss their grievances against the king. After fuming about his injustices towards them, they join in alliance with the Scottish lords Glendower and Douglas to start a rebellion to overthrow the king.

Later, Falstaff, Hal, Poins, and the other thieves are camped near Gad's Hill, ready to fall upon the pilgrims as they pass. Hal and Poins say that they are going to hide further back incase the pilgrims evade Falstaff and his companions, who will be stationed earlier on the road. Hal and Poins separate from the thieves and disguise themselves with new masks so that they won't be recognized. After waiting a sufficient amount of time, they return to the camp to find Falstaff and the bandits fingering their ill-gotten loot. The masked Hal and Poins set upon their fellows with swords and drive them off. Taking the loot, they head towards the Boar's Head Inn where they all decided to meet after the heist.

At the inn, Hal and Poins meet Falstaff and his compatriots. Falstaff and company arrive with their clothes soaked in blood and the blades of their swords hacked and notched. Falstaff had told the not-so-successful thieves to hack their blades with their daggers and to use speargrass to cause nosebleeds with which they could smear on their clothes so that they would look like they had put up a valiant fight. Poins and Hal reveal the scam and have a good laugh at Falstaff's expense. After the joke is done, Hal learns of the conspiracy against his family and that his father wants to speak to him in regard to his wanton lifestyle. Hal, suddenly sober, prepares himself for the encounter and sets off to meet the king.

After a heart-to-heart talk with his father, Hal agrees to reform his life and to act as is proper for a prince. He gives Falstaff charge of an infantry battalion and then decides to become a part of the army that is marching to meet the rebel forces.

When Hal arrives at the camp of the king's forces, negotiations are being carried out between the king and the rebels. Although the king offers pardon for all parties involved in the conspiracy if only they'll go home, they refuse. They believe that if they quit the field, the king will have them quietly assassinated at a later date. With parlays not leading anywhere, the two armies collide in a titanic battle. Several rebel knights scour the field, looking for the king, seeking to kill him. They slaughter many lords dressed like the king, but cannot find the man, himself. Eventually, Douglas, the renowned warrior Scott, finds the king and is about to kill him. Hal rushes to his father's rescue, and attacks Douglas. Douglas is driven off by the fury of Hal's assault and the king expresses his gratitude and love towards his son. The king leaves the scene and Hotspur, noticing Hal, draws near. Hal and Hotspur fight in a fast-paced duel, neither giving ground. As the two Henrys fight, Douglas and Falstaff wander near and enter into a fight, themselves. Falstaff falls down and plays dead while Douglas leaves to find glory elsewhere. Seeing his onetime friend fallen, Hal runs Hotspur through and leaves him to feed the maggots. Hal approaches Falstaff's body and cracks one last parting joke before going off to look for more enemies. After Hal leaves, Falstaff stands and stabs Hotspur's body in the thigh so that he can later claim that he killed him.

The battle finally ends in victory for the king. Hotspur has been killed, while Douglas and Worcester have been captured. The king decides to have Worcester executed but, out of respect for Douglas' legendary prowess at arms, tells Prince John to set him free. The play ends with the king's forces splitting up to deal with Glendower, Mortimer, and the rest of the rebel forces.

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