Act I, Scene I

We are in the royal palace in London where the King is addressing his council optimistically predicting the end of civil war and his ambition to lead the a crusade to Jerusalem. However, it becomes clear that the political situation in England is not as good as the King would like. It is revealed that there is a rebellion taking place in Wales, which is being led by Glendower that has defeated the British army and captured their commander Mortimer. However, on a slightly more encouraging note Henry Hotspur, son of the Earl of Northumberland and his army have managed to defeat the Scots and captured some politically significant prisoners. Henry IV laments the difference between Hotspur and his own son, Hal (also Henry). There is evidence of possible insurrection as we hear that Hotspur, encouraged by Worcester has refused to hand the prisoners over to the King.

Act I, Scene II

In total contrast to the Palace we are now in one of Hal’s apartments in London, we move from the verse of the court to colloquial, bawdy prose. The prince is with his companion Falstaff: a fat drunken old joker whose base humour starkly contrasts with the sharp wit of Hal. Another of the Prince’s companions, Poins, enters and brings the news that Gadshill has planned a robbery ("set a match"). Hal pretends that he does not want to be involved but once Falstaff has left he informs Poins that he wants to play a practical joke and rob the robbers. When he is left on the stage alone the Prince informs the audience in a verse soliloquy that he does not intend to behave in this manner for his entire life and that he will "throw off" his "loose behaviour" therefore we realise that he may not always shame his father.

The language employed by these characters is complex and based on puns and double-entendres. Poins and Falstaff are obviously ‘gentlemen’ of diminished means whereas others of Hal’s friends such as Bardolph and Peto (who we are introduced to later) are of a lesser social standing. Falstaff is clearly aware of the fact that Hal will eventually be King, indicated by his constant reference to "when thou art King". He seems to believe that when his friend takes the throne he will in many ways be able to benefit from it and receive special treatment.

Act I, Scene III

In this second council meeting the mood is altered. The King enters the stage in the midst of a very angry speech, further incited by comments from Worcester concerning past political problems he has suffered. Worcester is made to leave the room. We are introduced to Hotspur and it is immediately clear how drastically he differs from the Prince. He is impetuous and full of energetic anger towards the King – proving that he is unwilling to give way to his leader. Walter Blunt attempts to intervene in the conflict but to no avail – both sides are equally stubborn. When Mortimer is mentioned the debate is even more fiercely fought – the King gives his demands and then leaves, giving no time for Hotspur to retort.

Hotspur is enraged, Worcester re-enters and the two of them discuss how the King actually came to be in power. It is noted that Richard II was deposed and murdered and it seems that Hotspur is keen that the same (all be it perhaps not murder) happens to Henry IV.

Act II, Scene I

We are now in Rochester in an inn yard where two carriers stand. Their speech contrasts strongly against the lofty, heroic style employed by Hotspur previously. Moreover they highlight the fact that this is not just a play about royal battles and struggles. They are slightly hostile and suspicious of Gadshill and leave. He remains on stage discussing the robbery about to take place – aware that it will probably involve some important people.

Act II, Scene II

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