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HOME > Shakespeare Summaries > King Henry IV, Part I Commentary - Act IV.

King Henry IV, Part I Commentary - Act IV.

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Act IV. Scene I. - The Rebel Camp near Shrewsbury.

Hotspur of King Henry's vast forces: "Let them come...."

At the rebel camp, the rebels learn that they will be fighting weaker than expected; Hotspur's father, Henry Percy, The Earl of Northhumberland cannot join them, owing to illness. Hotspur though disheartened, quickly regains his enthusiasm. Vernon arrives, announcing that not only do King Henry's forces number thirty thousand, but also that Glendower's forces are unlikely to be available either since they need another two weeks time to be gathered. Hotspur now facing certain defeat, looks death in the eye, determined to win no matter what the odds...

Act IV opens to the scene of the rebels (Hotspur, Worcester and Douglas) discussing future plans at their rebel camp near Shrewsbury. Hotspur and Douglas are talking, Hotspur flattering Douglas and Douglas returning the favor (Lines 1-12).

A Messenger bearing a letter now interrupts Hotspur and Douglas who learn the letter is from Hotspur's father, Henry Percy, The Earl of Northhumberland. We quickly learn that The Earl is grievously sick (Line 16), so much so that his own physicians fear for him (Line 24).

Hotspur now echoes the thoughts held by many in the rebellion that without the Earl their enterprise (the rebellion) is lost and without a leader (Lines 28-41). Worcester agrees, calling Hotspur's father's illness "a maim [blow] to us" (Line 42).

Hotspur reconsiders his gloomy outlook, seeking to grab victory from the jaws of defeat. Hotspur now wonders aloud whether it was such a good idea to risk all their forces in a single action and decides it was not (Lines 45-51).

Besides as Hotspur says, there can be no turning back, King Henry now is almost certainly aware of their plans (Line 40).

Worcester now offers up the belief that the Earl's absence in their fight may cause others unaware of the Earl's sickness, to think the Earl did not approve of their revolt, arguing that "The eye of reason may pry in upon us:" (Line 72).

Hotspur has another idea. He suggests that should they fight without their full strength and were they to win against the King Henry's forces, such a victory would encourage others to believe and support their revolt (Line 80-83).

Douglas supports this (Line 84) and now Sir Richard Vernon enters, with news of the King Henry's forces. We quickly learn that the Earl of Westmoreland is marching "hitherwards;" or towards them with a force of seven thousand men accompanied by Prince John (Line 87).

Hotspur ever fearless, replies "No harm:" (no worry), (Line 88), learning from Vernon that King Henry himself has also set off towards them "With strong and mighty preparation" (strong and well-prepared forces), (Line 93).

Hotspur again is unaffected by this, arrogantly exclaiming "He shall be welcome too" (Line 94).

Hotspur now asks of "The nimble-footed madcap Prince of Wales [Hal]," (Line 95) learning that he too is making preparations to fight, Vernon describing Hal's forces as "All furnish'd, all in arms," (all furnished, all carrying arms) (Line 97).

Vernon appears quite impressed by Hal's forces, commenting on how Hal's forces are "Baited like eagles having lately bath'd," and how Hal's forces are "As full of spirit as the month of May," (Lines 99-100).

Vernon also remarks that he saw Hal and that he appears a changed man, resolute with purpose, "gallantly arm'd," (Line 104) and ready to fight, his admiration suggesting just how much Hal must have changed.

Understandably Hotspur has heard quite enough, pleading "No more, no more:", arguing that the praise Vernon lavishes on their enemy is "worse than the sun in March" (Line 112).

Hotspur however quickly regains his composure, saying "Let them come;"(Line 112), savoring the opportunity to fight especially with Hal. Hotspur is confident of success, after all Glendower will be on their side (Lines 111-123).

Vernon again has news and again it is not good....

Apparently Glendower needs more time to gather his forces; he will not be ready for at least another fourteen days. Douglas is not pleased, nor is Worcester and now Hotspur makes the mistake of asking Vernon just how large the King Henry's forces will finally be...

Vernon does not mince words, saying King Henry's forces will ultimately number "thirty thousand" men (Line 129).

Hotspur again challenges defeat with blind determination, exclaiming, "Forty let it be:" (let it be forty thousand, I don't care), (Line 130).

Hotspur is still confident that though "Doomsday is near;" (the end) without his father's and Glendower's forces, they will still fight, Douglas refusing to even admit to the very real possibility that they will now die...

Act IV. Scene II. - A public Road near Coventry.

Prince Hal on Falstaff's rag tag soldiers: "I did never see such pitiful rascals."

Falstaff ashamedly leads his ragtag troops towards Coventry, pretending that he is not ashamed of them. Hal meets him, laughing at Falstaff's expense about his troops. Falstaff, Hal and Westmoreland head off together for Shrewsbury to meet the rebels in battle...

On a public road near Coventry, we see Falstaff and Bardolph marching with their company of soldiers towards Coventry. Falstaff orders Bardolph to refill his supply of sack (Line 1), and instructs Peto to meet with him (Falstaff) at the end of the town (Line 10).

Falstaff explains that he is "not ashamed of my soldiers, I am a soused gurnet" (I am ashamed of my troops), (Line 12).

Nonetheless Falstaff now bitterly complains that the rag-tag company of soldiers he has received are definitely second rate to say the least, Falstaff describing them as rather lowly men, so unappealing to the eye that he says "No eye hath [has] seen such scarecrows." Falstaff resolves not to take them through Coventry since there is "but a shirt and a half in all my company;" with the rest of his men are wearing rags (Lines 12-53).

Prince Henry (Hal) and Westmoreland now meet Falstaff, Falstaff wondering why Westmoreland is not already at Shrewsbury.

Hal asks Falstaff who these lowly men are that follow him.

Falstaff answers not quite proudly that the ragged men following him are "Mine, Hal, mine" (Line 70), Hal saying, "I did never see such pitiful rascals" (I have never seen such pitiful rascals), (Line 71).

Falstaff though embarrassed by his company, is still somewhat proud of them, pushing aside Hal's criticisms and remarking that they will fight as well as any other man, saying "tush, man, mortal men, mortal men" to Hal's less than impressed comments (Line 75).

Westmoreland disagrees, saying Falstaff's men are "exceeding [exceedingly] poor and bare;" (Line 76).

The Prince is not taking all this too seriously and suggests they make speed for the battlefield since "Percy is already in the field" (Percy is already waiting on the battlefield), (Line 81).

All three now depart for Shrewsbury...

Act IV. Scene III. - The Rebel Camp near Shrewsbury.

The rebels disagree on strategy. Douglas and Hotspur want to attack King Henry's troops immediately at night, reasoning that King Henry's troops are tired from their travels. Vernon and Worcester disagree, advising caution as their own troops are not yet fully gathered and King Henry presently outnumbers them. Sir Walter Blunt arrives offering a compromise from King Henry that could prevent war. Hotspur says no but adds that in the morning Hotspur's uncle (Worcester) shall meet with King Henry to discuss matters further...

Meanwhile at the rebel camp, Hotspur wants to fight immediately at night (Line 1).

Worcester and Vernon disagree but Douglas takes Hotspur's side suggesting that by not attacking, they help their enemy.

Douglas also suggests that Vernon and Worcester are giving Hotspur bad advise out of "fear and cold heart" (Line 7).

The arguing continues, Hotspur summing up his viewpoint with the idea that King Henry's men are tired from their travels whereas his men are well rested and therefore in better shape to fight.

Worcester disagrees. Whilst Hotspur wants to attack at night since he knows King Henry's men are tired and looking forward to sleep, Worcester points out that King Henry's forces outnumber their own; they should wait until all their forces are in place (Line 29).

To the sound of a trumpet which sounds a parley, Sir Walter Blunt now arrives, announcing that "I come with gracious offers from the king, / If you vouchsafe [guarantee] me hearing and respect" (I bring gracious offers from the king if you promise to hear me out and not attack me), (Line 30).

Sir Walter announces that he is here on behalf of King Henry IV to offer up a compromise or remedy for "The nature of your griefs," (your problems with King Henry IV) so as to avoid fighting and war (Lines 38-51).

Sir Walter explains that King Henry IV will settle their griefs with great speed and interest if he can be told the nature of the rebellion's grief with their "king" (Lines 44-51).

Hotspur does not take this very seriously, cynically remarking that "The king is kind; and well we [we all] know the king / Knows at what time to promise," and "when to pay" for the services of others such as the Percy family of the north (Line 52).

Hotspur now retells the story of how it was the Percy family who helped King Henry IV when he was weak and how once King Henry IV with the Percy family's help "depos'd [deposed / removed] the king;" (King Richard II), (Line 91), King Henry IV showed his gratitude to the Percy family by ignoring his obligations to Mortimer, dismissed Hotspur's father from the court and ultimately "Broke oath on oath, committed wrong on wrong;" (Line 101) until the Percy family had no choice but to defend themselves (Lines 102-105).

Sir Walter Blunt asks Hotspur now if this is their final word to King Henry. Hotspur says no, in the morning Hotspur's uncle (Worcester) shall meet King Henry to discuss matters further...

Act IV. Scene IV. - York. A Room in the Archbishop's Palace.

The Archbishop of York makes plans, making it quite clear that he knows Hotspur faces King Henry's forces without the help of Northhumberland and Glendower. Sir Michael though, is confident of victory even when it is learned that Mortimer's forces will not be there either. The rebel forces will only number those men under Hotspur's, Douglas' Mordake's, Vernon's, and Worcester's control. The Archbishop knows the stakes are high should their rebellion fail...

Meanwhile in York, The Archbishop of York instructs Sir Michael to dispatch various letters to the Archbishop's allies, namely "the lord marshall;", his cousin Scroop, and several others. The Archbishop tells Sir Michael if he knew the importance of the letters contents, he would deliver them with great speed (Lines 1-4).

The Archbishop makes it quite clear that he knows Hotspur faces King Henry's forces without the help of Northhumberland and Glendower to bolster Hotspur's forces (Line 13).

Sir Michael is not concerned, after all, Mortimer and Douglas's forces will be there to support Hotspur (Line 21).

At this point the Archbishop tells Sir Michael that "Mortimer is not there" (Line 23).

Again Sir Michael is not worried; Mordake, Vernon, Lord Harry Percy (Hotspur, Young Henry Percy) and Worcester will guarantee victory (Line 24).

The Archbishop is not so certain, pointing out that King Henry IV has amassed a formidable force in the Prince of Wales (Hal), Lord John of Lancaster and "The noble Westmoreland," and "war-like Blunt;" (Line 31).

Sir Michael will not be scared, saying "Doubt not, my lord, they shall be well oppos'd [opposed]" (Line 33).

The Archbishop knows better... He hopes for the best, telling Sir Michael to deliver his letters. The Archbishop knows that if the Percy (Hotspur and company) fails, as a co-conspirator in the rebellion, so will he, since King Henry IV will almost certainly pay him a visit after the battle (Lines 34-41).

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