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King Henry IV, Part I Commentary - Act I.

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King Henry IV, Part I Commentary provides a comprehensive description of every act with explanations and translations for all important quotes.

Act I. Scene I. - London. The Palace.

King Henry IV: "So shaken as we are, so wan with care, / Find we a time for frighted peace to pant...."

A tired and drained King Henry IV explains to us that a civil war in England has left its mark on his kingdom. He hopes a much-delayed religious crusade will unite his people again under one purpose.

Unfortunately the Earl of Westmoreland informs the King Henry of trouble in his land. First we learn that Mortimer, The Earl of March was captured in a battle with the irregular "Glendower" which resulted in a thousand deaths for Mortimer's men. Next we learn that though Young Henry Percy (Hotspur) protected Holmedon from the Earl of Douglas in the north, Hotspur has kept the prisoners for himself rather than give them to King Henry IV, his king.

King Henry laments that his own son is not nearly as capable as Hotspur and regrets that these two problems (Mortimer and Hotspur) will force a further postponement of his already delayed religious crusade...

The play begins with England's current ruler, King Henry IV, speaking to the Earl of Westmoreland about the troubles of his recent rule and his plans to start a religious crusade...

The king is weary and his opening dialogue conveys the feeling that the civil strife England has endured has taken its toll on both king and country.

King Henry IV describes this vividly when he says "So shaken as we are, so wan with care, / Find we a time for frighted peace to pant," (Line 1).

King Henry explains that his people have fought one another (Lines 4-13) with a fury "close of [to] civil butchery," (Line 13), but now, he believes his once divided people will "March all one way, and be no more oppos'd / Against acquaintance," (march together and no longer fight those they know), (Line 15) because the English people will be united together in a religious crusade against those enemies of Christianity in Jerusalem (Lines 18-27).

King Henry himself refers to this when he describes the purpose of his crusade as being to "chase these pagans in those holy fields" (Line 24).

This comment is a reference to those who now inhabit the holy fields where King Henry explains, Jesus Christ once walked and later was crucified or "nail'd" (Line 26) for the advantage or benefit of all Christians four hundred years before (the time of this play is during rule of King Henry IV), (Lines 24-27).

King Henry also explains that this religious crusade is not a new project, saying "our purpose [the crusade] is a twelvemonth [one year] old," (Line 28).

King Henry now learns some unpleasant news from the Earl of Westmoreland... The crusade will again have to be postponed since news has come that "the noble Mortimer [Earl of March]," whilst leading the men of Herefordshire against the "irregular and wild Glendower," was captured "And a thousand of his people butchered;" (Line 42).

The Earl, adds that the ensuing mutilation or "shameless transformation" (Line 44) performed on their corpses cannot be described without much shame in the telling (Lines 44-46).

King Henry resigns himself to the inevitable conclusion that this current crisis will delay "our business for the Holy Land", specifically his crusade (Line 48).

The Earl now adds that there is more bad news from the north:."On Holy-rood day, the gallant Hotspur" (Line 52) also known as the Young Henry Percy commanded King Henry's troops against "the brave Archibald, / That ever-valiant and approved Scot," (The Earl of Douglas), (Line 53) in a battle at Holmedon.

Unfortunately the messenger telling the Earl of Westmoreland this news "did take horse," or left the scene of the battle "Uncertain of the issue any way" (uncertain who actually won), (Line 61).

King Henry now fills the Earl in on the missing points. From Sir Walter Blunt, who has just arrived or in King Henry's words who is "new lighted from his horse," (just off his horse), (Line 63), King Henry IV has learned that Westmoreland's news is good news.

Not only was Holmedon kept in their (King Henry's) hands (Line 65) but the Earl of Douglas was defeated with some "Ten thousand bold Scots, two and twenty knights, / Balk'd in their own blood" or heaped up in their own blood dead from what Sir Walter Blunt could see (Line 68).

As for prisoners, King Henry IV continues, Hotspur (The Young Henry Percy) took "Mordake the Earl of Fife," the eldest son of the beaten Douglas and the Earls of Athol, Murray, Angus and Menteith.

King Henry asks the Earl of Westmoreland, "is not this an honourable spoil? A gallant prize?" (is not this a honorable spoil or booty / loot, a gallant prize), (Line 75).

The Earl of Westmoreland agrees, saying, "It is a conquest for a prince to boast of" (Line 77).

That last line saddens King Henry who says as much (Line 78).

King Henry explains that Young Percy's victory saddens and marks him in sin that he should envy "my Lord Northumberland" (Line 79) for being so blessed as a father to have Percy for a son, "A son who is the theme of honour's tongue;" (Line 81) whilst King Henry "by looking on the praise of him [Young Percy]," (Line 84) can only see "riot and dishonour stain the brow [forehead] / Of my young Harry (his real name is Henry but King Henry IV calls him this) ", King Henry's own son (Line 84).

King Henry wishes his son was as noble and gallant as Lord Northumberland's son, Young Percy who defeated his enemies on the battlefield whilst his own son did not...

King Henry IV now laments that if only "some night-tripping fairy" (a fairy) had exchanged their children in their "cradle-clothes" (toddler clothing / when the boys were young) (Line 88), then he would have a son he could truly be proud of (Lines 77-91).

King Henry now asks the Earl of Westmoreland what he thinks of Hotspur or "young Percy's pride?" that he keeps the prisoners he has taken for his "own use" giving King Henry only Mordake the Earl of Fife rather than give them all up to his king? (Line 92).

Westmoreland explains that Young Percy's (Hotspur's) lack of respect is the result of "his uncle's teaching," (Line 96), the Earl of Worcester whom Westmoreland describes as being "Malevolent" or opposed to King Henry IV in all aspects.

It is the Earl's influence on Young Percy (Hotspur), Westmoreland explains, that makes Young Percy "prune himself, and bristle up / The crest of youth [summon up the crest of youth] against your dignity [King Henry IV]" (Line 99).

King Henry IV now explains that he has sent for Young Percy to explain himself, saying "for this cause a while we must neglect / Our holy purpose to Jerusalem" (because of this problem we must ignore our plans for a crusade a little longer), (Line 101).

King Henry tells Westmoreland that next Wednesday they shall hold their council in Windsor, telling Westmoreland to inform the Lords and to return quickly for as King Henry puts it, "more is to be said and to be done / Than out of anger can be uttered" (Line 106).

Act I. Scene II. - The Same. An Apartment of the Prince's.

Prince Hal (Prince Henry): "My reformation, glittering o'er my fault, / Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes / Than that which hath no foil to set it off. I'll so offend to make offence a skill; / Redeeming time when men think least I will."

We are introduced to Prince Hal, or Prince Henry, the son King Henry IV called "Harry" in the earlier scene and the son, King Henry IV wishes was more like the valiant Hotspur. Far from acting as a Prince arguably should, Hal is keeping company with petty thieves. We are introduced to Falstaff, one such thief and Poins who is planning a robbery at Gadshill (A location).

Poins explains that he and Hal (both disguised) will steal what their friends have already stolen from carriages running along Gadshill and will both enjoy Falstaff's false explanations of what how they were robbed afterwards. In an important soliloquy, Hal reveals that though he has been keeping bad company, he will soon show his true colours at the right time...

Meanwhile in Prince Henry's (Hal's) apartment in London, Prince Henry is speaking with Falstaff (Sir John Falstaff). Falstaff introduces himself to us by asking Hal (Prince Henry) what time it is.

Prince Henry replies that Falstaff whom he describes as "fat-witted," or slow witted "hast [has] forgotten to demand that truly which thou [you] wouldst [would or should] truly know" (Line 6), adding that unless hours were cups of sack, minutes were capons, dials the signs of leaping-houses "and the blessed sun himself a fair hot wench [women] in flame-colour'd taffeta," why should he care? (Line 12).

Falstaff, who refers to Prince Henry as "Hal", explains that thieves such as himself "that take purses go by the moon and the seven stars," (Line 15), adding that should Hal one day become King of England, or "as, God save thy Grace,-majesty," (Line 19) he believes "for grace thou wilt have none,-" (for grace you shall have none), (Line 19).

This comment from Falstaff who clearly shows little respect or deference for the Prince Henry's title and position angers Hal into saying "What! none?" (Line 21).

Again Falstaff presses home his friendly insult, completely unafraid of his friend Prince Hal (Line 22).

Falstaff now suggests that when Prince Henry is made "king," they should both be "gentlemen of the shade, minions of the moon;" adding that men should consider them both "men of good government, being governed as the sea is, by our noble and chaste mistress the moon, under whose countenance we steal" (men of good government who like the sea should be governed by the moon or the darkness under which they are allowed or able to steal), (Line 33).

Falstaff's comments that they should both steal whilst being considered men of good government, shows us that Prince Henry is certainly running with a less than honest crowd and certainly not the crowd one would expect to produce a fair, honest and conscience future King of England.

Thus we first see Henry as a man perhaps more willing to run with interesting company ignoring their moral inadequacies for the thrill, excitement and interest of living with a more interesting crowd than Prince Henry would otherwise know, not unlike many privileged youth today who choose friends with exciting but often less privileged lives to bring excitement their own.

We also can see from this good natured exchange that though Prince Henry would like to think his wits are faster than Falstaff's the opposite may well be true.

Returning to the play, Falstaff and Hal discuss their recent activities, in particular discussing the merits of "the hostess of the tavern" (Line 46) and in a moment suggesting seriousness, Falstaff tells Prince Henry that when he is king, "Do not thou, when thou art king, hang a thief" (do not when you are king, hang a thief), (Line 70).

The two now exchange further witticisms over the hanging of thieves, Falstaff mockingly suggesting that his relationship with the Young Prince has corrupted him (Line 101) and that before meeting Hal, Falstaff "knew nothing;" but now he is damned, jokingly suggesting that his life must be given over to redeem himself (Lines 73-115).

The Prince suggests that he sees a change in the better for Falstaff, "from praying to purse-taking" (Line 115).

Poins now enters, Prince Henry exchanging witticisms before discussing an upcoming robbery (Lines 116-136).

Poins now explains the robbery, saying that "There are pilgrims going to Canterbury with rich offerings, and traders riding to London with fat purses:" (Line 138). Poins has made meticulous plans (Lines 137-146) adding that "If you will go I will stuff your purses full of crowns; if you will not, tarry at home and be hanged" (Line 147).

Falstaff suggests that if he does stay home, he will hang Poins for going...

Falstaff now asks Hal (Prince Henry) if he will join this Gadshill led robbery, Prince Henry coyly saying "Who, I rob? I a thief? not I, by my faith" (Line 153).

Falstaff now goads Hal suggesting "There's neither honesty, manhood, nor good fellowship [friendship] in thee [you], nor thou camest not [you did not come] of the blood royal, if thou darest not stand for ten shillings" (Line 154).

Tellingly in view of the fact that Hal is a prince with obligations of conduct, Prince Henry replies "Well, come what will, I'll tarry at home" (Line 161), choosing not to join the robbing party.

Falstaff protests that "I'll be a traitor then, when thou [you] art [are] king" (Line 164), Hal telling him "I care not" (Line 165).

Poins now tells Falstaff to leave him and the Prince alone, he will convince the Prince to join them.

Falstaff now leaves for Eastcheap, one of the stops on the robbing trip, and Poins begins to convince Hal to join them saying, "I have a jest [joke] to execute [perform] that I cannot manage alone" (Line 179).

Poins explains that Falstaff, Bardolph, Peto and Gadshill (the person not the location) shall rob the men they have already described but Poins and Prince Henry will not be there, instead they will rob them once they have the booty. Poins is very serious about this suggesting, "if you and I do not rob them, cut this [my / Poin's] head from my shoulders" (Line 185).

The Prince however is unsure they can lose the rest of the thieves. Poins tells him not to worry; they will appoint a place to meet, not turn up and Falstaff and company will continue the robbery without them (Lines 186-193).

The Prince is still worried they will be identified. Poins again tells the Prince not to worry, they will hide their horses and Poins has brought cases of "buckram" to "inmask our noted outward garments" or to camouflage their distinguishing clothes from Falstaff and company (Lines 197-201).

Again Hal has his doubts, saying he doubts they will be easy to steal from (Line 202).

Poins again has the answer. Two of them Poins is certain are cowards and the third is unlikely to fight "longer than he sees reason," (Line 204).

Poins now explains that the virtue or fun of this little jest or joke will be the "incomprehensible lies that this same fat rogue [Falstaff] will tell us when we meet at supper: how thirty, at least, he fought with; what wards, what blows, what extremities he endured;" (how thirty men attacked him with made up details) and in the reproof or retelling of what really happened, will lie the jest or joke on Falstaff, Poins explains (Lines 202-212).

The Prince is convinced, he will go with Poins, telling him to meet with him tomorrow night at Eastcheap, where he will have supper.

Now alone, Prince Henry tells us what steel his character is truly made from...

Prince Henry explains to us that while he has indeed been idle (Lines 217-229), he will soon cast off this lazy lifestyle (Line 230).

He explains that he knows he has been keeping bad company, describing his keeping bad company as akin to the sun which allows itself to be smothered by "the base contagious clouds" (Line 220), (a metaphor for his bad company), but which will rid itself of these contaminants when the sun chooses again to see and show itself for what it really is (Lines 218-225).

Prince Henry also adds that this change of character will shine like "bright metal on a sullen ground," (Line 234), the more so because it is unexpected and more than if he had been truly honorable to begin with (Line 237), adding that before he does this, he will offend so much as to make it seem a skill, only then reforming when everyone least expects it.

Prince Henry ends the scene saying:

"My reformation, glittering o'er [over] my fault, / Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes / Than that which hath no foil to set it off. I'll so offend to make offence a skill; / Redeeming time when men think least I will" (Lines 235-239).

Act I. Scene III. - The Same. The Palace.

King Henry: "I do see / Danger and disobedience in thine eye."

King Henry punishes the Earl of Worcester, The Earl of Northumberland and Hotspur (Young Henry Percy, Northumberland's son) for forgetting their obligations to the king. Hotspur and father offer the prisoners gladly, arguing their refusal to do so was a misunderstanding.

King Henry IV disagrees, believing Hotspur (Young Henry) wanted to use the prisoners to lever King Henry IV into paying the ransom of Lord Mortimer, his brother-in-law. King Henry IV will not, arguing that this man betrayed his forces by marrying the daughter of Glendower, his enemy on the battlefield!

Hotspur is ordered to hand over the prisoners but refuses. Worcester suggests a plan to deal with King Henry, which involves Douglas, Glendower and the Archbishop of York against King Henry. Hotspur will hand over the prisoners to buy time...

Back at the King Henry's palace, an angry King Henry IV is verbally punishing The Earl of Worcester (Lines 1-13), The Earl of Northhumberland and his son Young Percy (Hotspur).

He reminds them all that they have "tread upon my patience:" (Line 4) warning them that he will use force to bring them into line if necessary (Lines 1-9).

This leads Worcester to remind King Henry IV that his house (The Percy family) does not deserve "The scourge of greatness to be used on it;" (the king's forces to be used against it), (Line 11) adding that the very greatness (King Henry's throne) King Henry IV now threatens them with would not have been possible without their help (Lines 10-12).

King Henry IV now tells Worcester to "get thee gone;" or leave since he sees "Danger and disobedience in thine [your] eye" (Line 16).

Turning to Northhumberland, King Henry hears Northhumberland voice the opinion that the prisoners his son "Harry Percy" (Hotspur, Young Henry) took, which are now demanded by King Henry IV are not denied more strongly to the him than they are offered.

Northhumberland goes on to suggest that envy or "misprison" is guilty of this fault and not his son (Lines 23-28).

Hotspur (called Harry by his father) now defends himself saying, "I did deny [to the king] no prisoners:" (Line 29) but also that he was greeted by a man shortly after battle requesting the prisoners for the king.

Unfortunately this "popinjay," (Line 50) so angered him with his noble disdain for the smells and scenes of battle that Hotspur did answer this man representing the king somewhat "neglectingly, [rudely / disrespectfully]", Hotspur asking that this incident does not come between him and his love of his majesty, King Henry IV (Lines 29-69).

Sir Walter Blunt now speaks, suggesting to the king that "Whatever Harry Percy then had said / To such a person and in such a place," (Line 71) be best forgotten (Lines 70-76).

King Henry now replies to all this, saying "yet he [Hotspur] doth [does] deny his prisoners, / But with proviso and exception," suggesting that it was Hotspur's intent to use the prisoners to levy King Henry IV into providing the ransom for his brother-in-law Mortimer, the Earl of March and the very man who "wilfully betray'd" the forces he led (Line 81).

On top of all this, King Henry IV reminds all present that Mortimer then went on to marry the daughter of the "damn'd Glendower," (Line 83) the man he led his forces to fight.

King Henry now asks, "Shall our coffers [funds] then / Be emptied to redeem a traitor home?" (Line 86).

Hotspur now defends his brother in law vigorously, explaining that the "noble Mortimer "(Line 111) is no traitor, having taken wounds in his battle against Glendower (Lines 93-112).

King Henry IV, though is far from convinced, explaining to Percy (Hotspur) that Mortimer never met with Glendower (Line 114) and now instructing Hotspur to send his prisoners to him as quickly as possible, telling Hotspur "Send me your prisoners with the speediest means, / Or you shall hear in such a kind from me / As will displease you" (send me your prisoners as quickly as possible or you will hear from me in a way I am sure you will not like), (Line 120).

King Henry IV, Sir Walter Blunt and the Henry's train or followers now depart, leaving a furious Hotspur who refuses to obey his king.

Hotspur is adamant nothing will change his mind, adding that "if the devil come and roar for them [the prisoners], I will not send them: I will after straight / And tell him so; for I will ease my heart, / Albeit I make a hazard of my head" (if the devil himself asks for the prisoners, I will not give them. I will tell him this straight for I will ease my heart even if I now place my head and my life at risk), (Line 125).

Northhumberland, Hotspur's father tries to tell his son to calm down but Worcester now returns and Hotspur starts another outburst, pledging his loyalty to Mortimer and saying "I will lift the down-trod [downtrodden] Mortimer / As high i' [in] the air as this unthankful king," (Line 136).

Hotspur now mentions that King Henry turned pale at the mention of the ransom for Mortimer, suggesting that King Henry IV was "Trembling even at the name of Mortimer" (Line 144).

Worcester explains why, saying he is not surprised, asking "was he not proclaim'd [proclaimed] / By Richard [King Henry's predecessor, Richard II] that dead is the next of blood?" (was he not proclaimed as the successor to Richard II, the last king), (Line 146).

Worcester explains that King Henry IV has very good reason to fear Mortimer. King Richard II, whom King Henry IV replaced as King of England with the help of the Percies, named Mortimer as his successor. Thus Mortimer represents a threat to the legitimacy of King Henry's rule over England.

Northhumberland, Worcester and Hotspur now retell recent history, explaining that Richard II made that proclamation shortly before his Irish expedition after which he returned to England and was soon after deposed (removed from power) and then murdered (Lines 147-152).

Worcester echoes how the death of Richard II scandalized the "world's wide mouth" (Line 153) and Hotspur asks whether King Richard II did "Proclaim my brother Edmund Mortimer / Heir to the crown?" (Line 156) learning that he did and that King Henry IV has forgotten the Percy family who helped him become king notably in the Bolingbroke revolt (Line 176).

Worcester now interrupts to suggest a dark and secret plan which he describes as "a secret book," to be unclasped or opened of a matter both dangerous and deep (Lines 187-193).

Hotspur is enthusiastic, especially since it involves honor (Line 196) and because it involves danger (Line 195).

Northhumberland now remarks that the thought of some great exploit drives Hotspur beyond the bounds of patience (Line 200), Hotspur now confirming this (Lines 201-211).

Hotspur (Young Percy, Young Henry, Harry) now mentions that he will keep all his Scottish prisoners, Hotspur saying that for refusing him the Mortimer's ransom or even to speak Mortimer's name, Hotspur will "holla 'Mortimer!'" in King Henry's ear when he is asleep (Lines 219-226).

Hotspur pledges to defy "this Bolingbroke: / And that same sword-and-buckler Prince of Wales," (Prince Henry), (Line 229) who Hotspur believes the king does not even like and would be happy if he were poisoned.

Northumberland now succeeds in cooling down his hot headed son, allowing Worcester to instruct him to return the prisoners to King Henry IV to calm him down and throw the king off guard whilst he also is to make peace with Douglas through his son, to secure them Scottish support and forces for their plan (Lines 260-263).

Worcester now tells Northhumberland to seek out the Archbishop of York who has taken his brother's death hard. Hotspur is excited that soon the power of "Scotland and of York," will soon join with Mortimer (Line 281).

Worcester now sets Northhumberland and son Hotspur (Young Percy) on their separate ways, telling them to be ready to receive word, which could be sudden, that the plan to remove King Henry is afoot.

At this point, Worcester explains that he will go to Glendower and Lord Mortimer where Douglas and "our powers at once,- / As I will fashion it,-shall happily meet," (Line 298) to fight united against King Henry described as "much uncertainty" (Line 300).

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