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King Henry IV - summary

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Introduction

One of the lines which bears some examination is when Hal tells Falstaff, "I am good friends with my father, and may do anything" (3.3.166). This sentiment has not been expressed before, and indeed it is one of the few times that Hal refers to his royal rights as a justification for doing something. The question that arises is whether Hal and Henry really are good friends. Henry seems to be unsure of this fact, evidenced in the previous scene where he is unsure whether or not Hal can succeed in a battle. Hal, however, has no doubts that he and his father are friends, and it is likely that this knowledge derives from that fact that Hal understands his father far better than Henry understands Hal. Act Four, Scene One At the rebel camp near Shrewsbury, a messenger brings Hotspur news that his father is sick. This bodes poorly for the rebels, since they need the full support of Northumberland to maintain their military force. Additionally, Northumberland is needed to help lead the troops into battle, since his persona is well known and provides inspiration to the men. Hotspur's cousin Vernon arrives with news that the king and young Hal are leading armies against the gathered forces. Hotspur is eager to meet Hal in battle, and comments that when they meet only one of them will survive. ...read more.

Middle

Douglas remarks that the Lord of Stafford already was killed that day for also pretending to be the king, and after Blunt is killed, Hotspur arrives and identifies him as yet another counterfeiter. The men depart to continue fighting. Falstaff arrives and comments on the fact that Blunt has already been killed. He wishes to run away from the battle, but Hal arrives and begs him to start fighting again. Falstaff refuses to draw his sword, and instead offers his pistol, which turns out to be a bottle of sack (liquor). Prince Harry says, "What, is it a time to jest and dally now?" (5.3.54) and throws the bottle at him. Act Five, Scene Four King Henry, Hal, John of Lancaster and Westmorland arrive and take a quick rest. Hal is wounded, but refuses to allow Lancaster to take him away from the battlefield. Lancaster and Westmorland depart to fight some more, leaving Prince Harry and Henry behind. Douglas arrives at this moment and, seeing the king, says, "What art thou / That counterfeit'st the person of a king?" (5.4.26-27). Henry replies that he is the king himself, and that he will challenge Douglas directly. They start to fight, but Douglas still doubts that he is fighting the real king. Prince Harry arrives and challenges Douglas in order to save his father, saying, "It is the Prince of Wales that threatens thee, / Who never promiseth but he means to pay" (5.4.41-42). ...read more.

Conclusion

This becomes relevant in the final words of the play, where Henry says "we divide our power." This line is not only literally true, i.e. he is splitting his army in half, but also figuratively. Henry has already split himself into many kings in order to win the battle, and his challenge will be to find a way of reunifying himself. There is a frequent correlation in Shakespearian plays between the state of the king and the state of the country. Indeed, not only is England split but so is Henry. His final act of splitting the army into two parts is almost a symbolic recognition of England's divided nature. The psychological divide within Henry is that fact that he strives to attain the goal of a peaceful England, yet realizes that warfare is the only way to achieve this goal. Hal's pardon of Douglas at the end of the play marks a shift in the way he will rule as king versus how Henry rules. Henry orders Vernon and Worcester to be put to death for their crimes, Hal instead chooses to take a risk and pardon his enemy. This relates to the fact that Hal is a redeemer of England, a role he can only play by creating peace. In pardoning Douglas, Hal shows not only great statesmanship, but also confidence in his own abilities to win Douglas' support in the future. ...read more.

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