Act I, Scene 1
King Henry IV reflects on the positive direction of the kingdom. Following the turmoil of Richard II’s reign, which ended in his usurpation, the country is at peace. Neighbor no longer fights neighbor and they can all get behind the cause of driving those darn pagans from their Christian lands.
Unfortunately, that may not be going as well as Henry might hope. During a fight in Wales, Mortimer was captured and a lot of his men slain. It looks like the King will have to delay his pilgrimage to the Holy Lands. Westmoreland further reports that things are not going great for Hotspur in the North as he fights against the Scots. However, Sir Walter Blunt just brought the news that Hotspur, in the end, was victorious and even took some key rivals captive. This news makes the King wish that he was Hotspur’s father instead of Hal’s.
But the King isn’t crazy thrilled with Hotspur because Hotspur is insisting on keeping all of his prisoners for himself, and not surrender them to the King. Westmoreland asserts that this must be the workings of Worcester, Hotspur’s uncle. The King has sent a message to Hotspur to answer to this and they will all meet at Windsor in a week.
Act I, Scene 2
Falstaff asks Prince Hal what time it is. Hals scoffs at the question because Falstaff spends so much time drinking and whoremongering, it shouldn’t matter at all to him what time it is. Falstaff agrees because he is a thief and thieves live by the moon, not the sun. He hopes that when Hal is King that thieves shall be considered noble servants of the moon-goddess, Diana. Hal agrees that such men are much better suited to the workings of the moon, similar to the tides. They steal one day and spend the next until the day they meet the gallows.
Falstaff asks Hal what he thinks of the tavern wench. Hal agrees that she’s sweet and then asks Falstaff about clothes. This question confuses Falstaff and Hal retorts that the tavern wench question was equally strange. As they quarrel about the tavern wench, Hal mentions that he has always paid Falstaff’s debts to the point where Prince Hal himself has had to rely on credit.
Falstaff asks Hal if he will hang thieves when he’s King. Hal says Falstaff will do the hanging. He likes this idea because he thinks he’ll be a great judge. Hal clarifies that Falstaff will be the hangman, not the judge. Falstaff isn’t as big of a fan of this idea.
It turns out Falstaff is actually quite melancholy. When Hal teases him about his melancholy, Falstaff mentions that there was a man who told him all about how unsavory Hal was as a Prince. Falstaff explains that even though the man spoke quite wisely, he didn’t pay him any mind. Hal thinks it was good of Falstaff to disregard the man. Falstaff tells Hal off for corrupting him in such a way.
Hal changes the subject to what Falstaff plans to steal next. He’s not sure, but just then Poins enters with a plot. There are pilgrims making their way through the area with a large amount of gold. Poins proposes that they steal from these pilgrims. When they ask Hal to join them, he refuses, but Poins pulls him aside for a better plot. They will hide as Falstaff and the rest rob the pilgrims, and then rob Falstaff and company as they make their way back. After confirming a few of the details, Hal agrees to the plan.
After Poins leaves, Hal reveals his ultimate intentions. He is associating himself with this motley crew for now, so that when he cleans up his act to become more king-like, his transformation will be all the more amazing. Basically, he is making sure that everyone expects so little of him that they will be astounded when he turns out to be a great guy.
Act I, Scene 3
The King scolds Worcester, Northumberland, and Hotspur for their indignities against the crown. Worcester speaks in his family’s defense but is quickly shut down and told to leave. Northumberland and Hotspur explain that this whole prisoner situation is just a misunderstanding. Hotspur, hot from battle, was approached by this pompous little man who demanded the prisoners be turned over to the King. This man was so rude and off putting that Hotspur became angry and refused to turn over the prisoners.
Blunt finds this to be a perfectly acceptable excuse, but Henry doesn’t understand why he is still being denied the prisoners. He is angry that Hotspur is demanding the King pay the ransom for Mortimer, Hotspur’s brother-in-law, who the King considers a traitor because he married Glendower’s daughter. The same Glendower he was supposed to be defeating in Wales. Hotspur is angry at the King’s analysis of Mortimer and tries his best to defend his brother-in-law. Henry will have none of it. He insists Hotspur stop talking about Mortimer and turn over the prisoners. The King charges Northumberland with seeing this done.
Once Hotspur is alone with his father and uncle he unleashes his true feelings. He refuses to release the prisoners and insists that he will talk about Mortimer as much as he wants. He will even whisper the name of Mortimer into the King’s ear while he sleeps. He will train a bird to sing Mortimer’s name. Worcester has a plan, but Hotspur has to finish his ranting before he will listen. He is so mad that the King would treat his family like this after they helped to put him on the throne. He even goes so far as to glorify Richard II, who named Mortimer as his rightful heir.
Finally, Hotspur is done and Worcester explains that he should keep his valuable prisoners, so that they can become allies with the Scots and Mortimer and Glendower. A force that would be very dangerous to King Henry. Everyone involved is pretty pumped about this plan so they set off to execute it.
Act II, Scene 1
Some carriers grumble about how early it is as they wait for their horses. Gladshill comes up to get the dirt on what is going on. He is able to get a progress report from the carriers about when they will set out on the road. The Chamberlain comes up to give Gladshill the full dirt on what is happening. He is in on this plot to rob the men.
Act II, Scene 2
Poins and Hal decided to hide Falstaff’s horse to get him all flustered and exacerbated. It works. Falstaff pretty much just curses everyone involved with this plot.
The others join and explain that the group of men they will be robbing are bringing money for the King. They all decide their roles. Poins and Hal will wait down the hill in case the men escape the others.
The men come through and are quickly bound and robbed. Falstaff insists that Poins and Hal should not get any of the money because they are cowards. As the others divide up the loot, a disguised Poins and Hal jump out to rob them. Everyone runs off screaming with little resistance. Poins and Hal are thrilled that their plan worked out so hilariously.
Act II, Scene 3
Hotspur reads a letter from one of his would-be conspirators. The person writing wants nothing to do with the plot and insists that it is all too dangerous and he will have to now tell the King. Hotspur scoffs at the cowardice, but doesn’t worry too much because he still has a lot of powerful allies.
His wife asks if he is doing okay because he doesn’t eat or sleep or pay any attention to her. He is so consumed with everything on his mind that she worries for his health. Hotspur is too distracted as he prepares to leave to actually answer her. She eventually demands he answer her concerns. She becomes more insistent that she must know what he is doing and even threatens violence. He says he doesn’t love her. This causes her a great deal of heartache. She questions if it is true. He explains that he will tell her he loves her when he departs and she sees him off. He still refuses to tell her what is going on because she is a woman and she can’t reveal what she doesn’t know. This, understandably, frustrates her more. He finally explains that she will be following him the next day. This seems to resolve the marital conflict.