The personification of Rumor addresses the audience, delighting in his trickery and power over humans. At this moment he is busily spreading the false rumor that Hotspur triumphed over King Henry IV in the Battle of Shrewsbury.

Lord Northumberland, head of the Percy clan and Hotspur’s father, awaits news of the battle. A smug lord tells Northumberland that he’s heard excellent news, but is soon contradicted by messengers with the truth: the rebel cause has been defeated and Hotspur is dead. Northumberland rages over his loss, but his companions urge him to recommit to the cause: the Archbishop will support them and rally England against the King.

From life-and-death cataclysm in the North we travel to London, where Falstaff is concerned about his urine, and asks his page what the doctor thought of the sample he gave. The Lord Chief Justice, Flastaff’s tireless nemesis, scolds him for not already being in York with the rest of the King’s forces and Falstaff sasses him right back.

In York the conspirators, the Archbishop and three disaffected gentlemen, plan the coming battle, sure that the people will join their cause and that the royalist forces will find themselves additionally taxed by the French and the Welsh.

Mistress Quickly has had it with being taken advantage of by Falstaff and hires two officers to arrest him on charges of debt and false promises of marriage. When the Fat Knight appears she flings herself on him and causes a public uproar witnessed by the disgusted Lord Chief Justice, who again angrily reminds him of his duty to the Crown. When the Justice is called aside to hear news of the King’s divided forces, some in the North and some in Wales, Falstaff sweet talks Quickly once again, getting her to invite him for a farewell supper that evening.

In another part of London Prince Hal confesses to Poins that he’s downhearted and depressed: his life hasn’t changed at all, he’s still wasting his life with Falstaff and the gang, for which Poins mocks him. His spirits rise when Bardolph shows him a ridiculous letter from Falstaff. Hal and Points decide to disguise themselves as waiters and crash Falstaff’s cozy farewell dinner at the Boar’s Head Tavern.

Lord Northumberland prepares to leave for the war. His daughter-in-law, Hotpur’s widow, tearfully begs him not to go. His wife concurs and convinces him that the Archbishop and his army will be enough to defeat the King. He gives in.

Falstaff is settling in for a jolly evening in the company of Doll Tearsheet, one of Quickly’s wenches. But interruptions keep arising. Ancient Pistol, a swaggering ensign of Falstaff’s arrives, to the dismay of Mistress Quickly and especially Doll. His bumptious presence puts her in a snit. At length Bardolph is able to drive Pistol away, and just as things are getting good again, Hal and Poins, tricked out as waiters, show up, in time to hear Falstaff try to impress Doll by bad-mouthing them. As usual Falstaff is able to talk his way out of any harm. Another of the gang, Peto, runs in to announce that the Prince is urgently needed at the court, and that twenty captains are combing London in search of the missing Falstaff.  Hal leaves in haste, Falstaff less willingly. Then sends after him for Doll, for a farewell tumble.

King Henry IV, who has been ill, wanders the Palace, unable to sleep. He reflects that most of his subjects, in far less comfortable surroundings, are now asleep, but that his deep concerns for the country’s welfare prevent him from finding rest. A loyal nobleman, the Earl of Warwick, urges him to return to bed, and to cheer him informs him that the dangerous Glendower, one of the crown’s most fearsome enemies, is dead.

In pleasant Gloucestershire resides Justice Shallow, dottering just this side of the grave, with his equally wealthy and foolish fellow justice, Silence. Falstaff and Bardolph come to Shallow’s comfortable manor house, recruiting locals for the King’s army. They interview five men, letting go those who pay them a bribe and taking the poor and the feeble: Falstaff plans to pocket the money from those killed in battle, and when he has profited as much as he can from the war, he’ll pay another visit to Justice Shallow and see what he can get out of him.

Near the forest of Gaultree, just north of York, the two sides of the civil war prepare to engage. Lord Westmoreland confronts the rebels with the king’s offer of universal clemency and respect for all of their demands if they will lay down their arms and dismiss their troops. Prince John seconds the Crown’s generous offer, and all of the leaders join in a celebratory toast in the sight of the two armies. The rebel leaders dismiss their troops, who are all too happy to leave as fast as they can. Then the Prince arrests the rebel leaders for high treason and condemns them to death,  supported by his own army, who have moved in after the opposing troops left. 

One of the rebel lords, looking for someone to surrender to, happens on Falstaff, who immediately claims this as a great victory to Prince John, hopeful of a large reward. The Prince doesn’t bother to disguise the contempt in which he holds Falstaff. Westmoreland reports that the mopping up operations are concluded, and that the King is gravely ill in London. After they leave Falstaff doesn’t bother to hide his contempt for Prince John.

As the war draws to its close the frail King hopes that at last he may fulfill the vow he made on his succession: to journey to the Holy Land. He was told that he would die in Jerusalem, and he longs for it. His two youngest sons are with him and he asks after Hal, only to be told that the Prince of Wales is off roistering. The King despairs for England in the hands of his wayward son, but wise Westmoreland comforts him by suggesting that the Prince is actually studying different kinds of men to prepare for being a monarch, and he will throw off his base associations when he needs to. A lord tells the King of the conclusive victory of his forces, which causes him to swoon. He’s carried to his bedroom, where Hal finds him. The Prince sits by his father, and, looking at the crown placed on his pillow, comes to believe that his pale, still father is dead. He tearfully puts the crown on his head and withdraws to mourn. The King stirs and calls, and the young Princes and Warwick run in. He demands to know where the crown is; they tell him that Prince Hal was alone with him, and Hal hurries in, astonished to find his father alive. Henry is incensed that his eldest son has, as he thinks, snatched the crown, impatient to rule. Hal protests his love and devotion to his father, returning the crown to him, and convincing the King of his joy at the King’s not being dead. The two men have a loving reunion, and Henry advises his heir on statecraft and on the rightness of his inheritance. Prince John arrives in his father’s bedchamber from the wars. Henry asks if the room in which he swooned has a particular name, and praises God when he learns that its name is “Jerusalem”. Now he can lay down his burden, without an arduous journey to the Holy Land, and knowing that his heir will serve England well.

In Gloucestershire Falstaff and Co have comfortably ensconced themselves in Justice Shallow’s stately home and have no plans to leave any time soon.

In London the Lord Chief Justice receives commiseration from Lord Warwick: he will surely be removed from his post, and perhaps worse, now that Prince Hal, whom he once imprisoned, has become King Henry VIII. The young King enters and confronts the Lord Chief Justice, but astonishes and moves the older man by humbly admitting his past wildness, praising the Justice for his loyalty to the law of the land, and asks him to be his trusted advisor and foster father.

At the home of a very different kind of Justice, dim Justice Shallow, drunken singing fills the air when Pistol bursts in with the long-awaited news: the old king is dead, long live the new king, and the limitless bounty that will flow from him directly to his pet, Falstaff.

Back in London, Mistress Quickly and Doll Tearsheet are being dragged off to prison: a man was found beaten to death in their and Pistol’s company.

Falstaff, Pistol, Bardolph and Justice Shallow have raced back to London and eagerly await being welcomed and celebrated by King Henry V. The King processes through the jubilant streets on his way to his coronation and Falstaff calls out to him. King Henry has the Lord Chief Justice try to quiet Falstaff, but when he will not be quashed the King himself must publicly distance himself on no uncertain terms from his old companion. Henry passes on, and Falstaff and his followers are conducted to prison, with the promise of limited financial maintenance and that, if they reform, they may be allowed back into society. Prince John and the Chief Justice and delighted with the new King’s first actions, and predict that within the year he will lead the English forces into France.

One of the actors steps forward to pronounce the Epilogue, apologizing

for any flaws in the play, promising that Falstaff would be back in

something new, and that the story would shift to France. And if that's not

enough, here's a little dance.

Synopsis by Beverly Bullock

©2004-2010 ShakespeareNYC



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