Henry IV, Part 1 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry IV, Part 1 | Act 5, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

Worcester and Vernon join King Henry, Prince Hal, Lord John, Sir Walter Blunt, and Falstaff on the battlefield. The king criticizes Worcester for making war and asks again if the rebels will not stand down. Worcester explains that he thinks the king himself is responsible for the uprising, as he swore not to depose Richard II but did so anyway and took the throne for himself. The king says that Worcester and the Percys have made these claims before but that they are exaggerating. Prince Hal then challenges Hotspur to single combat to prevent widespread bloodshed.

Prince Hal and King Henry predict that the king's renewed offer of pardon will be rejected because Hotspur and Douglas are too hotheaded. Everyone leaves except Prince Hal and Falstaff. They talk briefly about the battle to come, and Prince Hal leaves. When Falstaff is left alone, he talks about how honor—the reason all men fight—is worth nothing compared to staying alive and healthy.

Analysis

In this scene, Worcester and Vernon meet with the king and his core loyal supporters to give their response to the offer Sir Walter Blunt delivers in Act 4, Scene 3. As opposed to the king's behavior in Act 1, Scene 1, when he treats Hotspur harshly for not turning over his prisoners, here the king demonstrates generosity and diplomacy. Unlike the rebels, he is willing to risk his own personal honor to save his army and reunite his country, a tremendous sacrifice that stands in direct contrast to the rebels' constant bickering about petty symbols of honor.

When the rebels turn down the king's offer and repeat their complaints, they show their cause to be hollow and themselves rigid. Their behavior almost justifies Falstaff's monologue on honor: "What is honor? A word. ... Who hath it? He that died o' Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No." However, the king's behavior forces the reader to question Falstaff's logic.

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