Henry IV, Part 1 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry IV, Part 1 | Act 5, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

Worcester talks Vernon into not telling Hotspur about the king's offer of forgiveness, reasoning that the king might forgive Hotspur because he's young and headstrong but that they themselves won't be forgiven. When Hotspur and Douglas join them, Worcester tells them the king has said he will see them in battle right away. Douglas leaves to send a message of defiance to the king. Once he is gone, Worcester expands on his lie, saying the king has called them traitors and rebels. Only after Douglas returns does Worcester share Prince Hal's challenge to single combat.

Hotspur asks if the prince spoke with contempt. Vernon assures him that it was a serious, honorable challenge and that Prince Hal spoke so highly of Hotspur that Vernon himself was moved. Hotspur says he will be glad to meet Prince Hal in combat. When a messenger tells him the king is coming, Hotspur draws his sword and says he is ready to fight.

Analysis

This scene clinches the rebellion's doom. Not only does Worcester refuse to tell his allies about the king's offer—a dishonorable action—he lies about what the king said in ways that distort the reality of the situation and wound their allies' honor.

Worcester's behavior is another sign of disorder in the kingdom. Rebellion breeds rebellion; messengers within the rebel army cannot be trusted to deliver messages truthfully.

Vernon's description of Prince Hal's challenge to Hotspur is delivered with reverence and signals a restoration of order in the kingdom. He foreshadows the battle's end and Hotspur's fate—and summarizes Prince Hal's transformation—when he says, "Let me tell the world, / If he outlive the envy of this day, / England did never owe so sweet a hope, / So much misconstrued in his wantonness."

Unfortunately, it's too late. The rebels' dishonesty and dishonor, both in their behavior toward the king and among themselves, have forced them to a point of no return. It's time for war.

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