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Henry IV, Part 1 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 5, Scene 4

Course Hero Literature Instructor Shobha Tharoor Srinivasan provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 5, Scene 4 of William Shakespeare's play Henry IV, Part 1.

Henry IV, Part 1 | Act 5, Scene 4 | Summary



King Henry, Prince Hal, Lord John, and Westmoreland take the stage with the sounds of the battle all around them. The king wants Prince Hal to leave the field because he is injured, but the prince refuses. When Lancaster and Westmoreland leave, Prince Hal marvels at John's bravery and honor, and the king adds that John, young as he is, still held Hotspur at bay for a while. Prince Hal leaves to join another part of the battle.

Douglas enters. When he sees the king, he thinks it is another fake king. King Henry says no, he is the real king, and they fight. Douglas is winning when Prince Hal returns, attacks Douglas, and drives him off. The prince tells his father that two men (Gawsey and Clinton) need help and that he will go help Clinton. His father asks him to stay a while and tells Prince Hal he has redeemed his reputation and shown his father how much he loves him. The king then goes to help Gawsey, leaving Prince Hal alone onstage.

Hotspur enters. He recognizes Prince Hal, and the two men fight. While they are fighting, Falstaff arrives and cheers on Prince Hal until Douglas appears and attacks him. Falstaff falls down and feigns death, so Douglas leaves. Prince Hal kills Hotspur and pays his respects to him. When he notices Falstaff lying there, seemingly dead, Prince Hal praises Falstaff, promises to bury him, and leaves.

Falstaff gets up. He decides to claim he killed Hotspur. To make himself feel more involved, he gives the dead body another stab in the leg, which he will claim was the fatal blow, and lifts Hotspur on his shoulders. At this point, Prince Hal returns with Lord John. Prince Hal says he was sure he saw Falstaff dead on the ground. Puzzled, he asks Falstaff if he is real, and Falstaff swears he is—and that he killed Hotspur. Prince Hal says that if Falstaff gains some honor from lying, he is willing to let it pass. A trumpet sounds, indicating that the rebels are retreating and the king's forces have won.


This first half of this scene is the climax of the play. It brings together many of the play's themes and resolves most of the plot issues. Prince Hal and Lord John are acting like pure icons of honor, textbook examples of what a brave, heroic knight should be. Likewise, all tension between King Henry and Prince Hal is resolved. The two are fighting for the same cause. Their only disagreements are tactical as they consider the best action to take next.

When the rebel Douglas enters to kill yet another apparent king, he quickly recognizes the real King Henry. This demonstrates several things. First, no matter how King Henry rose to the throne, even those rebelling against him recognize him as a true king now, which undermines the rebels' claims. Second, his body language communicates his nobility, an aristocratic bearing that none of the false kings have had. Third, when Prince Hal jumps in to save the king, his action signals that the gap between son and father is healed and that Prince Hal is ready to take the throne if necessary. He drives Douglas away, showing he is as great a warrior as his father ever was.

The battle between Prince Hal and Hotspur confirms the prince's prowess and honor and the rebels' defeat. They meet voluntarily, fighting one-on-one. There is no deception, and though Falstaff stands by to cheer on Prince Hal, no one helps him. It is a battle between champions, which Prince Hal wins. Both the method of the fight and the outcome immensely increase Prince Hal's honor and stature.

At the same time, Falstaff's actions provide comic relief and commentary. He plays dead, much as the king has done by sending others to die in his place. Falstaff then claims that he, not Prince Hal, killed Hotspur. Though the audience members (and presumably Prince Hal) know the truth, this sequence shows how complex judgments can be, particularly judgments about a person's honor. After all, Prince Hal was wrong about Falstaff being dead—why couldn't he be wrong about Hotspur having been dead? Prince Hal thus demonstrates himself to be a careful and wise prince, or at the very least a flexible and forgiving one.

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