Part I synopsis | Part II synopsis
The second play in Shakespeare's series of histories covering the reigns of Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V. Shakespeare muses on the consequences of actions, the role of princes and the realities of wielding power.
(You can also listen to the Part I synopsis or download it as an audio file)
Richard is dead and Henry Bolingbroke is now King Henry IV. The king is not enjoying his reign. He feels guilty about the removal of Richard and it troubles his conscience. He'd like to go to the Holy Land on crusade to pay penance but there are troubles much nearer to home that need his attention.
Rebellion is brewing
His reign is threatened by growing opposition from some of the very nobles who helped him to the throne – especially the Percy Family. Wales and Scotland are threatening rebellion as King Richard's nominated heir, Edmund Mortimer looms large on the horizon.
King Henry's suspicious, rude and perhaps arrogant treatment of Henry Percy (the Earl of Northumberland's son who is known as 'Hotspur' because of his courage and impetuous nature) only makes matters worse.
Prince Hal plays the fool
King Henry's own heir – his son, Prince Henry (also known as Harry and Hal) - is living a dissolute life, frequenting the taverns of Eastcheap in the company of Sir John Falstaff and other disreputable characters.
Hal likes Falstaff but also enjoys insulting and tricking him. He goes so far as to stage a robbery of Falstaff and his fellows just for the sport of listening to Falstaff recount the exaggerated story afterwards.
Hal knows he's not being particularly 'princely' but he intends to improve his behaviour when the right moment comes.
Opposition to the king becomes open rebellion, led by Hotspur (Henry Percy) who now supports the claim to the throne of Edmund Mortimer (his brother-in-law).
Father and son are reunited
The rebellion brings Hal back to his father's side – the moment for behaving more like a prince has come. Falstaff musters a ragged troop of soldiers. Will the king's army defeat the rebels at the battle of Shrewsbury? And will Falstaff live to die another day?
The third play in the histories covering the reigns of Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V. In this play Shakespeare explores loyalty, betrayal and growing old.
(You can also listen to the Part II synopsis or download it as an audio file)
The play begins in the aftermath of the battle in Shrewsbury.
In despair at the death of his son Hotspur, the Earl of Northumberland pledges to lend his support to a second rebellion. This uprising is led by Richard Scroop who is the Archbishop of York.
The old king grows sick
As the threat of civil war looms over the country King Henry IV becomes increasingly unwell. He also fears that his son Prince Henry has returned to his old life with Falstaff and the other disreputable denizens of the Eastcheap tavern.
Falstaff and the prince are separated
The Chief Justice confronts Falstaff (who is also in bad health) with reports of his criminal behaviour. He warns him that Hal will be kept separate from him because the king is unhappy with the influence he has had on the prince.
Falstaff is sent on a recruiting expedition in support of King Henry's army. This force is being led by Prince John of Lancaster (the king's younger son) this time. But before he can set off he must face a court in the company of Mistress Quickly for his debts to her and for services rendered at her tavern.
The rebel army is met by the king's forces who are led by Prince John and bolstered by Falstaff's recruits. A treaty is brokered but is followed by betrayal.
A new king is crowned
King Henry wakes to find his son, Hal, trying on his crown. The dying king is angry at first but is reconciled with his son before he dies. A new, mature Hal accepts the crown as King Henry V and turns his attention to a war with France.
His old friend Falstaff finds himself excluded from the new king's court and company.