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The first scene has Bardolph bringing the “Certain news” to Northumberland that his son, Hotspur, has killed Prince Hal, which quickly proves to be uncertain. Northumberland is informed by Morton who comes directly from Shrewsbury that Hotspur has been slain and the King has won. For a moment the Earl gives way to stormy passion. Travers and Bardolph make him aware of his duties, and then he hears that York has raised an army to oppose the King.
In the Archbishop’s palace, York, Hastings, Mowbray, and Bardolph are having a council of war. Bardolph doubts whether their forces are strong enough to oppose the King. Hastings argues that the present force is large enough. Moreover, he says that the King is going to face danger from the French and Welsh and that the royal treasury is empty.
Prince Hal is on a London street with Poins and appears to have no deep concern for his sick father or the affairs of the state.
He says that his heart bleeds inwardly but he makes no outward show of grief because tears would be a sign of hypocrisy.
Lady Northumberland and Lady Percy urge Northumberland not to participate in the revolt. He replies that he has already given his word to join. Lady Percy reminds him that if he holds his honor so highly, why did he not participate in the battle at Shrewsbury when Hotspur, his own son, needed him the most. She argues that had he participated, Hotspur would have won the battle and survived. Lady Northumberland urges her husband to hurry to Scotland.
Richard Neville, Earl of Westmoreland, second in command to Prince John, sums up the royalist argument against the rebel leaders. He rebukes the Archbishop of York, saying that he, instead of being the representative of the Church, is a rebel. York replies that he is not an enemy of peace but one who seeks redress of grievous wrongs. He complains that although grievances have been offered to the King, no audience has been granted. This has turned him a rebel. Westmoreland informs York that the Prince has come to hear the complaint of the rebels and to inform them that the Prince will not only hear them, but if the demands are just, he will settle them as well. When Mowbray voices his suspicion that the offer may be a trap, Westmoreland insists that it is honest. Satisfied with this statement, York requests Westmoreland to take the grievances to the Prince. Though Mowbray objects, his counsel is not heard by the unrealistic Hastings and the optimistic Archbishop. York orders Hastings to disperse their armies and the Prince does the same. When the armies are dispersed, Westmoreland arrests York, Mowbray, and Hastings. He says that he settle the grievance, but that they are arrested for being traitors and will be punished. He orders the traitors to be executed.
King Henry IV is lying in a room now in the Jerusalem Chamber with his sons by his side. He learns that Hal is eating with Poins and his other friends. The King is sad to realize that the heir to his throne is undisciplined and unfaithful. The King reproves Hal for being so irresponsible and lacking discipline. He says that he has proven that he has no love for his father and urges him to dig his grave and ring merry bells to announce the crowning of a new ruler. The Prince tells his father he will live long. Moved by his words, the King tells his son that he came to the throne unjustly and thus had a troubled reign. However, Hal will surely have a good reign since he will inherit the throne from his father. The King prays to God to forgive him for the death of Richard II and to grant his son a smooth and glorious reign. Henry IV dies and now a reformed Hal becomes the new ruler, and he embraces order and duty. The Lord Chief Justice is given full opportunity to bring about law and order in the state.