King Henry IV

King Henry IV

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Act I, scene i
Summary
I . . .
See riot and dishonor stain the brow
Of my young Harry.
(See Important Quotations Explained)
In the royal palace of London, King Henry IV of England speaks with his counselors. Worn out by the recent civil wars that have wracked his country, Henry looks forward to a project he has been planning for a long time: joining in the Crusades. He plans to lead a military expedition to Jerusalem, the Holy Land, to join in the battle between the Islamic peoples who currently occupy it and the European armies who are trying to seize it for the sake of Christianity.

However, news from two separate borders of Henry’s kingdom almost immediately changes his plans: skirmishes have broken out between the English forces on one side and Scottish and Welsh rebels on the other. The king’s trusted advisor, the Earl of West-moreland, relays the bad news that Edmund Mortimer, an English military leader, has lost a battle against a band of guerrilla fighters in Wales, who are led by the powerful and mysterious Welsh rebel Owain Glyndwr. Glyndwr has captured Mortimer, and the rebels have slaughtered one thousand of Mortimer’s soldiers. Moreover, the Welsh women, following their traditions, have mutilated the -soldiers’ corpses.
From the other English border, Westmoreland adds, he has just received information that young Harry Percy, nicknamed Hotspur, another of the king’s best military men, is currently engaged in heated battle with Archibald, also known as the Douglas, the leader of a large band of Scottish rebels. King Henry has been previously told about this development, it turns out, and already possesses an update about the outcome: young Hotspur has defeated the -Douglas and his army of ten thousand and has taken prisoner several important figures among the Scotsmen, including the Douglas’s own son Mordake, Earl of Fife. King Henry is pleased at the news and cannot help comparing Hotspur’s achievements with the idleness of his son, Prince Harry: Harry is the same age as Hotspur, but he has not won any military glory. Indeed, Harry’s dishonorable behavior makes King Henry ashamed; he wishes that Hotspur were his son instead.
Hotspur, however, is behaving very strangely: he has sent word to King Henry that he plans to send only one of his prisoners (Mordake) to the king and retain the rest.

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This action flouts standard procedure, as the king has an automatic right to all noble prisoners captured in battle. Westmoreland suggests that Hotspur’s rebellious act comes at the prompting of his uncle, the Earl of Worcester, who is known to be hostile to the king. The angered Henry concurs and says that he has sent for Hotspur, demanding that he come and explain himself. Henry decides that the Crusades project will have to be put off and that he will hold court the next Wednesday at Windsor Castle to hear what Hotspur has to say.

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