King Henry IV, in his old age, faces a double threat to the safety of his
kingdom. Owen Glendower, a Welsh rebel, is leading an uprising in the west,
and the Earl of Douglas is leading one in the north. Glendower defeats and
captures Mortimer, Earl of March, but young Henry Percy, known as Hotspur,
conquers Douglas. Hotspur wants to trade his prisoners to obtain the release
of Mortimer (named by the deposed Richard II as rightful heir to the crown),
but a suspicious King Henry IV refuses. Hotspur is infuriated and prodded-on
by his father, the Earl of Northumberland, joins the Welsh and Scotch
rebels. The Percys feel that King Henry IV has become ungrateful toward
them, as it was they who helped Henry Bolingbroke ascend to the throne.
The King is also worried over the escapades of his son, Prince Hal, heir
to the throne, who spends a great deal of his time in the lower parts of
London with that fat knight who appears in so many of Shakespeare’s plays,
the lying, bragging, guzzling Falstaff. Together, and with a ring of rowdy
thieves, they set out to rob some travelers on their way to pay their taxes.
Hal saves his comrades from getting into serious trouble by robbing Falstaff
in turn and restoring the money to the rightful owners. Back in court,
Prince Hal promises to reform and to meet the challenge of the rising rebel
forces, led by Hotspur. However, Hal puts Falstaff in command of a part of
his troops as they set out on the campaign.
In Wales, the rebels quarrel among themselves, as they prepare for battle
at Shrewsbury. King Henry quickly mobilizes against them, with Prince Hal as
his champion. The disunity of the rebels results in large segments of their
forces failing to appear, but Hotspur rashly decides to challenge the King’s
army anyway. The royal forces are victorious. Prince Hal himself kills
Hotspur and the Battle of Shrewsbury offers a brief promise of peace.