Summary: Act IV, scene iii

At the rebels’ camp in Shrewsbury, Hotspur and the Douglas argue with Worcester about whether they ought to attack Henry’s forces right away or hold off for a while. Worcester and Vernon urge them to wait: not all of the forces that Vernon will send have arrived yet, and since Worcester’s band of knights on horses has just arrived that day, the horses are still worn out. But Hotspur and the Douglas are both impatient to attack.

Sir Walter Blunt arrives in their camp, bearing an offer of peace from Henry. If Hotspur and his allies will state their grievances against Henry and disband their attack, he says, Henry promises that he will satisfy their desires and grant full amnesty to the rebels. Hotspur then launches into a long speech in which he describes his family’s dissatisfaction with Henry: when Henry himself had been the underdog several years before, trying to seize power from the king at the time, Richard II, the Percy family gave him invaluable help. Henry, then known as Henry Bolingbroke, had once been a mere cousin of the former king. Exiled by his royal cousin for flimsy reasons, Henry returned to England while King Richard was away fighting in Ireland. He originally claimed that he had only come to reclaim the title and inheritance that were due to him from his father, Richard’s recently deceased uncle, whose lands Richard had seized upon his death. Henry stayed, of course, to fight for the crown of England. Partly swayed by the influence and power of the Percy family, the common people of England and the nobles of -Richard’s court joined Henry’s faction, allowing him to take over power from Richard in a bloodless coup—though Richard was later assassinated in mysterious circumstances.

Now, King Henry seems to have forgotten the gratitude he owes the Percy family—the most recent example being his refusal to pay a ransom for Mortimer after Mortimer was captured in Wales. Blunt asks if he should take Hotspur’s words as a declaration of war; Hotspur replies that Blunt should return to Henry and await Worcester in the morning with the rebels’ decision. Hotspur suggests they may decide to accept Henry’s offer of amnesty after all.

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Summary: Act IV, scene iv

Meanwhile, in York (in northern England), the Archbishop of York, an ally of Hotspur and the other rebels, speaks with a friend named Sir Michael. The archbishop gives Sir Michael urgent letters, -including one to the archbishop’s cousin Scrope and another to the Lord Marshal. He tells Sir Michael anxiously that the next day will be very important, stating that the “fortune of ten thousand men”- depends on the outcome of the battle that is to occur at Shrewsbury (IV.iv.9). He is very concerned, for he has heard that Henry’s forces are powerful and that with Northumberland, Glyndwr, and -Mortimer absent, the Percy forces will be too weak to emerge victorious.

Sir Michael bids the archbishop be optimistic, since the rebellion does have on its side powerful warriors like the Douglas, his son Mordake, Vernon, Hotspur, Worcester, and others. But the archbishop replies that the king has all the other finest warriors in the land, including the Prince of Wales (Harry), his younger brother, Prince John, Westmoreland, Blunt, and many more. The archbishop urges Sir Michael to make haste with the letters. Apparently, the archbishop plans to set up a contingency plan in case Henry wins at Shrewsbury. He knows that Henry is aware of his involvement in the uprising, and, if the rebels lose, the archbishop will be implicated in the conspiracy.

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Analysis: Act IV, scenes iii–iv

The heart of Act IV, scene iii is Hotspur’s recounting of the history behind the Percys’ grievances against King Henry. Shakespeare’s audience would have been familiar with the events that Hotspur describes, since they were then a matter of relatively recent history. Moreover, other plays of the era had related these events, including Shakespeare’s own Richard II, which appeared about a year or so prior to 1 Henry IV.