The fifth and final act of The First Part of Henry the Fourth begins in the royal military camp before Shrewsbury. Both father and son, King Henry and Prince Hal note how nature seems to portend a dark day of battle. Worcester and Vernon arrive from the rebel camp to parley before the battle. They state their distrust of Henry, given their recollection of the broken promises upon his return to England from his exile. Henry says that he has heard their side of the story
Proclaimed at market-crosses, read in churches,
To face the garment of rebellion
With some fine color
In an attempt to save the “many a soul” (V.i.83) who will die in the upcoming battle, Hal first praises Hotspur, then challenges him to “a single fight” (V.i.100). King Henry overrules his son, but offers pardon and “grace” (V.i.106). Once Worcester and Vernon exit, Hal predicts the offer will not be accepted, and the royals depart for battle, leaving Falstaff alone onstage to deliver his “catechism” (V.i.140) on honor:<
Well, ’tis no matter; honor pricks me on. Yea, but how if honor prick me off when I come on? how then? Can honor set to a leg? no: or an arm? no: or take away the grief of a wound? no. Honor hath no skill in surgery, then? no. What is honor? a word. What is in that word honor? what is that honor? air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it? he that died o’ Wednesday. Doth he feel it? no. Doth he hear it? no. ‘Tis insensible, then. Yea, to the dead. But will it not live with the living? no. Why? detraction will not suffer it. Therefore I’ll none of it. Honor is a mere scutcheon
Immediately following this pragmatic and sarcastic discussion of honor, we have Act Five, Scene Two, where we find Worcester telling Vernon that they should hide the King’s offer from Hotspur. Worcester says how not only does he not trust the king’s “word” (V.ii.5), but that “hare-brained Hotspur” (V.ii.19) will be held responsible for the rebellion, even though Worcester and the rest “did train him on” (V.ii.21). Vernon at first disagrees, but then says that he will remain silence.
When Hotspur and Douglas arrive, Worcester tell them a lie, the king’s hateful and accusatory response to his “gently (telling) of (their) grievances” (V.ii.36). Worcester tells of Hal’s offer of single combat, Hotspur asks if the offer was presented in “contempt” (V.ii.50), and Vernon remains silent no longer… Hal, according to Vernon, has “mastered there a double spirit // Of teaching and of learning instantly” (V.ii.63-64). Hotspur predicts victory, and he is so confident that when a messenger arrives with letter, he is too impatient to read them.
Act Five, Scene Three takes us onto the field of battle where the Scot, Douglas, finds yet another soldier in the garb of the king–this time, Sir Walter Blunt–and kills him in battle. Hotspur arrives, and Douglas says that he’s killed the king, but Hotspur recognizes Blunt. They leave to fight more, and Falstaff comes on stage, fleeing from battle, where “there’s not three of (his) hundred and fifty left alive” (V.iii.35-36). Prince Hal finds him and chides him for not being in battle.
Act Five, Scene Four, takes us to another part of the battlefield with the Royals. Hal has been injured (he “bleedst too much” [V.iv.1]), but Hal considers it “a shallow scratch” (V.iv.10). They disperse, but the King is caught by Douglas, who is close to killing Henry when Hal reenters and the prince forces the Scotsman to flee. The king exits.
And Hotspur enters, and Hal tells his surrogate brother that he is no longer willing “to share with (him) in glory any more” (V.iv.63). As Hotspur and Hal fight, Falstaff enters and begins to watch, only to be found by Douglas. Falstaff then “falls down as if he were dead” (V.iv.73 stage direction), and Douglas leaves again. Hal slays Hotspur then speaks over him in “fair rites of tenderness” (V.iv.97). Hal then spies the “dead” Falstaff and speaks over him as well.
When Hal leaves, Falstaff rises to deliver the final soliloquy of the play, noting that “the better part of valor is discretion” (V.iv.118). He decides to take credit for Percy’s death and begins to take him back to camp when Hal and his brother John find Falstaff and his victim. Falstaff takes offense that Hal questions the old fat man’s recollection of events, but Hal allows him to have his moment in the sun: “For my part, if a lie may do thee grace, // I’ll gild it with the happiest terms I have” (V.iv.155-156).
The final scene finds us in the victorious royal camp, with Worcester and Vernon being sent off to death for the “misuse … of thy kinsman’s trust” (V.v.5). Hal has captured Douglas, and he decides to give the Scot his liberty. The play ends with Henry sending Prince John and Westmoreland after Northumberland, while the king and Hal head off to Wales to take on Glendower.
And we’re set for The Second Part…