Act Four of The Second Part of Henry the Fourth begins in the rebel camp in Gaultree Forest. Our usual suspects of Hastings, the Archbishop, and Mowbray are there. Northumberland, of course, is not, as “he is retired…to Scotland” (IV.i.13-14). Instead, the rebels find themselves facing upward of “thirty thousand” (IV.i.22) troops.
From their enemy (the royals), Westmoreland comes as an emissary, to accuse them of “base and bloody insurrection” (IV.i.40). The Archbishop, in turn, accuses the nation of “surfeiting and wanton hours…which disease // Our late king, Richard, being infected, died” (IV.i.55,57-58). Westmoreland reaches out to Mowbray, reminding him that he had his father’s titles and lands “restored” to him (IV.i.110), but it is obvious that Mowbray still harbors resentment, denouncing what has “miscarried under Bolingbroke” (IV.i.129).
Westmoreland has a mission, though:
Here come I from our princely general
To know your griefs; to tell you from his grace
That he will give you audience; and wherein
It shall appear that your demands are just,
You shall enjoy them, every thing set off
That might so much as think you enemies.
It seems that the king is making the same offer as he had in The First Part: redress of wrongs. Only this isn’t the king, but the “princely general.” Before we think that it is Hal, the heir apparent, who is giving the orders, however, we are reminded that it is “Prince John” (IV.i.162) who Westmoreland is accompanying. The Archbishop gives over a list of their grievances and they await their fate.
The second scene brings Prince John into the discussion. The Archbishop tells him of what he had given Westmoreland, “the parcel and particulars of (their) grief” (IV.ii.36). There’s a list of issues, but he doesn’t state them. The prince reads them, and “like(s) them all, and do(es) allow them well” (IV.ii.54); the prince doesn’t explain them, either. [is this a narrative shortcut, not giving out the details…] The prince’s allow-ance is enough for the rebels, who capitulate, and send out messengers to deliver “news of peace” (IV.ii.70). And once this is announced, Westmoreland drops the bombshell on Hastings:
I do arrest thee, traitor, of high treason:
And you, lord archbishop, and you, Lord Mowbray,
Of capitol treason I attach you both.
When the Archbishop asks if they’ve been betrayed, the prince himself explains:I promised you redress of these same grievances
Whereof you did complain; which, by mine honor,
I will perform with a most Christian care.
But for you, rebels, look to taste the due
Meet for rebellion and such acts as yours.
Is this a betrayal? Is this what King Henry would have done? [after all, it was Hal’s decision to release the Scot Douglas at the end of The First Part] Is this what HAL would have done?
And more importantly, is this “kingly”?
Act Four, Scene Three takes us to another part of the battlefield, where Falstaff takes a prisoner. And we see the chaos of war, the winds of change as Prince John and Westmoreland arrive:
Now, have you left pursuit?
Retreat is made and execution stayed.
Send Colevile with his confederates
To York, to present execution
The retreat has been sounded; that makes sense as the war is ending. Hastings, the Archbishop and Mowbray had been arrested; their execution, I suppose could have been stayed. Yet, Prince John reverses this (reversal?) by sending Falstaff’s prisoner Colevile to his death.
Prince John also announces that he must go to London where his father is “sore sick” (IV.iii.76); and he tells Falstaff, like Hal did a play ago, that he will “better speak of you than you deserve” (IV.iii.84). John leaves Falstaff alone, and the old fat man tells us,
If I had a thousand sons, the first humane principle I would teach them should be, to forswear thin potations and to addict themselves to sack.
And he almost succeeded with Prince Hal.
The fourth and fifth (and final) scene takes us back to the palace and the dying king. Henry speaks with grief over Hal’s “unguided days // And rotten times” (IV.iv.59-60), only to be reassured by Warwick that
The prince will in the perfectness of time
Cast off his followers; and their memory
Shall as a pattern or a measure live,
By which his grace must mete the lives of others,
Turning past evils to advantages.
Buoyed by this news (as well as news that Northumberland has been captured), Henry knows that he “should rejoice now” (IV.iv.109), but he collapses instead, and his other sons and nobles take him to his chamber where he calls for “music” (IV.v.4), recalling–if you remember–Richard the Second’s last hours. With his crown by his pillow, he begins to doze as Hal appears, and they leave Hal with his father. Hal then notices
By his gates of breath
There lies a downy feather which stirs not:
Did he suspire, that light and weightless down
Perforce must move. My gracious lord! my father!
Thinking his father is dead, his guilt breaks and he tells the dead king,
Thy due from me
Is tears and heavy sorrows of the blood,
Which nature, love, and filial tenderness,
Shall, O dear father, pay thee plenteously:
My due from thee is this imperial crown,
Which, as immediate as thy place and blood,
Derives itself to me.
He puts on the crown and in grief leaves the room.
Only there’s one problem.
The king wakes up. And finds the crown gone. And jumps to the conclusion that Hal did “so hunger for (his) chair” (IV.v.94) that Hal would take the crown for himself. Hal returns, Henry sends the others away, and begins to chide Hal, in much the same way as he did in The First Part. Hal apologizes for the misinterpretation, and proclaims,
If any rebel or vain spirit of mine
Did with the least affection of a welcome
Give entertainment to the might of it,
Let God for ever keep it from my head
The apology is accepted and the king admits to Hal the “bypaths and indirect crooked ways” (IV.v.184) by which he took the crown, saying that made the crown “troublesome (as) it sat upon his head” (IV.v.186). The father hopes that it will descend with “better quiet, // Better opinion, better confirmation” (IV.v.187-188) upon the son’s head. Henry then advises Hal to “busy giddy minds // With foreign quarrels” (IV.v.213-214), so that men may forget what Henry had done.
And Hal and his brothers take Henry to the “Jerusalem” (IV.v.234) chamber of the palace, where Henry can die.
And thus ends Act Four… what’s there left to do?