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Act 1, Scene 1
In this scene Bardolph arrives and tells Northumberland that King Henry is wounded and almost dead and Prince Hal is dead; John of Lancaster is taken prisoner by Henry Percy; Blunt is killed by the Earl of Douglas. Bardolph assures Northumberland that he has gotten this piece of information from “a gentleman well bred and of good name” who has just come from the battle. Then Travers arrives with the story that the rebels suffered a crushing defeat and that young Harry Percy has been killed. Though Bardolph asserts that his reports are true and is willing to wager his barony on the truth value of his report, Northumberland does not know which to believe. Soon another messenger and eye-witness, Morton, arrives from Shrewsbury and assures Northumberland that his son Hotspur has been slain, and that he had seen him with his own eyes. Further, Morton glorifies Percy’s courage and spirit. Hearing this Northumberland breaks down and laments in grief. He wishes for a world where there won’t be any conflict and competition. Morton reminds him of the dependence of his friends on his health and warns him that if he gives way to stormy passions it would create an unstable situation. He also reminds Northumburland that the latter had approved of Hotspur taking part in the war. Morton also informs him that the Archbishop of York has raised a force to oppose the King. Northumberland urges everyone to be informed of the danger and to find means to ensure safety.
The above scene establishes the basic theme of the main plot. It gives us an idea about the relationship of the first and second parts of Henry IV. It also gives us a clear picture about the actual state of England and about the dangers, which King Henry IV has yet to face. This scene introduces the leader of the Percy House, Henry Percy, and Earl of Northumberland.
He has been responsible for placing Henry on the throne. Later, he accused the King of failing to keep up his promises to them and revolted. On the pretext of being sick he had remained absent from the battle of Shrewsbury. When Morton arrives to give an eye-witness account of what has really happened at Shrewsbury, Northumberland asks him about his son and brother. He elaborately protests against the ill-news and the word “dead” tolls with monotonous insistence throughout. Northumberland says to Morton, “Tell thou an earl his divination lies,/ And I will take it as a sweet disgrace.” Morton glorifies Hotspur’s courage and high spirits. The lines where he describes Hotspur’s courage and valor, “Even to the dullest peasant in his camp,/ Being bruited once, took fire and heat away/ from the best tempered courage in his troops./ For from his metal was his party steeled,” are noted for the alliance of concrete and abstract images or scenes. Shakespeare associates everything with images and they follow each other more rapidly smoothly.
Hearing the news of his son’s death, Northumberland gives way to stormy passions. This is actually an outcry for the restoration of law and order and expresses the agony suffered by the enemies of national harmony. This invocation of universal fratricide is a pointer to the lack of unity among the people. Morton informs Northumberland that York has raised a force to oppose the King. York is a man who can bind his followers’ bodies and souls behind him.