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Act V, Scene 3
Scene 3 shifts to Windsor Castle where Bolingbroke, who has assumed the throne as Henry IV, is complaining to Harry Percy about his truant son and heir to the throne, Prince Hal. He has not seen Prince Hal for three months. He asks Harry Percy to inquire for him at the London taverns, which he frequents with his "unrestrained loose companions." Aumerle enters while Bolingbroke is discussing his son with Harry Percy. Seeing that Aumerle is agitated, Bolingbroke orders everyone present to leave him alone with Aumerle. Kneeling on the ground, Aumerle begs forgiveness of Bolingbroke. When Bolingbroke pardons him, Aumerle locks the door to ensure that no one enters while he confesses his involvement in the Abbot of Westminster's plot to murder Bolingbroke in Oxford.
After Aumerle locks the door, York arrives and warns the king to beware: "Thou hast a traitor in thy presence there." As Bolingbroke reaches for his sword, Aumerle assures him that he has nothing to fear from him. York insists on being let inside and hands Bolingbroke the document which reveals Aumerle's treachery. Aumerle urges Bolingbroke to remember that he has already granted him pardon as the king reads the document. Bolingbroke is enraged and exclaims, "O heinous, strong, bold conspiracy! / O loyal father of a treacherous son!" He tells York that his "abundant goodness shall excuse / This deadly blot in thy digressing son." The duchess of York arrives and begs to be let in to entreat Bolingbroke to forgive her son saying, "A beggar begs, that ne'er begg'd before." Bolingbroke is exasperated and sardonically comments, "Our scene is alter'd from a serious thing, / And now changed to 'The Beggar and the King'." York persists in his opinion that Bolingbroke should not pardon Aumerle and warns him that if he does so, it will engender more sins and conspiracies. The duchess is shocked at York's hard-heartedness, and a family quarrel is played out before Bolingbroke's eyes. The duchess kneels before the king and begs forgiveness for Aumerle. She refuses to rise up unless the king grants pardon to Aumerle. The duchess is successful in saving Aumerle from Bolingbroke's wrath, but Bolingbroke's clemency does not extend to the conspirators in the plot to murder him. The scene ends with the duchess vowing to pray to God for Aumerle's transformation.
The scene opens with Henry lamenting about his truant son, Prince Hal. Henry suggests that his son is a "plague" who is tormenting him for his sinful act of deposing a king anointed by God. This theme of a son acting as a punishment for the sins of the father is a common one in Shakespeare's later plays. The only consolation for Henry are the "sparks of better hope" which he glimpses in Hal. The Henry IV plays depict Hal in a favorable light, and his activities in the streets and taverns of London throw into greater relief the baseness which surrounds him. The action of the later Henry plays is thus foreshadowed in this scene.
Aumerle's hurried entrance returns the play to the main line of action. Aumerle's confession of his part in the conspiracy is interrupted by the arrival of York. York is overeager to prove his loyalty. He actively dissuades Henry from pardoning Aumerle. He in fact insists that Henry punish the treacherous Aumerle, warning him of dire consequences if he does not do so: "If thou do pardon, whosoever pray, / More sins for this forgiveness prosper may." There is an element of irrational fear and panic in York's insistence that Aumerle be punished.
Henry does pardon Aumerle, thus showing that he possesses the necessary degree of mercy expected of a monarch. But he does not forgive the other conspirators and orders their execution. Henry's actions thus reveal justice tempered with mercy.