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The Chorus informs the audience that as a result of King Henry’s decision to invade France the whole of England is in a state of patriotic fervor. Conversely, the French are in a panic. Still, in their panic, the French manage to contract three English noblemen to assassinate King Henry for gold and treasures the success of which would preempt the planned English invasion. The Chorus urges the audience to pretend that they are in the English port of Southampton where the English are poised to sail for France.
Bardolph tries to raise Nim’s spirits, but the latter, who has been bested by Pistol with regards their mutual affection for the Hostess Nell Quickly, is inconsolable. Presently, Pistol and the Hostess appear to confront Nim and to chide him for holding a grudge. Nim draws his sword, compelling Pistol to draw his, but the two put their swords away when Bardolph threatens to kill the man who strikes first. Suddenly, the Boy, Falstaff’s former page, enters the scene to warn everyone of Falstaff’s deteriorating health which threatens to put the fat knight out of commission for good. Grief struck, the Hostess joins the boy to attend to Falstaff, but Nim and Pistol go at it again, drawing swords against one another only to they put their swords away when Bardolph repeats his threat to kill the man who dares to strike first. Subsequently, Pistol and Nim arrive at an agreement whereby Pistol will pay Nim a part of the money that’s owed him and make up the rest with liquor and friendship. Nim agrees to the terms. Presently, the Hostess appears to urge them to attend to Falstaff who doesn’t have much mortal life left in him.
King Henry’s brother Gloucester is incredulous that his brother king hasn’t yet arrested Scrope, Cambridge, and Grey who have been discovered to be conspiring with the French to assassinate the king. Exeter assures Gloucester, however, that the king will make their treachery public knowledge before long. Presently, King Henry, attended by Scrope, Cambridge and Grey, enters the scene. Before getting down to business, King Henry pardons a commoner for having slandered the throne, attributing it to distemper caused by excessive wine. But Scrope, Cambridge, and Grey object, arguing that the king ought to punish the offender lest others get ideas of doing the same. Nonetheless, arguing that a sense of proportion should be applied when assessing crimes and their punishments, King Henry pardons the man. Presently, King Henry, having appointed Scrope, Grey, and Cambridge to be England’s administrators during the king’s absence, hands them their official written commissions, or so the traitors think, for the written commissions are actually official decrees condemning them to immediate execution. In vain, Scrope, Grey, and Cambridge admit to their crimes and beg for mercy. The king chides them for daring to plead for mercy for their capital crimes when a moment ago they collectively urged that the man who committed a petty offense to be punished to the full extent of the law. The King is especially critical of Scrope with whom he had shared the most sensitive of confidences, and he laments the fact that a man could ever be so seemingly true, noble, and unimpeachable. By and by, the traitors are sentenced and taken away. Thanking God for having uncovered the treachery on behalf of the English, and citing this as proof that their cause is a good one, King Henry then gives the official word to set sail for France.
On the verge of making their way to Southampton to join the king, Pistol, Bardolph, Nim and the Boy exchange their last thoughts on Falstaff who has died the previous night between twelve and one. The Hostess, who is seeing the party off, waxes especially sad, recalling how stone cold Falstaff’s limbs were at the hour of his death. But she is sure that if anyone has deserved to be in Arthur’s bosom upon dying, then that man is Falstaff. Presently, as the party heads off for Southampton, Pistol lingers awhile to tell his newly married wife to trust no one and to keep herself confined to her house.
Fearful of King Henry, France’s King Charles orders his best men to fan out and to strengthen Frances’ defenses where they are most vulnerable. His son, the Dauphin, however mitigates the gravity of the situation, arguing that as Frances’ defenses should be strengthened regardless of the situation the French ought to go about their business as if nothing in particular was the matter. Consequently, the Constable chides the Dauphin, drawing the king’s attention to the latest reports of the French ambassador to England who attested to the seriousness and integrity of King Henry’s rule. This prompts King Charles himself to speak highly of King Henry, citing King Henry’s bloodline which was responsible for putting the French under the English yoke in the first place. Presently, King Henry’s ambassador Exeter arrives with a message from King Henry. The message is nothing less than a ultimatum, demanding the French to relinquish her crown to King Henry lest war make the French nobility responsible for the terrible suffering which is in the offing for their people. The Dauphin is defiant, but King Charles assures Exeter that an answer will be forthcoming.
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