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Summary

Henry IV Part 2 Act 4, Scene 1 Summary Page 1

  • In Gaultree Forest in Yorkshire, the rebels have gathered in anticipation of a showdown with the king's forces. (Tip: Now would be a good time to consult the map we mentioned earlier if you're not sure where Yorkshire is.)
  • The Archbishop of York gives orders for the other rebel leaders to send out some scouts to find out how many troops the king's army (led by Prince John) has amassed. Hastings says they've already done so.
  • York tells the other leaders that he received a letter from Northumberland, which says something like this: "Sorry, but I won't be partaking in the rumble with the king. I'm going to chill out in Scotland for a while. Best Wishes, Northumberland."
  • A messenger arrives with word that about 30,000 troops are approaching from the west and they're barely a mile away.
  • Mowbray says that's exactly the number of troops they estimated the king would have.
  • (Hmm. We seem to recall that Mowbray and company estimated 25,000. But, what's an extra 5,000 men, give or take?)
  • Just then, Westmoreland (one of the king's men) rides up on his horse.
  • Westmoreland, whose feeling pretty snarky, says the Archbishop of York has done a swell job maintaining such a civil and peaceful diocese. Then he takes off his smart-aleck hat and accuses the Archbishop of abusing his power as a religious leader by organizing a rebellion against the King. Westmoreland wants to know what gives.
  • York says that he's turned to rebellion because the kingdom is "diseased" and must be cured with a little bloodletting in order to be saved from total ruin. The king has ignored their grievances so they have no other choice but to fight. (By the way, York never says what his beef is, exactly.)
  • History Snack: You're probably wondering about York's bloodletting comment. Essentially, he's saying that a little blood shed in battle is just the thing the "diseased" country needs in order to heal. Say what? How the heck is it possible to "heal" a country with bloodshed? Basically, York is punning on the old school medical practice of "bleeding" sick patients. The idea was that the human body was made up of four basic elements, called humors: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. These elements were supposed to influence a person's general health, disposition, and mood. When someone got sick, one of the first things a physician did was check to make sure all the "humors" were in balance (by inspecting blood, stool, urine, mucous, and so on). If it was looking like a person had too much blood then the solution was to drain some of it. The "safest" way to do this was by using blood-sucking leeches. But, leeches were kind of slow so physicians often opted to open a patient's vein to let the blood out. The thing about opening up veins like this is that it almost always results in bleeding to death. Check out this illustration by Hans von Gersdorff, which shows all the major points for bloodletting on the human body. (It's from a book called Field Book of Wound Medicine, 1517.)
  • Then Mowbray and Westmoreland bicker about some events that occurred in Richard II so we need a little background info. In Richard II Henry of Bolingbroke (who is now King Henry IV) accused Mowbray's father, the Duke of Norfolk, of treason and of conspiring to murder the late Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester. Henry and Norfolk challenged each other to a duel but before they could duke it out, King Richard II called the whole thing to a halt and banished both men. Then Richard stole a bunch of land from their families. Norfolk died in exile but Henry of Bolingbroke came back to England, deposed King Richard, and now sits on the throne as King Henry IV. Mowbray is feeling bitter about it.
  • Mowbray chimes in that everyone has been injured by King Henry IV but Westmoreland points out that Mowbray shouldn't have any beef with the king, since Henry's the one who restored all of his family's land after King Richard II annexed it.
  • Mowbray retorts that his father's death was all Henry's fault. King Richard, he says, only banished his father because Henry made such a big fuss and, if Richard hadn't stopped the duel, his father would have pummeled Henry into the earth. But now Henry has ruined the entire kingdom.
  • Westmoreland replies that Mowbray doesn't know what he's talking about. Everybody knows that Henry was the toughest nobleman around and would have mopped the floor with Norfolk if the fight had been allowed to continue. Besides, even if Norfolk had won the duel with Henry, the commoners would have killed him for it because Henry was the crowd favorite and more beloved than everyone else, including Richard II.
  • Westmoreland then says he's come to tell the rebels that Prince John will listen to their grievances and will try to settle the dispute so that everybody's happy.
  • Mowbray says the prince is just doing this for political gain, not because he gives a rat's behind about the rebels.
  • Hastings asks if Prince John has the king's permission to negotiate with the rebels and Westmoreland replies that, yes, Prince John speaks for the king.
  • The Archbishop of York whips out a laundry list containing the rebels' grievances and hands it over to Westmoreland, who promises to deliver it to Prince John.
  • Mowbray says he's got a bad feeling about all of this but Hastings assures him that all will be well.
  • York and Hastings agree that Mowbray's got nothing to worry about. King Henry's got enough to worry about and doesn't want any more trouble with the rebels. Besides, he can't possibly punish everybody he's got beef with, can he?
  • Westmoreland returns from delivering the rebels' list of complaints to Prince John. He says there's good news. Prince John wants to meet with the rebels halfway between the two enemy camps.

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