Let's begin with a Super Brief Recap of where things stand at the end of Henry IV Part 1. Even though King Henry IV's army mopped the floor with the rebels at the battle at Shrewsbury (at the end of Henry IV Part 1), he hasn't yet wrangled up the stray rebel leaders, who are busy plotting to overthrow him. If you need a more detailed brush-up on what went down in the two previous plays, Richard II and Henry IV Part 1, be sure to check out our "Summary" of Henry IV Part 1, but then come right back.
Now let's get started. Rumour appears on stage wearing a robe that's "painted full of tongues" and tells us to open our ears because they're about to be "stuff[ed]" with a bunch of lies, compliments of Rumour. Rumour likes to hitch rides on the wind as it blows around the world, spreading nasty rumors about war in every language. First stop, the Earl of Northumberland's castle (Warkworth), where Northumberland has been pretending to be sick while his son Hotspur and the rebel army have been getting slaughtered by King Henry IV's forces.
Not sure where Warkworth Castle is? Check out this nifty map, which can be enlarged with the click of your mouse.
As Rumour has promised, the Earl of Northumberland hears conflicting news about the outcome of the battle at Shrewsbury. When he finally learns that his son is dead, he gets all riled up (miraculously overcoming his recent illness) and calls for bloody and apocalyptic revenge. But, before he can do anything silly, his pals convince him to hook up with the Archbishop of York (a.k.a. Scroop) who happens to be plotting another rebellion against King Henry IV.
Meanwhile, in London, the Lord Chief Justice confronts Falstaff about his role in the robbery at Gads Hill (which went down earlier in Henry IV Part 1). Falstaff worms his way out of trouble by pointing out that he happens to be an important guy, a war hero in fact, and he's needed in the king's army since there's more civil rebellion brewing. While Falstaff is busy being saucy with the Lord Chief Justice, the rebel leaders gather at the Archbishop's (Scroop's) palace in York to discuss their strategy against King Henry IV. (Henry IV has appointed his son, Prince John of Lancaster, to lead the king's army.) The rebels decide it's probably not such a good idea to run headlong into battle. Hotspur tried that at Shrewsbury and it didn't work out so well for him. (Prince Hal stabbed Hotspur in the guts and then Falstaff came along, after Hotspur died, and stabbed him the thigh for good measure.)
Later, in London, Mistress Quickly files a legal suit against Falstaff, who has managed to swindle her out of a bunch of money by promising to marry her. Falstaff, of course, manages to worm his way out of yet another jam by sweet talking Mistress Quickly and making promises he'll never keep.
Meanwhile, Prince Hal laments to his friend Poins that he's in a tough spot. On the one hand, Hal's grown fond of his low-life pals (especially the cheap beer they drink). Yet, it's not appropriate for him to hang with the commoners anymore because he's about to be king. Plus, he's feeling bummed that his old man, King Henry IV, is so sick. (Did we mention that the king is ill?) Hal says he can't even show his sadness about his father's illness in public because it would make him look like a big hypocrite (since he's spent most of his life acting like a hoodlum and thumbing his nose at his dad).
Up in Northumberland at Warkworth castle, Lady Percy (Hotspur's widow) lays into her father-in-law for not backing up his son at the battle at Shrewsbury. After giving the old guy a major guilt trip, Lady Percy and her mother-in-law, Lady Northumberland, manage to convince him to run away to Scotland instead of participating in the new rebellion. He can always come back to England once the other rebels have done most of the dirty work.
Meanwhile, over at the Boar's Head Tavern in Eastcheap London, Falstaff parties it up with Mistress Quickly and his favorite prostitute, Doll Tearsheet. The three end up getting into a brawl with a guy named Pistol before Prince Hal and Poins reveal that they've been disguised as waiters and have been spying on Falstaff the entire time.
Over at the castle, the ailing King Henry IV confides in his trusty pal, Warwick, about his depressing life and his troubled reign as king. Henry recalls King Richard's prophesy that Henry's rule would be plagued by civil strife and betrayal and then goes on to say that it's not his (Henry's) fault that Richard was deposed – the guy was a lousy king, etc. (Hmm. Sounds like somebody's feeling pretty guilty about bumping King Richard off the throne but doesn't want to come out and admit he did anything wrong.)
Falstaff arrives at Justice Shallow's pad in Gloucestershire to draft some men into the king's army. (Given Falstaff's recruiting track record, we know there's going to be some corruption involved.) After shooting the breeze with Shallow and Silence, two old justices of the peace who spend all their time remembering the good old days of their youth, Falstaff recruits three guys named Shadow, Wart, and Feeble, who are all ridiculously unfit to serve in the military. Falstaff also takes bribes from two other men, Mouldy and Bullcalf, and lets them off the hook before heading off to meet up with the king's army.
Soon after, the rebels and the king's forces gather at Gaultree Forest in Yorkshire and prepare to battle. Westmoreland arrives at the rebel camp and sets up a meeting between Prince John and the rebel leaders, who lay out their beef with the king to Prince John. Prince John pretends to be sympathetic and convinces the rebels to lay down their arms and make nice. Once the rebels dismiss their army, Prince John says, "Surprise! You're all under arrest and you're going to be executed for treason." That settles that.
Back at the royal palace in Westminster, King Henry is doing what King Henry does best – complaining to Warwick about his good for nothing son, prince Hal, who is still hanging out with commoners. (Apparently, Henry has forgotten all about Hal saving his life at the battle at Shrewsbury in Henry IV Part 1 and he worries about what will happen to his kingdom when Hal gets his hands on the crown.) Warwick defends the prince and points out that Hal's just studying the commoners so he will know how to rule them when he's king.
When Prince Hal finally shows up at the castle, he sits by his father's bed and watches the king sleep. When it appears that Henry has died, Hal is saddened but, life goes on, so Hal takes his father's crown, places it on his head, and leaves the room. Then, surprise! King Henry wakes up. (He's just a very deep sleeper, apparently). When King Henry realizes that Hal has prematurely helped himself to the crown, he flips out and accuses the prince of wanting him dead.
Hal and the king eventually reconcile and Henry gives his son some advice about ruling the kingdom. It would be a good idea, says Henry, for Hal to drum up a nice little foreign war to distract everyone from civil strife at home on English soil. If Englishmen are busy slitting the throats of foreigners, they won't have time to think about overthrowing their king. Henry then notices that he's in a room of the castle called the Jerusalem chamber, which seems fitting to him since he once heard a prophesy that he would die in Jerusalem.
After King Henry dies (off stage) Prince Hal becomes King Henry V. The Lord Chief Justice is a smidge worried about this because he once threw the wild prince in the slammer for being a punk and boxing him, the Lord Chief Justice, on the ears. Turns out he has nothing to worry about. Hal has truly reformed and embraces the Lord Chief Justice as a "father" and advisor.
Meanwhile, Doll Tearsheet and Mistress Quickly are arrested and charged with murdering a man. Falstaff, who has heard that Hal is now king, makes his way to London for the coronation ceremony. When Falstaff approaches Hal on the street, the new king banishes the old knight. Prince John and the Lord Chief Justice are pleased as punch and predict that England will be at war with France soon. The story of King Henry V will be continued…
But wait, there's more! One of the actors (probably the guy who played Falstaff) runs out on stage and delivers an Epilogue (a final speech to the audience). There's the usual hemming and hawing about how terrible the play was and how he hopes the audience will forgive him for being part of such a lousy play, but maybe they'll be kind enough to clap anyway, and so on. Then there's a promise to continue the story of Falstaff in the next play and a little disclaimer about how Falstaff is not based on the historic figure, Sir John Oldcastle.