At King Henry’s camp near Shrewsbury, King Henry, Prince Hal, Prince John, Sir Walter Blunt, and Falstaff observe the dawn. The king says the blood-red sun looks angry at the day. Prince Hal says the whistling of the southern wind “foretells a tempest and a blustering day.” The king says the wind can sympathize with the losers, for the day will look bright to victors, no matter the weather.
King Henry and Prince Hal’s exchange links the symbols of celestial signs and blood. Though the king initially supposes that the blood-red sun signifies human emotion (and is thus connected to human events), he then admits that there’s no significance to the sun’s appearance, that such symbolism is simply human projection.
Worcester and Vernon enter. King Henry says it’s a pity that Worcester and the rebels have forced him into “all-abhorred war” and asks Worcester whether he really wants to start a battle. Worcester says he doesn’t want war either, that in fact the impending battle was started by King Henry himself, whose past mistreatment and neglect of the Percy family forced the rebels into an uprising against their wills. Worcester’s speech describes once again the Percy family’s past loyalty to King Henry and their help in his rise to the throne, all of which they feel has gone unfairly unrewarded.
Like his nephew Hotspur, Worcester can’t shake the feeling that King Henry has committed unforgivable wrongs against the Percy clan. For him, the impending battle is not something the Percys have cooked up on their own but is instead the inevitable consequence of King Henry’s own unfair actions.
King Henry replies that he’s quite familiar with Worcester’s story, since the Percy family has proclaimed it far and wide in order to disguise their rebellion “with some fine color that may please the eye” of fickle and discontented observers. Never before, the king says, did “insurrection want such water-colours to impaint his cause.”
From King Henry’s perspective, the Percy family’s story is just empty language, used to lend a righteous appearance to a traitorous rebellion.
Prince Hal chimes in to praise Hotspur’s famous honor and courage and says that, though he has none of Hotspur’s noble deeds to his name, he offers to fight Hotspur one on one “to save the blood on either side” of the rest of the troops.
Even as Prince Hal is praising Hotspur’s honor, his own actions—attempting to spare his troops unnecessary bloodshed—proves him honorable in a way that the bloodthirsty Hotspur never is.
King Henry reiterates that “we love our people well” and tells Worcester to tell the rebels they have one last chance to accept the king’s peace offering. If they do, he will forgive them all and accept them back as friends. Worcester and Vernon exit to convey the message to the rebels.
By repeating his peace offering, King Henry shows just how committed he is to protecting his subjects and to negotiation through speech as opposed to violence.
Prince Hal doubts the rebels will accept peace because Douglas and Hotspur are so hot to fight. King Henry, Sir Walter Blunt, and Prince John exit to prepare the troops in case the rebels insist on fighting.
Prince Hal is, as usual, a perceptive reader of human nature: he knows that Douglas and Hotspur are eager to fight and will ignore his father’s words.
Falstaff asks Prince Hal to protect him in battle, but Hal tells Falstaff to “say thy prayers” and “thou owest God a death.” Hal exits.
Prince Hal’s response may be said jokingly, but it shows that he no longer treats war like a game: he acknowledges the real life-and-death stakes at hand.
Alone on stage, Falstaff muses on the nature of honor: what, he wonders, is the good of the honor they are all supposedly fighting for? Honor, after all, cannot heal broken bones or wounds. “What is honor? a word. What is that word, honor? air.” The dead do not “feel” the honor they have and the living don’t have it. “Therefore I’ll none of it,” Falstaff concludes.
Falstaff once again delivers a deeply insightful meditation. His reasoning undercuts the notion of honor that so many of the play’s characters operate under: honor is not worth fighting for because it can do nothing to alleviate the injuries suffered for it.