At the palace in London, Warwick informs the Chief Justice that King Henry IV is dead. The Chief Justice says he wishes he, too, were dead, for Prince Hal so loathes him that his life under the new king will be hell. Lancaster, Clarence, and Gloucester enter. Warwick wishes Hal was more like his brothers Lancaster and Clarence. The princes express their condolences to the Chief Justice for losing his friend, the king, and for having to face his inevitably grim new life under Prince Hal. The Chief Justice replies that he will always act with “truth and upright innocency,” or else die.
Although the Chief Justice dreads the bad treatment he is convinced he’ll soon receive from a resentful Prince Hal, he nevertheless stands true to his morals and his unyielding commitment to honesty. Unlike Falstaff, he doesn’t plan to try to wiggle out of anything.
Hal, now King Henry V, enters and, seeing his brothers’ nervous expressions, tells them he understands sorrow at King Henry IV’s death but that they shouldn’t be worried about his rise to the throne. He’ll rule with fatherly and brotherly love and will make them happy. Looking around and still seeing many anxious faces, King Henry V singles out the Chief Justice, whose face looks most anxious of all and confronts him about the “great indignities” the justice has made him suffer in the past.
As Northumberland could read the truth off of Morton’s face, so too can King Henry V perceive his brothers’ thoughts through their mute expressions. The princes are, of course, as worried as the Chief Justice that King Henry V will rule with wild immoderation and force everyone to suffer at his hand. King Henry V, though, claims otherwise.
The Chief Justice responds that he always acted according to the law and as the representative of King Henry IV, whose power was vested in him. When Prince Hal broke the king’s laws, he punished the prince accordingly. The Chief Justice asks King Henry V to imagine if one of his future sons breaks the laws, whether he’ll want to let a disrespectful son of his spurn his officers and make light of his authority.
Ever truthful, the Chief Justice does not try to suck up to the newly crowned King Henry V, but instead speaks honestly about his past actions and asks the king to consider those actions rationally.
King Henry V replies that the Chief Justice was absolutely right to have behaved as he did and that he’s going to keep him on in his court. He asks the Chief Justice to be as bold and just with his sons in the future as he was with him in the past. Addressing everybody, King Henry V says that his past behavior has been buried with King Henry IV: “the tide of blood in me hath proudly flowed in vanity till now. Now doth it turn and ebb back to the sea…and flow henceforth in formal majesty…And let us choose such limbs of noble counsel that the great body of our state may go in equal rank with the best governed nation.” All exit.
King Henry V’s response to the Chief Justice articulates the moral rebirth that Prince Hal always claimed to be working towards in secret. Here, King Henry V is the fair and upright ruler he promised to become. His description of England again likens the nation to a human body, but this time the body, no longer diseased, is strengthening and regaining health. It is almost as if Henry V has fabricated his own rebirth—from immoral, unhealthy youth to moral, righteous king, as a way to illustrate or embody the rebirth of England that he hopes to enact under his rule.