In a scene suffused with dramatic irony, Lord Bardolph, one of the rebel lords, and Travers, a servant, give very different reports on the outcome of the Battle of Shrewsbury. While Lord Bardolph insists that he heard from a nobleman that the rebels have crushed the King’s forces, Travers claims that a bloody soldier reported to him that the rebels have been defeated. Lord Bardolph dismisses Travers’ account:
My lord, I’ll tell you what:
If my young lord your son have not the day,
Upon mine honor, for a silken point
I’ll give my barony. Never talk of it.
Why should that gentleman that rode by Travers
Give then such instances of loss?
He was some hilding fellow that had stol’n
The horse he rode on and, upon my life,
Spoke at a venture.
The Battle of Shrewsbury was depicted at the climax of Henry IV, Part 1. The audience, then, is fully aware that the King’s army was victorious and that the rebellion has been put down. Lord Bardolph’s false claims exemplify dramatic irony, which is further emphasized by his unwarranted confidence in his false report. This scene demonstrates the speed with which false rumors spread through the Kingdom, as well as the elitism of the noblemen. Lord Bardolph insists that his account of the battle is correct because he heard it from an aristocratic gentleman, and he likewise questions the trustworthiness of a common soldier.
In a scene that exemplifies dramatic irony, King Henry IV unfairly accuses his son, Prince Harry, of wishing for his death. Furious after learning that Harry has taken his crown, the King berates him:
Thy wish was father, Harry, to that thought.
I stay too long by thee; I weary thee.
Dost thou so hunger for mine empty chair
That thou wilt needs invest thee with my honors
Before thy hour be ripe? O foolish youth,
Thou seek’st the greatness that will overwhelm
My day is dim.
Thou hast stol’n that which after some few hours
Were thine without offense, and at my death
Thou hast sealed up my expectation.
He criticizes his son harshly in this scene, suggesting that Harry is so greedy for “mine empty chair” (or in other words, the royal throne) that he eagerly awaits the King’s death, and accusing him of taking his “honors” (or the crown) before he has even died. Further, he suggests that Harry is not yet ready to assume the responsibilities of kingship, a “greatness that will overwhelm” the young man. Last, he suggests that Harry has confirmed his anxieties and offended his father, who would have likely died “after some few hours” anyway.
The audience, however, witnessed the previous scene, in which Harry mourned his father under the mistaken assumption that he had already died, and so too does the audience know that Harry considers kingship a painful burden. At this point in the play, the audience has watched Harry develop into a responsible young man, but his father still considers him to be a wayward and rebellious youth—a prime example of dramatic irony.