Act IV Scene 2
Prince John greets the rebels. He has harsh words for the Archbishop, telling him he should be engaged in preaching sermons rather than political rebellion. The Prince accuses him of abusing his religious office. In reply, the Archbishop again emphasizes that the list of their grievances submitted to the Prince was ignored, and that is the cause of the war. He reiterates that peace can be attained if the Prince accedes to their demands.
Mowbray adds that if this is not done, they are ready for war. Hastings seconds him, saying that even if they lose the first battle, they have the resources to continue to fight.
Prince John promises to redress all the rebels' grievances. He asks them to disband their army immediately, and he promises to do the same with his own army. He promises he will keep his word.
Hastings gives a captain instructions to go to his army, pay them, and tell them they are free to go. Prince John gives instructions for his army to be discharged also.
Hastings, having left to supervise the disbanding of the army, returns and confirms that his men have all scattered and are on their way home.
As soon as he hears this, Westmoreland arrests Hastings, the Archbishop and Mowbray for treason.
The arrested men protest that the Prince has broken his word, but Prince John denies it. He says he promised to redress their grievances, and this he will do. But he still has the right to execute them because they rebelled against the Crown. He also gives instructions for his army to pursue the rebel stragglers.
Modern audiences tend not to take kindly to Prince John's Machiavellian tactics, which turn on the fine distinction that in promising to redress the rebels' grievances, he did not thereby guarantee the personal safety of the leaders. Today's audiences are not alone in their censure of the Prince. In the eighteenth century, Dr. Samuel Johnson, English man of letters, editor of Shakespeare and one of the most perceptive of all critics, censured not only Prince John but also Shakespeare for not showing any disapproval of the Prince's actions: "It cannot but raise some indignation to find this horrible violation of faith passed over thus slightly by the poet, without any note of censure or detestation" (Johnson on Shakespeare, Oxford University Press, 1931, p. 121).
Shakespeare has modified history in this scene, since in reality it was Westmoreland, not Prince John, who made the promise to redress grievances.