Scene 1: After a battle at sea, the captain divides the prisoners and their potential ransom amongst a Master, his mate, and Walter Whitmore. After a brief debate over ransom or death, Walter chooses to execute his prisoner, the Duke of Suffolk. He tells Suffolk his name and Suffolk becomes immediately afraid. The name Walter would have sounded perilously close to water in pronounciation, and the prophesy was that Suffolk would die by water. Suffolk begs for his life by pointing out how superior he is to all the men present. This is not the best tactic and the captain rattles off every horrible thing Suffolk has ever done. After some more banter with Suffolk, who insists he’s better than them, they cut off his head offstage. The captain dismisses all of the prisoners but one for their ransom. The remaining prisoner swears to bring Suffolk’s body back to the King.
Scene 2: George Bevis and John Holland discuss Jack Cade and how he plans to rebel against the nobles and deliver the common people everything they ever wanted. Cade enters the scene and delivers a speech (interrupted for some jokes and puns) about his true Mortimer lineage and honorable life. He talks about how he’s valiant and brave and will makes everything better. Starting with killing all the lawyers.
Some of his followers bring forth a clerk, who Cade sentences to death because he can read and write. Another follower, who gets a name, Michael, alerts Cade that Sir Humphrey Stafford and his brother are approaching. Cade quickly knights himself, so he’s on equal footing with the knight.
The Staffords encourage the people to abandon Cade and receive the King’s mercy. Cade explains that his father was the older twin brother of Edmund Mortimer, who was stolen away at birth. Since they can’t definitively prove that didn’t happen, the people follow Cade. The younger Stafford asks if York prompted this, in an aside Cade says he invented it himself. Although he apparently was prompted by York, so…? Cade explains that he is happy to let Henry be King if he can be made protector. The people also demand Lord Say because it’s apparently his fault that the English lost Maine. He also speaks French and that can’t be good for anybody. The Staffords realize that trying to talk rationally is pointless and leave to call forth the King’s army. The disorganized mob marches toward the organized army.
Scene 3: Cade’s mob defeats the Staffords. He congratulates the butcher on being so effective at killing. He marches his men toward London, bearing Humphrey Stafford’s armor and dragging their bodies behind his horse.
Scene 4: Queen Margaret mourns Suffolk as she hugs his severed head to her chest, which is frankly just gross. He dry even Questions if she would mourn him that much (she wouldn’t). The King contemplates what to do about the rebels and thinks about sending a Bishop to speak with them to avoid killing. He warns Lord Say that Cade has called for his head.
A messenger enters to alert the King that the rebels are in Southwark. They have been empowered by defeating the Staffords and now are calling for the deaths of all scholars, lawyers, courtiers, and gentlemen. The King quotes Jesus in response. Buckingham encourages the King to retreat to Kennilworth. The King asks Say to go with him, but Say wants to stay in the city. Another messenger enters and tells them that the rebels have taken London Bridge. The King and Queen flee.
Scene 5: At the Tower, Lord Scales speaks with a London citizen, who begs for aid. He gives a little, but has to defend the Tower, which the rebels are now after.
Scene 6: Cade declares himself in charge of London and demands to only be called Lord Mortimer. A soldier, who obviously didn’t here that demand, called him Jack Cade and was immediately killed. They inform Cade that an army is gathering in Smithfield. He orders them to go meet the army, burning London Bridge and the Tower on their way out of the city.
Scene 7: Lord Say is captured and Cade charges him with losing Maine and promoting literacy. He considered this a problem because of a law which allowed anyone who could read out of the Bible a pass in a criminal trial. This was an extension of an exemption given to the clergy. Basically, the literate could get away with murder (just one though) and the illiterate would be condemned. Lord Say first compliments Kent (the rebels hometown) then he contradicts the charges against him. He insists that the rebels cannot kill him because he has long fought for the common man. Cade quips back at every attempt Lord Say makes, but reveals in an aside that he thinks Say is making a good case. Nonetheless, Say is put to death.
Scene 8: Cade’s army retreats. Buckingham and Clifford enter. They promise pardons for any men that abandon Cade. They immediately hail the King. Cade chastises them and reminds them why the nobility is so terrible. They change their mind and hail Cade. Then, Clifford wields the powerful name of Henry V and the rebels change sides. Cade flees.
Scene 9: The King wishes he wasn’t king, which honestly would probably be better for everyone. Buckingham enters to let the King know that Cade had fled. Clifford enters with the rebels and tells the King that they await his decision on whether they live or die. The King lets them live. A messenger enters to explain that York has brought an army over from Ireland and is demanding the removal of Somerset from court. The King sends a willing Somerset to prison and sends Buckingham to talk with York.
Scene 10: A starving Jack Cade enters a garden to find some vegetables. While there, the owner, Iden, an example of a good Kentishman, enters his garden. Cade acts very aggressive and a surprised Iden is forced to kill him. Only as Cade expresses his last words does Iden realize that he has killed a wanted fugitive.