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HOME > King Henry IV, Part I Study Guide > King Henry IV, Part I Commentary - Act II.

King Henry IV, Part I Commentary - Act II.

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Act II. Scene I. - Rochester. An Inn-Yard.

Early in the morning, a Chamberlain who is an informer, informs Gadshill (the person) at an Inn, of a rich carriage heading their way, important information for their upcoming robbery...

Act II opens to the scene of two Carriers who complain that the Inn or hotel / motel is not as good as it once was, since a certain Robin Ostler died (Line 12).

The First Carrier also makes a reference to the time of day, saying that "Charles' Wain is over the new chimney, and yet our horse not packed", this being a celestial reference suggesting it is early morning (Line 2).

The First Carrier explains that a price rise in the cost of oats ruined the man (Robin Ostler), (Line 14), the Second Carrier saying he doubts there is a house in all of "London road" (Line 16) with more fleas in it (Lines 16-17).

The two Carriers now depart having finished packing their horses to deliver produce to the London markets (Lines 46-51), the First Carrier delivering turkeys (Line 29) and the Second, delivering "a gammon of bacon and two razes of ginger, to be delivered as far as Charing-cross" (Line 26).

Gadshill now meets the two Carriers and having greeted them, asks to borrow their lantern, referred to in the text as a "lanthorn," (Line 38). The two Carriers refuse, the Second Carrier saying "I'll see thee [you] hanged first" (I'll see you hanged first before I lend my lantern), (Line 45), before he gives his lantern over to Gadshill.

With the Carriers now departed (Line 51), Gadshill calls out "What, ho! chamberlain!" (Line 52) and slowly the Chamberlain, an informer who knows Gadshill thieving nature, appears (Lines 53-57).

The Chamberlain explains to Gadshill that what he told him yesterday, remains fact; "a franklin [a landlord of moderate wealth] in the wild of Kent [a part of England] hath [has] brought three hundred marks with him in gold:" (Line 60).

The Chamberlain knows this from a conversation he overheard between the franklin and one of his company (Line 60).

The Chamberlain now tells Gadshill that this franklin and company are already awake and calling for "eggs and butter:" (Line 66), and they will be leaving the inn soon....

The Chamberlain now makes an off hand remark about the "hangman;", a reference to Gadshill facing hanging if caught for robbery (Lines 69-72).

Gadshill, however does not fear hanging (Lines 72-106) because Gadshill is accompanied by men of higher social standing, Gadshill arguing that it is his association with "nobility and tranquillity," such as Prince Hal (not mentioned by name) instead of lowly "foot-land-rakers," that will prevent him ever being hanged (Lines 73-91).

Act II. Scene II. - The Road by Gadshill.

Hal and Poins meet for their robbery of their friend's robbery takings. Poins explains that he has removed Falstaff's horse. The thieves spilt into two groups, Poins and Hal taking the low ground. Falstaff, Gadshill, Bardolph and Peto successfully rob the passing travelers and are then robbed themselves by a disguised Poins and Hal. With their horses taken, Poins and Hal will have to wait for their friends to meet them in London; they will have to walk there empty handed!

Prince Henry (Hal) has now meet up with Poins, learning from him that Poins has "removed Falstaff's horse," (Line 1), the result of which is to leave Falstaff fretting about confused like "a gummed velvet" (Line 3).

The horseless Falstaff now enters, Falstaff calling for Poins who now has retreated into the darkness away from Falstaff's view. Falstaff is not amused, shouting "Poins! Poins, and be hanged! Poins!" (Line 5), Prince Henry telling Falstaff to calm down.

Falstaff asks Prince Hal or Henry where Poins is, Hal agreeing to find him (Line 9).

This now leaves Falstaff alone to complain about Poins. First Poins has removed his horse, hiding him where Falstaff cannot find it. Falstaff makes it clear he has little love for Poins (Lines 11-33) whilst cursing "A plague upon't [upon it] when thieves cannot be true one to another! [each other]" (Line 31).

Prince Henry now returns, telling Falstaff "Peace, ye [you] fat-guts!" (Line 35), and advising Falstaff to put "thine [your] ear close to the ground," in order to better hear the approach of their victims, the "travellers" (Line 38) along their road (Line 36).

Falstaff now asks Hal to find and bring his horse to him, Hal refusing and earning Falstaff's wrath in the form of a none to serious insult (Lines 46-53).

Gadshill, (Line 54) Bardolph and Peto (Lines 56) now arrive, Gadshill remarking that "there's money of the king's coming down the hill; 'tis [it is] going to the king's exchequer" (Line 60), by which Gadshill means, the travelers are approaching, they had better be quick and rob them...

Falstaff briefly disputes this, saying the money before them is heading for "the king's tavern" (Line 62).

Prince Henry now suggests Gadshill, Falstaff, Peto and Bardolph stop and steal from the travelers in the narrow lane, whilst Ned Poins and the Prince will walk or wait on lower ground. If the travelers escape the four of them, they will run into Henry and Poins (Line 65-68).

We learn from Gadshill that the travelers number roughly "Some eight or ten" (Line 70) people and Falstaff initially hesitates because of this, saying "'Zounds! will they not rob us?" (Line 71) but decides to stand fast when asked if he is a coward by Hal (Prince Henry), (Line 72).

Poins wishes Falstaff well, and the two groups (Gadshill, Falstaff, Peto and Bardolph and Poins and Prince Henry) set off on their separate ways (Line 80).

The Prince now asks Poins for their disguises, the two now exiting our view.

Meanwhile, we see several travelers making their way along the narrow road. The thieves in unison shout, "Stand!" (Line 89), and Falstaff's commands that his group strike down these travelers and cut their throats, succeeds in totally terrifying the travelers whom are quickly robbed and tied up, our thieves now departing from view (Lines 90-101).

The Prince with Poins now arrive, noting that the travelers have been robbed and bound. Prince Henry also remarks how if they can now rob the thieves and head merrily off to London, the result would be arguments for a week, laughter for a month "and a good jest for ever" (Lines 102-106).

Poins tells Henry (Hal) to stay close, he hears the thieves coming.

Falstaff is jubilant, they stole the money without incident and Falstaff now takes time to insult Henry and especially Poins as cowards.

At this exact point, (Line 113), Prince Henry in disguise, shouts "Your money!", Poins calling his friends "Villains" (Lines 113-114).

A brief skirmish ensues, the Prince and Poins setting upon or attacking the group of four who run away, Falstaff having taken a few blows, leaving all the booty or money behind.

The Prince and Poins head to their waiting horses, the Prince explaining that each thief has headed his separate way for fear of further attack, the Prince remarking of the terrified Falstaff that "Were't [were it] not for laughing I should pity him" (Line 121).

They also both relish the fact that Falstaff "sweats to death / And lards the lean earth as he walks along:" all the way to London by foot since Poins and Prince Henry have removed Falstaff's horse (Line 120).

Act II. Scene III. - Warkworth. A Room in the Castle.

Hotspur reads a letter confirming that a nobleman they have approached will not join their cause against King Henry IV, angering Hotspur. Hotspur worries that this nobleman could betray them, revealing their plans to King Henry. Hotspur's wife resents being neglected by her husband...

The scene opens with Hotspur reading a letter from a nobleman he has sought the support of against King Henry. The letter does not read well for Hotspur who notes the nobleman is hesitant to join him.

Hotspur notes this himself when he asks how this nobleman could be "contented;" yet not pledge his support for him (Lines 1-7).

The nobleman's next line further offends Hotspur since it says "The purpose you undertake [the mission or purpose you are about to proceed with] is dangerous;-" (Line 8).

Hotspur is not impressed with this remark, of course challenging King Henry IV is dangerous, speaking back to the Lord's letter by saying "my lord fool, out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety" (my foolish lord, from this dangerous course of action, we will gain safety), (Line 12).

Hotspur continues to read the letter which tells him "The purpose you undertake is dangerous; the friends you have named uncertain; the time itself unsorted [undecided]; and your whole plot too light for the counterpoise of so great an opposition" (Line 13-16).

This criticism, that Hotspur's plan is dangerous and that his allies cannot be counted on in addition to uncertainty over the time of the attack on King Henry, enrages Hotspur who calls the nobleman a "shallow cowardly hind," (Line 18).

Hotspur replies verbally to the nobleman's letter by saying their plan is excellent, he has very good friends that can be counted on, asking "What a frosty-spirited rogue is this!" (Line 24) who would criticise his plan.

Hotspur now goes on to describe the fact that the Lord of York himself supports the plan, adding that if he were near this nobleman, he would "brain [bash] him with his lady's fan" (Line 26).

Hotspur wonders how this man can question the strength of his forces when they number his father, his uncle and himself as well as Lord Edmund Mortimer, the already mentioned Lord of York and Owen Glendower and Douglas.

Hotspur also wonders aloud that has he not received letters from all of them saying they will meet with him on the ninth of next month, adding that some of his forces are in place already (Line 31).

Now Hotspur begins to worry... What will stop this nobleman from warning the king of his plans? (Line 35). Soon, however, Hotspur calms down, throwing care to the wind by saying:

"Hang him! [The nobleman] let him tell the king; we are prepared. I will set forth to-night [head off tonight] " (Line 40).

Lady Percy now enters (Line 41); Hotspur telling his Kate that he must leave her within two hours (Line 41).

Lady Percy (Kate) is extremely worried for her husband, and asks him why he is alone, and "For what offence have I this fortnight been / A banish'd [banished] woman from my Harry's bed?" (Line 44).

Lady Percy wants to know why she is being denied her husband's stomach, pleasure and his golden sleep and so often is left alone, neglected (Line 45).

She tells Hotspur she has heard rumors of "iron wars," (Line 53), wondering if her husband is somehow involved (Lines 52-62).

Lady Percy is certain "Some heavy [serious] business hath [has] my lord in hand," concluding that "I must know it, else he [Hotspur] loves me not" (Line 63).

Hotspur and Lady Percy now speak, Lady Percy trying in vain to learn what's really going on (Lines 78-88). She suspects her brother Mortimer has something to do with it (Line 85) but Hotspur avoids answering her questions, telling his wife that he trusts her and that where he is going, Lady Percy will soon follow, tomorrow (Line 120).

Hotspur now asks his wife if this news will "content" or satisfy her, Lady Percy replying "It must, of force" (it must, by force since I have no other choice), (Line 123).

Act II. Scene IV. - Eastcheap. A Room in the Boar's Head Tavern.

Prince Hal: "I am not yet of Percy's mind, the Hotspur of the North; he that kills me some six or seven dozen of Scots at a breakfast, washes his hands, and says to his wife, 'Fie upon this quiet life! I want work.'"

Hal and Poins are at the Boar's Head Tavern waiting for their luckless friends Falstaff, Gadshill, Bardolph and Peto to arrive and looking forward to laughing at Falstaff's lies as to how they allowed themselves to be robbed. In the meanwhile, Poins and Hal give inn servant Francis the run around and Hal reveals his disdain of royal title, displaying a common touch.

Tellingly, Hal reveals his envy of Hotspur, suggesting he wishes he was more like him... Falstaff and friends arrive, Falstaff being exposed as a liar to much amusement. Falstaff argues that he knew Hal was robbing him and thus allowed himself to be robbed.

Hal learns that Owen Glendower, his son in law Mortimer, Old Northumberland, his son Hotspur and "that sprightly Scot of Scots, Douglas," have turned against King Henry (The Percy revolt / rebellion). Falstaff is wanted for a robbery. Hal decides to pay back Falstaff's robbery victims and to have Falstaff lead troops against this revolt...

The scene opens with Poins and Prince Henry (Hal) speaking at the Boar's Head Tavern in Eastcheap. Poins asks Hal where he has been, learning that Prince Henry (Hal) has been making friends with the locals whom he describes as "three or four loggerheads amongst three or four score hogsheads" (Line 4).

Henry in particular, is proud of the fact that he has been named a "sworn brother" (Line 6) and can call three of the locals by their "christen names," (first names) which are "Tom, Dick and Francis" (Line 6), perhaps suggesting that Prince Henry has the common touch or an ability to understand and speak to his people.

Prince Henry explains further how proud he is to be accepted not as the Prince of Wales but rather as "the king of courtesy;" (Line 7) and not a "proud Jack," (Line 8) like Falstaff, but rather a "Corinthian, a lad of mettle, a good boy,-" (Line 8), this telling us a great deal about how Prince Henry wants to be respected; not by his position as Prince of Wales but by his own personality.

After finishing his speech on how the good men of Eastcheap respect him, (Lines 4-37) Prince Henry speaks to Francis, one of the servants at the Boar's Head Tavern.

After speaking to Francis for a while (again displaying his common touch for the people of his land), the Prince with Poins' help play a game on the hapless Francis by calling for him repeatedly.

This would not normally be a problem except that both are at different locations in the tavern and so Francis is run ragged to and from Poins and Henry and vice versa each time one of them calls him, always answering his masters with the line "anon [immediately], anon, sir."

This charade finally ends when both Poins and Henry calls out Francis' name, the poor servant not knowing whom to go to, since he wishes to please them both (Lines 43-89).

The arrival of Falstaff and company is now announced by Vintner (Lines 91-97), Prince Henry telling Vintner to let them wait by the door for a little while before letting them in (Line 97).

Poins returns and Henry and Poins agree that soon they will both be "As merry as crickets," (Line 101) because soon they will hear Falstaff's attempts to lie his way out of being robbed by them.

Francis now returns, holding a wineglass and saying "Anon, anon, sir" clearly fatigued from his earlier running (Line 111). This naturally causes Henry to remark how erratic his behavior is. We of course know better, it is Poins' and Henry's relentless teasing that has driven the poor Poins to exhaustion.

The Prince describes Francis in some detail (Lines 112-127), remarking that his "industry is up-stairs and downstairs;" (Line 113).

Significantly, Prince Henry now remarks that "I am not yet of Percy's mind, the Hotspur of the North; he that kills me some six or seven dozen of Scots at a breakfast, washes his hands, and says to his wife, 'Fie upon this quiet life! I want work'" (Line 115).

This quote is important for several reasons...

First it reminds us of the comparison made between Henry and Hotspur by King Henry IV earlier; Hotspur is brave, Prince Henry is squandering his life. We can also sense that this line is no accident since it foreshadows the fact that these two men's destinies are linked. They will clash by the end of this play, determining its outcome.

Secondly the quote highlights Prince Henry's own grasp on who he is (remember Act I, Scene II, Lines 217-239?) and perhaps what he would prefer to be.

Finally the quote is a useful insight into the way Shakespeare portrays his characters to us. Rather than just rely on Prince Henry's soliloquies to hear Henry's own thoughts, Shakespeare uses verbal slips as well.

Today when a person lets out a remark that reveals their inner thoughts, we call it a "Freudian slip" after the famous and influential psychologist Sigmund Freud who pioneered the idea of the subconscious and subconscious thought (underlying thought).

Thus Shakespeare's uses the Henry's own words to convey his thoughts about Hotspur and this quote shows how Shakespeare uses a character's own dialogue to convey thought and not just by use of soliloquies and actions...

Returning to the play, Falstaff, Gadshill, Bardolph, Peto and Francis enter (Line 128), Falstaff calling out "A plague of all cowards," (Line 134), which is his way of complaining about all the cowardice he sees around him.

Nonetheless, Falstaff still finds time to ask for a cup of sack (Line 130) and comments that there are only three decent men in all of England and one of them (Falstaff) "is fat and grows old:" (Line 146).

The Prince and Falstaff now exchange less than serious insults (Lines 152-176) at which point, Prince Henry innocently asks Falstaff, "What's the matter?" (Line 177).

We learn from Falstaff that he did not successfully rob the travelers, the Prince asking where the money is...

Falstaff now explains to the Prince the truth or rather his version of it.

Falstaff explains the money his gang stole was stolen from him, first by a hundred men (Line 183) but each time the Prince questions him, Falstaff and Gadshill drop the figure to a dozen (Line 196) then upwards to sixteen (Line 197), then six or seven (Line 204) and then fifty (Line 208).

At this point, Falstaff stretches the truth even further by explaining that he is certain he killed two of the thieves who were wearing "buckram suits" (Henry and Poins of course), (Line 216), Falstaff again changing the number of thieves to four men in buckram suits (Line 221) then seven (Line 228) and then nine (Line 240).

The Prince is enjoying all this, remarking of Falstaff's latest change of figures, "O monstrous! eleven buckram men grown out of two" (the original number of buckram suits), (Line 248).

Prince Henry now tells Falstaff that he is lying (Line 253), Prince Henry telling Falstaff that he and Poins were the real thieves and asking Falstaff how he could possibly redeem himself from the shame of running away from two men when Falstaff's group numbered four and from his terrible lying (Lines 283-296).

Amazingly, Falstaff does redeem himself by saying he was only a coward because "instinct;" told him that one of thieves was Prince Henry or the successor to the throne (Lines 296-317).

Falstaff could not kill the future King of England now could he? Thus Falstaff and Prince Henry put the issue to bed (forget the issue) and Mistress Quickly announces a nobleman has news for the Prince.

Falstaff on Henry's request leaves to "send him [the nobleman] packing" (Line 331) giving Henry the opportunity to tease Bardolph and Peto for running away because of "instinct," (Line 333-335). Peto and Bardolph now sheepishly explain that Falstaff pushed them into backing up his story.

A Bard now points the Prince in the direction of some meteors (shooting stars), asking the Prince what it could mean. The Prince answers "Hot livers and cold purses" (Line 360).

Falstaff now returns from dismissing the nobleman, telling Prince Henry that "There's villanous news abroad:" (there's trouble abroad), (Line 370) and that Prince Henry must go to his father's court tomorrow.

Falstaff explains to Henry, that Percy, "That same mad fellow of the north," (Line 378), Owen Glendower, his son in law Mortimer, Old Northumberland and "that sprightly Scot of Scots, Douglas," (Line 384) have turned against King Henry IV (The Percy revolt).

Falstaff describes the effect of all this by saying King Henry's beard has turned white at this news and that land is now very cheap (because of the threat of civil war), (Line 399-400).

Hal or Henry appears quite unaffected by all this, so much so that Falstaff asks Hal "art [are] thou [you] not horribly afeard [afraid]?" since as heir apparent (successor to the throne), Henry can count on Douglas, Percy (Hotspur) and Glendower as his enemies (Line 407).

Prince Henry says "Not a whit [not a bit], i' faith [in faith]; I lack some of thy [your] instinct" (Line 413).

Falstaff and Henry now practice Henry's responses to his father tomorrow, Falstaff playing King Henry IV (Lines 414-535).

Bardolph now interrupts, bringing news that a sheriff "with a most monstrous watch is at the door" of the tavern (Line 537).

Falstaff hides at Henry's request behind an arras (a curtain forming an enclosure or wall) whilst the rest are told to hide upstairs. Prince Henry and Peto now face the sheriff and his Carrier who are looking for several men one of which is described as being "As fat as butter" (Falstaff) (Line 568).

Prince Harry convinces the Sheriff and Carrier that not only is the fat man not at the tavern, but that he has employed Falstaff and will answer personally for any crimes, Falstaff may have committed (Lines 569-575).

The Sheriff informs Henry that two gentleman have lost "three hundred marks" (Line 577), the Prince agreeing that this is a crime Falstaff (not named) would be answerable for if he did it.

The Sheriff and Carrier now leave, Henry and Peto finding that Falstaff has fallen asleep behind the arras (Line 585).

Henry orders Peto to search Falstaff's pockets (Line 587), finding only a bill for food and a great deal of sack.

Henry now has an idea... He will give Falstaff a company of men to lead against the Percy rebels and decides that the money they stole will be returned "with advantage" (with more), (Line 607) to the original owners. Henry also announces that he will go to his father's court tomorrow.

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