Act 2 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2385

New Characters
Carriers: men who deliver goods
Gadshill: member of Falstaff’s gang of thieves; arranges robberies
Chamberlain: inn employee who serves meals
Ostler: manager of the inn

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At 4:00 in the morning at an innyard in Rochester, a carrier enters and discusses with a second carrier the chaotic conditions that prevail at the inn. Both men are impatient since the ostler has not prepared their horses with which they are to deliver their goods. Gadshill enters and tries to find out what time the carriers will arrive in London. He then calls a chamberlain who informs him that a rich farmer who is at the inn will be leaving presently. Gadshill asks the chamberlain if he wants to go along with the robbery, but the chamberlain refuses.

This scene provides a glimpse of the run down conditions that prevail at the inn, which “is turned upside down since Robin Ostler died.” The carrier’s implication that the new ostler has been remiss in his duties is supported by the statement that his horse’s saddle be softened and the pommel be padded because the horse “is wrung in the withers out of all cess.” The horse is excessively worn and raw at the shoulders due to a lack of care as is most of Henry’s kingdom. Next, the second carrier’s comment that “peas and beans are as dank here as a dog” suggests the rampant decay. Furthermore, the inn is “the most villainous house in all London road for fleas.” Corruption can be seen in everyone from Gadshill who arranges highway robberies to the chamberlain who varies “no more from picking of purses than giving direction doth from laboring.”

Ironically, Gadshill distinguishes himself from the common lot of thieves, “footland robbers” and “long-staff six penny strikers,” and drunks, “mad mustachio purple-hued maltworms,” when he says his type of thieving is joined with nobility and tranquility. His entire outlook on the world is as topsy-turvy as the situation at the inn. The laid back atmosphere and the dilapidated conditions of the inn mirror the chaos that exists in England.

Act II, Scene 2

New Characters
Bardolph: a member of Falstaff’s gang of thieves

Peto: another member of the gang

Travelers: traders on their way to London

This scene begins on the highway near Gad’s Hill, a place in Rochester near Kent that was notorious for the many highway robberies that occurred there. Falstaff enters befuddled because he cannot find his horse, so he calls Poins. Hal enters and tells Falstaff that Poins has walked up the hill and that he himself will go get Poins. Falstaff is anxious to get on with the plan and calls his friends, Bardolph and Peto. Hal reenters and tells Falstaff to lie down with his ear to the ground to listen for the sounds of travelers. Gadshill and Bardolph enter with masks to use as disguises. Next, Hal instructs Falstaff and the rest of the gang to take their places in a narrow lane in order to rob the travelers while he and Poins wait in another location should the travelers elude Falstaff. Just before Hal and Poins leave, they put on their masks. The travelers enter, and Falstaff and the others rob the travelers and bind them. While Falstaff and his men share the booty, Hal and Poins, disguised as thieves, approach them. All flee except Falstaff, who ineffectively throws a few blows in the air in an attempt to defend himself. Finally, he runs, leaving the money behind.

Falstaff’s nature is presented in this comic scene as he deals with the practical joke played on him by Poins and Hal. When Falstaff enters, he complains that his horse is not available and that he is too tired to walk. He suggests that he was enticed into Poins’ company by some medicines so he is “bewitched with the rogue’s company” even though he has tried to break away for 22 years. Falstaff will not admit to himself that he steals because he likes to do it. As a result, he implies that Poins and the others need him as their comrade because he is “the veriest varlet that ever chewed with a tooth,” and he exaggerates his own importance among his friends.

After Hal enters, the verbal bantering between the two begins as Hal calls Falstaff “ye fat-guts!” and tells him to lie down with his ear to the ground to listen for travelers. Falstaff’s reference to his own size is clear when he responds to Hal by asking, “Have you any levers to lift me up again?” After Falstaff and his gang rob the travelers, Falstaff suggests they share the money, and he calls Hal and Poins “two arrant cowards” and says there is “no more valor in Poins than in a wild duck.” However, when Falstaff is set upon by Hal and Poins, he exhibits his own brand of cowardice and lack of valor as he fruitlessly defends himself by throwing a few blows in the air and running away without the money.

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Act II, Scene 3

New Characters
Lady Percy: wife to Hotspur; sister to Lord Mortimer

Servant: interupts Lady Percy and Hotspur’s conversation

At Warkworth Castle in Northumberland, Hotspur reads a letter from one of the rebels who expresses his doubts about the viability of the plot to usurp Henry. Hotspur shows his contempt for the rebel. Lady Percy, Hotspur’s wife, then enters and comments on Hotspur’s loss of appetite, nervousness, and lack of interest in her. A servant interrupts their conversation with news that Hotspur’s horse is ready. When Lady Percy asks Hotspur what takes him away from home, he tells her that he must keep it a secret.

The interaction between Hotspur and Lady Percy provides more insight into Hotspur’s nature. When he reads the letter suggesting the dangerous nature of the rebellion, he responds by stating that the letter writer is “a sallow, cowardly hind,” “a lack brain,” and “a frosty spirited rogue” whom he “could brain with his lady’s fan” because the man is “such a dish of skim milk.” To Hotspur, a man who does not demonstrate an eagerness to fight does not measure up to the image of a real man. This attitude is also evident in his perception of “a certain lord” who demanded the prisoners on the battlefield in a previous scene. Lady Percy observes that lately, in his sleep, Hotspur speaks of “sallies and retires, of trenches, tents / Of pallisadoes, frontiers, parapets / Of Basilisks, of cannon and culverin.” Hotspur is preoccupied with war, almost to the point of obsession.

Their conversation takes on a lighter tone after the servant tells Hotspur his horse is ready. When Lady Percy asks, “What is it carries you away?”, Hotspur answers teasingly, “Why, my horse, my love—my horse!” Hotspur again expresses his view of a man’s role when he says, “This is no world / To play with mammets and to tilt with lips. / We must have bloody noses and cracked crowns.” In the man’s world, Hotspur has no time for girlish games with dolls and clever talk. To Hotspur, the measure of a man is his ability to fight. However, the scene does show the affectionate side of Hotspur who tells Lady Percy, “Wither I go, thither shall you go too.”

Act II, Scene 4

New Characters
Francis: apprentice wine drawer (waiter) at the Boar’s Head Tavern in Eastcheap

Vintner: innkeeper at the Boar’s Head Tavern

Mistress Quickly: hostess at the Boar’s Head Tavern

Sheriff: arrives to search the inn for stolen money

In the Boar’s Head Tavern in the Eastcheap section of London, Hal enlists the aid of Poins in playing a joke on Francis, the apprentice drawer. While Hal talks to Francis about his apprenticeship as a waiter, Poins interrupts the conversation by calling Francis’ name, to which Francis responds “Anon.” As the conversation proceeds, so does Poins’ insistence until Francis is amazed, not knowing which way to go. The vintner finally stops the joke when he orders Francis to attend to the guests at the inn.
Falstaff, Gadshill, Bardolph, and Peto enter, and Hal inquires about Falstaff’s bristly mood. Falstaff then proceeds to tell how he and the others were robbed earlier in the day. As he tells the story he exaggerates about the number of men who attacked him and the degree of struggle he maintained with them. Hal goads Falstaff with questions about the robbery until he catches Falstaff in a contradiction about the details of the assault. Hal finally tells Falstaff that he and Poins were the “thieves.” Falstaff tries to get himself out of an embarrassing situation by saying that he knew that all along Hal and Poins had robbed him. At this point they all laugh, and Falstaff suggests they perform an impromptu play. Mistress Quickly, hostess at the tavern, enters and tells Hal that a gentleman from the court wishes to speak with him. Falstaff tells her he will send the gentleman away. When Falstaff returns, he tells Hal that Sir John Bracy’s message is for Hal to appear in the court in the morning because of the rebellions that are brewing.

After the interruption, Falstaff and Hal resume their impromptu play, in which they rehearse what Hal might say to his father the next morning at the court. Falstaff plays King Henry, and Hal plays himself. A knocking at the door interrupts their fun, and a sheriff comes to search the inn for the money that two gentlemen reported as stolen. Hal assures the sheriff that he will assist with the investigation, and when the sheriff leaves, Hal searches Falstaff’s pockets, but keeps the contents.

Once again, the seriousness “of guns and drums and wounds” is replaced by the comic relief in the life at the Boar’s Head Inn. The opening incident illustrates that Hal is as quick to create humor “to drive away the time till Falstaff come” as any one of his cronies is when he plays a practical joke on Francis, the waiter at the inn. The lighthearted joke on Francis also provides a glimpse into the working class world of Elizabethan England.

After the joke with Francis, Hal contemplates for a moment the difference between Hotspur and himself. He creates a mock conversation between Hotspur, who kills “some six or seven dozen of Scots at a breakfast,” and Lady Hotspur, who asks “How many hast thou killed today?” This scenario prompts him to create an extemporaneous dialogue between Falstaff and himself in an attempt to give his serious thought some levity.

However, Falstaff enters and is disturbed because he was robbed earlier. At the core of his distraction is “the roguery to be found in villainous man” as he calls his friends cowards because they ran and left him to be robbed. His bombastic speech about cowardice is ironic because he is not aware that Hal and Poins know exactly what happened. Falstaff begins to tell how he “scaped by a miracle” when he was robbed. As the story progresses, Falstaff embellishes the number of his attackers and the way he “valiantly” fought them off. Finally, he gets so carried away with his story that Hal catches him in a contradition. Falstaff says, “three misbegotten knaves in Kendal green” came at his back when it was so dark “that thou couldst not see thy hand.” Hal catches him in the lie and responds with “These lies are like their father that begets them—gross as a mountain, open, palpable.” When Hal tells Falstaff that he and Poins were the ones who attacked him, Falstaff tries to get out of his lie by saying, “I knew ye as well as he that make ye” to claim he was “a coward on instinct” so as not to harm Hal.

To continue the levity, Falstaff suggests “a play extempore.” At this point, Mistress Quickly’s news that “a nobleman of the court at the door” wishes to speak with Hal prompts Falstaff to leave and return with the message that Hal “must to the court in the morning.” Falstaff informs Hal of the serious Percy Rebellion which provides the basis for the “play extempore” that was interrupted.

This scene between Falstaff and Hal is a key scene because it represents the point at which the world of the battlefield touches Hal’s world of the inn and forces Hal to begin facing his responsibilities. In the impromptu play, Falstaff and Hal rehearse what Hal might say to his father in the morning. In a comic scene with more serious suggestions, Falstaff takes on the role of King Henry and Hal plays himself. The focus of the conversation is the King’s confrontation of Hal about the company he keeps. In the scene, Falstaff admonishes his “son” for the type of friends he has, but points out that even among his cronies “there is a virtuous man.” The reference to himself allows Falstaff the chance to itemize his many virtues until Hal stops him and they reverse roles. As the King, Hal takes his opportunity to admonish his “son” for falling from grace because “There is a devil haunts thee in the likeness of an old fat man.” Hal proceeds to recite a series of epithets that point out Falstaff’s gross size and drunkenness. At that, Hal’s tone changes from a comic one to a more serious and biting tone. Consequently, Falstaff says, “take me with you” because he detects more intent in Hal’s speech. By this time, the extemporaneous aspect of their dialogue has lost its effect, and Hal’s tone prompts Falstaff to defend himself and say “Banish not him.” It is as if Falstaff senses the beginning of the end of their friendship and makes a desperate plea to remain one of Hal’s friends.

The hostess’ announcement that the sheriff has arrived to search the inn breaks the serious tone that has developed between Hal and Falstaff. By the end of this scene, Hal’s reformation has begun as a result of his awareness of Hotspur’s actions and his own responsibilities as future king.

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Act 1 Summary and Analysis


Act 3 Summary and Analysis