Henry IV, Part I Act 2 Summary and Analysis
by William Shakespeare

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Act 2 Summary and Analysis

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

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 entire section is 2,385 words.)