Act 2, Scenes 3–4 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on October 30, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 734

Scene 3

Mistress Quickly, Nym, Pistol, Boy, and Bardolph mourn Sir John Falstaff’s death. Bardolph wonders whether Falstaff is in heaven or hell. Upon hearing this, Mistress Quickly says that Falstaff died peacefully and is most assuredly not in hell.

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According to Nym and Bardolph, respectively, Falstaff cried out against wine and women before his death. Boy corroborates this, adding that Falstaff called women “devils incarnate.” Mistress Quickly chooses to misunderstand and says that Falstaff was instead talking about the “whore of Babylon,” an allusion to the biblical book of Revelations.

Meanwhile, Nym reminds everyone that the king will soon be leaving Southampton and that they must also take their leave. Bardolph then kisses Mistress Quickly goodbye and admonishes her to trust no man’s oaths while he is gone. She is to accept nothing less than cash for services rendered at their inn in his absence.

Scene 4

The king of France, the Dauphin, and the dukes of Berri, Brabant, Orleans, and Bretagne meet to discuss military strategy against the advancing English army. The Dauphin tells his father that they should make their preparations without any show of anxiety. After all, England is led by a “vain, giddy, shallow, humorous youth,” from whom they have nothing to fear. 

The Constable of France disagrees with the Dauphin’s assessment. He warns that Henry’s previous “vanities” have been replaced by a calm, resolute strength that shouldn’t be underestimated. 

The king of France then tells his military leaders to remember the battle of Crecy, when Edward the Black Prince of Wales captured all the princes of France. In short, they must meet the English with strength or risk being humiliated again. 

A messenger enters, announcing Exeter’s arrival at the French court. “In the name of God Almighty” and on Henry’s behalf, Exeter tells the king of France to divest himself of his crown. If he refuses, bloodshed will follow. 

Exeter says he also has a message for the Dauphin. He tells the Dauphin that Henry sends nothing but “Scorn and defiance, slight regard, [and] contempt.” In addition, Henry warns that if the king of France fails to make amends for the Dauphin’s mocking gift, he will respond with the deafening echo of English cannons. 

The effect will be so devastating that even the caverns of France will “chide” the Dauphin for his “trespass” against Henry. In response, the king of France promises that Henry will have his answer the next day.

Analysis

In this section, Shakespeare highlights the themes of betrayal and power. Henry, the previously betrayed, has now become the betrayer. To illustrate Falstaff’s complete marginalization by Henry, Shakespeare gives the knight no dialogue or stage presence. In fact, Henry’s rejection of Falstaff is foreshadowed in the last scene of Henry IV, Part II

During his coronation march in act 5, scene 5 of Henry IV, Part II, Henry banishes his former friend from his presence. In doing so, Henry demonstrates his power and dominance:

Approach me, and thou shalt be as thou wast,
The tutor and the feeder of my riots.
Till then I banish thee, on pain of death,
As I have done the rest of my misleaders,
Not to come near our person by ten mile.

Hence, Falstaff dies alone, bereft of the comforting presence of his old friend. Essentially, Henry has his sights trained on France and must divest himself of all distractions. Interestingly, the character of Falstaff is modeled after Sir John Oldcastle, a leader of the Lollards and personal friend of Henry’s. In the early 15th century, the Lollards were considered heretics who rejected the authority of priests, emphasized the primacy of Scripture, and rejected image worship. Oldcastle led a rebellion against Henry before being captured and executed. In Henry V, Henry rids himself of his old friend Falstaff through dismissive neglect.

Thus, the primary focus in this section is Henry’s rejection of his profligate past and his utter reinvention of self. Shakespeare portrays Henry as a king taking on the mantle of leadership as England prepares for war. The playwright also reminds his audience that Henry's forefathers waged successful military campaigns in France and that he is equally capable of doing the same. By utterly rejecting his past, Henry can now look ahead, secure in what he believes to be his proper claim to the French crown.

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