Act II, Scene 1 Summary and Analysis
Bardolph, Pistol, Nym: thieves and cowards; all were friends of Henry during his wild youth
Boy: young man who at first associates with Bardolph, Pistol, and Nym
Hostess Quickly: peasant woman; wife of Pistol
In this scene, five low-class characters—Pistol, Bardolph, Nym, Hostess Quickly, and a boy—meet on a London street. Nym and Bardolph appear first, and we learn that their friend Pistol has married Hostess Quickly, who is Nym’s former fiancée. When the couple enters, Nym insults Pistol by calling him “host” instead of his preferred title, “ancient.” This precipitates a quarrel that leads to a mock duel, as both draw their swords but are too cowardly to use them.
They are interrupted by the entrance of the boy, who tells Hostess Quickly that the infamous John Falstaff, the gang’s aged leader, is seriously ill. She exits, and a threat from Bardolph soon persuades the two men to make up. Pistol ends the scene by saying that he intends to become a profiteer in the coming war.
This scene departs from the main action to introduce a small band of “low,” or minor, characters with whom Henry had consorted during his misspent youth. (The titles they go by—corporal, lieutenant, ancient—are fictitious; none of the men is a regular soldier.) The first three had figured prominently in Shakespeare’s two preceding history plays, Henry IV, Part I and Henry IV, Part II, so the audience would be familiar with them already. Here, however, their relationship with Henry is severed. Pistol alone has dialogue with him, and even then Henry hides behind a disguise. Also, their activities have no discernible effect on him or on the course of events.
One reason for this change is obvious. A king hobnobbing with such lowlifes would be considered altogether inappropriate. Their concerns are wholly different, and none of the gang has anything meaningful to contribute to the state’s governance. Shakespeare is not content, however, to dispense with the matter as lightly as that. Hostess Quickly flatly blames Henry for Falstaff’s impending death, saying, “The King has killed his heart.” This charge would weigh heavily with the Elizabethans, among many of whom “Fat Jack” had attained the status of a folk hero. But even to a modern audience, the accusation injects a sour and pungently...
(The entire section is 581 words.)