Acknowledgement: This work has been summarized using The Complete Works of Shakespeare Updated Fourth Ed., Longman Addison-Wesley, ed. David Bevington, 1997. Quotations are for the most part taken from that work, as are paraphrases of his commentary.
Overall Impression: I enjoyed the humor in this play though it seemed to reprise to a considerable extent the first part.
Per Bevington: The principal source, as for Part I, was the 1587 edition of Raphael Holinshed's "Chronicles". Daniel's "The First Four Books of the Civil Wars" (1595) plays a lesser role compared to Part I. Other sources include Stow's "The Chronicles of England" and "The Annals of England"; Elyot's "The Governor"; and the play by Tarlton or Rowley called "The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth".
The pattern of alternation between low comedy and politically serious scenes continues from Part I, and there are also many other structural similarities. Falstaff was a highly entertaining character who WS wanted to give his audience more of. Historically the action extends from the Battle of Shrewsbury (1403) to the death of Henry IV in 1413.
Principle themes/events are: Confrontation between Prince Henry and H4; Falstaff as a foil to H4 as a role model for Hal; Rumor personified as in the Aeneid; Northumberland's crafty and devious behavior; Hal's persistent reputation for prodigality; Hal's apocryphal blow to the Chief Justice; Hal's desire to supplant his father and wearing his crown; the confrontation of Falstaff and the Chief Justice; Falstaff's excesses and his association with images of disease; his victimization of women and increasingly flagrant lawlessness; Prince John's double dealing with the rebels; Hal's final rejection of Falstaff.
Note: It is helpful to review the history of The Hundred's Year War, for example at the Encyclopedia Britannica website or Wikipedia.
Induction. Warkworth, before Northumberland's castle (immediately after the battle of Shrewsbury, historically 1403). Rumor (personified like Fama in book 4 of the Aeneid) speaks, spreading false hope about victory for the rebels to Hotspur's crafty-sick father, the Earl Northumberland (Henry Percy).
Same. Lord Bardolph (not the same as Falstaff's associate) delivers a glowing report of victory to the ostensibly ailing Northumberland. Travers, N.'s servant, arrives to say he has heard his son Hotspur (Henry Percy) is dead. Morton arrives, an eyewitness to the carnage that actually took place. He confirms that Hotpur is dead at the hands of Prince Henry, though Worcester and Douglas live. The king's forces, led by Prince John and Westmorland, are approaching.
N. finds this news like a physic that revitalizes him, and he throws away his crutch, discards his nightcap, and comes alive with new resolution to do battle and seek revenge. Morton reminds him that he knew the consequences of taking rebellious actions. The Archbishop of York (Richard Scroop), backed by his political and religious authority, is gathering troops to rebel and justifying it by Richard II's unjust usurpation and assassination at Pomfret in Yorkshire. N. sends out letters to plan his revenge.
London, street. Falstaff meets with his Page (provided by Prince Hal). Falstaff's doctor has found Falstaff to be diseased. His clothmaker refuses to take Bardolph as assurance for credit on his purchases. Bardolph is buying a horse for Falstaff.
The Chief Justice arrives. He previously had Hal placed in prison for striking him in the ear. He now wants to question Falstaff about the robbery (Falstaff refused to come before when he was called), but Falstaff cleverly dodges the questions and talks of his upcoming expedition. He says Falstaff lives in infamy and has misled the young prince, behaving like an ill angel. Falstaff's recent service has helped to offset the robbery he committed at Gad's Hill. He informs him that the king has severed him from Hal. He is glad to have Falstaff going away on the expedition, but refuses to lend him any money.
Falstaff is left lamenting how he can not borrow enough money to meet his needs, and sends his page with letters of solicitation to John, Hal, Westmorland, and Mistress Ursula [is this Mistress Quickly?], whom he has promised repeatedly to marry. He is bothered with gout but plans to convert his diseases to commodity (profit).
York, the Archbishop's palace. The Archbishop meets with Earl Marshal Thomas Mowbray (son of the Thomas Mowbray banished by R2), Lord Hastings, and Bardolph. Mowbray knows their success depends on the participation of Northumberland, and Lord Bardolph advises they wait for Northumberland. Hotspur had counted on his support, and it never came. Bardolph wants them to revise their plans accordingly. Hastings thinks they have enough even without N., as the king's forces are divided between England, Wales, and France. Archbishop wants the war to proceed and speaks against the changeable people, who wanted R2 out while R2 was king and now that he is dead want H4 out.
London, a street. Mistress Quickly (Hostess) has enlisted 2 officers, Fang and Snare, to enter her action against Falstaff and to arrest him. She laments, with much sexual double entendre, how he has taken advantage of her physically and monetarily. Falstaff frequents prostitutes.
Falstaff and Bardolph and the page arrive. Fang tries to arrest him, but he throws them off and says to throw Quickly in the channel. More scuffling. The Chief Justice arrives, and wonders why Falstaff is not already on his way to York. Quickly explains her plight as a poor widow of Eastcheap, and how Falstaff has taken advantage of her. She says he has promised to marry her and borrowed much money, but he denies the former and refuses to be the Chief Justice's suitor [of Quickly?]. He pulls Quickly aside to confer.
Messenger Gower arrives with a letter to the Chief Justice. Falstaff and Quickly have made up somehow, and he has persuaded her to pawn her tapestries and silver plate, saying if it were not for her humors, there would not be a better wench in England. She also withdraws the legal action, and he promises to repay her fully. He tells Quickly he wants Doll Tearsheet to meet with him at supper. [Why does she put up with his dealings with Doll if she expects to marry him?]
Gower tells the Chief Justice about the movement of the king's forces toward York, and the CJ ignores Falstaff. Falstaff returns the discourtesy by ignoring CJ as he speaks to Gowers.
London, Prince Henry's dwelling. Prince talks with Poins, longing for some small beer though it is beneath his princely position. Hal's father is sick, but he feels he cannot show his concern in the company of one so engrafted to Falstaff as Poins.
Bardolph and the page arrive, and Hal observes that Falstaff has turned the page into an ape and is corrupting him. The page recounts more about Falstaff's dissipated life. Bardolph delivers a letter to Prince. In it he warns Prince to be careful about Poins, that he is trying to get Prince to marry Poins' sister (Poins denies this). Falstaff is dining at the tavern with Doll and Quickly, whom Page claims to be a kinswoman of Falstaff [probably a euphemism since she is actually a prostitute]. Prince suggests he and Poins play another prank on Falstaff, in which they will dress as tavern drawers and wait on him.
Warkworth, before Northumberland's castle. Lady Northumberland appeals to her husband not to participate in the rebellion. He claims he must, since his honor is at stake. Lady Percy, Hotspur's widow [Kate, historically Elizabeth] joins in the appeal, reminding him that he previously broke his word and did not help his son, saying in essence that his honor is already lost. She praises Hotspur's valor and the example he set for the noble youths of England and laments again his father's failure to support him. She says to let Marshal (Mowbray) and the Archbishop carry out the fighting. Lady N. advises N. instead go to Scotland until the assembled forces have had a taste of fighting, and Lady Percy adds that if they seem to be succeeding, then he can join in. He finally relents and decides to go to Scotland until the proper opportunity presents.
London, tavern in Eastcheap [usually identified as the Boar's Head]. The 2nd drawer tells Francis how Applejohns (dried apples) served to Falstaff were described with a double meaning. Francis tells him and a 3rd drawer that the Prince and Poins will be there soon, and will dress as drawers.
Quickly (Hostess) enters with Doll Tearsheet (also called Mistress Dorothy by Pistol), who has had too much wine. Falstaff arrives singing. He teases Doll that she makes men diseased (presumably venereal, as she is a prostitute). Falstaff talks with her in bawdy double entendre. Hostess says Doll must bear, as the weaker vessel, and the double meanings continues.
A drawer enters saying Pistol wishes to speak to Falstaff, but Doll does not wish the foul-mouthed man to be admitted. Hostess does not want swaggering men in her tavern. But Falstaff claims Pistol to be his "ancient", i.e., his ensign or standard bearer, saying he is no swaggerer, but merely a gentle and tame cheater (confidence man). Hostess is satisfied as long as he is not a swaggerer and Ancient Pistol (who is drunk) is admitted along with Bardolph and Page. The comical dialog and double entendres continue. Doll scorns Pistol, saying she is meat for his master Falstaff. Pistol claims to know her, but she heaps further abuse on him and his pretensions of being a captain. Pistol wants vengeance on Doll. He invokes his trusty sword, Hiren, and, as Captain Pistol, pretentiously enacts lines and actions reminiscent of Marlowe's "Tamburlaine", Peele's "The Turkish Mahomet and Hiren the Fair Greek", "The Battle of Alcazar", and other contemporary plays. He quotes ersatz Italian/Spanish "Si fortune me tormente, sperato me contento" and suggests he and Doll have enjoyed a night of bliss before. Falstaff wants him taken back downstairs, but Pistol draws his sword, quoting more poetry. Falstaff draws his rapier and fights Pistol, driving Pistol out, evoking Doll's greater admiration and desire. Doll lovingly ministers to the minimally injured Falstaff, calling him as valorous as Hector, and offers to canvass him between a pair of sheets.
Page arrives with musicians. Doll sits on Falstaff's knee, asking him when he will give up fighting and foining (thrusting in fencing, or fornication). Prince and Poins arrive disguised as drawers. Doll asks Falstaff about the Prince [is she in on the act?] and Falstaff says Prince would make a good pantler (pantry worker). He also says Poins lacks wit, and goes on to provide comical reasons why the two like each other. Prince and Hal comment on the old man with his whore, Poins saying "Is it not strange that desire should so many years outlive performance?", and Prince comparing them to Saturn and Venus. Falstaff promises to have a skirt made for her and asks Doll to go off to bed with him.
Prince and Poins respond to his request for sack with "Anon, anon" and Falstaff recognizes them at last. Hostess welcomes them back to London. Prince berates him for what he said about him earlier in front of the "virtuous" Doll. The quick thinking Falstaff claims to have disparaged the Prince to Doll to keep her from falling in love with him, thereby protecting him. Prince challenges his contention that Doll is wicked, and Falstaff says Doll is in Hell already, and implies Hostess is guilty of allowing prostitution in her tavern.
Peto enters, saying the king is at Westminster. Prince leaves with Poins and Peto. Bardolph responds to more knocking, telling Falstaff a dozen captains are there to take him to court. Falstaff leaves with Bardolph and Page, leaving Hostess bidding him farewell. Bardolph returns to ask Doll to meet with Falstaff later.
Westminster, the royal court, 1 AM. The king gives letters for Surrey and Warwick to a page. He laments his poor sleep, burdened with worries, noting that sleep comes easily to the lowly. Surrey and Warwick arrive with Blunt, and reassure the king about the rebellion, suggesting it is like a disease to be cured with a little medicine.
The king is worried about what fate lies ahead. He recounts how Northumberland and R2 were great friends, then were at war against each other. He recalls Richard's prophecies [Richard II 5.1.55] that Northumberland would be the ladder by which H4 would become king, and that the foul sin "shall break into corruption", i.e., that H4 in turn would be betrayed. H4 has heard a rumor that Archbishop and N. are 50,000 strong, but Warwick assures him it is a rumor, and moreover that Glendower is dead. He suggests he go back to bed.
Gloucestershire, before Shallow's house. Old country justices [of the peace] and kinsmen Shallow and Silence converse. Shallow asks about his cousin (Silence's wife), Silence's daughter Ellen, and another cousin William. William is at Oxford and preparing for a career in law. They reminisce about their allegedly lusty swashbuckling student days in Oxford and at the Inns o' Court (legal societies). They knew where the good looking women were to be found. Falstaff was there, serving as page to Thomas Mowbray.
Bardolph arrives ahead of Falstaff (who is coming to obtain soldiers from them). Shallow asks after Falstaff's wife (pretending greater familiarity with Falstaff than the facts warrant), but Bardolph says Falstaff is well accommodated without one. Falstaff enters, exchanges greetings, and asks to see the potential recruits. Their conversation about the pathetic and comical recruits is filled with double entendres.
The first is Ralph Moldy, of whom Falstaff says "prick him" (select him), though Moldy says others are fitter than himself. Next recruit is Simon Shadow, who is skinny but nevertheless selected--Falstaff alludes to the fact that many of his recruits are shadows (i.e., fictitious). Thomas Wart is rejected, but Francis Feeble (a woman's tailor) is selected as is Peter Bullcalf. Bullcalf says he is diseased with a cough.
Shallow says Falstaff has picked two too many [the numbers do not seem to add up, since only 5 are named but 6 are implied present]. He offers to go with Falstaff to dinner and begins to reminisce about their school days at the brothel, etc. He asks about Jane Nightwork. Shallow recalls their drinking, and the three go off to dinner.
Left alone, Bullcalf bribes Bardolph to let him stay behind, as does Moldy. Feeble remains willing though to go to war, saying we owe God a death.
Falstaff and the Justices return. Bardolph advises him in private of the bribe, and Falstaff dismisses Bullcalf and Moldy over Shallow's objections. Falstaff explains his comical methods of selection for Wart, Shadow, and Feeble. He has Bardolph put the recruits through their maneuvers. Shallow reminisces more about his days when he acted the part of Sir Dagonet, a fool to King Arthur.
As Falstaff leaves, he vows he will get the better of these lying old Justices. Shadow, who had so inflated the wildness of his youth, was in fact then a forlorn thin "genius of famine", lecherous as a monkey, singing tunes he learned from wagoners to overworked prostitutes, talking of John of Gaunt as if he knew him--but now he has lands and oxen.
Yorkshire, Gaultree Forest. Archbishop tells Hastings and Mowbray that he has received a letter from Northumberland saying he is retired to Scotland to ripen his growing fortunes. Mowbray knows their hopes are dashed at this news.
A messenger arrives, the enemy is one mile off. Westmorland arrives for a parley, greeting them from his leader John. He asks why the Archbishop has left his religious duties to join this rebellion. Archbishop answers that "we are all diseased" with the same of which R2 died, and "we must bleed for it". He believes the wrongs they have suffered outweigh the offenses they commit. He recounts that they have been denied access to the king and possibly alludes to the unjust execution of his brother Stephen Scroop at Bristol by H4. W. argues to Mowbray that it was the times, not the king, responsible for his father's (the Duke of Norfolk's) injuries, that he has been restored to his father's previous titles and properties, and that his father was hated at the time Bolingbroke (H4) challenged him.
He offers to the rebels the right to be heard by the king and that their just demands will be met, saying this offer comes from mercy, not fear. Mowbray does not want to do this, but W. says to decline to parley reflects shame on their parts. Hastings wants to know if John has full power to represent the king, and Westmorland answers he does. The Archbishop hands W. a schedule of grievances and agrees they will meet between the battle lines. W. leaves, and Mowbray expresses suspicion that their conditions cannot possibly stand, that the king will always remember their rebellion. The Archbishop reassures him that the king is weary of strife and killing.
Same. John greets them between the armies. He says the Archbishop served his flock better when he gave them sermons than as an "iron man" and rebel, suggesting he has misused the reverence of his position. But when prompted, John says that he likes the written articles (grievances) that Archbishop has sent to him and swears on his honor to allow them and redress them all. He asks that both sides discharge their armies and make peace, and the Archbishop takes him at his word. They embrace and drink together, all except Mowbray who feels ill. The peace is announced and John instructs W. to dismiss his army.
Hastings says his army is dispersed, whereupon W. arrests him, Archbishop, & Mowbray for treason. Mowbray asks if this is honorable, but W. counters that neither was their rebellion. John says he will address the grievances presented but will nevertheless punish the rebels. He sends the traitors to be executed and asks that the scattered stray resisters be gathered up.
Same (Gaultree Forest). Falstaff encounters Sir John Coleville and proposes to arrest him. John, Westmorland, etc. arrive and John wants to know why Falstaff is just arriving. Falstaff protests he moves slowly, but proudly presents Coleville, whom he has captured with valor, and hoping he will be recognized for this act in a ballad or in the history chronicles. John sends Coleville with Blunt to join the other confederates for execution. John has heard the king is very sick and sends W. on to the king with the news of their victory.
Falstaff asks leave to go through Gloucestershire on his way back to London. Left alone, he soliloquizes on the sober-blooded John and how he never laughs. He extols the virtues of a good sherris sack (sherry), how it improves the brain, warms the blood, and illuminates the face. He thinks of Hal and the need to addict all sons to sack. Bardolph returns and Falstaff says he is going to go back through Gloucestershire to shape the Justices to his purposes.
King Henry's court at Westminster, in the Jerusalem chamber. H4 still hopes to lead a crusade to the Holy Land. He asks Humphrey D of Gloucester where Prince Henry (his brother) is, and is told he is hunting, unaccompanied by his brother Thomas D of Clarence. He asks Clarence to stay closer to Prince and observe him and stay in his good graces, all of which Clarence promises. He reflects on Hal's characteristics and temper. Clarence says Prince dines in London with Poins and the other followers. H4 says Prince is like a soil overspread with weeds and expresses concern that Prince courts danger and ruin. But Warwick comforts him, saying that Prince is merely studying his companions like a strange tongue, learning their language but not intending to use it for long.
Westmorland arrives with news of the victory over the rebels. Harcourt arrives to say that the Earl of Northumberland and Lord Bardolph and many Scots and rebel Englishmen are overthrown by the sheriff of Yorkshire. H4 feels ill and swoons at the news. Clarence and Gloucester recount recent ominous natural happenings and fear his end is near. H4 is borne away to another part of the stage.
Same. H4 calls for quiet and has his crown placed on his pillow. Prince enters, and Gloucester says H4 is exceedingly ill. He stays behind as the others withdraw. He sees the crown, soliloquizes on it, then thinking his father dead, puts on the crown and walks away. The king awakens, concludes Prince has taken his crown and that he wants to hasten his death to get it. But Warwick assures H4 that Prince is in the next room weeping at his father's death. Prince returns with the crown. H4 is deeply offended, chastises him, and indicates he thinks Prince wants his death hastened, and envisions his kingdom going to the dogs. But Prince contritely asks for pardon, explaining that he thought H4 dead, and was in the process of upbraiding the crown for how it had hastened H4's death, and was trying it as one would try an enemy [!].
H4 is consoled and Prince sits besides him. H4 recalls the misdeeds and crooked paths by which he won the crown, and how he has been troubled by that knowledge, hoping the crown will lie more quietly on Prince's head. He counsels Prince to divert the potential enemies in his court, as H4 intended. He recommends that he "busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels". He asks God's forgiveness for how he came by the crown.
John arrives with Warwick. H4 asks the name of the room he swooned in, and Warwick tells him it was the Jerusalem room. H4 realizes that the prophecy that he will die in Jerusalem actually applied to that room, and asks to be carried there.
Gloucestershire, Shallow's house. Shallow hospitably insists Falstaff not leave that night. He plans to use Falstaff's connections at court. Shallow's servant, Davy, asks Shallow to favor Davy's friend William Visor of Wo'ncot in his suit, to which Shallow agrees. Falstaff marvels that the Justice is so much like a servingman, and pledges to himself to amuse the Prince with Shallow.
Westminster, the royal court [historically 1413]. Warwick informs Chief Justice the king has died, and they discuss the supposed enmity between Prince Henry (now Henry V "H5") and the Chief Justice. H4's other sons are apprehensive about H5's intentions. The Chief Justice will not beg or recant for his new king.
H5 arrives with Blunt. He acknowledges the fear the others are feeling and reassures his brothers. To the Chief Justice, he recalls how the CJ sent him to prison for boxing his ears. The CJ eloquently defends himself: he was the image of the king, such an offense was therefore against the king, and H5 would himself not tolerate another man doing this to his own representative. H5 agrees and magnanimously confirms that the CJ will continue in his position and be like a father to his youth, providing him with guidance. He says his wildness has been buried with his father and he will transform the rotten opinion that people have of him: "No prince nor peer shall have just cause to say, God shorten Harry's happy life one day!"
Gloucestershire, Shallow's orchard. Falstaff is wined and dined with Shallow, Silence, Bardolph, etc. Shallow has drunk too much sack. Silence sings a merry drinking song, surprising Falstaff. Shallow also is generous to Bardolph and the camaraderie is general.
The profane Pistol arrives with news of golden times from the court, saying Falstaff is now one of the greatest men in the realm. Pistol envisions great riches ahead, though slow to get to the facts, and rebukes Silence for breaking in with more singing. He tells Falstaff that H5 is now king. Falstaff expects great things and positions for himself and his friends.
London street. The beadle and officers drag Quickly and Doll, arrested for the death of a man [unnamed] they and Pistol beat. Doll claims to be pregnant, a common and in this case unsuccessful ploy.
Public Place near Westminster. Grooms strew rushes for the coronation of H5. Falstaff, accompanied by Pistol, Shallow, Bardolph, and the page, hopes to catch the king's attention. He debates whether it would have been better for him to be more elegantly dressed. Pistol tells Falstaff that Quickly and Doll have been arrested, and Falstaff vows to free them.
H5 comes by and Falstaff calls out to "King Hal". H5 asks the Chief Justice to speak to the foolish man. Falstaff persists, and H5 tells him "I know thee not, old man..." He has awakened from his dream, and tells him he has turned from his former self and his former companions. Falstaff is banished to ten miles from his presence, and will be provided a modest allowance. He is to reform and will be advanced according to his strengths and qualities. Shallow wants some of the 1000 pounds Falstaff has borrowed back, but Falstaff assures him that H5 will call him yet in private, saying this was but a color (pretense) of the king's. The Chief Justice has Falstaff and his company taken to the Fleet prison.
Left alone, Prince John and the Chief Justice express approval for this action. John predicts that within the year, they will be engaged in war in France.
Epilogue speaks a few lines to the audience, commenting (1) that she was previously there at the end of a displeasing [unknown] play, (2) that Falstaff will continue in the story of Henry V to follow [not so], and (3) that Sir John Oldcastle, who had died a martyr, is not the same as the Falstaff of the play [this was done probably to placate Lord Cobham, a descendent of Sir John Oldcastle, since Falstaff was originally called Oldcastle.]