Henry IV, Part 1 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry IV, Part 1 | Act 2, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

Two carriers (workingmen who move horses and goods from place to place) are working and complaining when Gadshill arrives. He asks to borrow a lantern while he puts his horse in the stable, but the carriers refuse because they don't trust him. The chamberlain arrives. He has been giving Gadshill tips about possible robbery targets, and he now has specific information. A group of rich pilgrims will soon be passing through on their way to Canterbury. Gadshill offers the chamberlain a cut of their takings. He jokingly refuses, and Gadshill calls for his horse and leaves.

Analysis

This brief scene develops the subplot in which Falstaff and his friends rob rich travelers. It is worth noting that robbing travelers and pilgrims seems to be a regular business. The carriers are on the lookout for thieves, rightfully suspecting Gadshill just by the way he acts, an ironic commentary on the theme of appearance and reality. In addition, the chamberlain acts as an accomplice to the thieves. The scene mentions "Saint Nicholas' clerks," a reference to highwaymen, or robbers, because Nicholas was thought to be their patron saint.

As in many of Shakespeare's plays, common people are distinguished from noblemen by rough jesting and the use of prose rather than poetry. The carriers discuss being bitten by fleas and blame it on the lack of a "jordan," or chamber pot, which forces them to relieve themselves in a chimney; they believe that "chamber-lye," or urine, breeds the biting insects. Such crude humor appealed to the groundlings, the poorer and generally uneducated members of Shakespeare's audience.

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