Henry IV, Part 1 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry IV, Part 1 | Act 2, Scene 4 | Summary

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Summary

Prince Hal and Poins enter a tavern. They tease Francis, who works in the tavern, by calling him in opposite directions until he is completely confused and in trouble with his boss. The vintner then tells Prince Hal that Falstaff and some other men are at the door and asks if he should let them in. Prince Hal says he should. Before they arrive, Prince Hal does a brief imitation of Hotspur, exaggerating his heroism and habits.

Falstaff enters, calling for a drink. As he downs the drink and starts another, he accuses Prince Hal of cowardice for not showing up the night before. Falstaff then tells the story of how he was robbed, making himself into more and more of a hero by inflating the number of men who attacked him. Prince Hal lets him go on for a while before admitting that he and Poins were the ones who attacked Falstaff and the other thieves. Falstaff tries to save face by claiming he knew instinctively it was Prince Hal the whole time and that he refused to fight back because he would never attack the heir to the throne.

The hostess enters and tells Prince Hal that a messenger from the king has come for him. Falstaff volunteers to find out what he wants. While he is gone, the other thieves explain how Falstaff taught them to make it look like they had been in a large fight. Falstaff returns with serious news: the Percys and Mortimer have joined the rebellion, and Prince Hal has to go see his father. To prepare for this, Falstaff and Prince Hal take turns playing the king so the prince can practice explaining himself. Their game is interrupted when the sheriff enters to search the house. Prince Hal tells everyone to hide, which is fortunate because the sheriff is looking for Falstaff as a suspect for the robbery. Once the sheriff leaves, Prince Hal finds Falstaff asleep. He searches Falstaff's pockets but finds nothing but bar receipts. Signaling the start of his reformation, Prince Hal declares that he will pay back the stolen money before he goes off to the war.

Analysis

This scene shows Prince Hal at his lowest, even as it shows what he gains from associating with thieves and commoners. On the one hand, he really enjoys getting to know different sections of society, people he would not have a chance to meet if he were being a good prince. On the other hand, Prince Hal teases Francis mercilessly. His behavior toward this servant is downright mean and lacks the honor expected of a prince.

A much purer form of humor is provided by Falstaff in the way he talks about the robbery. As he tells the story, he transforms his cowardice into heroism, and Prince Hal and Poins become 50 or 100 men in the retelling.

The gap between appearance and reality continues to be stretched as Prince Hal and Falstaff alternately playact the roles of King Henry and Prince Hal. The scene shows how Falstaff acts as a father figure for Prince Hal, and it also foreshadows the prince's eventual ascendance to the throne.

Hotspur's decision in the previous scene to join the rebels results in the final crest of the pendulum, which now begins to swing back to center. The arrival of the king's messenger and, later, of the sheriff in a tavern filled with drunken thieves indicates that order is being restored, as does Prince Hal's decision to repay Falstaff's debts.

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