Henry IV, Part 1 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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

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Summary

Falstaff and Bardolph are marching to war. Falstaff sends Bardolph for something to drink and explains how he recruited his company. If a man could afford to buy his way out of fighting, Falstaff allowed it and took his money. As a result, he has lots of cash, but his battalion of soldiers is made up of the very young, the very old, and those who are poor, dishonest, hapless, or some combination thereof.

Prince Hal and Westmoreland enter. Prince Hal looks over Falstaff's men and finds them poor specimens, but Falstaff reassures him that they will die in war as well as anyone else. The battle is about to start.

Analysis

While this scene is another example of comic relief, it has serious undertones. The battle's danger is not confined to the rebel army. The disorder in the kingdom has resulted in Falstaff's presence in the battle, and he has gathered a third-rate army of men who will serve only as bodies to die on a warrior's sword. Moreover, their presence in the fight undermines the strength of the king's army, a threat reinforced by the fact that Prince Hal and Westmoreland still have 30 miles to go before reaching the battlefield.

Falstaff's actions here reflect on the larger, more serious plot. The rebels, like Falstaff, are manipulating matters of honor and affairs of state for their own profit, just as they have accused the king of doing. It does not matter to any of them that poor, weak, powerless men will die as a result.

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