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Henry IV, Part 2 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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



At a tavern in London, a drawer named Francis and the second drawer discuss desserts and their comparison to Falstaff, when another announces he needs two aprons and jerkins, a short, close-fitting jacket. The prince and Poins plan to dress as serving men to spy on Falstaff during dinner. Mistress Quickly, Doll Tearsheet, and Falstaff arrive shortly thereafter. Pistol, a friend of Falstaff, enters despite Quickly's efforts to keep him out.

Pistol launches into a drunken rant, upsetting both women. Falstaff chases him out, injuring Pistol in the shoulder. Prince Hal and Poins arrive as this is happening. Thinking that the prince and Poins are elsewhere, Falstaff begins to insult both of them; the two men in disguise go along with him to see what he will say next.

They reveal themselves after a short time. Falstaff attempts to backpedal, but then admits he spoke ill of them. Peto arrives to tell Prince Hal and Poins that the king is at Westminster. Hal, ashamed of wasting his time at the tavern, leaves with his followers. Bardolph tells Falstaff his men are waiting for him. Falstaff says goodbye to Quickly and Doll and departs. Doll follows after him.


Still another layer of Falstaff's character is revealed in this scene in his interactions with Doll Tearsheet. They seem to genuinely like each other, despite their comical bantering. He shows he is more than braggadocio and bluster.

Fallstaff and Doll's conversation brings to light another theme present in the play: mortality. King Henry's health is failing, and now we're reminded that Falstaff is growing old as well. As Hal struggles with the mounting requirements of maturity, his two father figures are growing old and infirm. When Doll mentions a death's head (a skull), Falstaff asks her not to remind him of his end. But it is only a few lines later when he admits that he is old, something he refused to acknowledge in an earlier scene with the Lord Chief Justice. Falstaff is clearly feeling his years and feels enough of a bond to Doll to admit it.

This scene drives another theme of the play: appearance versus reality. Prince Hal and Poins dress as serving men to observe Falstaff in secret. They think to play a prank on him, but what they find is not humorous. Falstaff insults them both, and only after they reveal who they are does he attempt to gloss over his harsh words. His false face has been caught out by Prince Hal and Poins in their false faces. The rift grows between Hal and his former father figure, Falstaff, foreshadowing the break that must occur when Hal becomes king.

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