Henry IV, Part 2 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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

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Summary

At Gaultree Forest, Falstaff meets Sir John Colevile, a knight fighting for the rebels. Colevile yields to Falstaff because of his famous name, despite being seemingly unimpressed with the man himself. John of Lancaster enters to announce the defeat of the rebellion and upbraids Falstaff for conveniently being late to the battle.

Falstaff presents Colevile to Prince John and asks for a reward for his capture. The prince is not impressed and sends Colevile with Sir John Blunt so he can be executed with the other rebels. He then tells the earl of Westmoreland that they will return to court because he has heard that the king, his father, is ill. Falstaff requests the prince to give a good report of him. Prince John agrees, even as he tells Falstaff he doesn't deserve it. He leaves with Westmoreland.

Falstaff gives a speech about Prince John and young men like him being of lesser quality because they do not drink. He claims this is the difference between John and Prince Hal. Falstaff says that John is dour and has no sense of humor, and he blames it on the prince's father, King Henry IV. Prince Hal is the only one who has shaken off his sire's "cold blood" because of the wine he drinks, which has allowed him to "become very hot and valiant" (126).

Bardolph arrives and tells Falstaff that the army has been discharged. They leave for Gloucestershire to see Justice Shallow—Falstaff has plans for him.

Analysis

This scene juxtaposes nicely with the scene before in terms of honorable battlefield behavior. Only a knight can accept the surrender of another knight, and then they will be ransomed (or pay for their own release). This was one of the rules of engagement—nobles rarely killed each other, preferring the gold they'd receive with a successful capture and ransom. Colevile easily offers himself up to Falstaff, counting on the accepted battlefield rules to save him. It is a stark contrast to Prince John and his treatment of the rebels: John is only interested in his own concept of righteousness—and in keeping his family in power—not in the conventions of battle.

Shakespeare was writing for several audiences, and he deftly handles keeping both happy in this scene. Writing for Queen Elizabeth and her nobility required acknowledgment of a certain interpretation of honor, but he also wrote for the common man who took a different view. By putting his questioning of Prince John's treatment of the rebel lords in the mouth of Falstaff—a wise fool—he can criticize without fear of giving offense to his patrons.

Falstaff couches his complaints about Prince John in the prince's refusal to drink wine. While the monologue is humorous, it also serves as a point of critique. Falstaff is pointing out what he considers a failing in the monarchy—they are too cold, too lacking in compassion and human feeling.

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