Henry IV, Part 2
Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
HENRY IV, PART 2
Mistress Quickly is hostess of the Boar’s-Head Tavern and has registered a complaint against Falstaff, an incident that may reflect Julia Penn’s complaint against Oxford regarding rooms he had been renting from her (Ogburn and Ogburn 930). Fang, the sheriff’s sergeant, striving to impress her with his courage and efficiency, tells her Falstaff has been served notice. Officer Snare is ordered to arrest him, but he fears for his life. Quickly explains how she has been victimized in an account full of malapropisms: e.g., “I am undone by his going. I warrant you, he’s an infinite thing upon my score” (II.i.23-24), and, “do your offices, Master Fang and Master Snare, do me, do me, do me your offices” (II.i.40-42).
Falstaff, Bardolph, and the page arrive and chaos breaks loose until the Lord Chief Justice shows up with his men. Quickly adds breach of promise to her complaints about Falstaff’s indebtedness. Falstaff testifies against her character: “My lord, this is a poor mad soul, and she says up and down the town that her eldest son is like you. She hath been in good case, and the truth is, poverty hath distracted her” (II.i.104-107). Falstaff feigns relative sympathy for her and therefore won’t bring legal action against her, but he’s not inclined to be so merciful otherwise. The Chief Justice isn’t buying this and scolds Falstaff.
A Master Gower brings news that King Henry and Prince Hal are nearing London. Falstaff actually cajoles Quickly into selling some of the Boar’s-Head’s furnishings to raise money for him. Bardolph will accompany her to make sure she doesn’t change her mind, and Doll Tearsheet, a woman of ill repute, will join them at the tavern later. Falstaff is given the political news by the Chief Justice but impudently ignores him and twice asks the messenger Gower to dine with him instead.
Prince Hal has regressed since end of the last play and returns to his wastrel friends, again indicating that when he emerges reformed the effect will be dramatic. He speaks with Poins and seems meta-aware of his status — “Doth it not show vildly in me to desire small beer?” (II.ii.5-6) — even to the point of insult with his supposed friend: “What a disgrace it is to me to remember thy name, or to know thy face to-morrow, or to take note of how many pair of silk stockings thou hast” (II.ii.13-15). Some enigmatic “tennis-court” (II.ii.18) and “low countries” (II.ii.21-22) punning gives credence to the Oxfordian connection between Poins and Philip Sidney (Clark 739-740; Ogburn and Ogburn 727). Sidney was of “extreme conventionality” (Ogburn and Ogburn 725). Oxford and Sidney vied for an important military post in 1585 (Clark 744). And Poins soon drops out of sight in the Henriad, logically because of Sidney’s death by the time Oxford, recalled back from the Low Countries, returned to this play (Ogburn and Ogburn 724).
Hal insists although he shows no real sorrow about his father the King’s serious illness in front of “one, it pleases me, for fault of a better, to call my friend” (II.ii.41-42), his heart weeps. Hm. Poins wonders about him being “a most princely hypocrite” (II.ii.44-45).
That Falstaff made, as we hear, the boy his “ape” (II.ii.71-72) suggests to some Oxfordians the Fair Youth being involved in acting (Ogburn and Ogburn 727). Some business about a rabbit (= hare = heir) (II.ii.86) suggests to some Oxfordians the presence of the Fair Youth who may have played the page early on but later became the Prince with Oxford as the dying king (Ogburn and Ogburn 853).
A reference to Althaea dreaming of being “delivered of a firebrand” (II.ii.89), though seemingly a mistake on the page’s part for Hecuba, Queen of Troy, alludes to the story of Althaea’s son Meleager whose life depended on an unburned log and who killed his two uncles (Asimov 394-395). “It must be a slip of Shakespeare’s pen, one which he never corrected because of his aversion to rewriting and reconsidering” (Asimov 394)!
Bardolph and the page arrive and Bardolph receives a series of insults about his drinker’s nose and face. Poins asks after “the martlemas, your master” (II.ii.101-102), meaning Falstaff but using a term for a fatted ox. Hal soon will use the term “the old boar” for Falstaff (II.ii.146). Falstaff has sent Hal a letter, pompously self-promoting and trying to drive a wedge between Hal and Poins by saying that Poins is spreading rumors that Hal will marry Poins’ own sister. Poins is livid. But they will disguise themselves as drawers at the tavern and have some fun at Falstaff’s expense. Hal muses on his “low transformation! that shall be mine, for in every thing the purpose must weigh with the folly” (II.ii.174-176).
Northumberland’s wife and the widow of Hotspur (Lady Percy) pressure Northumberland not to join the revolt. He says his honor is at stake, but Lady Percy mentions that that didn’t stop him from weaseling out last time when Hotspur needed him at Shrewsbury. He agrees to go to Scotland and see first how the battle is going.
A reference to Hotspur “speaking thick, which nature made his blemish” (II.iii.24) may refer to his rapidity, resulting in stammering or jumbling (Asimov 397). Apparently his fans tended to imitate him in fashion and even in language. References to him twice as a “glass” (II.iii.21, 31) bring to mind the “verre” connection between Hotspur and Oxford.
At the Boar’s-Head Tavern, we hear of another of Hal’s jests against Falstaff in the past, involving apple-johns. Falstaff enters singing: “‘When Arthur first in court’ — Empty the jordan [chamberpot]. ‘And was a worthy king'” (II.iv.33-35). Interesting juxtapositions.
Doll Tearsheet has been drinking and engages in some lewd banter with Falstaff in this “tawdry scene of erotic pathos” (Bloom 276). It is clearer now than in the previous play that the tavern is a brothel (Wells 147). And a theme of degradation extends even unto language itself as Doll complains that the word “captain” may suffer corruption: “these villains will make the word as odious as the word ‘occupy,’ which was an excellent good word before it was ill sorted” (II.iv.147-150), and which now means “fornicate.”
Pistol wishes to speak with Falstaff, but Mistress Quickly hears from Doll that he’s a “swaggerer” and Quickly seems to have a pathological animosity for “swaggerers.” But Pistol is Falstaff’s “ancient” (standard-bearer) and enters, exchanging hostilities with Doll. “Even the grandiloquence of his speech is not his own, for he is a perpetual quoter of bits and pieces of dramatic plays of Shakespeare’s time; choosing always the most bombastic and fustian speeches, garbling them, misquoting them, and misapplying them” (Asimov 399). His sword is named “Hiren” or “Irene,” punning on “iron” but also meaning “peace,” ironically (Asimov 400). “Bawdy jokes on discharging and on ‘foining,’ or thrusting, are now the main topic of conversation, and these are terms of war that are being trivialized” (Garber 352).
The comment, “Is it not strange that desire should so many years outlive performance?” (II.iv.234-235), “might well serve as a useful epigraph for this entire play, for in a sense every person, every value, every energy, and every desire, with the sole exception of those belonging to Prince Hal himself, seems in Part 2 to have outlived its performance…. What seemed lively, improvised, energetic, and hopeful in Part 1 now seems enervated, tawdry, and corrupted” (Garber 344).
Hal and Poins sneak in with the musicians and overhear Falstaff embarrassing himself in insinuating discussion with Doll. Falstaff slanders Hal as a worthless bum and Poins as a “baboon” (II.iv.240) and lackey. When Hal and Poins are revealed, Poins tries to keep the Prince on point: “My lord, he will drive you out of your revenge and turn all to merriment, if you take not the heat” (II.iv.297-299).They anticipate Falstaff using his old excuse that he knew they were there all along, as he did after the Gadshill incident. This time, however, Falstaff says he did not know they were there, but that he needed to discredit Hal lest the lowly women here fall in love with him.
Peto brings word that Henry is at Westminster with messengers of the north. Hal rushes off, “shoulding” all over himself about wasting his time in the tavern (II.iv.361ff). Falstaff leaves for court when several captains arrive for him, but a moment later Bardolph calls for Doll to come to Falstaff immediately.