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MonkeyNotes-Henry IV, Part 1 by William Shakespeare
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Act II, Scene 1

Summary

At an inn in Rochester, two carriers wait to get their horses. In the meantime, Gadshill, an accomplice of Falstaff's and the robbers’ gang, arrives. He tries to borrow their lanterns and engage them in conversation, but they refuse him, not wishing to import information regarding their masters' departure.

After the carriers leave, Gadshill calls the inn's chamberlain, who has been acting as his informer. The chamberlain tells Gadshill that a franklin (a wealthy landowner) from Kent carrying three hundred marks in gold will soon be traveling from the inn in a small party. Gadshill announces his intent to rob the party. He is heedless of law and punishment, for he is riding with Sir John and other influential people. Gadshill promises the chamberlain a fair share of the loot, but the chamberlain knows of these empty promises and does not expect anything.


Notes

The previous scene was charged with tension. Hotspur and the king argued with fiery, eloquent language, in blank verse. This scene, however, has no elevated prose or verse but is rather written in natural, native prose. Ordinary life is presented through ordinary, though witty, language. The carriers stand about complaining as they wait for their horses, indulging in colloquialisms and mild, entertaining curses. The carriers, though common folk, are no fools however, and they recognize Gadshill for a troublemaker. If the carrier's represent the English working man, Gadshill represents the English underworld, and he is rightly named after Gad's Hill, the scene of the robbery. His speech to the chamberlain is full of picturesque and hyperbolic jargon: he claims to be riding not with "mad mustachio purple-hued maltworms, but with nobility and tranquility, burgomasters and great oneyers" (80- 2). The chamberlain, in turn, takes Gadshill's boasting in stride. When Gadshill promises him a share of the loot on his honor as a "true man" (98), he replies that he would rather have it on his guarantee as a "false thief" (100). Though the scene is quite short, it puts forth a vivid picture of daily life of the era.

Gadshill's fearlessness regarding the crime is indicative of the coming disorder. He is not afraid of hanging because Sir John will have to hang first, an unlikely occurrence. If knights like Sir John Falstaff and the prince himself participate in the theft, what is the law but mockery of the monarch? If the Percies rebuke and rebel against Henry, here are other subjects who are willing do the same.

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