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MonkeyNotes-Henry IV, Part 1 by William Shakespeare
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Act II, Scene 2

Summary

The robbers appear near Gad's Hill. Poins announces that he has hidden Falstaff's horse and disappears with Bardolph and Peto as Falstaff enters, cursing him. Hal offers to go find Poins and Falstaff continues complaining. When Hal and the others return, he curses them and demands his horse. Hal tells him to be quiet and listen for the travelers and teases him about his missing horse. Falstaff then asks Hal to help him find his horse, and, when the prince refuses, he further curses him.

Gadshill enters and announces that the travelers are on their way. Hal presents the plan: Bardolph, Peto, Gadshill, and Falstaff will attack the travelers in a narrow lane while Hal and Poins will wait downhill, in case the travelers escape from the first group's attack. The robbers split up. The travelers come down the hill, where they are robbed and tied up by the first party. Falstaff says that Hal and Poins are cowards and don't deserve any of the loot. As they begin splitting it up, Hal and Poins emerge in disguise and rob them. Gadshill, Bardolph, and Peto immediately run away. Falstaff fights for a moment and then flees as well. Hal and Poins collect the loot and laugh at their adventure.


Notes

Horses cannot enter the Elizabethan stage, so Shakespeare cleverly deprives the looters and the travelers of their horses: Falstaff, who should be mounted, loses his to a trick, and the travelers decide to relax and walk down the hill while a servant takes the horses.

The language in this scene is wonderful, as Hal and Falstaff once again exchange verbal blows and Falstaff rages and blusters. "A plague upon it when thieves cannot be true to another" (28-9), he says. When Falstaff complains that he is being colted by Hall, that is, toyed with, Hal responds that, on the contrary, Falstaff has been "uncolted" (40-1), deprived of a horse. When Gadshill announces that their will be eight or ten robbers, Falstaff exclaims, "Zounds, will they not rob us?" (67)

Though both high-born, neither Falstaff nor the prince pretend to treat each other with courtesy or use courtly language with each other. This is a low task they are engaged in, after all. Hal calls the knight "fat guts" (33) and "Sir John Paunch" (68), and Falstaff, in turn, tells Hal to hang himself for his antics.

Although Falstaff is the butt of Hal and Poins jokes and teased for his fatness, he can give it out as well as he can take it. He curses his fellow robbers so long and hard that he has to pause to catch his breath. When the robbers confront the travelers, it is Falstaff who leads the assault, calling them "whoreson caterpillars, bacon-fed knaves" (87-8). When the robbery is successful, he is happy to cut Poins and Hal out of their share for not participating. "There's no more valor in that Poins than in a wild duck" (105-6), he says. Falstaff clearly enjoys his sport, and it is difficult not to feel some sympathy with the robbers, who go about their business gaily.

After robbing Falstaff, the prince and Poins have a long laugh over the thought of him running back to London, "[larding] the lean earth" (115) with his fat. While Falstaff is not overly brave, he is not a coward. Rather, he is practical and will not risk his life for the sake of a few coins. As Poins had earlier indicated, Falstaff fights no longer "than he sees reason" (I, ii, 191). It is worth noting that Hal's and Poins' act is made no more noble by them having robbed robbers. Hal is still not ready to join the forces of order.

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