Rumor begins the play by explaining how it spreads the seeds of deceit across the world. Rumor spreads word of peace while discord spreads in secret. Rumor remarks on how easy it is to get anyone to believe the stories it tells.
Then, Rumor explains why it is here in England. He is spreading the lie that Hotspur was victorious and the rebellion successful. Northumberland is the rumor’s final target.
Act I, Scene 1
Lord Bardolph comes to deliver the happy news to Northumberland. He tells him that King Henry is fatally wounded, Prince Hal is dead at Hotspur’s hand, Douglas killed both Blunts, the King’s other allies fled, and Falstaff is a prisoner. Northumberland asks Bardolph if he witnessed this first hand. He didn’t. He heard it from an apparently trustworthy young man who was there at the Battle of Shrewsbury.
Northumberland had sent his servant Travers for news. Lord Bardolph assures Northumberland that Travers will have the same news. Unfortunately, right after hearing from the same knight Lord Bardolph apparently conferred with, Travers came across another who was at the battle. He said the rebellion lost and Hotspur is dead. Northumberland doesn’t want to believe it and Lord Bardolph assures him that it is false.
Morton comes in and he looks troubled. He came directly from Shrewsbury and confirms Travers story, the true story. Northumberland asks after his son and brother, but he can see in Morton’s face that they are dead. Morton explains that Douglas and his brother live, but Hotspur was killed. Northumberland does not want to believe that his son his dead. Neither does Lord Bardolph, but Morton saw Hotspur’s body with his own two eyes. He provides the highlights of the battle. Prince Hal killed Hotspur, who had provided such inspiration and courage to his men that once he died they fled the field. During the final moments of the battle, Worcester and Douglas were taken prisoner and the King was victorious. Also, the King is sending his son and Westmoreland to come and take care of Northumberland.
This is a pretty dire situation for Northumberland, but he doesn’t have time to be sad. His grief has made him forget his illness and given him the fervor to fight. His friends join in his grief-anger and swear to fight beside him. Morton informs him that the Archbishop of York is already preparing another rebellion. Northumberland pledges to join that cause and prepares to send messages about it to all of his friends.
Act I, Scene 2
Falstaff asks his page what the doctor said about his urine. The Page explains that the urine is fine, but the person it came from is riddled with all sorts of diseases. Falstaff is in no mood for the boy’s cheek. He is tired of being the butt of everyone’s jokes and swears that Prince Hal assigned him this page just to be annoying. He swears to send the small, unfit boy back to Prince Hal. He gets in a few digs about Hal’s young age and says that he has almost run out of patience with the Prince.
Then he asks about his new clothes. It seems that the tailor does not trust Falstaff or Bardolph (different than Lord Bardolph) to pay the debt. He rages about the tailor judging him, a true knight, on his security (ability to pay a debt).
Finally, he asks about Bardolph, who is off to buy him a horse. Falstaff remarks that all he needs is a wife to be “manned, horsed, and wived.”
The Chief Justice and his servant approach. Falstaff decides to try to avoid them since he’s still wanted for the robbery. The Chief Justice sends his servant to physically grab Falstaff when Falstaff pretends to be deaf. Falstaff immediately scolds the servant for begging. The servant tries to explain who he is, but Falstaff swears on his honor as a knight that the servant is nothing more than a beggar. The Chief Justice intervenes at this point and Falstaff starts asking him about his health and the King’s health. The Justice keeps trying to get the conversation back on track, but Falstaff will only discuss this mystery illness that is plaguing the King and apparently the Justice.
Finally, the Justice pins him down for an answer as to why he never came when called upon. The Chief Justice lays out all of Falstaff’s faults: he is poor, fat, and a bad influence on the Prince. Falstaff, of course has a rebuttal to everything. He insists that the Prince has been a bad influence on him. The Chief Justice ignores Falstaff’s rebuttals and says that Falstaff is fortunate that is success at Shrewsbury and the turmoil of the times has made people forget about his robbery, so he is going to let it go.
But, not without getting some digs in first, which Falstaff meets with equal wit. Falstaff even calls the Justice old and refers to himself as young. The Chief Justice challenges the idea of Falstaff being young, pointing out all the physical features that would indicate that Falstaff is old. Falstaff dismisses this idea and explains that he reprimanded the Prince for scolding the Chief Justice so harshly. At this, the exasperated Justice hopes for a better companion for the Prince. Falstaff hopes for a better Prince for the companion. The Chief Justice reminds Falstaff that he is supposed to be going to help Prince John and Westmoreland. Falstaff asks for money, which the Justice refuses to give.
Falstaff sends his page to deliver messages to Prince John, Prince Hal, Westmoreland, and Mistress Quickly, presumably for money since he has none. After the page leaves he curses his own illnesses, but decides to try to turn them into a profit by getting a better War pension.
Act 1, Scene 3
The Archbishop of York gathers with Mowbray, Hastings, and Lord Bardolph to review their plans for rebellion. Mowbray would feel better if they had more men to face the King. Hastings assures them that they are well prepared because they have 25,000 good men to be supplied by Northumberland. This raises concerns for Lord Bardolph, they are two dependent on Northumberland who has a bad habit of ditching the cause at the last minute. Hastings still isn’t worried.
Lord Bardolph suggests that they maybe they should prepare just a little more before tearing apart the kingdom and attempting to build a new one. Hastings thinks that’s just silly. They have such good hopes! Hastings does, however, make a good point when he says that the King’s forces are divided into three different fights at the moment: Glendower, France, and them. Plus the King has pretty much no money. The Archbishop isn’t worried that they will have to fight a substantial army either. They would only have to risk facing Prince John and Westmoreland.
The Archbishop decides that right now is the perfect time to make their cause known to the common people, who are sick and tired of King Henry and his greedy power grab. They all prepare to march forth.
Act II, Scene 1
Mistress Quickly obtains Fang and Snare’s help in arresting Falstaff for taking all her money and still not marrying her. Falstaff immediately draws his sword and prepares to fight when confronted by the group. Mistress Quickly hurls insults at Falstaff and calls for help. The shouting draws the attention of the Chief Justice, who, as we well remember, is not a big fan of Falstaff.
Mistress Quickly immediately begins pleading with the Chief Justice, but he is way more concerned with the fact that Falstaff still hasn’t left to help Prince John. Mistress Quickly explains that Falstaff is under arrest at her suit for taking everything she has and not even marrying her in the end. Falstaff makes a dirty joke at her expense and the Chief Justice is shocked that he would say that to a Lady.
Falstaff asks how much he owes Mistress Quickly. She reminds him that it was only a few weeks back that he promised to marry her, but still hasn’t made an honest woman of her. She goes into much more detail when she tells the story, but I don’t want this blog post to be insanely long. Falstaff immediately calls her crazy and asks for redress. The Chief Justice knows Falstaff better than to believe his lies. He tells Falstaff to pay the woman and apologize. Falstaff is offended that the Chief Justice doesn’t believe him, but the Justice doesn’t really care. Falstaff takes Mistress Quickly aside.
The Chief Justice receives news from Gower that Prince Hal has come to London. Falstaff charms Mistress Quickly into forgiving him and still believes that he will marry her. She invites him to dinner with her and Doll Tearsheet. He agrees and she leaves with Bardolph and the others. Gower continues to share his important news that most of the King’s forces have returned, but a decent portion are riding up to meet with Prince John. The Chief Justice and Gower prepare to go about their business when Falstaff invites Gower to dinner. He explains that he is too busy and the Chief Justice reminds Falstaff that he should be riding North to meet Prince John. Falstaff keeps trying until the exasperated men leave.
Act II, Scene 2
Prince Hal is dismayed. He is burdened with all these princely expectations, but all he wants is a beer. He should be concerning himself with fancy things and leave the simple things to the common people. And yet, he thinks that the common people will one day run the world. Poins asks how a Prince would cheer himself up. Prince Hal swears Poins to secrecy before revealing that he is sad because his father is so sick. This surprises Poins, as it would most people, because up until now Prince Hal has associated himself with very lewd people. Hal tries to lump Poins in with the lewd people, but Poins insists that he is of good stock.
Bardolph and Falstaff’s page enter. Bardolph immediately starts scolding the boy and tries to send him off, but the Page makes sure to get a few digs in first. Prince Hal enjoys it so much and he give the boy a gold piece. They give Prince Hal a letter from Falstaff.
Poins begins reading it and comments on how Falstaff must always refer to himself as a knight before continuing the letter. In the letter, Falstaff warns that Poins is being sneaky and swearing that the Prince will marry his sister. Poins denies this and the Prince just finds the letter funny. They concoct a plan to disguise themselves and spy on Falstaff, so they can hear what he says about them at dinner.
Act II, Scene 3
Northumberland’s wife and daughter-in-law try to persuade him to stay home from the wars. He insists that he must go for the sake of his honor. By his daughter-in-law’s account it is way to late for that. He abandoned his honor when he abandoned his son, her husband, who was basically the best man to ever live. He shouldn’t pledge his honor to lesser men now.
He thinks that’s a little harsh and insists that he can’t just not fight now. They suggest he go to Scotland to wait and see what happens before getting involved. He’s convinced and heads to Scotland instead of to his friends. History repeats itself, I suppose.