Act II, Scene 4
Two servants prepare the dining room for Sir John and the others. First, they discuss whether or not they should serve apple-johns since one time Prince Hal used them to insult the knight. They decide to cover them up. They need music and to bring down the temperature of the room. The first servant also reveals the plan to conceal Hal and Poins to the second.
Mistress Quickly tries to get a drunk Doll Tearsheet ready to meet with Sir John. It’s going moderately well. Falstaff enters, singing, and asks after Doll Tearsheet. Mistress Quickly downplays the illness. Falstaff takes to opportunity to insult her about her profession (a prostitute) and the diseases she likely spreads. Mistress Quickly comments on how the two of them seem to do nothing but fight when they are together. Doll quickly drops the fight because poor Falstaff is going off to war and she may never see him again.
The first servant brings the news that a Master Pistol has come to visit. Doll denounces him as a swaggerer and Mistress Quickly hesitates to let him in on account of her tavern getting a bad reputation. Falstaff, of course, vouches for the man, pretty much ensuring that Pistol is not the type of person she should be entertaining. Falstaff insists he be allowed to come up. Mistress Quickly shakes in anger but does nothing to stop it.
Pistol and Falstaff greet each other and immediately start making inappropriate pistol-themed jokes at Mistress Quickly’s expense. Both ladies refuse to take any of Master Pistol’s lip. Doll goes so far as to threaten violence against him. Falstaff thinks maybe Master Pistol should go, but the ladies have a few things to say first. Doll explains how Master Pistol besmirches the title of captain with his lewd behavior. Everyone starts asking Pistol to leave but he is determined to defend himself.He keeps on talking despite everyone else, even Falstaff advising him to be quiet. Pistol remains so stubborn that eventually Falstaff has to take out his sword to force Pistol out of the room.
Once Pistol is gone, Doll Tearsheet starts seeing Falstaff as a hero that she should dote on. Music starts and a disguised Hal and Poins sneak in. Doll is going on and on about how she fears for poor Falstaff’s life. He tells her to speak of other things and not remind him of his impending death, so she asks about the Prince. He calls the Prince shallow and says he would have made a good servant. Doll then remarks that she heard Poins had a good wit. Falstaff laughs at this idea and Doll wonders why the Prince likes him so much then. Falstaff assumes it must be because they are both young and empty-headed.
The Prince and Poins discuss how they should punish old Falstaff and comment on his old age and other shortcomings. Meanwhile, Falstaff and Doll Tearsheet are having an intimate, loving moment. It’s not long before Falstaff is asking for wine, which Prince Hal gladly delivers. Falstaff immediately recognizes him and he welcomes the Prince alongside Mistress Quickly. Poins makes sure that Hal calls Falstaff out, which he does. Falstaff honestly responds that he didn’t know the Prince could hear him. He insists that he only insulted the Prince so that the bad company he was keeping wouldn’t want to be around the Prince.The Prince asks who in the room, exactly, is the person too evil to consort with a prince. Falstaff says it’s Bardolph and the Page, but the women aren’t exactly clean either. Mistress Quickly is, of course, offended and starts quibbling with Falstaff.
They are interrupted by a knock at the door. It’s Peto with the news that the King is at Westminster and everyone is asking where Falstaff is. The Prince rushes off to his father. Falstaff is just about to get down to business with Doll Tearsheet when there’s another knock at the door. There are a dozen captains at the door ready to ride out with Falstaff. He rushes off, but quickly asks for Doll Tearsheet to come with him. He’s not about to miss out on that, war or no war.
Act III, Scene 1
The King sends off some late-night letters to the Earls of Surrey and Warwick. He comments on the fact that most of his subjects will be asleep at this late hour, and yet sleep eludes him. Sleep can find the lowliest of the low and even allow a ship-boy to fall asleep on rough seas, but not find a King on a still night.
Warwick and Surrey come to the King and wish him good morning since it is now one o’clock am. The King asks if they have looked over the letters he sent. They did. The King reflects on the dismal state of affairs in England. Warwick isn’t too worried. He’s confident that Northumberland will calm down pretty quickly. The King isn’t so sure. He wishes that he could see into the future and know what would happen. He remembers that Richard predicted that Northumberland would turn against Henry at some point and he was right. Warwick is not impressed by this prophecy and says almost anyone could have made it under similar circumstances. He asserts that it was almost certain that Northumberland, having just betrayed Richard, would turn to betrayal again. This does little to comfort Henry. He heard that Northumberland and the Archbishop have fifty thousand men. Warwick says that’s impossible and he is absolutely positive that the King will be victorious. He encourages the sick King to go to bed, which he does.
Act III, Scene 2
Old masters Silence and Shallow greet each other in the early morning. The partake in some small talk about their families and reminisce on their days at university with Falstaff. Falstaff is on his way there to meet them and review their recruits for the King’s army. That’s when they comment on the fact that pretty much all of their other friends are dead.
Bardolph arrives to make sure that the two men are ready for Falstaff’s arrival. Shallow asks if Falstaff has a wife. Bardolph says that soldiers are better accommodated with other things than a wife. Then, they have a very brief exchange about whether accommodate is a word or a phrase.
Falstaff arrives before that discussion can really take off. They welcome Falstaff and engage in some more small chat before getting down to the business of inspecting the soldiers (prepare yourself for many puns).
First is Mouldy, who Falstaff jokes is about about time would be put to use. Shallow clarifies hat moldy things tend to not have use, just in case we missed the joke. Mouldy begs not to have to go because no one will be able to help his wife with the farm work. No one seems to really care.
Next is Shadow. Falstaff approves of him with no puns worth summarizing. They move on to Wart who has very ragged clothes. Falstaff makes a joke about him being pricked with pins rather than being pricked for the army. He doesn’t want Wart. Then comes Feeble, the women’s tailor, so we have more jokes about pin pricks and holes in ladies petticoats. Feeble thinks Wart would have been a better choice, but Falstaff rejects this idea because no one is available to make Wart look better since Feeble is a woman’s tailor.
Finally, they choose Bullcalf. He is a very large man, but he insists he can’t go because he has a bad cold. Falstaff dismisses that excuse. Shallow invites Falstaff to join them for dinner while he contemplates his recruits. Falstaff insists that he can’t stay for dinner, but he’ll have a drink. Shallow tries to bring up some saucy memories about a certain lady, but Falstaff quickly changes the subject and gets them to go into dinner.
Mouldy and Bullcalf pay off Bardolph to let them stay home. Falstaff comes out to choose his four men and Bardolph informs him of the deal he just made. Shallow asks who he will take and Falstaff tells Shallow to choose for him. Shallow chooses Mouldy, Bullcalf, Feeble, and Shadow. Falstaff quickly dismisses Mouldy and Bullcalf as unsuitable. When Shadow questions this decision, Falstaff feigns insult and asks if Shadow will tell him, a knight, how to choose a soldier. He insists that Wart will make a fine soldier and even tries to demonstrate that fact with mediocre results.
Once Falstaff is alone, he remarks on how old his friends are and what liars. Shadow exaggerated every single story he told. Falstaff sets the record straight to the audience, but saw no use in correcting the old man.
Act IV, Scene 1
The Archbishop of York, Mowbray, and Hastings meet alongside the Gaultree Forest to prepare for battle. Unfortunately, they just found out that Northumberland has wished them well and run off to Scotland. A messenger comes to let them know that the King has about thirty thousand men ready to fight. This is what they expected.
Westmoreland approaches bringing warm greetings from Prince John. Westmoreland, in a very wordy way asks why they have decided to break the peace with this rebellion. He throws a little guilt in there too, just for good measure. The Archbishop, not to be outdone on wordiness, explains that their grievances far outweigh their wrongs, as history will remember. On top of that, they haven’t even been able to air their grievances to the King. Westmoreland doesn’t quite believe that and asks who has denied them. Then he lays it on thick by reminding them of all the bloodshed they’re causing and giving God’s blessing to the fight. The Archbishop fights to revenge his brother Scroop (one of Richard’s favorites that was executed during the usurpation) and for the grievances of all the English people. Westmoreland doesn’t think this is a very valid excuse. Mowbray insists that they are all feeling the pains of this time. Westmoreland explains that it is time and not the King that has caused them injuries. Mowbray, specifically, shouldn’t have any grievances because all of his father’s lands were given to him. His father was the Duke of Norfolk, who was exiled in Richard II. Mowbray doesn’t see this as any great favor since his father would have totally beaten Henry is their fight, if Richard hadn’t stopped it. Westmoreland feels that is besides the point because the fight never happened. Plus, Henry was an excellent fighter and the people loved him.
Now, Westmoreland reveals that Prince John has promised to hear their grievances and, if he finds them just, address them. Mowbray doesn’t want to talk with the Prince. This is all just being done out of “policy not love”. Westmoreland assumes that if they won’t meet with the prince, they must have no case. Hastings steps in and asks if the King himself has given Prince John this authority. Westmoreland confirms that he does, which is why Westmoreland is there in the first place. The Archbishop hands over a written account of all their grievances. Westmoreland takes the letter to Prince John after ensuring that no fighting would start until they had their answer.
Mowbray is suspicious that any real peace can be kept. He worries that the King will hold everything against them. The Archbishop believes that because the King is sick, he just wants to wipe the slate clean and start again. His friends are too close to his enemies. Besides, Hastings asserts, the King has wasted all his energy and resources on everything leading up to this moment, he can’t really punish them well.
Westmoreland returns and says that the Prince would like to meet them at a neutral place between their two armies. They all agree to work toward peace.