Henry IV Part 1
How we cite our quotes:
I did never see such pitiful rascals.
Tut, tut; good enough to toss; food for powder, food
for powder; they'll fill a pit as well as better:
tush, man, mortal men, mortal men. (4.2.3)
Falstaff's attitude toward the rag-tag soldiers he has amassed is a bit startling, but unsurprising given the corrupt enlistment practices we saw in the previous passage. Here, Falstaff refers to his "pitiful" troops as food for gun "powder," men who will fill a "pit" as good as anything else. On the one hand, we could argue that Falstaff's attitude is despicable and cold – a reminder that we shouldn't feel sorry for him when Hal treats him cruelly. (In Henry IV Part 2 Hal banishes Falstaff outright.) On the other hand, we could say that Falstaff's crude honesty is honest and perhaps no different from that of any other character who leads foot soldiers into battle. (When Hotspur decides to lead his troops into battle despite being terribly outnumbered, are his actions any different?) Some literary critics argue that, in a play where powerful noblemen are always attempting to elevate the horrors of war to something "honorable," Falstaff is the only character that calls it like it is. (Check out our thoughts on what Falstaff has to say about the notion of "honor" by reading "Quotes" for the theme of "Principles.") Of course, there are lots of other ways to interpret this moment. How do you read this passage? Is Falstaff revolting? Refreshingly frank? Some combination of the two? Or, something else entirely? How would you stage this moment if you were a director?
Nay, before God, Hal, if Percy be alive, thou get'st
not my sword; but take my pistol, if thou wilt.
Give it to me: what, is it in the case?
Ay, Hal; 'tis hot, 'tis hot; there's that will sack a city.
PRINCE HENRY draws it out, and finds it to be a bottle of sack
What, is it a time to jest and dally now? (5.3.3)
Here, the play's comedic and serious elements collide (pun intended). When Hal asks to borrow Falstaff's weapon and is given a bottle of sweet wine instead, Hal says Falstaff's comedic antics are completely inappropriate. There's a time and place to "jest and dally," but for Prince Hal, it's not on the field of battle.
We, on the other hand, may find Falstaff's joke amusing for the way it depends on his pun that his bottle of wine could "sack" a town ("sack" is a kind of sweet wine and also a word meaning to pillage or plunder). The implication being that warfare causes a kind of devastating "hangover" that's a lot like the effects of binge drinking. (This pun may also suggest that the rebels' instigation of civil war and Falstaff and Hal's rebellious tavern carousing really aren't so different. For more on this see "Rules and Order.")
In any case, this passage marks an important moment for Prince Hal (who has already promised to abandon his old friend back in Act 2, Scene 4). As Hal moves closer and closer to redeeming himself and his lost "honour," we're reminded that the prince must leave his old friend and his rebellious past behind if he is to become an effective political leader.
KING HENRY IV
Stay, and breathe awhile:
Thou hast redeem'd thy lost opinion,
And show'd thou makest some tender of my life,
In this fair rescue thou hast brought to me.
O God! they did me too much injury
That ever said I hearken'd for your death.
If it were so, I might have let alone
The insulting hand of Douglas over you,
Which would have been as speedy in your end
As all the poisonous potions in the world
And saved the treacherous labour of your son. (5.4.5)
For Prince Hal, who saves his father from certain death at the hands of Douglas, courage on the battlefield marks an important the moment when Hal "redeems" himself in the eyes of his father. (We talk more about this in our section on "Principles.") In this passage we can also see that part of Henry's former distrust of his son is related to the rumors that Hal was waiting for his father's death and the moment when he could inherit the throne. For more on this, check out our discussion of "Family."