Henry IV Part 2 Theme of Lies and Deceit
Henry IV Part 2 is full of acts of deception. When the play opens, Rumour announces that it plans to "stuff" the ears of men with "lies." Soon after, Falstaff swindles Mistress Quickly out of money and breaks his promise to marry her. Prince John then deceives the rebel leaders at Gaultree Forest and sentences them to death for treason. We're also reminded that Prince Hal's public persona is built on a lie – he's been hiding behind a disguise since Henry IV Part 1. It seems that nobody in this play can be trusted (except, perhaps, the Lord Chief Justice, who seems to be the only straight-shooter in the entire lot). And it's no wonder, given that the monarch, King Henry IV, took a "crooked" path to the throne. Shakespeare makes us wonder if the only difference between the commoners and the nobility is that the nobles justify their deception as a form of "political strategy."
Questions About Lies and Deceit
- What does Rumour say in the Induction? Why does the play begin with this figure's speech? Does the speech resonate throughout the remainder of the play? If so, how?
- In Act 1, Scene 1, what kind of news do various messengers bring to Northumberland?
- Why does Mistress Quickly want to take legal action against Falstaff?
- How does Prince John get the rebels to agree to send their troops home? Is the ploy a shrewd political strategy or a serious breech of faith? Or, is it some combination of both?
Chew on This
Rumour's opening speech about circulating unverified information and false reports is an appropriate beginning – the play is full of speculation and deception.
Falstaff's swindling of Mistress Quickly is a "low" and comedic parody of Prince John's political deception and betrayal of the rebels at Gaultree Forest – the only difference between Prince John and Sir John Falstaff is that Prince John justifies his actions as political "strategy."