Henry IV Part 2
How we cite our quotes:
Ha, cousin Silence, that thou hadst seen that that
this knight and I have seen! Ha, Sir John, said I well?
We have heard the chimes at midnight, Master Shallow.
That we have, that we have, that we have; in faith,
Sir John, we have: our watch-word was 'Hem boys!'
Come, let's to dinner; come, let's to dinner:
Jesus, the days that we have seen! Come, come. (3.2.31)
As Silence and Shallow enthusiastically recall the heady days of their youth, Falstaff agrees that, yes, they have "heard the chimes at midnight." Falstaff's words are poignant but he's also somewhat dismissive of these two men. Later, he complains that old men are the biggest "liars." He says "This / same starved justice hath done nothing to prate to / me of the wildness of his youth, and the feats he / hath done about Turnbull Street: and every third / word a lie" (3.2.39). Falstaff points out that old men often misremember the past and inject the days of their youth with a glory that wasn't actually there.
Brain snack: Falstaff's famous line lends itself to the title of Orson Welles's study of Falstaff's character, Chimes at Midnight, You can watch Welles's film adaptation of this scene on YouTube.
By heaven, Poins, I feel me much to blame,
So idly to profane the precious time,
When tempest of commotion, like the south
Borne with black vapour, doth begin to melt
And drop upon our bare unarmed heads.
Give me my sword and cloak. Falstaff, good night. (2.4.14)
As King Henry IV lay ill and the rebel forces gather against the king, Prince Hal expresses guilt for wasting time in a seedy tavern with commoners. His father doesn't have much time to live so Hal is running out of opportunities to come to terms with the king.
We can't help but notice the way this passage recalls Henry IV Part 1, where Hal says "I'll so offend, to make offence a skill; / Redeeming time when men think least I will" (1.2.29). In other words, Prince Hal, who wastes his time carousing with the commoners in Part 1, insists that his reformation (from a wild prince to a responsible monarch) will redeem the actions of his misspent youth. Here, in Part 2, however, Hal seems to be growing impatient and weary.
O God! that one might read the book of fate,
And see the revolution of the times
Make mountains level, and the continent,
Weary of solid firmness, melt itself
Into the sea! and, other times, to see
The beachy girdle of the ocean
Too wide for Neptune's hips; how chances mock,
And changes fill the cup of alteration
With divers liquors! O, if this were seen,
The happiest youth, viewing his progress through,
What perils past, what crosses to ensue,
Would shut the book, and sit him down and die. (3.1.5)
This is one of the most pessimistic speeches in the play. Here, King Henry IV is full of despair. He sees the future as inevitably "fat[ed]" for apocalyptic ruin, where the mountains are leveled and the land "melts" into the sea. As he imagines a young man reading the "book of fate" and then giving up all hope of the future by sitting "down" to "die," he seems to be talking about himself. Although Henry is certainly no longer a "youth," he seems, like the young man in his story, to have given up all hope as he approaches his death. The speech continues below.