Henry IV Part 2
How we cite our quotes:
Do you set down your name in the scroll of youth,
that are written down old with all the characters of
age? Have you not a moist eye? a dry hand? a
yellow cheek? a white beard? a decreasing leg? an
increasing belly? is not your voice broken? your
wind short? your chin double? your wit single? and
every part about you blasted with antiquity? and
will you yet call yourself young? Fie, fie, fie, Sir John! (1.2.21)
The Lord Chief Justice chides Falstaff for referring to himself as a "youth." Although Falstaff insists on his youthful zest for life throughout both parts of Henry IV, his body tells quite a different story. As the LCJ points out, Falstaff's got a "white beard," a fat "belly," an old man's cracked "voice," and sallow looking skin. We also know that just a few moments before Falstaff's confrontation with the Lord Chief Justice, he discussed the recent urine sample he gave his doctor and his Page joked that the doctor said Falstaff's body is riddled with disease. (Check out "Quotes" for "Weakness" if you want to know more about this.) So, Falstaff knows better than anyone that he's no longer a young man. The LCJ doesn't understand that Falstaff is being ironic when he refers to himself as being in the "vanguard of [his] youth." Later, in fact, Falstaff will notoriously exclaim "I am old, I am old" (2.4.26). So, Shakespeare goes out of his way to show us that even the larger than life Falstaff is subject to the ravages of time, a move which lends itself to the play's melancholy tone.
We are time's subjects, and time bids be gone. (1.3.8)
As Mowbray and Hastings prepare to gather their rebel forces against the king, Hastings notes that they are "time's subjects." In other words, there's no time to waste if the rebels are going to wage a successful rebellion against King Henry so they better get a move on.
Yet, we can also read these poignant lines as emblematic of the play's obsession with the passage of time. We've already seen that Falstaff (Prince Hal's rowdy and out of control friend) is time's "subject." (See 1.2.21 above.) Even the rebels (Mowbray, Hastings, York, etc.), who refuse to be the king's literal "subjects," are helpless against the power of time. The play also reminds us that King Henry, who spends most of the play on his death bed, is powerless to the passage of time. So, even though Hastings may not be aware of the implications of what he says to Mowbray in this passage, his words are arguable one of the most poignant lines in the play.
Had my sweet Harry had but half their numbers,
To-day might I, hanging on Hotspur's neck,
Have talk'd of Monmouth's grave. (2.3.1)
Lady Percy insists that if Northumberland's troops had fought at Shrewsbury, her dear Hotspur would be alive today. Henry IV Part II is full of poignant moments just like this one. Characters frequently look on the past and try to imagine what the present and the future would be like if things had only been different.