Better part of valor Introduction
I'm Falstaff. I'm an old, larger than life guy who's always looking for a good time. And that good time usually involves booze and women. And you know what I think?
Embowelled! if thou embowel me to-day,
I'll give you leave to powder me and eat me too
to-morrow. 'Sblood,'twas time to counterfeit, or
that hot termagant Scot had paid me scot and lot too.
Counterfeit? I lie, I am no counterfeit: to die,
is to be a counterfeit; for he is but the
counterfeit of a man who hath not the life of a man:
but to counterfeit dying, when a man thereby
liveth, is to be no counterfeit, but the true and
perfect image of life indeed. The better part of
valor is discretion; in the which better part I
have saved my life. 'Zounds, I am afraid of this
gunpowder Percy, though he be dead: how, if he
should counterfeit too and rise? by my faith, I am
afraid he would prove the better counterfeit.
Therefore I'll make him sure; yea, and I'll swear I
killed him. Why may not he rise as well as I?
Nothing confutes me but eyes, and nobody sees me.
Therefore, sirrah, Stabbing him
with a new wound in your thigh, come you along with me (5.4.110-128).
Who Said It and Where
Let's take a minute to set the scene: Young Harry Percy (Hotspur), a courageous English nobleman and soldier, has challenged the king's authority by refusing to hand over his Scottish war prisoners. (Customarily, the king's got dibs on captives that promise to fetch a hefty ransom, so King Henry's not happy about this.)
Even though King Henry's ticked off about Hotspur's defiance, he gives the kid serious props for his valor and leadership on the battlefield. He also wishes his own son, wild Prince Hal (who is a major headache for King Henry) would behave more like Hotspur the war hero and less like a common degenerate. Burn.
But by the time we've gotten to this point in the play, the rebels have revolted under Hotspur's leadership. Hal has proven himself to be a good son and warrior by saving his dear old dad's life on the battlefield. Tear. The two of them kiss and make up.
But they've still got Hotspur and his armies to contend with. Aw, shucks. The battle finally comes to a head on stage—well, actually, two mini battles are taking place at the same time. Falstaff, who's Hal's right hand man and all around goofball, fights with Douglas. Douglas has the upper hand so Falstaff falls down and pretends to be dead. Yeah, dude's not exactly Achilles.
Meanwhile, Prince Hal mortally wounds Hotspur. Hotspur says he's less upset about dying than he is about Hal taking away all of Hotspur's "proud titles." Um, okay. Way to have your priorities straight. Hal stands over Hotspur's body and gives him major props for being such an honorable warrior.
Just then, Hal sees Falstaff lying on the ground nearby. He says something akin to "bummer, dude" and leaves his old friend in a bloody heap before exiting the stage. Falstaff then rises, seemingly, from the dead. Falstaff sees Hotspur's corpse nearby and worries the guy could still be alive. So Falstaff stabs Hotspur's thigh and slings the corpse over his back to drag back to the king's camp. He delivers this speech about being honorable and valiant, and we're all like, "Yeah, right."
Prince Hal and Prince John enter and see Falstaff. Hal says something like, "Hey, I thought you were dead." Then, with all the class in the world, Falstaff brags about killing Percy, which prompts young Hal to say something along the lines of, "What are you talking about? I just killed Percy."
Falstaff tells Hal to stop fibbing and claims that Hotspur only appeared to be dead when Hal left him. Falstaff delivered the mortal wound. Hal knows Falstaff's lying, but the old man is so pathetic that Hal just lets it go.