RUMOR Upon my tongues continual slanders ride, The which in every language I pronounce, Stuffing the ears of men with false reports. (Induction.6-8)
The play opens in a pretty striking way – Rumour enters the stage and announces that it's been busy spreading lies and false reports. This not only prepares the audience for the multiple and incompatible accounts given about the battle at Shrewsbury in the play's opening scene, but also reminds us that it's difficult to tell whose version of the truth we can believe in this play.
RUMOR This have I rumored through the peasant towns Between that royal field of Shrewsbury And this worm-eaten hold of ragged stone, Where Hotspur's father, old Northumberland, Lies crafty-sick: (Induction.33-37)
After Rumour announces that it's been circulating around the world spreading lies, Rumour makes a pit-stop at Northumberland's pad, which is lovingly described as a "worm-eaten hold." This is where Northumberland has been pretending to be sick so he wouldn't have to fight at the battle at Shrewsbury. Compare this passage to 3.2 below.
BULLCALF O Lord, sir, I am a diseased man. FALSTAFF What disease hast thou? BULLCALF A whoreson cold, sir, a cough, sir, which I caught with ringing in the king's affairs upon his coronation-day, sir. (3.2.185-189)
Gosh, everybody in this play has got the sniffles – even Bullcalf, who attempts to beg off when Falstaff tries to recruit him into the army. Like Northumberland, Bullcalf is likely lying to avoid fighting in the war. Though, it's interesting that he claims his loyalty to the king is what caused his ailment in the first place. Apparently, Bullcalf celebrated Henry IV's coronation so enthusiastically that he wound up with a "whoreson cold."
PRINCE But I tell thee, my heart bleeds inwardly that my father is so sick; and keeping such vile company as thou art hath in reason taken from me all ostentation of sorrow. […] What wouldst thou think of me, if I should weep? POINS I would think thee a most princely hypocrite. PRINCE It would be every man's thought; and thou art a blessed fellow to think as every man thinks. Never a man's thought in the world keeps the road-way better than thine. Every man would think me an hypocrite indeed. And what accites your most worshipful thought to think so? POINS Why, because you have been so lewd and so much engraffed to Falstaff. (2.2.44-48; 50-60)
In Henry IV Part 1, Hal told us that he was playing the role of the bad-boy prince so he could stage a dramatic "reformation" when he became king, which would amaze everyone and endear him to his subjects. By the time we see Hal in Henry IV Part 2, it seems like he's trapped in the role he's created for himself. Although he's inwardly sad that his father is ill, he can't show his true feelings because he's created a "wild Prince" persona that everyone expects him to live up to. If Hal were to openly grieve for his father now, everyone would think he was a "hypocrite" and that his tears were disingenuous because he's spent so much time thumbing his nose at his father and hanging out with the likes of Falstaff.
FALSTAFF My lord, this is a poor mad soul; and she says up and down the town that the eldest son is like you. She hath been in good case, and the truth is, poverty hath distracted her. (2.1.108-111)
When Falstaff wants to discredit Mistress Quickly, who has filed a lawsuit against him, he lies to the Lord Chief Justice and claims that Mistress Quickly has been telling people the LCJ is the father of her child. Later in the play, Falstaff tries to discredit Poins when he lies to Prince Hal and claims that Poins has been telling everybody Hal is going to marry his sister. Are you noticing a pattern here? What's with Falstaff and all the lies about women and sexual relationships? Falstaff's as petty as an online gossip column. Falstaff, then, seems to be associated with the figure of Rumour, who also spends a lot of time spreading stories.
FALSTAFF What is the gross sum that I owe thee? HOSTESS Marry, if thou wert an honest man, thyself and the money too. Thou didst swear to me... […] as I was washing thy wound, to marry me and make me my lady thy wife. Canst thou deny it? […] And didst thou not kiss me and bid me fetch thee thirty shillings? I put thee now to thy book-oath. Deny it if thou canst. (2.1.87-89; 94-96; 104-107)
Mistress Quickly files a lawsuit against Falstaff, who has borrowed a bunch of money that's never going to be repaid. Mistress Quickly also reveals that Falstaff broke his promise to marry her, even after she took care of him when he was wounded. We know Falstaff's not the most honest guy in the world but taking advantage of Mistress Quickly seems pretty despicable, don't you think? Is Shakespeare setting it up so that we don't get too sentimental when Falstaff is eventually banished by Hal?
JOHN OF LANCASTER I like them all, and do allow them well, And swear here, by the honor of my blood My father's purposes have been mistook, And some about him have too lavishly Wrested his meaning and authority. [To the Archbishop.] My lord, these griefs shall be with speed redressed; Upon my soul, they shall. If this may please you, Discharge your powers unto their several counties, As we will ours, and here, between the armies, Let's drink together friendly and embrace, That all their eyes may bear those tokens home Of our restorèd love and amity. ARCHBISHOP I take your princely word for these redresses. (4.1.301-314)
Pay close attention to what Prince John says here as he and the Archbishop of York reach a peace agreement. It sounds like Prince John is promising that things will be cool between the rebel leaders and the king's forces – they'll all be sipping cocktails and "embrac[ing]" as friends before the day is over. Now take a look at what happens in the passage below.
WESTMORELAND Good tidings, my Lord Hastings, for the which I do arrest thee, traitor, of high treason.— And you, Lord Archbishop, and you, Lord Mowbray, Of capitol treason I attach you both. MOWBRAY Is this proceeding just and honorable? WESTMORELAND Is your assembly so? ARCHBISHOP Will you thus break your faith? JOHN OF LANCASTER I pawned thee none. I promised you redress of these same grievances Whereof you did complain, which, by mine honor, I will perform with a most Christian care. But for you, rebels, look to taste the due Meet for rebellion and such acts as yours. (4.1.362-374)
After cutting a deal with the rebel leaders, who agree to disarm if Prince John redresses their grievances, Westmoreland goes, "Ah ha! You're all under arrest!" So, we're thinking Mowbray makes a completely valid point when he asks if this "proceeding is just and honourable." You might want to revisit Prince John's promise at 4.2 (above) and then see if it jives with what he has to say in this passage. Is Prince John a "break[er] of faith"? If so, is he any different than the swindling Falstaff?
SHALLOW Yea, Davy. I will use him well. A friend i' th' court is better than a penny in purse. Use his men well, Davy, for they are arrant knaves, and will backbite. (5.1.30-33)
So much for the idea that things are simpler and less corrupt in the countryside (Gloucestershire) where Justice Shallow lives. When Shallow tells his servant that he plans to use Falstaff, who might have valuable connections at court, it seems that there's not a place in the entire country of England where corruption and deception don't exist.
FALSTAFF Master Shallow, I owe you a thousand pound. SHALLOW Yea, marry, Sir John, which I beseech you to let me have home with me. FALSTAFF That can hardly be, Master Shallow. Do not you grieve at this. I shall be sent for in private to him. Look you, he must seem thus to the world. Fear not your advancements. I will be the man yet that shall make you great. SHALLOW I cannot well perceive how, unless you should give me your doublet and stuff me out with straw. I beseech you, good Sir John, let me have five hundred of my thousand. (5.5.74-85)
In the previous passage, we saw that Justice Shallow planned to use Falstaff in order to curry favor at court. Here, it seems that Falstaff has got the better of Shallow, who loaned Falstaff a bunch of money when he thought Falstaff would be a close companion to the newly crowned king. If you're interested in Falstaff's tremendous debt, check out "Quotes" for "Weakness."