RUMOR Why is Rumor here? I run before King Harry's victory, Who in a bloody field by Shrewsbury Hath beaten down young Hotspur and his troops, Quenching the flame of bold rebellion Even with the rebels' blood. (Induction.22-27)
Although King Henry IV's army has been victorious at the battle at Shrewsbury, "quenching the flame of bold rebellion" (by dousing it with the rebels' blood, no less), Henry's still got some major problems to deal with. The Archbishop of York is leading another rebellion against the king. Not only that, but wild rumors are circulating throughout the kingdom, which is very much in turmoil.
PAGE Sir, here comes the nobleman that committed the Prince for striking him about Bardolph. (1.2.56-58)
Here, Falstaff's Page tells us that the Lord Chief Justice once threw Prince Hal in the slammer for boxing him on the ears. Why does this matter? Well, it establishes the Lord Chief Justice as a foil to rowdy Falstaff, who has been a mentor to Hal's riotous ways in Henry IV Part 1. We wonder what will happen to the Lord Chief Justice when Hal becomes king…
LORD BARDOLPH The question then, Lord Hastings, standeth thus: Whether our present five-and-twenty thousand May hold up head without Northumberland. HASTINGS With him we may. LORD BARDOLPH Yea, marry, there's the point. But if without him we be thought too feeble, My judgment is, we should not step too far Till we had his assistance by the hand. For in a theme so bloody-faced as this Conjecture, expectation, and surmise Of aids uncertain should not be admitted. ARCHBISHOP 'Tis very true, Lord Bardolph, for indeed It was young Hotspur's case at Shrewsbury. (1.3.16-28)
In Henry IV Part 1, Hotspur led a bold and reckless charge against the king, running headlong into battle without sufficient preparation or support. In Part 2, we see a very different strategy. The rebel leaders proceed with much more caution. Here, Lord Bardolph and York deliberate about whether or not they have a chance against the king's army without the additional support of Northumberland's troops. Later, when the rebels confront Prince John's army, they agree to call a truce before any blood is shed. Of course, the rebel leaders are arrested soon after. Still, the rebellion is decidedly anti-climatic, don't you think?
PRINCE Before God, I am exceeding weary. POINS Is 't come to that? I had thought weariness durst not have attached one of so high blood. PRINCE HENRY Faith, it does me; though it discolors the complexion of my greatness to acknowledge it. Doth it not show vilely in me to desire small beer? (2.2.1-6)
Prince Hal spent most of his time in Henry IV Part 1 thumbing his nose at authority and raising hell with Falstaff. In Part 2, the Prince is much more subdued. He even complains here that he's "exhausted." He also seems to be worried that his sordid lifestyle and association with the commoners has rubbed off on him, as evidenced by his embarrassment that he's developed a taste for "small beer" (the cheap beverage of choice for common men).
DOLL Hang him, swaggering rascal! Let him not come hither. It is the foul-mouthed'st rogue in England. HOSTESS If he swagger, let him not come here. No, by my faith, I must live among my neighbours. I'll no swaggerers. I am in good name and fame with the very best. Shut the door. There comes no swaggerers here. I have not lived all this while to have swaggering now. Shut the door, I pray you. (2.4.72-79)
When Doll Tearsheet complains that Pistol is the most "foul-mouthed'st rogue in England," we know that the "swaggering" Pistol has got to be bad, especially since Doll Tearsheet won't exactly be sipping tea at the palace any time soon. Given that Tearsheet and Mistress Quickly get into a huge brawl with Pistol just a few short lines later, we wonder if these saucy women aren't more dangerous and out of control than the rebel leaders who want to bump King Henry IV off the throne. (The rebels, after all, don't even engage in battle in this play. Doll Tearsheet, on the other hand, whips out a knife and threatens to stab Pistol in the "cheeks.")
NORTHUMBERLAND I pray thee, loving wife and gentle daughter, Give even way unto my rough affairs. Put not you on the visage of the times And be, like them, to Percy troublesome. (2.3.1-4)
Northumberland (one of the rebel leaders) uses an interesting analogy when he asks his wife (Lady Northumberland) and daughter-in-law (Lady Percy) to be more obedient to him. (They've been giving him a hard time about his involvement in the rebellion and don't want him to go to war.) Here, he asks that they not put on "the visage [face] of the times," meaning, he doesn't want them to quarrel with and rebel against him in the way he and others have rebelled against the king. Hmm. Why is it that all of the play's female characters are associated with rebellion and disorder? Check out "Gender" if you're interested in this question.
WESTMORELAND When ever yet was your appeal denied? Wherein have you been galled by the King? What peer hath been suborned to grate on you, That you should seal this lawless bloody book Of forged rebellion with a seal divine And consecrate commotion's bitter edge? ARCHBISHO My brother general, the commonwealth, To brother born an household cruelty, I make my quarrel in particular. (4.1.92-100)
When Westmoreland asks the Archbishop of York about his beef with the king, York evades the question. In fact, we never learn what it is, exactly, that the rebels want from King Henry. (There's a list of grievances, but we're never told what's on it.) Instead of offering specifics, York says he's fighting on behalf of his "brother" or, the "commonwealth" in general. Yet, this doesn't hold much water because York is always criticizing the commonwealth. As an example, he calls the people a "common dog" that eats its own vomit (1.3.97). A more likely reason for York's rebellion is a desire for power.
SILENCE Be merry, be merry, my wife has all, For women are shrews, both short and tall. 'Tis merry in hall when beards wag all, And welcome merry Shrovetide. Be merry, be merry. (5.3.32-36)
Justice Silence doesn't talk much but once he's had a few glasses of wine at Justice Shallow's dinner table, he starts belting out rowdy tunes. (When Falstaff hears this, he's pleased as punch that the justice has cut loose.) What's interesting about this little ditty is the reference to "merry Shrove-tide." Shrovetide is a time of festivity when people can cut loose and party before Lent (since Lent requires that they spend all their time in prayer, self-denial, and penitence for a period of time that leads up to the celebration of Easter). Shakespeare seems to be tipping us off that, even though Falstaff and his crew have been cutting loose and living life like it's one big Shrovetide festivity, the partying is definitely coming to an end soon.
FALSTAFF The laws of England are at my commandment. Blessed are they that have been my friend, and woe to my Lord Chief Justice! (5.3.139-141).
When Falstaff learns that Henry IV is dead and Hal has been named King Henry V, he thinks that his friendship with Hal will give him free license to run amok. Not only that, but he seems hell bent on making his nemesis, the Lord Chief Justice, suffer. What Falstaff doesn't know, however, is that Hal has recently taken the Lord Chief Justice on as a "father" figure and a trusted advisor. So, where does that leave Falstaff?
KING I know thee not, old man. Fall to thy prayers. How ill white hairs become a fool and jester. I have long dreamt of such a kind of man, So surfeit-swelled, so old, and so profane; But being awaked, I do despise my dream. Make less thy body hence, and more thy grace; Leave gormandizing. Know the grave doth gape For thee thrice wider than for other men. Reply not to me with a fool-born jest. (5.5.47-55)
We knew this moment was coming (Hal promised to "banish plump Jack" back in Act 2, Scene 4 of Henry IV Part 1) but it's still painful. Now that Hal is a king who has embraced the Lord Chief Justice as his new mentor, Falstaff, who is nothing but a "fool and jester," is no longer an appropriate companion. If Hal is going to be a monarch who restores civil order to the kingdom, then publicly banishing Falstaff and ordering him to Fleet Prison is symbolic of Hal's readiness and willingness to uphold justice in England.
We're also interested in the way Hal attacks Falstaff's enormous size ("thrice-wider" than other men). Hal chides that Falstaff's body is a reflection of his excessive and indulgent lifestyle. (A point that Shakespeare makes throughout the play.) Falstaff's spent his entire life "gormandizing" (eating gluttonously and drinking non-stop) and his body is "surfeit-swell'd." Hmm. This harsh attack reminds us of Justice Shallow's reference to Shrovetide festivities (see 5.3 above). If Falstaff has lived his life as though it were one great big Shrovetide festival, then the party (and the gluttony) has definitely come to an end here.