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If sack and sugar be a fault, God help the wicked.
In the Boar’s Head Tavern in Eastcheap, London, Prince Harry is coming up out of the wine cellar. He has been drinking and making friends with the bartenders. He is clearly pleased that he has learned their names and their slang, like “dyeing scarlet,” for example, which refers to chugging a mug of wine (II.v.13). Harry announces that these men, who like him, have called him “the king of courtesy, and . . . a good boy” (II.v.8–13). Harry meets Poins upstairs, and together they tease a young apprentice bartender named Francis.
Falstaff and his friends arrive, and Falstaff launches into the tale of how he and his friends were robbed just after they had committed their own robbery early that morning. As Falstaff tells Harry and Poins the story, his lies become more and more outrageous. For example, he claims that a hundred men set upon him and that he himself fought a dozen.
Finally, Harry cannot stand it anymore and confronts Falstaff with the truth. He and Poins know that only two robbers attacked Falstaff and the others because those robbers were Harry and Poins themselves in disguise. Falstaff, with his usual quick-wittedness, promptly bluffs his way out and says that he recognized Harry immediately when he and Poins attacked the party and that he only ran away to avoid having to hurt Harry. But he is glad to hear that Harry and Poins have the money, since now they can pay for everyone to get drunk.
The tavern’s hostess, Mistress Quickly, comes in to tell Harry that his father has sent a nobleman to bring him a message. Falstaff goes to the door to get rid of the nobleman and returns with heavy news: civil war is brewing in England, and Harry must go to the court to see his father in the morning. The rebellious Percys and their many allies have all joined together to attack King Henry, and the king’s beard has “turned white” with worry (II.v.328).
Harry and Falstaff decide to engage in a role-playing game so that Harry can prepare for his interview with his father the following morning. Falstaff will pretend to be King Henry and scold Harry, who then can practice his answers. In the role of the king, Falstaff bombastically defends himself to Harry, suggesting that even if Harry drops all his other rascally companions, he should keep the virtuous old Falstaff around. Harry, objecting that his father would not speak in this manner, suggests that he and Falstaff switch places. Now playing the role of King Henry, Harry rebukes Falstaff, who now plays the role of Harry, for hanging around with such a disreputable old man. Falstaff tries to defend himself, but he has trouble against Harry’s sharp intelligence and regal bearing.
Harry and Falstaff’s role-playing is interrupted when the sheriff and his night watch arrive at the tavern: they are looking for Falstaff and the others, who, they have learned, robbed the travelers on the highway early this morning. Harry tells Falstaff to hide and misdirects the sheriff by swearing to him that Falstaff is not there and that he himself will be responsible for finding the thief and turning him over. As the sheriff leaves, Harry finds Falstaff asleep where he was hiding. After picking Falstaff’s pockets out of curiosity, Harry tells Peto that he will see his father in the morning and that all of them must go off to war. He adds that he will secure places in the army for all of his companions and place Falstaff in charge of a brigade of foot soldiers—a pointed joke, since Falstaff can hardly walk without running out of breath.