Henry IV, Part 1

by: William Shakespeare

Act III, scene iii

This scene also spotlights the continuing ambivalence in the relationship between Harry and Falstaff. Their verbal sparring here seems to be largely affectionate, and Harry has done Falstaff another unsolicited kindness: after hiding him from the sheriff the night before, he has paid back in full the money that Falstaff’s party stole on the highway. While Harry considers himself a “good angel” to Falstaff for returning the money, it seems possible that the desire to protect himself from any serious criminal charges is also one of Harry’s motivations, since he is, after all, partially responsible for the theft (III.iii.163). Furthermore, while Harry has procured -Falstaff a good position—a command of infantry soldiers—in the upcoming war, in doing so he has rehashed the Act II, scene ii joke about Falstaff’s distaste for walking.

Despite the comedy attached to the notion of Falstaff on foot again, Harry has begun to take the war very seriously. His remark that “[t]he land is burning, Percy stands on high, / And either we or they must lower lie” reveals his understanding of the gravity of the situation—he is well aware that one side and one side only will prevail in this high-stakes battle (III.iii.187–188). Falstaff acts as a foil for Harry: whereas Harry respects his opponent, Falstaff issues a cynical declaration of praise about the Percy clan (“Well, God be thanked for these rebels—they offend none but the virtuous” [III.iii.174–175]). Additionally, whereas Harry focuses on the upcoming battle, Falstaff thinks of nothing but gratifying his physical desire for food, shouting, “Hostess, my breakfast come!— / O, I could wish this tavern were my drum!” (III.iii.189–190). His silly closing rhyme of “come!” and “drum!” parodies Harry’s solemn closing rhyme of “high” and “lie.”

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