I know you all, and will awhile uphold
The unyoked humour of your idleness.
Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wondered at
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapours that did seem to strangle him.
If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work;
But when they seldom come, they wished-for come,
And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.
So, when this loose behaviour I throw off
And pay the debt I never promisèd,
By how much better than my word I am,
By so much shall I falsify men’s hopes;
And like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation, glitt’ring o’er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
I’ll so offend to make offence a skill,
Redeeming time when men think least I will.
Prince Harry addresses this monologue to Falstaff and his friends, even though they have just left the room, leaving Harry all alone. It is in this speech that Harry first reveals his deception. His idling with the Boar’s Head company is all an act, and when the need arises, he will cast off the act and reveal his true noble nature. Harry tells the departed Falstaff that he “will a while uphold / The unyoked humour of your idleness,” but that, just as the sun permits itself to be covered by clouds so that the people who miss its light will be all the happier when it reappears, he too will eventually emerge from the cloud cover of his lower-class friends. Harry says that people quickly grow used to and tire of anything that is familiar: if every day were a holiday, he says, then holidays would seem as tiresome as work, because “nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.”
Therefore, Harry concludes that by earning the people’s disapproval with his current behavior, he sets himself up to appear all the more glorious when he finally decides to earn their approval, since they will not take his high merit for granted. This quote is extremely important to the play, because it establishes the dramatic irony of Harry’s character, known to no one but the audience and the prince himself. It also exposes the complexities and ambiguities of Harry’s mind, showing an apparently virtuous young man who can manipulate and lie to others to achieve his somewhat selfish, albeit important, goals.