At an inn yard in Rochester, beside the main highway about twenty-five miles outside of London, two carriers—middlemen who deliver goods from one merchant to another—are readying their horses to depart in the early-morning darkness. The stableboy is slow in coming out to help, and the carriers are annoyed. Gadshill, the highwayman friend of Falstaff and Harry, appears out of the darkness and asks the carriers if he may borrow a lantern. They are suspicious of Gadshill, however, and refuse.
As soon as the carriers have gone on their way, a chamberlain of the inn comes out to talk to Gadshill; he is Gadshill’s informer. He tells him that some very wealthy travelers are currently having their breakfast in the inn and will be on the road soon. Gadshill offers him a cut of the profits, which the chamberlain refuses. Gadshill then calls for his horse and rides off to set his ambush.Read a translation of Act II, scene i →
Waiting a few miles further along the highway, at Gad’s Hill, -Falstaff searches for his horse—Poins has secretly taken it from where it was tied and concealed it in the woods. Peto, Bardolph, and Harry, who is in on the joke, stand by. The fat Falstaff is very uncomfortable on foot and, puffing and panting, complains loudly. Harry soothes Falstaff by telling him he will look for his horse (which, of course, he does not intend to do).
Gadshill shows up to complete the party with the news that the wealthy travelers are approaching. Harry suggests that Falstaff, Peto, Bardolph, and Gadshill confront the travelers on the highway; Harry and Poins will then flank them on either side of the road to catch any who try to escape. The men put on their masks, and Poins and Harry disappear into hiding. The travelers appear, and Falstaff, Peto, Bardolph, and Gadshill rob them and tie them up.Read a translation of Act II, scene ii →
As the four split up the gold, Poins and Harry, in their buckram disguises and new masks, charge the thieves and demand their money. The four flee in terror without putting up a fight—only Falstaff even tries to get in a blow or two. Laden with gold and mightily entertained, Poins and Harry go to their horses, laughing to think of how angry Falstaff will be when he finds out that they have gotten rid of his horse and that he will have to walk back to London.Read a translation of Act II, scene iii →
1 Henry IV covers a wide range of terrain, both in terms of the literal geography of England and in terms of the classes of people in the play. Shakespeare interweaves high scenes, which feature noblemen engaging in debates about the nature of kingship or the strategies of war, with low scenes of commoners and criminals engaged in various petty plots. This combination was something fairly new for Shakespeare and for English drama as a whole, causing critics and readers alike to compare the play to Geoffrey Chaucer’s great Middle English work, The Canterbury Tales, written at the end of the fourteenth century.