Henry IV Part 2

by: William Shakespeare

Act II, Scenes iii-iv

Summary Act II, Scenes iii-iv

Ancient Pistol is a unique character and would most likely have struck Shakespeare's audience as hilarious. He is a braggart and "swaggerer" (as Doll and the Hostess call him (69-105))--that is, a brawler--but he also speaks in a bizarrely dramatic style consisting of references to classical literature and to contemporary melodramas, romances, and tragedies. Thus, when he draws his sword to attack Doll, he does not stop with saying, "I'll be revenged of her" (150), but continues by belting out, "I'll see her damned first! To Pluto's damned lake, by this hand, to th'infernal deep, with Erebus and tortures vile also! Hold hook and line, say I! Down, down, dogs! Down, faitors! Have we not Hiren here?" (153-157). Most of what he says is incomprehensible both to us and to the characters in the play.

However, Shakespeare's audiences would have been amused by Pistol for several reasons. For one thing, like many of the other minor characters in the play, he lives up to his name: in 1598, the pistol was a dangerous, noisy, and erratic weapon. But he also comes across as a ludicrous parody of the more melodramatic plays that were being acted on the stage in Shakespeare's time. Among other things, Pistol ridiculously mangles several lines from the flashy and violent plays of Christopher Marlowe, Shakespeare's most famous and gifted contemporary and rival.