Act Five: Fulfilling the Subtitle

The fifth and final act of The Second Part of Henry the Fourth (Concerning His Death; and the Coronation of King Henry the Fifth) begins back at the home of Justice Shallow (he of the Oxford-attending cousin William, and of the shared history with Falstaff). Falstaff has returned for a visit, and is now stating his desire to end the visit (“You must excuse me,” [V.i.3]). Shallow refuses, instead giving orders to his servant Davy to prepare a large dinner. Of course, it’s possible that Falstaff is only playing up his desire to leave so that he will be invited to dinner, especially since once he’s left alone, he reveals to us that he intends to listen to his superior in social rank and class:

I will devise matter enough out of this Shallow to keep Prince Harry in continual laughter

— V.i.73-75

Falstaff can foresee a time when he’ll need new stories to tell to Hal, and he’s not above stealing Shallow’s for the purpose.

Act Five, Scene Two takes us to the royal court, where the Chief Justice (and we) learn that Henry the Fourth “lives no more” (V.ii.5). When the Chief Justice mentions that he wishes he had died with the king, Warwick understands: “Indeed I think the young king loves you not” (V.ii.9). This again ties into the the legend, discussed by Falstaff earlier in the play, that a young and impetuous Hal struck the Chief Justice. We understand the fear that Hal is still young and impetuous; Warwick sees the other sons of Henry IV, and wishes Hal “had the temper // Of…the worst of these three gentlemen” (V.ii.15-16), and he fears having to salute or “strike sail to spirits of (the same) vile sort” (V.ii.18) as Falstaff. And it’s not just the nobles who fear this; the brothers do, too, as Clarence states, “Well, you must now speak fair Sir John Falstaff fair” (V.ii.33).

When Henry the Fifth enters, he understands the discomfort of the nobles, and he tries to reassure his brothers that he will act kingly: “I’ll be your father and your bother too” (V.ii.57). When he sees the Chief Justice, he meets the subject unblinkingly: “You are, I think, assured I love you not” (V.ii.64). The Chief Justice admits so much, explaining that he did took on his action that spurred Hal’s striking of him because he saw Hal as “an offender to (his) father” (V.ii.81); furthermore, he assures the new king,

Behold yourself so by a son disdained,
And then imagine me taking your part
And in your power soft silencing your son.

— V.ii.95-97

It’s a non-apologetic but completely respectful reply, and Henry sees that the justice is “right” (V.ii.102), so much so that he asks the Chief Justice to keep those titles and duties under Henry V. The new king understands that he will have

To mock the expectation of the world,
To frustrate prophecies and to raze out
Rotten opinion, who hath writ me down
After my seeming.

— V.ii.126-129

He understands how the world sees him, and he knows he must change.

From that realization, we move in Act Five, Scene Three, to Shallow’s estate again, where Shallow and Falstaff have finished dinner, but the drinking has continued. The short scene is filled with drinking songs, interrupted only by the entrance of Pistol who carries with him news that “Henry the Fifth’s the man” (V.iii.116). Falstaff’s “lambkin now is king” (V.iii.115), and Falstaff promises Shallow “what(ever) office (he) wilt in the land, ’tis (his)” (V.iii.122-123). And it’s not enough that Falstaff will be able to give titles as presents to his friends, he cannot wait to bring “woe to (the) chief justice” (V.iii.137-138).

In the quick Act Five, Scene Four, we find the beadle arresting Mistress Quickly and Doll Tearsheet; and the two women cannot wait for Falstaff to arrive so that the beadle might be “swinged” (V.iv.20) or beaten. It seems the ladies are counting Falstaff’s chickens before they are hatched, too.

In the final scene of the play, the coronation train of King Henry V passes by, followed by Falstaff and his entourage. Falstaff is joyous, anticipating great times ahead. But when he calls out, “God save thy grace, King Hal, my royal Hal!” (V.v.41), he does not get the response he expects:

I know thee not, old man: fall to thy prayers;
How ill white hairs become a fool and jester!
I have long dream'd of such a kind of man,
So surfeit-swell'd, so old and so profane;
But, being awaked, I do despise my dream.
Make less thy body hence, and more thy grace;
Leave gormandizing; know the grave doth gape
For thee thrice wider than for other men.
Reply not to me with a fool-born jest:
Presume not that I am the thing I was;
For God doth know, so shall the world perceive,
That I have turn'd away my former self;
So will I those that kept me company.
When thou dost hear I am as I have been,
Approach me, and thou shalt be as thou wast,
The tutor and the feeder of my riots:
Till then, I banish thee, on pain of death,
As I have done the rest of my misleaders,
Not to come near our person by ten mile.

— V.v.47-65

And if that wasn’t bad enough, he orders the Chief Justice to “see performed the tenor of our word” (V.v.71). And the king leaves Falstaff without another statement.

Falstaff is sure that he “shall be sent for in private” (V.v.77) to the king, but that is not to be, as the Chief Justice re-enters and proclaims, “Go, carry Sir John Falstaff to the Fleet. // Take all his company along with him” (V.v.91-92). And as Falstaff’s entourage is taken off to prison, Henry’s brother John is left to say,

I like this fair proceeding of the king's:
He hath intent his wonted followers
Shall all be very well provided for;
But all are banish'd till their conversations
Appear more wise and modest to the world.

— V.v.98-101

Thus, there’s hope for Falstaff, and a hint to the actions of the next play (“bear(ing) our civil swords and native fire // As far as France” [V.v.106-107]), and this play is over, save for a 31-line Epilogue, apologizing for “lately here in the end … a displeasing play” (Ep. 7-8), promising a “continu(ance) of the story, with Sir John in it, and … fair Katherine of France” (Ep. 24-26), and reminding the audience that Falstaff is NOT Oldecastle.

And on that very bizarre note, the play ends…

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