“Dost thou speak like a king?”: Henry IV, Part I Passage (Mary P)

Act 2, Scene 4

Weep not, sweet queen, for trickling tears are vain.

HOSTESS O the Father, how he holds his countenance!

For God’s sake, lords, convey my tristful queen,
For tears do stop the floodgates of her eyes.

HOSTESS O Jesu, he doth it as like one of these harlotry
players as ever I see.

FALSTAFF Peace, good pint-pot. Peace, good tickle-brain.—
As King. Harry, I do not only marvel
where thou spendest thy time, but also how thou
art accompanied. For though the camomile, the
more it is trodden on, the faster it grows, so youth,
the more it is wasted, the sooner it wears. That
thou art my son I have partly thy mother’s word,
partly my own opinion, but chiefly a villainous
trick of thine eye and a foolish hanging of thy
nether lip that doth warrant me. If then thou be
son to me, here lies the point: why, being son to
me, art thou so pointed at? Shall the blessed sun of
heaven prove a micher and eat blackberries? A
question not to be asked. Shall the son of England
prove a thief and take purses? A question to be
asked. There is a thing, Harry, which thou hast
often heard of, and it is known to many in our land
by the name of pitch. This pitch, as ancient writers
do report, doth defile; so doth the company thou
keepest. For, Harry, now I do not speak to thee in
drink, but in tears; not in pleasure, but in passion;
not in words only, but in woes also. And yet there is
a virtuous man whom I have often noted in thy
company, but I know not his name.

PRINCE What manner of man, an it like your Majesty?

FALSTAFF, as King A goodly portly man, i’ faith, and a
corpulent; of a cheerful look, a pleasing eye, and a
most noble carriage, and, as I think, his age some
fifty, or, by ’r Lady, inclining to threescore; and now
I remember me, his name is Falstaff. If that man
should be lewdly given, he deceiveth me, for, Harry,
I see virtue in his looks. If then the tree may be
known by the fruit, as the fruit by the tree, then
peremptorily I speak it: there is virtue in that
Falstaff; him keep with, the rest banish. And tell me
now, thou naughty varlet, tell me where hast thou
been this month?

PRINCE Dost thou speak like a king? Do thou stand for
me, and I’ll play my father.

FALSTAFF, rising Depose me? If thou dost it half so
gravely, so majestically, both in word and matter,
hang me up by the heels for a rabbit-sucker or a
poulter’s hare.

PRINCE, sitting down Well, here I am set.

FALSTAFF And here I stand.—Judge, my masters.

PRINCE, as King Now, Harry, whence come you?

FALSTAFF, as Prince My noble lord, from Eastcheap.

PRINCE, as King The complaints I hear of thee are

FALSTAFF, as Prince ’Sblood, my lord, they are false.
—Nay, I’ll tickle you for a young prince, i’ faith.
PRINCE, as King Swearest thou? Ungracious boy,
henceforth ne’er look on me. Thou art violently
carried away from grace. There is a devil haunts
thee in the likeness of an old fat man. A tun of man
is thy companion. Why dost thou converse with that
trunk of humors, that bolting-hutch of beastliness,
that swollen parcel of dropsies, that huge bombard
of sack, that stuffed cloakbag of guts, that roasted
Manningtree ox with the pudding in his belly, that
reverend Vice, that gray iniquity, that father ruffian,
that vanity in years? Wherein is he good, but to taste
sack and drink it? Wherein neat and cleanly but to
carve a capon and eat it? Wherein cunning but in
craft? Wherein crafty but in villainy? Wherein villainous
but in all things? Wherein worthy but in

FALSTAFF, as Prince I would your Grace would take
me with you. Whom means your Grace?

PRINCE, as King That villainous abominable misleader
of youth, Falstaff, that old white-bearded Satan.

FALSTAFF, as Prince My lord, the man I know.

PRINCE, as King I know thou dost.

FALSTAFF, as Prince But to say I know more harm in
him than in myself were to say more than I know.
That he is old, the more the pity; his white hairs do
witness it. But that he is, saving your reverence, a
whoremaster, that I utterly deny. If sack and sugar
be a fault, God help the wicked. If to be old and
merry be a sin, then many an old host that I know is
damned. If to be fat be to be hated, then Pharaoh’s
lean kine are to be loved. No, my good lord,
banish Peto, banish Bardolph, banish Poins, but for
sweet Jack Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack
Falstaff, valiant Jack Falstaff, and therefore more
valiant being as he is old Jack Falstaff, banish not
him thy Harry’s company, banish not him thy
Harry’s company. Banish plump Jack, and banish
all the world.

PRINCE I do, I will.


Halfway through the passage quoted above, Hal asks Falstaff, “Dost thou speak like a king?” Given this week’s focus on the language of character, we would do well to ask the same question. What must one character do in order to “speak like” another? Do Falstaff and Hal succeed in sounding like the king? On the level of meter, it is clear that Hal and Falstaff fail. Henry IV speaks almost always in blank verse, or unrhymed iambic pentameter. Here, both men speak in prose.

Of course, this passage has little to do with any real attempt to sound like King Henry IV. Hal may be the only one in the room who has heard the king speak. So, the humor must be predicated on something other than the similarities and differences between their patterns of speech. It is humorous, first, because Hal and Falstaff are offering their best, over-exaggerated king-speech in order to insult each other. The humor is based, too, on how well Falstaff and Hal mock Henry’s social roles—or his “social persons,” as Fowler would call them. At play here are the social persons of father and sovereign. We laugh to hear Falstaff use archaic, highbrow phrases like “tristful queen” (2.4.406). (For the record, the true king uses the more common “sad” to convey the same emotion (1.1.77).) We laugh because there is a disjunction between Falstaff’s tavern chair, dagger, and ratty cushion, and the high dignity of the throne, scepter, and crown they represent. We laugh to hear Hal chastised like a child. I wonder where else we might locate the humor of this scene? I wonder, too, whether anyone spots any moments in which either Hal or Falstaff do sound particularly kingly? In content, for example, they do join the true king in expressing disappointment in Hal.

The passage also plays into Henry IV’s concern with role-playing. King Henry makes it clear in Act 1 that Hotspur has played the part of heir to the throne far better than Hal has done. In the final battle, a number of characters run around disguised as the king. When the disguised Walter Blunt speaks with Douglas, the latter believes he is about to fight the king. Earlier, the king himself claims his formerly “smooth” behavior toward Northumberland and Hotspur was unbecoming, and that he “will from henceforth rather be myself” in taking them to task (1.3.5). The true prince, if he is to believed, is only disguising himself as a lowlife, promising to re-claim his proper role and very “self” when the time is ripe (“I shall hereafter, my thrice gracious lord, be more myself” (3.2.95)). As we think more about the play in class, I hope we’ll continue to ask what work is done when language points toward a character’s coherent, interior self. After all, as Mieke Bal writes, “characters don’t have an unconscious; only people do” (121).




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