Explanatory Notes for Act 1, Scene 2
From King Henry the Fourth, second part. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan.
1. take ... me, think it a fine thing to gibe at me, turn me into
ridicule; cp. Cor. i. 1. 260, "he will not spare to gird the gods."
The literal sense of to gird or gride is to strike, pierce, cut
2. foolish-compounded, made up of follies.
4. is invented on me, as though Falstaff was the block or
framework upon which the witticism was shaped.
5. that wit ... men, of the existence or generation of wit in
5, 6. I do here ... one, having no other attendant but you, I
look like a sow that has over-lain and crushed to death her
whole farrow of young ones.
8. to set me off, to make me a mark for ridicule in the comparison between my enormous bulk and your diminutiveness.
9. mandrake, the plant mandragora, the root of which was
thought to resemble the human figure: to be worn in my cap, as
brooches were worn for ornament.
10. manned with an agate, had an attendant no bigger than an
agate stone; agate stones, worn in rings, etc., often had little
figures engraved upon them, but whether the reference is to this
or merely to the size of the stone is disputed. In M. A. iii. 1.
65, Hero says that Beatrice would compare a tall man to "a
lance ill-headed," a short man to "an agate very vilely cut."
13. the Juvenal, the youth; but always used by Shakespeare
with a comical sense, as in L. L. L. i. 2. 8, M. N. D. iii. 1. 97.
14. I will sooner ... hand, there is much more likelihood of my
getting a beard to grow in the palm of my hand. Abbott, § 319,
remarks, "there is a slight meaning of purpose, as though it
were, 'I will sooner make a beard grow,' derived from the
similarity in sound of the common phrase 'I will sooner die,
starve, than, etc.'"
16. stick to say, hesitate to say: a face-royal, a pun upon a kingly face and the face or head on the coin called a "royal,"
worth ten shillings.
17. finish it, make it complete by adding a beard: not a hair
amiss, not disfigured by so much as a single hair.
17-9. he may keep ... of it, he may maintain it at its full value,
need not have to deduct anything from its full price, for he will
never need to spend so much as a sixpence upon it by having it
shaved. This is virtually Mason's explanation, and undoubtedly,
I think, the right one. Johnson, reading "as a face-royal," explains, "that is, a face exempt from the touch of vulgar hands.
So, a stag-royal is not to be hunted, a mine-royal is not to be
dug." The reading "as" is that of the later folios, and seems to
me a very inferior one, though modern editors almost without
exception adopt it; the quarto and the first folio give "at," and
this reading is in accordance with ordinary phraseology: he'll be
crowing, you will constantly be hearing him boasting, priding
himself upon it.
19, 20. had writ man, had had the right to style himself a
man; cp. Lear, v. 3. 35, "About it; and write happy when
thou hast done"; A. W. ii. 3. 67, "I'ld give bay Curtal and his
furniture, My mouth no more were broken than these boys', And
writ as little beard," i.e. showed no greater proof of age.
20, 1. He may ... grace, he may stand as high in his own
favour, estimation; with a pun upon the word 'grace' as a title.
br /> 23. slops, breeches of a large, loose, fashion.
24. assurance, security, surety: band, an old spelling of bond
in its various senses.
27, 8. like the glutton ... hotter, like the rich man in hell, who
in his torture cried out for a drop to cool his tongue; see Luke xvi. 24: a rascally ... knave, an oily-tongued, cringing, villain; one ready enough with his expressions of compliance. Cp.
Hotspur's scorn of such milk-and-water protestations, Pt. I. iii.
28, 9. to bear ... hand, to think that he should deceive me by
he appearance of readiness to take my orders; to "bear in hand" was to encourage with specious promises without the intention of fulfilling them; cp. M. M. i. 4. 51, Macb. iii. 1. 81, and the similar phrase in Marlowe's Jew of Malta, iii. 3. 3,
"Both held in hand, and flatly both beguiled": stand upon, to insist upon, make a difficulty about.
30. smooth-pates, sleek-headed fellows, i.e. as bland and subservient in manner as they are sleek in appearance.
30, 1. wear nothing ... girdles, are mere self-important, pretentious, upstarts, betraying their self-importance by their high-heeled shoes and the big bunches of keys they wear at their waists as though they had vast wealth to lock up: through, i.q.
thorough (which Pope substituted), downright, not standing
upon petty economies: taking up, obtaining goods on trust.
33. I had as lief, I would as gladly. The idiom represents an
earlier impersonal idiom "Me were lief," i.e. it would be pleasant
to me; from A.S. leof, dear: ratsbane, poison; but originally a
generic term for anything injurious to rats, not a specific poison.
34. as offer ... security, as endeavour to silence me by using the word "security": looked, expected: a', he; a and ha occur
in Old English for he, she, it, they.
38. I bought him in Paul's. "The body of old St. Paul's church
in London was a constant place of resort for business and amusement. Advertisements were fixed up there, bargains made,
servants hired, politics discussed, &c. &c." (Nares, Gloss.).
40, 1. an I could ... wived, an allusion to a proverbial saying,
"Who goes to Westminster for a wife, to St. Paul's for a man,
and to Smithfield for a horse, may meet with a quean, a knave,
and a jade."
Stage Direction. Enter the Lord Chief-Justice. This was
Sir William Gascoigne, appointed Chief-Justice in 1401; the
date of his death is uncertain.
44. Wait close, keep close to me, do not give them an opportunity of speaking to you.
45. What's he, rather more indefinite than "who's he?"
47. He that was in question ... robbery, he who was suspected
of the robbery, and regarding whom inquiry was made.
49. some charge, some commission entrusted to him; here of a
58. What! ... begging! Falstaff pretends to misunderstand the
servant's action in plucking him by his coat sleeve, and says,
"What! have you, a sturdy young fellow like you, taken to
begging as your profession?" knave is used in its older sense of
- 'boy,' 'youth'.
58, 9. Is there not wars? "When the subject is as yet future
and, as it were, unsettled, the third person singular might be regarded as the normal inflection" (Abb. § 335).
61. but one, except the king's side.
62, 3. were it worse ... it, even if a worse name than rbellion
could be given to it: can tell, knows how, is able.
65. Why ... man? how have I mistaken you? I never called
you an honest man.
65, 7. setting ... aside ... so, if for the moment I may lay aside my
knighthood and my dignity as a soldier, I should accuse myself
of lying grossly if I had said that you were an honest man. To
"lie in the throat" was worse than to lie from the lips. Staunton
quotes from a curious old Italian treatise on War and the Duello
a passage in which the different gradations of giving the lie are
enumerated, as the simple "Thou liest"; then "Thou liest in
the throat"; "Thou liest in the throat like a rogue"; "Thou
liest in the throat like a rogue as thou art," the last being an
insult which could not be passed over without a challenge to combat. Cp. Webster, The Devil's Law Case, iv. 2, "I'll give
the lie in the stomach, - That's somewhat deeper than the throat."
71, 2. that which grows to me, that which is part and parcel
of me, as much so as the very flesh and skin of my body: hang
me, may I be hanged, i.e. assuredly you will not get such leave
73, 4. You hunt counter, you are on the wrong scent, you are
making a gross blunder; to " hunt counter" was to mistake the
course of the game, to trace the scent backwards; cp. Haml. iv.
5. 110, "How cheerfully on the false trail they cry! O, this is
counter, you false Danish dogs!" Some editors see in the word
counter an allusion to two prisons of that name in London, the
one in the Poultry, the other in Wood Street, but this is straining
the language too far: avaunt! away out of my path! an expression shortened from the F. en avant, forward! march! from
Lat. ab ante, from before.
77, 8. God give ... day, a common form of courteous salutation;
so after-noon, the salutation "God gi' god-den," "God ye godden," "God dig-you den," all corruptions of "God give you
78-80. goes ... advice, are acting upon your physician's advice
in thus venturing into the open air.
81. some smack, some taste, savour; cp. M. M. ii. 2. 5, "All
sects, all ages, smack of this vice"; so Cor. iv. 7. 46, "As he
hath spices of them all."
81, 2. some relish ... time, some indications that you are no
longer quite in first freshness of youth and robust health.
87. with some discomfort, not altogether so much at ease as
he might be in mind. The discomfort was due to the proceedings
of Glendower and the Earl of March.
90, 1. this same apoplexy, this abominable apoplexy that you know of so well; in the phrase this same there is almost
always a sense of contempt, disgust, depreciation. According to some authorities, Henry in his later days had seizures of
apoplexy, according to others, of epilepsy.
97. What ... it? why do you talk to me of this apoplexy? Abb. § 253, gives other instances of this adverbial use of what in Cymb. iii. 4. 34, J. C. ii. 1. 123, A. C. v. 2. 317.
98. it original, the old provincial form of the possessive is
found in several other passages in Shakespeare, but more generally in 'baby-talk' or where contempt is indicated; most
modern editors follow the later folios in reading its.
99, 100. his effects, its effects; his formerly representing the
possessive of the neuter as well as of the masculine gender.
105. marking, paying heed.
106, 7. To punish ... ears, if I were to punish you by imprisonment it would cure this disease of wilful deafness; to "lay by the
heels" was the technical phrase for committing to prison, and
there is perhaps, as Knight suggests, a further allusion to the
baffling of a knight by hanging him or his likeness up head downwards.
107, 8. and I care ... physician, and I should not object to
curing you in this way.
110, 1. may minister ... poverty, may order me to be imprisoned as being one who has no means of livelihood; in potion
Falstaff is carrying on the Chief-Justice's figure of being his
111, 2. but how I ... prescriptions, as to my bearing patiently
your lordship's method of cure; with a pun on the word patient
in the sense of one under medical treatment.
112, 3. the wise ... itself, wise men maybe inclined to doubt;
again introducing a pun by reference to the weights used in compounding prescriptions and to scruple in its figurative sense.
115. for your life, in which your life was at stake.
116, 7. my learned ... land-service, my counsel, advocate, learned as to the laws that bear upon land-service of this kind;
Falstaff is punning on military service on land, his own exploit in the matter of the robbery, and the serving of writs or summonses.
Schmidt, Lex., says that Falstaff uses the term land-service "improperly," but it is humorously rather than "improperly" used.
120. He that ... less. As Delius points out, Falstaff pretends to
take infamy as though it were some kind of material for clothing.
124. my waist slenderer. Falstaff makes the same pun in M. W.
i. 3. 45-7, "Indeed, I am in the waist two yards about; but I am
now about no waste; I am about thrift."
126, 7. I am the fellow ... dog, supposed to be an allusion to a
well-known beggar who was fat and blind, and had to be led
about by a dog.
128. to fall ... wound, to punish you for an offence which has
in some measure been condoned by your recent good service in
129. gilded over, given it a fairer appearance than it would
naturally have; the base metal being overlaid by a coating of
purer metal; cp. PT. I. v. 4. 162, "I'll gild it [sc. Falstaff's lie)
with the happiest terms I have."
130, 1. you may thank ... action, if it had not been that the
land is so disturbed by war, you would not have got so easily
over your exploit, the consequences of it would have been made
more serious to you, so you have good reason to be thankful to
133, 4. wake not ... wolf, another form of the proverb "Let
sleeping dogs lie"; here meaning do not risk any change for the
worse by returning to your evil ways.
138. A wassail candle, a candle such as is burnt at feasts;
wassail,wes hal, a salutation used at drinking-bouts equivalent
to "be of good health"; from A.S. wes, be thou, and hal, health:
all tallow, and therefore quickly burning out.
138, 9. if I did say ... truth, Falstaff puns on the verb to "wax,"
i.e. to grow big: approve, prove; as frequently.
141. should have ... gravity, should teach you to behave with
the gravity befitting old age.
144. ill angel, evil genius; human beings were supposed to
be accompanied through life by two angels, the one good and the
other evil who contended for the mastery over his actions.
145. your ill ... light. A pun on the word angel, meaning a gold
coin, which varied in value from 6s. 8d. when first coined by
Edward IV, in 1465 to 7s. 6d. and 8s. in the reign of Henry
VIII., and 10s. in that of Edward VI. It was so called from
having on the obverse the figure of the archangel St. Michael
piercing the dragon. A light angel was one below its proper
weight, and so below its proper value; your is used colloquially,
that angel which you and everybody else know so well; cp. A. C. 7. 29, 30, "Your serpent of Egypt is bred now of your mud
by the operation of your sun: so is your crocodile"; Haml. iv. 24, 5, "Your worm is your only emperor for diet; your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service, two dishes, but
146. take ... weighing, will have no doubt of my being full
147. I cannot go. An equivoque upon 'I cannot walk (with ease),'
and 'I cannot pass current': I cannot tell, another equivoque upon 'I do not know what to say,' and 'I cannot be used in a
148. costermonger times, huckstering times, times in which
nothing is thought of except making money by petty traffic; a
'costermonger' is a seller of costards, a kind of apple, hence
any petty dealer.
148, 9. that true valour ... bear-herd, that men of real valour can find no better occupation than that of bear-leader in exhibitions: pregnancy, men of ready, quick, wit; the adjective in this
sense is frequent in Shakespeare.
150. in giving reckonings, in making out tavern bills.
151, 2. as the malice ... them, owing to the direction given to
them by the present times which are too envious to value them
153-5. you do measure ... galls, old age has turned everything
with you to bitterness, and you apply the light with which you
consequently see all things to judge of the hot passions of us who
are still in the vigour and freshness of youth: in the vaward, in
the fore-front, the van; another spelling of van-ward, or van-
guard, the front of an army.
156. are wags too, are not only young, but full of the waggishness, frolicsome characteristics, of that period of life.
158. written down, plainly marked as.
161. wind, breath, sc. when any exertion has to be made.
162. your wit single, your intellect feeble, silly; cp. Cor. iii.
1. 40, "your helps are many, or else your actions would grow
163. will you yet call, are you still determined to call, do
you still persist in calling yourself young?
166. something ... belly, a somewhat round belly.
167. For my voice, as regards my voice, which you say is
168. anthems, sacred songs, generally portions of the Bible set
to music and sung in churches, cathedrals, etc, Cp. Jonson,
The Silent Woman, iii. 2, "He got this cold with sitting up late
and singing catches with the cloth -workers": To approve ... not,
as for any further proof of my youth, I will not attempt it;
To approve, the indefinite infinitive.
170. caper with me, make a match with me at capering:
marks, a coin originally worth 13s. 4d.
171. and have at him, and I am ready enough to engage in
the contest with him. This elliptical use of have, with the sense
of "I will have" or "let us have" is common in Shakespeare
with "after," "at," "to," "through," "with": For the box, as regards the blow; from Danish bask, a slap, thwack.
173. checked, rebuked, chidden.
174. marry, a corruption of (by) Mary, the Virgin Mother of
Christ; a petty oath employed in avoidance of the statutes
against profane swearing.
174, 5. ashes and sackcloth, an oriental fashion of contrition
or mourning for the loss of those dear, frequently mentioned in
the Bible: sack, a Spanish wine generally of a dry character,
though there were also sweet varieties. "They (i.e. the different
kinds of Sack) probably first came into favour in consequence of
their possessing greater strength and durability, and being more
free from acidity, than the white wines of France and Germany:
and owed their distinctive appellation to that peculiar subastringent taste which characterizes all wines prepared with
gypsum " (Henderson, History of Ancient and Modern Wines, quoted by Dyce, Gloss.).
183. I thank ... it. "Falstaff ascribes this unwelcome employment on military service to the influence of the Chief Justice "
(Delius): look, see, take care.
184. you that kiss ... home, you who stay at home calmly
enjoying the blessings of peace which we warriors labour to
184, 5. that our armies ... day. With the inference that if it is
too hot for him to exert himself, there will be little hope of a
continuance of those blessings of peace.
187. and I brandish, i.e. an, if, I, etc.
188. I would ... again, "may I never again have wine enough
to produce this effect; or rather, perhaps, may I never have a
debauch over-night, to make me thirsty in the morning ...
Spungius says, in Massinger, The Virgin Martyr, iii. 3, 'Had I
been a pagan still, I should not have spit white for want of drink.' That is, for want of more drink to remedy the effect of what
he had taken before. It was noticed also as a consequence of
habitual intemperance. The unlucky pages in Lyly's Mother
Bombie say that their masters had sodden their livers in sack for forty years, and 'That makes them spit white broath, as they do,'
Act iii. sc. 1" (Nares, Gloss. ). Rabelais, bk. ii. ch. 7, writes, "every man found himself so a-dry with drinking these flat
wines, that they did nothing but spit, and that as white as
Maltha cotton, saying 'We have got the Pantagruel, and our
very throats are salted."
189. 90. but I ... it, without my being set to deal with it:
always yet, ever up to the present day; on alway and always,
Skeat says, "The usual A.S. form is ealne weg, where both
words are in the accusative singular; ... In Hali Meidenhad, ...
we find alles weis, where both words are in the genitive singular.
This occasional use of the genitive singular, and the common
habit of using the genitive singular suffix -es as an adverbial
suffix, have produced the second form always. Both forms are
thus accounted for."
192. If ye will needs say, if you must say, as you have just
now said; needs, like always, having the genitival suffix in an
194. I were better, an ungrammatical remnant of ancient
usage, the more correct form of the phrase being '(to) me (it)
195. a rust. Most modern editors follow Steevens in omitting
the indefinite article, though without any sufficient reason:
scoured to nothing, worn to nothing, like a weapon from which
the rust is being constantly scoured.
202. to bear crosses, with a play upon crosses in the sense (1)
of misfortunes, (2) of money stamped with a cross; the same pun
occurs in A. Y. L. ii. 4. 12, L. L. L. i. 2. 36: commend me, give
my commendations, compliments.
204. fillip me ... beetle. "A diversion is common with boys in
"Warwickshire and the adjoining counties, on finding a toad, to
lay a board about two or three feet long, at right angles, over a
stick about two or three inches in diameter ... Then placing the
toad at A [the point at one end of the board shown in the sketch
given], the other end is struck by a bat or large stick, which
throws the creature forty or fifty feet perpendicular from the
earth, and its return in general kills it. This is called Filliping
the Toad. A three-man beetle is an implement used for driving
piles; it is made of a log of wood about eighteen or twenty inches
diameter, and fourteen or fifteen inches thick, with one short
and two long handles ... A man at each of the long handles manages the fall of the beetle, and a third man, by the short handle,
assists in raising it to strike the blow. Such an implement was,
without doubt, very suitable for filliping so corpulent a being as
Falstaff" (Steevens). A somewhat similar implement, though
worked by two men only, may still be seen in use by paviours
in ramming down stones in a roadway.
207. groats, a coin worth fourpence.
208. consumption. With a play on the word as meaning the
214. About it, make haste about the business.
How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. King Henry IV, second part. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan, 1911. Shakespeare Online. 20 Feb. 2010. (date when you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/2kh4_1_2.html >.