Act II Scene 4
In the Boars Head, the drawers (servers and drawers of wine and beer), are let in on the secret that the Prince and Poins will be disguised as one of them. They look forward to seeing the joke played out.
Hostess and her friend Doll Tearsheet enter, soon followed by Falstaff, singing. After Falstaff engages in some banter with Doll that is full of double meanings, a drawer announces that Falstaffs pal Pistol has arrived and wants to come up. Doll and Quickly dont want him, though, describing him as a “swaggerer,” which means he is someone who boasts and shows off in a loud way. Falstaff defends his old friend, saying he is not a swaggerer. He tells the drawer to let Pistol up, even as Quickly continues to protest that she cannot abide swaggerers.
Pistol, Bardolph and Page enter. Pistol and Falstaff make some remarks about Quickly that are full of sexual innuendo, and Pistol incurs the wrath of Doll, who insults him with a stream of abuse and tells him to go away. After Quickly addresses him respectfully as Captain Pistol, Doll launches into another tirade of abuse, telling Pistol that he is not worthy of being called captain. Pistol takes offense and draws his sword. Quickly and Bardolph try to calm him down, and after some ranting, Pistol lays his sword down. But then when Doll and Bardolph try to persuade him to go downstairs, he picks up his sword again. Falstaff draws his own sword, telling Pistol to go downstairs, and makes a thrust at him. Then Bardolph drives Pistol out.
Falstaff basks in the glory of having driven the drunken Pistol away, and Doll tells him how brave he was, making some comically exaggerated comparisons between Falstaff and great warriors such as Hector and Agamemnon. Some musicians enter, and Doll sits on Falstaffs lap. Then the disguised Prince and Poins enter, only to hear Falstaff speak some disparaging words about them both. They mock Falstaff and Doll, who are kissing and fooling around, and then reveal themselves to him. The Prince reproaches him for the degenerate life he leads, but Falstaff as always has a ready retort. The Prince then pretends to be angry at the way Falstaff had spoken about him a few moments earlier, although he thinks that Falstaff was aware of his presence and was having a little joke, just to try the Princes patience. Falstaff denies this and says he meant no harm. He only disparaged the Prince to the wicked, he says, so that they would not fall in love with him. Therefore he was performing a true service to the Prince as a loyal subject. The Prince responds by challenging Falstaff-are his companions in the tavern, like Quickly, or Bardolph, and the Page, really of the wicked? Falstaff has a lot of verbal fun explaining that yes, they are.
Peto enters, with the news that the King has arrived at Westminster; and many army captains are looking for Falstaff (presumably to hurry him up in fulfilling his commission in the army). The news makes the Prince remember the seriousness of the situation, and he exits with Poins. The captains then arrive for Falstaff, and Doll and the Hostess bid him a tearful and affectionate goodbye.
This scene has been described as the finest tavern scene on the English stage, and it features Falstaff in vintage form. As he takes credit for driving Pistol away (which of course is a comical and ludicrous incident when seen on stage) he reveals himself as the miles gloriosus (braggart soldier), a character type derived from Roman and Italian comedy. Pistol is also a miles gloriosus.
Falstaff is much more than a miles gloriosus, though. As always, he shows a nimble wit-in contrast to his enormous physical bulk-and a mastery of words. When the Prince challenges him, he has no difficulty in turning the accusation on its head and escaping any censure that was coming his way.
This scene also provides a touching portrait of heart-of-gold Hostess Quickly, who is fond of Falstaff in spite of everything. At the beginning, she is demanding Falstaffs arrest, but by the time Falstaff has worked his charm (or perhaps roguery might be a better term) on her, she is ready to pawn her belongings to get money for him.
In keeping with the theme of the transformation of Prince Henry, Shakespeare does not show the Prince doing anything disreputable at the tavern. Instead, the Prince reproaches Falstaff. Even though he does this in a light-hearted way, it still serves as a hint at what may come later.
Also, it should be noted how quickly the Prince reacts to the news brought by Peto, which reminds him of his father and the ongoing civil disturbances. His comment reveals much of how he now thinks in a more responsible way than when he was the wild Prince Hal: “I feel me much to blame, / So idly to profane the precious time.”
Act II Scene 4