Act Two, Scene One
Two carriers are in an innyard in Kent yelling for the Ostler to come and get their horses for them. While they further complain about how terrible the fleas were in the tavern, Gadshill arrives and asks them for a lantern so he may find his horse. They refuse, correctly thinking he is a thief. They leave to find the Ostler, but Gadshill remains and calls for the Chamberlain.
The Chamberlain informs him that a wealthy small landowner is traveling through the area with three hundred marks in gold. Gadshill thanks him and offers him a small portion of the bounty once he and his friends have stolen it.
Act Two, Scene Two
Hal, Poins, Peto and Bardolph play a trick on Falstaff by stealing his horse and hiding it. Falstaff enters the stage and rails against them, saying he cannot walk more than a few yards without becoming tired, as a result of his being so overweight. They finally emerge, but make him remain standing rather then allowing him to mount his horse.
Gadshill arrives with the information that the travelers are directly behind him, with the money being taken to the king. Hal and Poins quickly get Falstaff to lead the other men in a frontal attack in the narrow lane, while together they hide in a lower lane. Thus, if anything goes wrong, Hal and Poins will be positioned to rob the travelers.
The travelers arrive shortly thereafter, and Falstaff attacks them. He soon seizes the gold and binds up the men, including the two carriers from the previous scene.
Act Two, Scene Three
Hal and Poins, hiding out close by, watch as Falstaff and the other three men decide to share the money amongst themselves. Together they leap out and demand the money from Falstaff, at which point the other three men run away. After a few blows Falstaff also runs away, leaving the money behind.
Act Two, Scene Four
Hotspur is reading a letter telling him that his rebellion against King Henry is too dangerous, and that the author of the letter will therefore not join him. His wife, Lady Percy, whom he addresses as Kate, enters the room. She asks her husband what he is so excited about, but he refuses to tell her, instead saying that he must leave on horseback that night.
Lady Percy presses her husband to tell her, but he only teases her. She finally gives up and agrees that whatever is making him leave must be out of necessity.
Act Two, Scene Five
Hal finds Poins and tells him he was speaking with some tapsters in the inn. He and Poins decide to have some fun with one of the tapsters, named Francis. Poins goes into another room and calls, "Francis," a signal that he wants the man to come and take his order. Hal meanwhile starts to question Francis, who is unable to go to Poins because it would be inexcusable to ignore the Prince of Wales.
Hal and Poins succeed in making poor Francis not know to which man he should go. The innkeeper enters and yells at Francis for doing such a poor job taking care of the guests. He then informs Hal that Falstaff and the other thieves have arrived.
Hal imitates Hotspur for a second, and decides it would be fun to make Falstaff pretend to be Lady Percy. However, Falstaff first is made to tell them the story of how he was robbed of the money. He pretends that he was attacked by a hundred men, and that after fighting for two hours he was finally overcome and had to run away.
Hal then asks Gadshill to tell him what really happened, and he informs them that after the thieves had bound over a dozen of the travelers, about six or seven other men attacked them and simultaneously set the travelers free. Against these odds they unfortunately were unable to succeed. Falstaff then stands up and claims to have fought at least fifty men during the fighting, and by the time he is done speaking he claims to have received over nine piercings.
Hal reveals the entire story to Falstaff, who immediately covers it up by claiming that he ran away to avoid harming the Prince Regent. A man sent by King Henry arrives at the pub, and Falstaff goes to find out what he wants. He then tells Prince Harry that his father wants to meet with him the next morning as a result of the trouble brewing in Scotland and Wales.
Falstaff and Hal then enact a play in which Falstaff is King Henry, meeting his son the next morning. Falstaff assumes his "throne," actually a wooden stool, and chastises his "son" for being a thief. He further tells Hal that the company he keeps is like tar, which defiles everything it touches. Falstaff's recommendation is for Hal to emulate his friend Falstaff, "for...I see virtue in his looks" (2.5.388). Hal is not at all pleased by this enactment of his father, and orders Falstaff switch places with him.
Hal immediately attacks Falstaff (now pretending to be Hal) for his acquaintance with an old man named Falstaff. Hal calls him several nasty names, including "that reverend Vice" (2.5.413). Falstaff, again playing Hal, begs the "king" to forgive Jack Falstaff. At the end of an eloquent speech, he says, "Banish not him thy Harry's company, Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world" (2.5.437-438).
Hal tellingly responds with, "I do; I will" (2.5.439). At that point the sheriff arrives with a large group of men to search the inn. Falstaff, upset that he is unable to continue defending himself, tells Hal, "Dost thou hear, Hal? Never call a true piece of gold a counterfeit - thou art essentially made, without seeming so" (2.5.449-450).
Taking charge of the situation, Hal tells the other men to hide upstairs, while Falstaff hides behind a tapestry. Hal then orders the hostess to let the sheriff into the inn. He tells the sheriff that Falstaff is not present, but that the money will be returned the next day for sure. The sheriff leaves, and Hal finds Falstaff sleeping behind the curtain. He tells Peto that the money must be returned with interest, and that for Falstaff he will procure an infantry command, which is a form of punishment since Falstaff cannot walk very well.
The relationship between men and women is important in this play because there are so few women present. It is noteworthy that only the rebels have wives and daughters who make an appearance, whereas Hal and King Henry have no female influence in their lives. The effect of this situation is seen in the relationship between Lady Percy and Hotspur. Lady Percy, or Kate, begs Hotspur to stay with her and lead the quieter, domestic life. He refuses to do this and teases her into allowing him to go. Another telling scene occurs later on, in Act Three, Scene One, where the rebels all say goodbye to their wives. This contrasts highly with Hal and Henry, who have nothing preventing them from leaving home and destroying the insurrection.
Hal's command of language, and his ability to play any role, shines through in this act. He tells Poins that "I am so good a proficient in one quarter of an hour that I can drink with any tinker in his own language during my life" (2.5.15-16). It is this ability to imitate and assume the best characteristics of others which makes him able to defeat them.
Such imitation emerges only a few lines later, when Hal imitates Hotspur and his wife. Here the fact that Hotspur is married is contrived as a form of emasculation by Hal. He jokes about how Hotspur goes and kills Scots for breakfast, and how Lady Percy asks her husband how many he has killed that day. For Hal, the imitation is a sign that he already knows how to be Hotspur, and therefore also knows how to defeat him. Hal unique trait is to be able to play someone like Hotspur, but Hal can never be played by him.
Falstaff quickly emerges as the figure of Vice so common to the morality plays. The irony is that Vice was often conceived of as a thin character, not an incredibly fat old man. However, Shakespeare continuously reinforces the image of Falstaff as Vice, making him speak of using a dagger of lath, or a wooden dagger associated with Vice.
One of the most powerful scenes within Henry IV, Part One is where Falstaff and Hal pretend to be King Henry. Falstaff counterfeits the throne, but does such a poor job of imitating Henry that Hal asks him, "Dost thou speak like a king?" (2.5.394). Hal then removes Falstaff from the throne, to which Falstaff replies, "Depose me" (2.5.396).
The acting that follows serves to foreshadow a great deal of the future plot. Hal, pretending to be the king, delivers a speech which is scathing in its condemnation of Falstaff. Falstaff, taken aback, begs him, "Banish not him thy Harry's company, Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world" (2.5.437-438). Hal tellingly responds with, "I do; I will" (2.5.439).
These words of marriage, a solemn oath, represent the sacrifices a king must make. Hal fully plans to banish not only Falstaff when he becomes king, but also the rest of the world. This is a symbolic banishment, Hal is really saying that as king he cannot be friends with the likes of Falstaff, or with any man for that matter. Thus, he is forced to banish the world in order to reign supreme.
Falstaff is unable to stop defending himself, even when the sheriff arrives with a large group of men to search the inn. Falstaff tells Hal, "Dost thou hear, Hal? Never call a true piece of gold a counterfeit - thou art essentially made, without seeming so" (2.5.449-450). This line, so ambiguous in its meaning, is difficult to cipher. Falstaff may mean that he is a true piece of gold, a genuine man rather than a counterfeit, and that he should therefore not be turned over to the sheriff. Following in this vein, Falstaff further implies that Hal is a true prince, "essentially made," but pretending to be someone else.