On a London street, Falstaff asks his page what the doctor has said about Falstaff’s urine. The page replies that the doctor said the urine itself was healthy, but that the man who produced the urine must be infested with myriad diseases.
Falstaff enters as a sick man seeking medical attention. His ailing health in this play stands in contrast to his robust heartiness in the previous play and forms a major tenet of the Disease theme.
Falstaff tells his page that, though many men may try to make fun of him, he himself is wittier than any of them. He then criticizes the page for being tiny, Prince Hal for being so young, and the tailor Dumbleton for demanding a guarantee of payment before making the new clothes Falstaff’s ordered.
Mocking Prince Hal for being young, Falstaff introduces the theme of Time, much of which circles around issues of age and aging.
The Chief Justice enters and Falstaff identifies him as the man who imprisoned Prince Hal after the prince hit him during an argument. Falstaff at first pretends to be deaf. The Chief Justice calls Falstaff’s bluff (saying he’s only deaf to that which he doesn’t want to hear) and Falstaff pretends to be concerned about the Chief Justice’s health, saying he'd heard the Chief Justice was sick. Continuing to try to distract the Chief Justice, Falstaff says he’s heard Prince Hal has gotten paralyzed and rants about all the diseases he’s read about in Galen’s medical text.
The Chief Justice epitomizes moral rectitude in this play and thus receives a fitting introduction through Falstaff’s anecdote: the Chief Justice is not afraid to act honestly or to maintain the law even against royalty. Falstaff’s fake deafness and mumbling about health issues carries on the theme of Disease, as well as the way he uses subterfuge to evade justice or the law. Falstaff’s humorous actions make you root for him even as he evades the law. He is a kind of loveable scoundrel.
The Chief Justice will have none of Falstaff’s nonsense and says Falstaff must be deaf since he hasn’t reported to the judge’s office when he’s summoned him in the past and isn’t listening now (Falstaff concedes that he has the disease of not listening, then continues to ramble on). The Chief Justice reminds Falstaff that he sent for him a long time ago and that he’s charged with debt, corruption of Prince Hal, and the robbery at Gad’s Hill. He says it’s lucky for Falstaff that he fought in the Battle of Shrewsbury for he’d otherwise be in the stocks.
The piercing moral eye of the Chief Justice can see right through Falstaff’s lies and he won’t let the old man forget the truth about his crimes and vices no matter how much Falstaff tries to reinvent himself as a noble war hero. Falstaff’s “disease” of not listening is not physical deafness but spiritual disregard for respecting society’s ethical standards.
Falstaff accuses the Chief Justice of being too old to understand his youthful ways but the Chief Justice balks at Falstaff’s claim to be young, elaborating the long list of Falstaff’s physical attributes that prove he is old. He shakes his head at what a terrible influence Falstaff is on Prince Hal and observes that King Henry IV has separated Falstaff from the prince. Yes, Falstaff replies that he is leaving the prince and going off to war like the fearsome, noble soldier that he is. “Well, be honest, be honest,” the Chief Justice advises Falstaff. Falstaff asks to borrow money, which the Chief Justice refuses, then exits.
Falstaff may try to act young but, as the Chief Justice points out, his ailing body betrays his agedness. Falstaff tries to rescue his dignity by resorting to another lie: his false persona as an honorable war hero.
Alone with his page, Falstaff laments that old age comes with greed like youth comes with lechery, thus the old suffer from gout just as venereal diseases plague the young. He asks his page how much money he has and, hearing he doesn’t have much, laments “this consumption of the purse…the disease is incurable.” He gives his page letters to deliver, one of which is for old Mistress Ursula, whom he has promised to marry every week since his hair first started graying. The page exits.
Falstaff’s lament intertwines the themes of Time and Disease by attributing each stage of life its own spiritual and physical ailments. To be a spendthrift, as Falstaff points out, is to suffer from a spiritual sickness. Mistress Ursula is just one of the many women Falstaff lies to for his own advantage.
Alone on stage, Falstaff complains about the pain in his toe, which must be caused either by his gout or his venereal disease. It’s a good thing, he reflects, that he’s been to war, as he can claim his poor health is the result of battle wounds and demand a pension. “I will turn diseases to commodity,” he decides, and exits.
Falstaff’s speech compactly showcases his diseased body and spirit: as he suffers physical illness, Falstaff’s sick spirit will try to profit from that illness by pretending he has fallen ill from noble actions rather than from vices.