Grooms strew rushes on another London street in preparation for King Henry V’s coronation procession. Falstaff, Justice Shallow, Pistol, Bardolph, and Falstaff’s page stand excitedly in the crowds waiting to see the new king. Falstaff wishes he’d had time to have new clothes made, but convinces himself that his ragged, travel-worn appearance will just show how eager he was to see the prince and how deep his devotion to him is. Pistol informs Falstaff that Doll Tearsheet has been arrested and Falstaff says he’ll set her free.
Falstaff’s made-up story about his clothes is technically a lie, but it’s made in the spirit of tenderness and compassion for his friend, Prince Hal, and makes the old man seem more, not less, lovable.
King Henry V enters with the Chief Justice and Falstaff shouts “my sweet boy!” “my heart!” trying to get his attention. King Henry V asks the Chief Justice to speak to “that vain man.” The Chief Justice is shocked to hear the king refer to his old friend this way and asks if he knows what he’s saying. King Henry V then turns to Falstaff himself and says, “I know thee not, old man…How ill white hairs become a fool and jester. I have long dreamt of such a king of man, so surfeit-swelled, so old, and so profane; but being awaked, I do despise my dream.” He tells Falstaff “the grave doth gape for thee thrice wider than for other men.” He declares that he has “turned away my former self” and hereafter banishes the “misleaders” that used to keep him company, forbidding them from coming within ten miles of his person on pain of death. He instructs the Chief Justice to carry out this restraining order. King Henry V and the Chief Justice exits.
King Henry V’s turn against Falstaff is the most painful moment in the play. As with Lancaster’s turn against the rebels, the action is morally correct while still managing to feel devastatingly cold and cruel. In one sense, King Henry V has become the upright, ethical ruler that is making the best choice for England. In another sense, King Henry V has become an inhumane jerk, insulting Falstaff’s appearance and age and showing no concern for his longtime friend.
Falstaff reassures Justice Shallow and the others not to get upset at King Henry V’s behavior. “I shall be sent for in private to him,” Falstaff explains, “he must seem thus to the world. Fear not your advancements.” Justice Shallow, though, wants Falstaff to pay him back a thousand pounds he’s borrowed from him immediately, since he doubts Falstaff’s going to be coming into the plum position that Falstaff was so sure of receiving under the new king. Falstaff says he can’t pay the debt now, but he gives his word to pay it later. He reiterates that King Henry V’s words were “but a color,” a passing pretense, and cajoles his friends to come to dinner with him.
Though Falstaff is still trying to hold onto his prior assumptions about King Henry V’s reign, his claims sound defensive and hollow and Justice Shallow certainly doesn’t trust them. Falstaff seems suddenly old, suddenly weak, and his eloquence no longer sustains him—he cannot lie away this new truth that Henry V has brought into being.
The Chief Justice enters with Lancaster and officers and order Falstaff and his friends arrested. Falstaff, Justice Shallow, Falstaff’s page, Bardolph, and Pistol are taken offstage by the officers. Lancaster expresses approval for King Henry V’s behavior. The king has ensured that his old friends will be well provided for, he says, but has banished them till they can “appear more wise and modest to the world.” He notes that the king has called his parliament to order and predicts that they will be invading France within the coming year. They exit.
Lancaster’s clarification on Falstaff and company’s banishment—that King Henry V has made sure to ensure their safety, even as he has exiled them—seems designed to redeem King Henry V in the eyes of the Falstaff-loving audience and make the king’s morality seem warm, and not just ruthlessly moral.