Henry IV Part 2

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Lies, Honesty, Morality Theme Analysis

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Lies, Honesty, Morality Theme Icon

Opening with a monologue delivered by personified Rumor, Henry IV Part 2 establishes its interest in lies right from the start. The play goes on to examine lies of many varieties, from the collaborative, population-wide lies that are rumors passed from person to person to the calculated, individually conceived lies that are deceptions designed by a single character for a specific purpose. “Rumor is a pipe,” Rumor explains, “blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures, / And of so easy and so plain a stop / That the blunt monster with uncounted heads, / The still-discordant wavering multitude, / Can play upon it.” This introduction identifies unproven suspicion and envy as the primary instigators of rumor and, by likening it to a pipe, Rumor connects rumor to the pipes played by Pan, a Greek god and satyr associated with wild crudity. Where Pan’s pipes were played by a single creature, rumor’s pipes are played by an even wilder beast: the dumb, many-headed monster of an uneasy human crowd.

Cruder even then rumors spread throughout a fearful population are self-serving lies invented by an individual to benefit himself by misleading those around him. Falstaff’s lies fall into this category as he lies grossly to Mistress Quickly, to Justice Shallow, and to the military to get his hands on others’ money. Other lies in the play are more morally complex. Lancaster blatantly lies to the Archbishop of York, Hastings, and Mowbray, promising the rebels that he is negotiating peace when he is in fact setting them up to be arrested. Yet dishonorable as they may be, Lancaster’s lies end up saving England from another bloody civil war and sparing the lives of thousands of Englishmen. Prince Hal’s lies possess their own complexities. As in Henry IV Part 1, the prince’s identity is built on an intricate web of calculated falsehood. Though he has previously lived a raucous life of loose morals, that existence was, as he explained to the audience in the preceding play, nothing but a sham. Prince Hal publicly shakes off his partyboy ways when he becomes King Henry V, shocking everyone around him with his new seriousness, maturity, and morality. The court, royal advisors, and, indeed, the English people will certainly benefit from Hal’s freshly revealed “true” personality. Still, this “true” personality is bought on the back of a very painful, even coldheartedly cruel lie: as King Henry V, Hal pretends not to know Falstaff and falsely insists that his entire friendship with his beloved companion from Henry IV Part 1 was nothing but a dream.

Amidst the play’s rampant falsehoods, the Chief Justice stands out as the only consistently honest character. Having never restrained himself from criticizing and punishing Prince Hal in the past for his bad behavior, the Chief Justice assumes that he’ll be the victim of the young king’s revenge when Prince Hal becomes King Henry V at play’s end. Yet, to the judge’s surprise, King Henry V praises the Chief Justice’s rectitude and encourages him never to compromise his honesty, even at the expense of future princes. King Henry V’s speech bodes well for his future reign, which looks to be an era governed by honesty, uprightness, and impartial commitment to truth. And yet, in the fall of the corrupt but delightful and somehow humane Falstaff, there is a suggestion that in such moral uprightness something is also lost.

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Lies, Honesty, Morality ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Lies, Honesty, Morality appears in each scene of Henry IV Part 2. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Lies, Honesty, Morality Quotes in Henry IV Part 2

Below you will find the important quotes in Henry IV Part 2 related to the theme of Lies, Honesty, Morality.
Induction Quotes

Upon my tongues continual slanders ride,
The which in every language I pronounce,
Stuffing the ears of men with false reports. (6–8)

Related Characters: Rumor (speaker)
Page Number: Ind.6-8
Explanation and Analysis:

In the first lines of the play, Shakespeare sets the tone for a drama about the struggle for truth. Over the course of the play, Henry IV and his son, Hal, will try to control their unruly subjects and prove their own legitimacy. In order to do so, they'll have to control rumors; i.e, the flow of information throughout the kingdom.

In other ways, too, Rumor is an appropriate figure with which to begin the play--like an invocation to the Muse in a Greek epic--because of its intimate connection to language. It's suggested that for one to control the kingdom, one must control the rumors and the language of the kingdom. One's legitimacy as king is only as good as everyone agrees that it is, no matter what the real "truth" may be. And for the time being, Rumor roams free--there's a lot of controversy about Henry IV's legitimacy as a monarch, and Henry IV himself doesn't know what to do about it.


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Act 1, Scene 2 Quotes

Do you set down your name in the scroll of youth, that are written down old with all the characters of age? Have you not a moist eye? a dry hand? a yellow cheek? a white beard? a decreasing leg? an increasing belly? is not your voice broken? your wind short? your chin double? your wit single? and every part about you blasted with antiquity? and will you yet call yourself young? Fie, fie, fie, Sir John! (155-160)

Related Characters: The Lord Chief Justice (speaker), Sir John Falstaff
Related Symbols: Sickness
Page Number: 1.2.181-189
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Falstaff--now an elderly, feeble man--tries to convince the Chief Justice, a local authority, that he's really young and healthy. In a bullying, aggressive tone, the Justice tells Falstaff that he's clearly old, fat, and weak.

It's important to note that the Justice's descriptions of Falstaff's body convey a sense of withering and shriveling up. In the past, Falstaff "inflated" himself with language and rhetoric--and yet his body itself seems to be getting smaller (except for his belly) as it approaches death. There's something heroic about Falstaff's attempts to deny his own weakness: he's like Don Quixote, using imagination (and delusion) to transcend his old age. And yet at the end of the day, Falstaff is delusional: he refuses to accept the cold, hard facts of his time and sickness.

Act 3, Scene 2 Quotes

Lord, Lord, how subject we old men are to this vice of lying! (263)

Related Characters: Sir John Falstaff (speaker), Justice Shallow, Justice Silence
Page Number: 3.2.313-314
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Falstaff criticizes two old friends of his, Shallow and Silence, for lying about their pasts. While Shallow and Silence claimed to have once been passionate lovers and great adventurers, Falstaff knows better--back in the day, they were just shy, boring people. Falstaff bemoans old men's tendency to lie about their own experiences, exaggerating and distorting the truth to make themselves appear better than they really are.

It's important to keep in mind that Falstaff himself is the biggest liar of all: we've seen him claim to have defeated an entire army of men all by himself. (In other words, it takes a liar to spot a liar.) Falstaff seems to remain blissfully unaware of his own deceptions--he's lying to himself, as well as to other people.

Act 4, Scene 1 Quotes

I pawned thee none:
I promised you redress of these same grievances
Whereof you did complain; which, by mine honour,
I will perform with a most Christian care.
But for you, rebels, look to taste the due
Meet for rebellion and such acts as yours. (342-346)

Related Characters: Prince John of Lancaster (speaker), The Archbishop of York, Mowbray, Hastings
Page Number: 4.1.369-374
Explanation and Analysis:

Here we're introduced to Prince John of Lancaster as he interacts with the rebels York, Mowbray, and Hastings. Lancaster tricks the rebels into meeting with him as friends--then, when the rebels are all assembled, John breaks his word and has them arrested. Appalled, the rebels ask Lancaster how he could be so dishonest to them. Lancaster simply replies that the rebels are already being dishonest, and opposing God's will--therefore, Lancaster has a duty to bring the rebels to justice by any means necessary.

Ironically, then, Lancaster comes across as the corrupt, dishonest one in this scene, whereas the rebels, in spite of their opposition to Henry IV, come off as morally indignant: they can't believe that Lancaster would go for such a "dirty trick." At the same time, this act of dishonesty potentially saves thousands of lives (the nameless soldiers who would have died had civil war broken out again), so it arguably is a more moral action on the Prince's part than obeying the traditional rules of honor.

Act 5, Scene 2 Quotes

...what I did in honor,
Led by th’impartial conduct of my soul;
And never shall you see that I will beg
A ragged and forestalled remission.
If truth and upright innocency fail me,
I’ll to the King my master that is dead. (35-40)

Related Characters: The Lord Chief Justice (speaker), King Henry IV
Page Number: 5.2.36-42
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Chief Justice mourns the ascent of Prince Hal to the throne of England. Prince Hal has always seemed to despise the Chief Justice, and now that Hal is King Henry V, the Chief Justice is sure that his life will be hellish. The Justice prepares to face Henry V and awaits his punishment for his past of constantly scolding Hal's wild ways.

The Justice's behavior suggests that he still thinks of Henry V as an irresponsible and vindictive person--someone who lets his grudges dictate his political behavior. As we'll see very soon, though, the Justice underestimates Prince Hal. As Henry V, Hal will exercise mercy and justice on all his subjects. Furthermore, it's revealed that he has actually valued the Chief Justice's past criticisms of himself, and so he rewards the Chief Justice rather than punishing him.

So shall I live to speak my father’s words:
“Happy am I, that have a man so bold,
That dares do justice on my proper son;
And not less happy, having such a son,
That would deliver up his greatness so
Into the hands of justice.” (106-111)

Related Characters: Prince Hal/King Henry V (speaker), King Henry IV, The Lord Chief Justice
Page Number: 5.2.108-113
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, King Henry V surprises everyone by praising the Chief Justice--the very man who frequently punished Henry when Henry was only the prince, not the king. The Justice claims that he was only honoring the rules of law when he punished Henry. Henry is very impressed with the Justice's explanation, and plans to reward the Justice with a powerful position in court.

Why doesn't Henry enact revenge on the Chief Justice? One reason is that he's still playing his part, drawing out the surprise of how responsible and impartial he has suddenly become. Another is that the Chief Justice represents the force of law. Henry V doesn't need any domestic disturbances right now--his position as the king of England is so unstable that he could be overthrown at any time. In order to cement his status as the rightful king of England, Henry makes it known that he is a just monarch and an agent of law and order. In this way, Henry encourages his subjects to think of him as the most "natural" and legitimate king possible: to be against Henry is to be against law itself.

Act 5, Scene 5 Quotes

I know thee not, old man: fall to thy prayers;

How ill white hairs become a fool and jester!

I have long dream'd of such a kind of man,

So surfeit-swell'd, so old and so profane;

But, being awaked, I do despise my dream.

Make less thy body hence, and more thy grace;

Leave gormandizing; know the grave doth gape

For thee thrice wider than for other men.

Reply not to me with a fool-born jest. (43-52)

Related Characters: Prince Hal/King Henry V (speaker), Sir John Falstaff
Page Number: 5.5.47-55
Explanation and Analysis:

In this most famous scene in the play, Henry V crosses paths with his old friend, Falstaff, whom he used to love getting drunk with, playing tricks on, and talking to. Now that Henry V is a powerful king, he can't risk being seen with his old friend, and here Henry is trying to send the message that he's a just, reasonable monarch; i.e., not the kind of person who would hang out with an old alcoholic like Falstaff, or give favors to his incompetent friends. And so Henry cruelly ignores and insults Falstaff, claiming not to know his old friend at all, but only to have "dreamed" of him once.

Henry V's behavior is both the right move and an incredibly cruel act. Falstaff, for all his faults, was the most lovable (and, traditionally, the most popular) character in the play. So when Henry ignores Falstaff, we can't help but think that he's sold a part of his soul in exchange for the crown. We miss the "old Henry"--the fun-loving teenager who used to get into mischief with Falstaff every night. Henry has gained the throne, and is acting as a just monarch who won't dole out unfair favors to his friends (like Falstaff was expecting), but in the process he's lost something crucial and human.