At a room in the Boarshead Tavern in Eastcheap, Falstaff and Bardolph banter. Falstaff insists he is getting thin, and Bardolph insists he has stayed just as fat. Falstaff tells Bardolph his nose is the fieriest red, and Bardolph insists there is nothing wrong with his face.
As usual at the Boarshead Tavern, Falstaff and his friends poke relentless fun at one another’s physical appearances.
Hostess Quickly enters and Falstaff asks whether she’s found out yet who picked his pockets. Hostess Quickly replies that there are no thieves in her tavern and accuses Falstaff of claiming to be pickpocketed in order to get out of having to pay her back his debts (Falstaff owes her for clothes she bought him and twenty-four pounds worth of food and drink). Falstaff insists he has been robbed of his grandfather’s valuable ring, but Hostess Quickly scoffs, saying she’s heard Prince Hal say that ring was only copper. Falstaff berates Prince Hal.
Hostess Quickly insists (with Prince Hal’s word to back her up) that Falstaff is simply putting on an appearance of being robbed. In fact, she points out, he has lost nothing of value and is simply trying to distract her from collecting his debts. She thinks he is pretending to have been robbed in order, essentially, to rob her of what he owes her.
Prince Hal and Poins enter. Hostess Quickly and Falstaff fight for the prince’s attention, Falstaff complaining about being pick-pocketed and Hostess Quickly insisting that Falstaff has lost nothing of value (which Hal agrees with). Hostess Quickly swears on her “faith, truth, [and] womanhood” that Falstaff has just been berating Prince Hal. Falstaff retorts that Hostess Quickly possesses none of the qualities she swears on. They argue and Hal pipes in with insults for both of them.
Though Prince Hal supports Hostess Quickly’s attempt to expose Falstaff’s lie, he doesn’t resist exposing Hostess Quickly as well, wittily insulting the honorable qualities she attempts to swear her claims on.
Prince Hal asks Falstaff if he was really berating him and Falstaff replies, “Hal, thou know’st, as thou art but man, I dare; but as thou art prince, I fear thee as I fear the roaring of the lion’s whelp.” When Hal asks, “why not as the lion?” Falstaff explains he would only fear King Henry himself as the lion. Prince Hal berates Falstaff, insisting his pockets were always worthless, and confessing he himself picked Falstaff’s pockets. Falstaff declares himself content, sends Hostess Quickly away and she exits.
Falstaff’s response to Prince Hal illustrates the two-part nature of Hal’s appearance: though Hal is, in one sense, just another tavern regular and a friend on equal footing with Falstaff, he is at the same time a royal so far above the social standing of his tavern peers that Falstaff should revere his power nearly as much as he reveres King Henry himself.
Falstaff asks Prince Hal about the robbery and is dismayed to hear that Hal has returned the gold to the royal exchequer. Prince Hal explains that he is “good friends with my father, and may do any thing.” Falstaff tells Prince Hal to rob the royal coffers for him. Prince Hal responds that he’s secured Falstaff a position as a captain in the army and bids him meet him next day to receive his orders. Prince Hal sends Bardolph off to deliver letters and Poins off to prepare his horse. Prince Hal exits to ride off to war. Falstaff exits, calling out to Hostess Quickly for his breakfast.
Indeed, by returning the robbed gold and refusing to share it with Falstaff, Prince Hal exercises both his princely authority and nobility. His actions suggest that while he enjoys Falstaff’s behavior, ultimately Hal knows what is required of him as the father of a king. Though not obvious, there is a split here between Hal and Falstaff that will eventually come to the surface in Henry IV Part 2. Meanwhile, Prince Hal continues to treat warfare like a light-hearted adventure by giving the very unqualified Falstaff a powerful position, just because they’re friends.