Rumor enters wearing garments “painted full of tongues” and introduces himself. “Upon my tongues continual slanders ride…stuffing the ears of men with false reports.” He also compares rumor to “a pipe, blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures…that the blunt monster with uncounted heads, the still-discordant wavering multitude can play upon.”
Rumor goes on to set the stage for the action of the play: King Henry IV’s side has just won the battle of Shrewsbury, crushing Hotspur and his rebel allies. “But what mean I to speak so true at first?” Rumor asks, “my office is to noise abroad that [Prince Hal] fell under the wrath of noble Hotspur’s sword, and that the king before the Douglas’ rage stoop’d his anointed head as low as death.” He explains that he’s rumored this false news throughout the land, reaching Northumberland (Hotspur’s father) who is “crafty-sick.” “Rumor’s tongues,” Rumor concludes, “bring smooth comforts false, worse than true wrongs.”
Henry IV Part 2 starts up right where Henry IV Part 1 left off: the Battle of Shrewsbury has just been fought, another chapter in King Henry IV’s ongoing struggle against rebels to maintain his throne after he himself deposed Richard II (shown in the play Richard II). Rumor has, predictably, spread a false account of the battle’s outcome rather than broadcasting the truth. Northumberland’s feigned illness introduces the theme of disease.