Henry IV Part 2


William Shakespeare

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Henry IV Part 2: Foil 1 key example

Read our modern English translation.
Act 3, Scene 2
Explanation and Analysis—Old Men:

After speaking with Justice Shallow and Justice Silence, Falstaff has a rare moment of private reflection. In a soliloquy, he states: 

Lord, Lord, how subject we old men are to this vice of lying. This same starved justice hath done nothing but prate to me of the wildness of his youth and the feats he hath done about Turnbull Street, and every third word a lie [...] 
When he was naked, he was, for all the world, like a forked radish with a head fantastically carved upon it with a knife. He was so forlorn that his dimensions to any thick sight were invincible. He was the very genius of famine, yet lecherous as a monkey [...]

Despite earlier insisting upon being a young man, here Falstaff acknowledges his advanced age as he describes himself and his peers as “we old men” who are subject “to this vice of lying.” Summarizing his conversation with the wealthy but boring Justice Shallow, who serves as a foil for the charismatic Falstaff throughout the play, he notes that his old friend has “done nothing but prate to / me of the wildness of his youth” though “every third word” has been a lie. He looks back upon the time they spent together as young men, and concludes that Justice Shallow was never the brave, attractive, and wild young man he now claims to be, but rather was physically and sexually unimpressive, as well as “lecherous.” In this soliloquy, Falstaff reflects upon the foolishness of the elderly, who, he suggests, idealize their youth beyond all reason.