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.
Lies, Honesty, Morality ThemeTracker
Lies, Honesty, Morality Quotes in Henry IV Part 2
Upon my tongues continual slanders ride,
The which in every language I pronounce,
Stuffing the ears of men with false reports. (6–8)
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)
Lord, Lord, how subject we old men are to this vice of lying! (263)
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)
...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)
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)
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)