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Act I, Scene 2
Prince Hal and his companions are introduced in this scene. Hal and Sir John Falstaff are in the prince's apartment engaged in witty, insulting discourse. When Falstaff asks the time, the prince asks him what he needs to know it for, since is a lazy drunkard. Falstaff, in turn, teases the prince for being a wastrel. The two further discuss drinking and Falstaff's current occupation of purse snatching.
Poins arrives with the news of a planned highway robbery at Gad's Hill. Hal refuses, but after Falstaff departs, Poins persuades the Prince to participate in the robbery for funís sake, as he has a magnificent plan to play a trick on Falstaff. He suggests that Peto, Bardolph, and Falstaff be made to rob the travelers and that later on, Hal and Poins in disguise should rob these three. When they later meet Falstaff and he begins telling of his exploits, they will expose him as a boastful liar.
Hal agrees to take part in the jest and Poins takes his leave. Hal then engages in a soliloquy, in which he declares his decision to soon give up buffoonery and take his princely duties seriously.
While doing little to advance the main plot, this scene develops the characters of Hal and Falstaff, offers comic relief, and highlights Shakespeare's love of verbal wordplay.
Falstaff, a dear companion of the prince, is a knight who has long forgotten what knighthood is all about. Falstaff occupies his leisure in highway robbery. He is a gluttonous eater and drinker and a frequent visitor of brothels. Nothing about himself embarrasses him. Falstaff is beyond repair, and the prince is in his company, engaged in verbal nonsense, at a time when the throne is in danger.
When Falstaff asks the time, Hal asks him what he could possibly need to know the time for, since he spends his days in sloth. Falstaff answers that Hal has indeed "come near" (14) to describing him correctly, for, as a robber, he goes by Diana, the moon, and not Phoebus, the sun. The sun is a symbol of the king and of order, while the moon is a symbol of disorder and change; respectable people work by day, while those at the edges of society, such as bandits and prostitutes, ply their trades by night.
Falstaff declares that bandits are noble men, "gentleman of the shade" (27) who honor Diana the moon goddess, and asks that when Hal is king, he honor them. Hal wittily replies that bandits are indeed ruled by the moon. Just as the sea ebbs and flows under the moons influence, so does the fortune of bandits: a "purse snatched on Monday night" is "dissolutely spent on Tuesday morning" (36-7). When Falstaff asks Hal not to hang thieves when he becomes king, Hal replies that he won't - Falstaff will, as a hangman. In Shakespeare's day, thieves were punished with death, but it was occasionally possible for a thief to escape the hangman's noose by becoming a hangman.
They continue jesting, but there is a veiled threat in Hal's words; even though he appears to be a buffoon now, he will be king and will have the power of life and death over his subjects. Falstaff's eventual fate, as it turns out, is indeed worse than being made a hangman. In Henry IV, Part 2, Hal, who is king then, refuses to recognize Falstaff. For now, however, Hal and Falstaff have great fun in each other's company, and Hal enjoys his dissolute lifestyle.
Falstaff, of course, is the epitome of the fun-loving clown who mocks societal norms. He may occasionally lapse into biblical- sounding speeches of repentance, but they are primarily given for the sound of hearing himself talk. Any repentance on Falstaff's part is short-lived, indeed. On the other hand, mischief is irresistible to Falstaff. This love of fun and mischief, combined with his quick wit, makes him an excellent companion and combatant to Hal, as the two exchange humorous remarks throughout the play.
Prince Hal's soliloquy at the end of the scene convinces the audience that they will soon see the prince in a different light. The metaphor of the sun hidden behind the clouds is very apt. Here, Prince Hal is the sun clouded by acts of buffoonery. At heart, however, the prince is very much interested in his stately duties and well aware that his present conduct hardly suits his status. After all the mirth and laughter that has occurred in this scene, Hal's sudden seriousness is very striking.