Rumor In Henry Iv Part 2 by William Shakespeare

Rumour is first introduced as a personified figure that reflects upon its own identity and the epistemological questions presented in the play. In the play's 'Induction', Rumour has on a robe 'painted full of tongues'. Rumour is presented as a personification of rumour, and represents how quickly unverified information spreads. Rumor's opening speech about false reports sets the tone of speculation and deception. It is human nature to trust deception, regardless of one’s moral compass. Rumor prays upon gullibility and thrives on doubt. As a result, Shakespeare implies that one’s level of influence in society is dependent on their reputation, and that rumor can alter and affect how one is perceived by society.

Throughout the play, Falstaff exploits his false reputation, attributed to his supposed deeds at Shrewsbury, in order to advance his position in society. His ability to reconfigure his reputation allows him to manipulate the law to his own benefit. This is evident when Falstaff avoids arrest under Lord Chief Justice who says, “day’s service at Shrewsbury hath a little gilded over your night’s exploit on Gadshill”. Falstaff’s powerful reputation precedes him, which is evident in his “easy” capture of Colville at Gaultree Forest. Falstaff tells Coleville, “Do ye yield, sir, or shall I sweat for you?” to which Colville replies, “I think you are Sir John Falstaff, and in that thought yield me”. When confronted with a choice, to fight or to yield, Coleville yields. Falstaff’s reputation is built on the belief that he killed Hotspur, which explains why Coleville chose to yield instead of fight, due largely to fear. It also shows Falstaff’s powerful position in society. Prior to the events at Shrewsbury, Falstaff had a reputation of behaving cowardly and dishonorable, and asserts, “‘what is that “honor”? Air’”. It is ironic that Falstaff gains honor and respect for his bravery in a battle that he did not fight. After the battle, Falstaff was treated like nobility, and was seen as respectable, as if his past reputation never existed.

Falstaff symbolizes rumour, a figure that seems to “speak so true” but “noise” false, and distorts the truth to improve his own reputation. At the battle at Gaultree Forest, Falstaff attempts to feed false truth to Prince John and persuades him to put Falstaff’s name “in the clear sky of fame'. If Prince John is unable to deliver, Falstaff states that he himself is already sufficiently influential and able to spread a new rumour that dictates his latest victory. He uses his influential reputation to have others see his vision, and insists, “’let me have right, and let desert mount’'. Falstaff’s ability to manipulate the truth relates to Rumour’s power to influence public perception with distorted information via many agents, “the blunt monster with uncounted heads”. Not only does Falstaff think extremely highly of himself and his position in society, he also gives the impression that he is as powerful and influential as Prince John, the son of King Henry IV.

In Henry IV Part 2, Prince Hal’s reputation is also built on falsehood. Rumor prompts speculation about Hal’s reign and future of the kingdom. Hal’s rebellious behavior labels him as a scoundrel and misfit. It is not until Hal ascends the throne “to raze out/ rotten opinion” that the public’s perception of Hal changes. At the battle of Shrewsbury, Hal hoped to gain respect and honour, but was cheated of triumph by Falstaff’s lie. Hal discovered that everyone thinks his reign will consist of continual riot and chaos, describing it as “apes of idleness”. Hal’s fear of public disapproval prevented him from visiting his ailing father; for it was “every man’s thought” that Hal was a “princely hypocrite”. Rumour became Hal’s true enemy, which stood in the way of Hal reaching his full potential, and accepting accountability for his dishonourable behaviour.

Hal’s reputation suffers largely because he is associated with Falstaff, the old fool. Upon arrival at the tavern, Hal catches Falstaff degrading his character and integrity, causing him embarrassment. Falstaff blatantly insults Hal and says he would have made a “good pantler”, and “chipped bread well”. The way Falstaff speaks to the prince shows how comfortable Falstaff feels in his position. Towards the end of the play and the start of King Henry V’s rule, Hal takes action against the slanders made against his character. He changes public opinion by turning away Falstaff, and having him banished. King Henry V’s rejection of Falstaff symbolizes Hal letting go of his former self and rogue persona. In order to create a new respectable reputation Hal must reject Falstaff, thereby rejecting rumour itself, “For God doth know, so shall the world perceive, that I have turned away my former self. So will I those that kept me company”. By rejecting Falstaff in a public setting, King Henry V removes Rumor’s powers. In the final scenes of the play, Hal finally reveals his true nature and 'mocks the expectations of the world', which signifies the end of rumour’s reign over his life. King Henry V’s speech is significant because it signifies a future reign governed by honesty.

Shakespeare acknowledges that rumor can be both controlled and defeated by those who speak the truth and are not persuades by falsehood. Rumour prays on the ear’s vulnerability, which strengthens its ability to influence and infiltrate. However, Shakespeare implies that the truth will set people free. Not only does Rumour affects how other’s perceive you, but how you perceive yourself. Rumor’s power is diminished when one decides to challenge and question its authority.         

16 December 2021
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