I'm coming to the conclusion of I King Henry IV and my reaction, which I think is in line with that of millions of others over the past 400+ years, is: less royal court, more Falstaff, please. Indeed, scholars have speculated that II King Henry IV is an (initially) unplanned sequel intended to take advantage of the public's fondness for the boozy wheezing fatso who, in the first scene of Act V, provides this memorable summary of his personal "catechism" (in the context of preparation for battle, he has just been informed by the Prince of Wales that "he owes God a death"):
'Tis not due yet: I would be loath to pay him before his day. What need I be so forward with him that calls not on me? Well, 'tis no matter; honor pricks me on. Yea, but how if honor prick me off when I come on? How then? Can honor set to a leg? No. Or an arm? No. Or take away the grief of a wound? No. Honor hath no skill in surgery then? No. What is honor? A word. What is that word honor? Air--a trim reckoning! Who hath it? He that died a Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No. Doth he hear it? No. 'Tis insensible then? Yea, to the dead. But will it not live with the living? No. Why? Detraction will not suffer it. Therefore I'll none of it. Honor is a mere scutcheon--and so ends my catechism.
The officially-approved, Cliffs-notes interpretation is that the play depicts different character types and that Falstaff is a foil to the impulsive Hotspur, who is so hot for glory. The one is too much this way, the other too much the other way, and what is recommended is for the humors to be mixed as, at the end, they are in the reformed Prince Hal. Very tidy. If that was the intention, it seems to me that Shakespeare confounded himself, somewhat in the manner of Dostoevski making Ivan Karamazov's brief against God so convincing that it's the main thing readers remember about his last novel. Who remembers Hotspur? The official history concerning the king and the rebels, their conventional reckonings and assumptions--all obliterated by Falstaff's subversive intelligence. Where will honor get you? Into a casket. Who has it? "He that died a Wednesday" (while Falstaff was drinking and whoring, which pastimes he pursued again on Thursday).
Charged with raising a force through conscription, Falstaff accepts cash payoffs from anyone of means, so that his "soldiers" are a rag-a-tag collection of ne'er-do-wells. Prince Hal, well along the road to reformation now, enters with Westmoreland to review the troops, which is the occasion for this exchange:
PRINCE . . . . But tell me, Jack, whose fellows are these that come after?
FALSTAFF Mine, Hal, mine.
PRINCE I did never see such pitiful rascals.
FALSTAFF Tut, tut! good enough to toss; food for powder, food for powder. They'll fill a pit as well as better. Tush, man, mortal men, mortal men.
My paperback Pelican Shakespeare helpfully glosses, "toss i.e. on a pike."