Nym and Bardolph, who are old friends and drinking buddies, meet in the street. It appears that Nym has quarreled with Pistol-Pistol married Nell Quickly, to whom Nym was engaged-and Bardolph wants them to be reconciled. Then they can all go as brothers to the war in France.
When Pistol and Hostess enter, Nym and Pistol quarrel immediately, both drawing their swords. Bardolph and the Hostess persuade them to sheath their swords, but this does not quieten the situation. Nym and Pistol trade venomous insults and then draw again. This time Bardolph has to draw his own sword and threaten them before they back down. Pistol offers to shake Nym's hand, but Nym rebuffs him. This prompts Pistol to an angry tirade in which he tells Nym to turn his attentions to another woman, Doll Tearsheet, whom he describes in extremely derogatory terms, for he himself intends to hang on to Hostess. (Doll Tearsheet is a character in Henry IV Part 2.)
The quarrel is interrupted by the entry of a Boy, who tells them that their old friend Sir John Falstaff is very sick and needs their presence. Hostess and Boy exit, leaving Bardolph to once again attempt a reconciliation between Nym and Pistol. Nym demands that Pistol pay him money he claims Pistol owes him from a bet. Pistol refuses, and once again the two men draw their swords. Bardolph is forced to draw his own sword again, and says that unless the two men agree to be friends, they will both be his enemies. Pistol offers a sum of money less than the amount Nym claims that he owes, and some liquor as well. Nym agrees to the deal, and they sheath their swords
Hostess returns and urges them to come to Falstaff, who is dying. Nym, the Hostess and Pistol blame his illness on his rejection by King Henry (which occurred at the end of Henry IV, Part 2).
From a quarrel between states, the scene shifts to a quarrel between the low-class characters. It is almost a parody of the previous scene, since there is also a discussion of the worthiness of the cause, with Bardolph making the decision that Nym has indeed been wronged by Pistol. The pettiness of their quarrel might well remind the audience of the pettiness of the English quarrel with France.
Pistol has a splendid array of insults, even if sometimes they hardly make any sense. But one thing is clear: for Pistol, the coming war is a chance to make some profit selling provisions to the army. He is not interested in high-minded arguments about whether the King has a genuine right to the French throne. Frequently, the low-class characters, Pistol, Nym and Bardolph, show up the darker realities of war-the realities that underlie the showy patriotism on the surface.