Henry IV, Part 2

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Henry IV, Part 2

The course of family relations never did run smooth with either biological or adopted relations.  The family and dynastic national drama picks up where it left off in part 1 after the battle of Shrewsbury in which Hotspur and his rebels are defeated.  Hal, his father Henry IV and his younger brother John of Lancaster seek to stamp out an remaining source of rebellion while Falstaff and his lower rung soldiers return to the Boars Head Tavern.  Though Hal had reconciled with his father prior to taking on Hotspur, the relationship is strained and awkward as the king's health turns for the worse.  As Hal prepares for the imminent death and his ascension of the throne, he spends less time with his old friends, but still raising some hell with court officials.  Falstaff carries on his usual schemes now with the clueless Justice Shallow, womanizing and drinking, not much worried about Hal's absence.  The ailing king retreats deeper into his religious isolation seeking more and more to find redemption for taking the crown from Richard II.  While part 1 dealt more with establishing these relationships and giving a providing a romp through the  merry tavern and war torn country, part 2 is far more introspective.  You come to know each characters wants, desires, and fears but they have a hard time expressing that to each other.  Part 2 deals with change, relationships that have to move on as life moves on and the decisions that one makes for better or worse.  The conclusion is you can't stay in the nest forever and at times there are lot of things left unsaid.

As the play appeared in the 1623 First Folio.

The play opens with an actor dressed in an outfit adorned with tongues enters a prologue personifying the practice of spreading rumor.  He catches the audience up on the doings of part 1 and then brings the action into the present. After the decisive battle of Shrewsbury and death of Hotspur, the rebel forces against King Henry IV retreat into the forest of Gaultree and attempt to regroup as they are pursued by the king's forces led by his younger son John of Lancaster.  Lancaster tricks the rebels into letting down their guard, insisting that they will be forgiven for their crimes,  Instead the young prince, captures the leaders The Archbishop and Lord Bardolph and has them promptly executed.  The episode brings full circle the story of King Henry IV rise and fall as his followers often carried harsher punishment for his enemies that he would have necessarily wanted. Wracked by guilt and depression, the king falls ill.  Hal returns reluctantly into the shadow of a distant father and awaits his death and the ascension that will follow.

Elsewhere, life returns to normal outside of the court.  Falstaff returns to his "caste" at the Boar's Head Tavern and his ladies in waiting, the Hostess and prostitute Doll Tearsheet.  The Hostess threatens to have him arrested for debt if he doesn't make good on a promise to marry her.  However, the ever crafty Falstaff worms out of both obligations by getting an old acquaintance, the slightly senile Justice Shallow to pay his debts and promising the prince will repay him.  Though Hal, temporarily tries to take up where he left off, he finds the tavern less and less to his liking as his father dies and he ponders the reputation that he has built up for himself.  He makes the decision to leave it all behind and pursue the kingship completely, even overzealously trying the crown on for size when he thinks his father is dead.  Capturing his son in the act, the king cautions the pitfalls of the throne and the legacy of how he got there.  As the king succumbs and Hal is crowned Henry V, Falstaff arrives with his crew to take their supposed place with the new monarch.  In a public show, Hal, refutes any connection with Falstaff and though promises a generous pension will not associate with him.  The two go their separate ways.

The quarto of 1600

Written sometime in 1597-1598 and based in part on Raphael Holinshed's volume Chronicles of England, Ireland and Scotland and fellow playwright Samuel Daniel's The Civil Wars between the two Houses of York and Lancaster, Henry IV,  Part 2 brings full circle the arc of Henry IV begun in Richard II.  Always feeling illegitimate in his role as king, Henry always ruled over a fractured country and home life with his distant son Hal.  His father's imminent death and the constant rebellion force Hal to leave his comfortable world and assume the mantle of king before he feels he is ready.  Outside of father/son relationships the play concerns itself with duty.  Hal's duty to his father and country, King Henry's duty to god.  Decisions that are not always popular but necessary are made Hal and sets the stage for his further discoveries in Henry V.  Produced as its own quarto in 1600, the play is less done and less popular than part 1, Henry IV, part 2 does stand on its own and has a much richer inner life than its previous play.  Falstaff is more dominate and at his best in the play, which makes his downfall at the hands of the new Henry V even more tragic.  He feels that the two will reconcile in secret as the always have, but never do.  Hal must cut off all ties if he is to excel in his new life.  Perhaps a detraction to the new kingly and war centric theme of Henry V, Falstaff is dispatched though it appeared that wasn't always the plan.  The play's epilogue seems to have a personal message from the writer himself stating that the play will be continued with Henry V and Falstaff would return but he never does and dies off stageIntringuingly, the epilogue also pointedly mentions that Falstaff is not the historical Lord Oldcastle, which caused the company some problems initially as the Lord Chamberlain, England's entertainment czar, at the time the part 1 was written was a descendant of the real Oldcastle and didn't take too kindly to his ancestor being depicted as a drunk and thief. 

Today the play is not often played on its own but usually is combined as part of history cycle where the parts of the overall Tetraology are played over successive days or with the overall story of Falstaff and prince Hal.  This is a trend that appears to have been started shortly after Shakespeare's death.  The Dering Manuscript circa 1622-23 is a hand written manuscript combining of Parts 1 & 2 stressing the relationship between the King and Hal and dispensing with Falstaff.  Other modern condensations include the famous Orson Wells' treatment, The Chimes at Midnight, which features parts 1 & 2 and sections of The Merry Wives of Windsor and himself as Falstaff.  On stage, the 2003- 2004 Lincoln Center production in New York featured Kevin Kline as Falstaff and combined both Parts 1 & 2.  Whether influenced by his own father/son relationships either biological or adopted or taking a different theatrical route with the history play, Shakespeare combined both the personal and the political faces that people must put on the tough decisions that must so often be made.


To view other Henry IV, Part 2 sections:

Main Play Page    Play Text    Scene by Scene Synopsis   

Character Directory     Commentary  


To view the other Plays click below:

By  Comedies    Histories    Romances    Tragedies

All's Well the Ends Well Antony & Cleopatra As You Like It Cardenio Comedy of Errors Coriolanus
Cymbeline Edward III Hamlet Henry IV, Part 1 Henry IV, Part 2 Henry V
Henry VI, Part 1 Henry VI, Part 2 Henry VI, Part 3 Henry VIII Julius Caesar King John
King Lear Love's Labours Lost Love's Labours Wonne Macbeth Measure for Measure Merchant of Venice
The Merry Wives of Windsor A Mid Summer Night's Dream  Much Ado About Nothing Othello Pericles Richard II
Richard III Romeo & Juliet Sir Thomas More Taming of the Shrew The Tempest Timon of Athens
Titus Andronicus Troilus & Cressida Twelfth Night Two Gentlemen of Verona The Two Noble Kinsman The Winter's Tale


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