Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...©
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IV Part II is a history play about the last days of England's King
Henry IV and the accession to the throne of his son, Prince Henry (Hal),
as King Henry V. The scenes involving Sir John Falstaff and his drinking
companions are fictional.
Written: About 1597.
Published: Henry IV Part II was published in 1600 in a quarto
edition that does not include the first scene of the third act. This edition
was printed by Valentine Simmes. The play was published in full in 1623
as part of the First Folio, the first authorized collection of Shakespeare's
based Henry IV Part II primarily on accounts in The Chronicles
of England, Scotland and Ireland (Holinshed’s Chronicles), by
Raphael Holinshed (?-1580?), who began work on this history under the royal
printer Reginald Wolfe. The first edition of the chronicles was published
in 1577 in two volumes. Shakespeare also drew upon information in Samuel
Daniel's The First Four Books of the Civil Wars Between the Two Houses
of Lancaster and York, published in 1595. There is a possibility that
Shakespeare based the character Falstaff on a boastful but cowardly soldier
named Pyrgopolynices in Miles Gloriosus, a play by Plautus (254?-184
IV Part II continues the story of Henry
IV Part I. At the end of the latter play, the forces of King Henry
IV defeat a rebel army at Shrewsbury, on the Welsh-English border, in 1403
during a battle in which the king’s son, Prince Henry (Hal), distinguishes
himself by slaying the rebels’ champion, Hotspur. Henry IV Part II
focuses on the final defeat of the remaining rebel forces, the illness
and approaching death of King Henry, the further misadventures of Falstaff,
and the transition of Hal from the carefree pub-crawler that he was in
Part I to a sober-minded heir to the throne of England.
IV Part II takes place in England after the Battle of Shrewsbury in
1403. The locales include London, York, Warkwarth, Westminster, Gloucestershire,
Yorkshire, and Gaultree Forest.
of the play in the Induction, preceding Act I.
King Henry IV: King
of England, now ill and suffering from insomnia and a guilty conscience
for usurping the throne of Richard II. The son of
the Duke of Lancaster (John of Gaunt), Henry was the first English king
in the House of Lancaster, reigning from 1399 to 1413.
Prince Henry of Wales
(Prince Hal): Son of the king. He inherits the throne as Henry V. He
gives up his carefree, fun-loving lifestyle when royal duties demand his
Prince John of Lancaster:
Son of the king. John violates a peace pact and slaughters a rebel army.
Prince Humphrey of Gloucester:
Another son of the king.
Thomas, Duke of Clarence:
Another son of the king.
Earls of Warwick and
Surrey: King's counsellors.
Earl of Westmoreland:
A leader of the king's forces.
Gower, Harcourt, Blunt:
Officers in the king's forces.
Earl of Northumberland:
A leader of the rebellion against the king.
Wife of Northumberland and mother of the dead Hotspur. (See Background
for information on Hotspur.)
Other Leaders of the
Rebellion Against the King: Lord Mowbray, Lord Hastings, Lord Bardolph,
Sir John Colville, and Richard Scroop, Archbishop of York.
Lady Percy: Widow
of Hotspur. (See Background for information on
Retainers of Northumberland.
Lord Chief-Justice of
the King's Bench: Judge appointed by Henry V (Hal).
Servant of the Chief-Justice
Sir John Falstaff: Fun-loving
companion of Prince Hal who is rejected by Hal when Hal becomes king.
Page of Falstaff
Bardolph, Pistol, Peto:
of Hal before the latter becomes king.
Davy: Shallow's servant.
Fang, Snare: Sheriff's
Doll Tearsheet: Prostitute
at the Boar's Head Tavern.
Mouldy, Shadow, Wart,
Feeble, Bullcalf: Falstaff's army recruits.
Hostess of the Boar's-Head Tavern in London's Eastcheap section.
Dancer: Speaker of
Minor Characters: Lords,
attendants, porter, drawers (tapsters or bartenders).
Michael J. Cummings...©
spreads that Hotspur has killed Prince Hal and that the rebels have defeated
the royalists. However, Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, soon learns
the truth about his son Hotspur and the rebel army: It was not Hotspur
who killed Hal; it was Hal who killed Hotspur. What is more, it was not
the rebels who defeated the royalists; it was the royalists who defeated
the rebels. Nevertheless, the rebels are far from ripe for surrender. They
form a coalition that includes a defector to their cause: Richard Scroop,
the Archbishop of York. He is much disenchanted with the policies of Henry
fat old Falstaff lives it up in London. He has his own page to wait on
him, compliments of Hal, and more than twenty yards of silk with which
to fashion a cape and breeches. His prodigality soon leaves him with but
eight coins in his purse. Not to worry. The gout in his big toe, which
causes him to limp, will surely qualify him for a rise in his pension.
Falstaff leaves for battle, his landlady, Mistress Quickly, calls the law
down on him for failure to repay a loan. Even worse, he has failed to make
good on his promise to marry her. When officers attempt to arrest him,
a great ruckus ensues. In the end, Falstaff not only escapes arrest, he
persuades Mistress Quickly to lend him ten more pounds. Prince Hal happens
by, and he and Falstaff enjoy a bit of merrymaking until the time comes
for them to embark for war. In the new campaign against the rebels, Falstaff
will be under the command of Prince John of Lancaster, Hal’s younger brother.
The Earl of Northumberland will not be wielding a sword in this campaign,
for his wife and daughter-in-law have persuaded him to stand aside. However,
if the rebels gain the upper hand, Lady Percy advises, then it would be
wise for him to enter the fray.
at the palace in Westminster, King Henry IV, seriously ill, frets about
the state of his country. Insomnia seizes him. He says,
O sleep, O gentle sleep,
Gaultree forest in Yorkshire, site of the insurgents’ camp, the archbishop
and other rebel leaders despair at news that Northumberland will not be
fighting at their side. Then the Earl of Westmoreland, an ambassador from
royalist forces under Prince John of Lancaster, arrives to parlay with
the rebels, telling them that John is willing to hear their grievances
and grant concessions if the grievances are just. After the rebels present
their list of complaints, Westmoreland delivers it to Lancaster.
soft nurse, how have I frighted thee,
thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down
steep my senses in forgetfulness? (3. 1. 7-10)
then meets with the rebels and swears by his honor that he will speedily
redress the grievances. Taking the prince at his word, the rebel leaders
order their armies
to disperse. However, as soon as the armies leave, Prince John goes back
on his word, arrests the leaders, and summarily executes them. Then he
orders the fleeing rebel troops to be run down.
another part of the forest, Falstaff somehow has managed to capture a prisoner.
When Falstaff and Lancaster meet, the prince rebukes the fat knight for
always being absent from the scene of battle and threatens to send him
to the gallows. Falstaff then proudly displays his prize, the prisoner,
saying he is a “most furious knight and valourous enemy . . . I
came, I saw, I overcame"1
(4. 3. 17).
Lancaster leaves, Falstaff says the cold, unsmiling prince is the way he
is because he has not cultivated the habit of drinking wine. In Westminster,
the king, now very sick, broods about his son Prince Hal. Will he ever
mature enough to succeed his father as King of England? Westmoreland then
arrives with excellent news: The rebels have been defeated; peace reigns.
However, the king’s condition worsens, and he realizes death stands near
to claim him. When Prince Hal arrives to comfort his father, the king offers
this advice to his son: “Be it thy course to busy giddy minds with foreign
quarrels; that action, hence borne out, may waste the memory of the former
days" (4. 5. 221-223).
other words, if England centers its attention on conflicts with foreign
countries, the people will likewise divert their attention from making
domestic mischief and focus instead on making international mischief. The
king then is carried to the palace’s Jerusalem Chamber. There he dies,
fulfilling a prophecy that he would die in Jerusalem.
hearing that Hal is now King Henry V, Falstaff hurriedly returns to his
friend’s side to reap the benefits of having a monarch for a bosom pal.
However, Hal, as king, becomes a different person. He is sober, solemn,
full of kingly dignity; he means business. Hal lectures Falstaff on his
unprincipled ways, then banishes him on pain of death, telling him “not
to come near our person by ten mile" (5. 5. 56). If Falstaff reforms, Hal
says, “We will, according to your strengths and qualities, give you advancement"
(5. 5. 60-61). The new king next convenes a session of parliament to discuss
war with a new enemy, France.
Hal becomes a mature, reliable, and upright leader while executing his
military and governmental duties. After his father dies and he becomes
King Henry V, he renounces his former self—the carousing, fun-loving Hal
who mingled with rowdies to learn the ways of the common folk. To prove
that he is now deadly serious about his kingly duties, he also renounces
not to me with a fool-born jest:
Past Remains Past
not that I am the thing I was;
God doth know, so shall the world perceive,
I have turn’d away my former self;
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . .I banish thee, on pain of death,
I have done the rest of my misleaders,
to come near our person by ten mile. (5.5. 46-47 and 54-56)
the best of men sometimes have checkered pasts. Like many modern politicians,
Prince Hal has engaged in reprehensible and censurable conduct, thanks
to his association with Falstaff and his friends. But he leaves the past
behind him—forever. If he were running for political office in modern times,
he would have difficulty burying his past; for the media would surely exhume
it and vilify Hal
violence strikes not only families but also entire kingdoms. Henry IV uses
his army to fight citizens of his own country. In modern times, governments
have often done the same—rightly or wrongly—in Russia, Northern Ireland,
Vietnam, and other countries.
IV experiences deep guilt for the manner in which he came to power: overthrowing
the previous king, Richard II. Shakespeare says he did not merely overthrow
him; he murdered him. Henry's guilt consumes him and remains with him until
he draw his last breath. As he near death, he prays for remission of his
sin, saying, "How I came by the crown, O God, forgive! / And grant
it may with thee in true peace live" (4.5.226-227)
climax of a play or narrative work, such as a short story or a novel, can
be defined as (1) the turning point at which the conflict begins to resolve
itself for better or worse, or as (2) the final and most exciting event
in a series of events. The climax in Henry IV Part II occurs, according
to the first definition, when Prince Hal renounces his old ways once and
for all and banishes Falstaff. According to the second definition, the
occurs when King Henry dies and his son, Prince Hal, accedes to the throne.
Role of Falstaff
IV Part I
made Falstaff a popular comic character with audiences. He even became
a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I. Consequently, in Henry IV Part II,
Shakespeare devotes considerable attention to the fat knight, perhaps more
attention than he should receive in a play that presents as the central
characters a dying king and his son. However, Falstaff’s shenanigans play
a key role in the play in that they (1) demonstrate the kind of life Prince
Hal has led as a companion of Falstaff and (2) set up the stunning scene
at the end of the play when Hal, more mature, renounces his old lifestyle
and Falstaff. This scene is important because it shows that Hal has the
spine to give up his carefree, irresponsible ways to take on the heavy
burdens of kingship.
in the first play, Falstaff eats, drinks, and makes merry. And, of course,
there is no end to his bragging, as in the following passage in which he
hyperbolizes about himself: “I would to God my name were not so terrible
to the enemy as it is: I were better to be eaten to death with a
rust than to be scoured to nothing with perpetual motion (1.2.66). Falstaff,
a companion of Prince Hal, even thinks himself young like the prince, telling
the Lord Chief Justice, "You that are old consider not the capacities of
us that are young; you do measure the heat of our livers with the bitterness
of your galls; and we that are in the vaward2
of our youth, I must confess, are wags too (1.2.66).
Lord Chief Justice, well knowing that Falstaff is little more than a wheezing
bag of wind, replies, "Have you not a moist eye? a dry hand? a yellow cheek?
a white beard? a decreasing leg? an increasing belly? is not your
voice broken? your wind short? your chin double? your wit single? and every
part about you blasted with antiquity? (1. 2.66).
Shakespeare critic G.B. Harrison, impressed with Shakespeare's handling
of Falstaff, wrote the falling appraisal of the character:
most notable person in [King Henry IV] is the fat knight, Sir John
Falstaff, the supreme comic character in all drama. In creating Falstaff,
Shakespeare used principally his own eyes and ears. Falstaff is the gross
incarnation of a type of soldier found in any army, and there were many
such—though on a lower level of greatness—swarming in London when the play
was first written, spending the profits of the last campaign in taverns,
brothels, and playhouses, while they intrigued for a new command in the
next season's campaign.... Many of them were rogues who cheated the government
and their own men on all occasions.... Though he [Falstaff] can quote Scripture
on occasion, he is a liar, a drunkard, and a cheat; he robs the poor and
flouts every civic virtue; but on the stage at least he redeems his vices
by his incomparable wit and his skill escaping from every tight corner."—G.B.
Harrison, ed. Major British Writers. New York: Harcourt, 1967
the most memorable passages in the play are those in which King Henry—suffering
from terminal illness, guilt, and anxiety about domestic strife—uses
to communicate his concerns. Following are two examples of such passages.
In the first, sleep is personified; in the second, fortune.
How many thousand
of my poorest subjects
Are at this hour asleep!
O sleep! O gentle sleep!
Nature’s soft nurse, how
have I frighted thee,
That thou no more wilt weigh
my eyelids down
And steep my senses in forgetfulness?
Why rather, sleep, liest
thou in smoky cribs,3
Upon uneasy pallets4
And hush’d with buzzing
night-flies to thy slumber,
Than in the perfum’d chambers
of the great,
Under the canopies of costly
And lull’d with sound of
O thou dull
why liest thou with the vile7
In loathsome beds, and leav’st
the kingly couch
or a common ’larum bell?8
Wilt thou upon the high
and giddy mast
the ship-boy’s eyes, and rock his brains
of the rude imperious surge,10
And in the visitation of
Who take the ruffian billows
by the top,
Curling their monstrous
heads, and hanging them
With deaf’ning clamour in
the slippery clouds,
That, with the hurly,11
death itself awakes?
Canst thou, O partial sleep!
give thy repose
To the wet sea-boy in an
hour so rude,
And in the calmest and most
With all appliances and
means to boot,
Deny it to a king? Then,
happy low, lie down!
Uneasy lies the head that
wears a crown. (3.1.6-32)
And wherefore should these
good news make me sick?
Will Fortune never come
with both hands full
But write her fair words
still in foulest letters?
She either gives a stomach
and no food;
Such are the poor, in health;
or else a feast
And takes away the stomach;
such are the rich,
That have abundance and
enjoy it not.
I should rejoice now at
this happy news,
And now my sight fails,
and my brain is giddy.
O me! come near me, now
I am much ill. (4.4.110-118)
In the dialogue of Henry
IV Part II and other Shakespeare plays, characters sometimes speak wise
or witty sayings, or epigrams, couched in memorable language. Among the
more memorable sayings in Henry IV Part II are the following:
Uneasy lies the
head that wears the crown. (3.1.32)
This eight-word line, spoken by
the king, is one of the most pithy observations in all of literature about
the burdens of leadership.
How quickly nature falls
When gold becomes her object!
King Henry, dying, speaks these
lines after Prince Hal sees his father sleeping and, believing him dead,
removes his crown and places it on his own head.
Past and to come seems best;
things present worst. (1.3.113)
Every human likes to reminisce about
the good old days while also entertaining the notion that “the best is
yet to come." The here and now, however, always seems dull and wearisome.
Through the Archbishop of York, Shakespeare captures this universal truth
in nine words.
Is it not strange that desire
should so many years outlive performance? (2.4.114)
Poins is poking fun at old Falstaff,
but he is really speaking about everyone who discovers in old age that
his body can no longer do what his mind wishes.
came, I saw, I overcame: These words parody the Latin words of Julius
Caesar: Veni, vidi, vici (VAY ne, VE de, VE chee), meaning I
came, I saw, I conquered. Caesar wrote the words in a message to the
Roman Senate after he won a victory in the Battle of Zela (in present-day
northern Turkey) in 47 BC.
cribs: Small room heated with a smoking fire.
Straw-filled mattress placed on the floor.
state: Luxurious furnishings; luxurious bed.
god: Sleep; the god of sleep.
. . . bell: Sentry post; place where a guard keeps watch to sound an
alarm (bell) against danger.
. . . surge: Rock him to sleep with the motions of the sea.
Questions and Essay Topics
on DVD (or VHS)
King Henry observes, “Uneasy
lies the head that wears the crown" (3.1.32). He means that he has insomnia,
in part because those who take on the responsibilities of leadership also
take on the worries that go with them. Identify several world leaders today
who may be uneasy because they “wear the crown." uneasy.
Prince Hal thinks his father
is dead when in reality the king is only sleeping. Hal removes the king’s
crown and places it on his own head. What motivates Hal to do this? Is
he overly ambitious? Is he simply trying to demonstrate, after leading
the life of a playboy, that he is now mature enough to assume the awesome
responsibility of kingship?
Has the attitude toward war
as a glorious adventure changed since the days of King Henry IV?
Do you believe Prince Hal was
right, at the end of the play, to scold Falstaff?
Who is the most admirable character
in the play? Who is the least admirable?
Write an essay comparing and
contrasting the Prince Hal of Henry IV Part I with the Prince Hal
of Henry IV Part II.
Write an essay identifying kingly
qualities in Prince Hal.
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