Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2003
Revised in 2010..©
This page has been revised, enlarged, and moved to
.......Henry 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.
Date Written: About 1597.
.......Shakespeare based Henry IV Part II primarily on accounts in The Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (Holinsheds 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 BC).
.......Henry 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 kings 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.
.......Rumor 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 IV.
That thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down
And steep my senses in forgetfulness? (3. 1. 7-10).......In 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.
.......Lancaster 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.
.......In 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 overcame1(4. 3. 17).
.......After 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 kings 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).
.......In 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 palaces Jerusalem Chamber. There he dies, fulfilling a prophecy that he would die in Jerusalem.
.......Upon hearing that Hal is now King Henry V, Falstaff hurriedly returns to his friends 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.
.......Prince 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 selfthe 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 Falstaff, saying,Reply not to me with a fool-born jest:
Presume not that I am the thing I was;
For God doth know, so shall the world perceive,
That I have turnd away my former self;
. . . . . . .I banish thee, on pain of death,
As I have done the rest of my misleaders,
Not to come near our person by ten mile. (5.5. 46-47 and 54-56)What's Past Remains Past
.......Even 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 himforever. 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
Troubles at Home
.......Domestic 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 samerightly or wronglyin Russia, Northern Ireland, Vietnam, and other countries.
.......Henry 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)
.......The 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 climax occurs when King Henry dies and his son, Prince Hal, accedes to the throne.
.......Henry IV Part Imade 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, Falstaffs 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
The 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 suchthough on a lower level of greatnessswarming 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 (Page 59).Personification
.......Among the most memorable passages in the play are those in which King Henrysuffering from terminal illness, guilt, and anxiety about domestic strifeuses personification 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!
Natures 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 pallets4stretching thee,
And hushd with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber,
Than in the perfumd chambers of the great,
Under the canopies of costly state,5
And lulld with sound of sweetest melody?
O thou dull god!6why liest thou with the vile7
In loathsome beds, and leavst the kingly couch
A watch-case or a common larum bell?8
Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast
Seal up9the ship-boys eyes, and rock his brains
In cradle of the rude imperious surge,10
And in the visitation of the winds,
Who take the ruffian billows by the top,
Curling their monstrous heads, and hanging them
With deafning clamour in the slippery clouds,
That, with the hurly,11death 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 stillest night,
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?
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 into revolt
Past and to come seems best; things present worst. (1.3.113)
Is it not strange that desire should so many years outlive performance? (2.4.114)
1....I 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
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