Henry IV, Part 2
Henry IV, Part 2 is a history play by William Shakespeare, believed written between 1596 and 1599. It is the third part of a tetralogy, preceded by Richard II and Henry IV, Part 1 and succeeded by Henry V.
Of the King's party
The play picks up where Henry IV, Part One left off. Its focus is on Prince Hal's journey toward kingship, and his ultimate rejection of Falstaff. However, unlike Part One, Hal and Falstaff's stories are almost entirely separate, as the two characters meet only twice and very briefly. Much of the play focuses on Falstaff's age and his closeness to death.
Falstaff is still drinking and engaging in petty criminality in the London underworld. Falstaff appears, followed by a new character, a young page whom Prince Hal has assigned him as a joke. Falstaff enquires what the doctor has said about the analysis of his urine, and the page cryptically informs him that the urine is healthier than the patient. Falstaff delivers one of his most characteristic lines: "I am not only witty in myself, but the cause that wit is in other men." Falstaff promises to outfit the page in "vile apparel" (ragged clothing). He then complains of his insolubility, blaming it on "consumption of the purse." They go off, Falstaff vowing to find a wife "in the stews" (i.e., the local brothels).
The Lord Chief Justice enters, looking for Falstaff. Falstaff at first feigns deafness in order to avoid conversing with him, and when this tactic fails pretends to mistake him for a young bravado. As the Chief Justice attempts to question Falstaff about a recent robbery, Falstaff insists on turning the subject of the conversation to the nature of the illness inflicting the King. He then adopts the pretense of being a much younger man than the Chief Justice: "You that are old consider not the capacities of us that are young." Finally, he asks the Chief Justice for one thousand pounds to help outfit a military expedition, but is denied.
He has a relationship with Doll Tearsheet, a prostitute. When news of a second rebellion arrives, Falstaff joins the army again, and goes to the country to raise forces. There he encounters Mouldy, Bullcalf, Feeble, Shadow and Wart, a band of rustic yokels who are to be conscripted into the loyalist army, with two of whom, Mouldy and Bullcalf, bribing their way out. He also visits an old school friend, Justice Shallow, and they reminisce about their youthful follies.
In the other storyline, Hal remains an acquaintance of London lowlife and seems unsuited to kingship. His father, King Henry IV, has apparently forgotten his reconciliation with his son in Henry IV, Part One, and is again disappointed in the young prince. Another rebellion is launched against Henry IV, but this time it is defeated, not by a battle, but by the duplicitous political machinations of Hal's brother, Prince John. King Henry then sickens and appears to die. Hal, seeing this, believes he is King and exits with the crown. King Henry, awakening, is devastated, thinking Hal cares only about becoming King. Hal convinces him otherwise and the old king subsequently dies contentedly.
The two storylines meet in the final scene, in which Falstaff, having learned that Hal is now King, travels to London in expectation of great rewards. But Hal rejects him, saying that he has now changed, and can no longer associate with such people. The London lowlifes, expecting a paradise of thieves under Hal's governance, are instead purged and imprisoned by the authorities.
At the end of the play, an epilogue thanks the audience and promises that the story will continue in a forthcoming play "with Sir John in it, and make you merry with fair Katharine of France; where, for all I know, Falstaff shall die of a sweat". In fact, the subsequent play, Henry V, does not feature Falstaff. The Merry Wives of Windsor, set a hundred or more years after the Henry plays, does have "Sir John in it", but cannot be the play referred to, since the passage clearly describes the forthcoming story of Henry V and his wooing of Katherine of France. Falstaff does "die of a sweat" in Henry V, but in London at the beginning of the play. His death is offstage, described by another character and he never appears. His role as a cowardly soldier looking out for himself is taken by Ancient Pistol, his braggart sidekick in Henry IV, Part 2 and Merry Wives.
Shakespeare's primary source for Henry IV, Part 2, as for most of his chronicle histories, was Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles; the publication of the second edition in 1587 provides a terminus ad quem for the play. Edward Hall's The Union of the Two Illustrious Families of Lancaster and York appears also to have been consulted, and scholars have also supposed Shakespeare familiar with Samuel Daniel's poem on the civil wars.
Date and text
Henry IV, Part 2 is believed to have been written sometime between 1596 and 1599. It is theorised that Shakespeare interrupted his composition of Henry IV, Part 2 somewhere around Act 3-Act 4, so as to concentrate on writing Merry Wives of Windsor, which may have been commissioned for an annual meeting of the Order of the Garter, possibly the one held on 23 April 1597.
The play was entered into the Register of the Stationers' Company in 1600 by the booksellers Andrew Wise and William Aspley. The play was published in quarto the same year (printing by Valentine Simmes). Less popular than Henry IV, Part 1, this was the only quarto edition. The play next saw print in the First Folio in 1623.
The quarto's title-page states that the play had been "sundry times publicly acted" before publication. Extant records suggest that both parts of Henry IV were acted at Court in 1612—the records rather cryptically refer to the plays as Sir John Falstaff and Hotspur. A defective record, apparently to the Second part of Falstaff, may indicate a Court performance in 1619.
Criticism and analysis
Part 2 is generally seen as a less successful play than Part 1. Its structure, in which Falstaff and Hal barely meet, can be criticised as undramatic. Some critics believe that Shakespeare never intended to write a sequel, and that he was hampered by a lack of remaining historical material with the result that the comic scenes come across as mere "filler". However, the scenes involving Falstaff and Justice Shallow are admired for their touching elegiac comedy, and the scene of Falstaff's rejection can be extremely powerful onstage.
- The Ultimate Edition of Monty Python and the Holy Grail features subtitles using Henry IV, Part 2, correlating scenes in the film to lines from the play.
- T.W. Craik (ed.), The Merry Wives of Windsor (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 1–13. See also H.J. Oliver (ed.). The Merry Wives of Windsor (London: Arden, 1972), lv and Leslie Hotson Shakespeare versus Shallow (London: Kessinger, 2003), 111–122.
- Halliday, F. E. A Shakespeare Companion 1564–1964. Baltimore, Penguin, 1964; p. 215.
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- 2 Henry IV at Project Gutenberg
- Henry IV, Part 2 study guide, themes, quotes, character analyses, multimedia, teacher's guide
- IMDb page and the Official Trailer for the brit grit adaptation of Henry the Fourth Part Two.