Role Call: Many of the same people from Part 1 are wandering around in this play, but just a refresher.
- King Henry IV (referred to as King Henry)
- Henry, Prince of Wales, later King Henry V (referred to as Hal)
- Thomas, Duke of Clarence, Hal’s brother
- Prince John of Lancaster, Hal’s brother
- Prince Humphrey of Gloster, Hal’s brother
- Earl of Warwick (on King Henry’s side)
- Earl of Westmoreland (on King Henry’s side)
- Earl of Surrey (on King Henry’s side)
- Lord Chief-Justice
- Earl of Northumberland (rebel)
- Scroop, Archbishop of York (rebel)
- Lord Mowbray (rebel)
- Lord Hastings (rebel)
- Lord Bardolph (rebel)
- Sir John Colevile (rebel)
- Falstaff, Bardolph, Pistol, and Page (note that this is a different Bardolph)
- Poins and Peto (aids to Hal)
- Lady Northumberland
- Lady Percy
- Mistress Quickly, hostess of a tavern in Eastcheap
- Doll Tearsheet
The Play’s the Thing: Part 2 starts with an Induction from Rumour personified who talks about how rumours are flying about the recent battle between King Henry and Hotspur about who’s alive and who’s dead. There’s also a rumour flying that King Henry is wounded or ill. The play proper begins with Northumberland getting various news reports about the recent battle and eventually getting the news that Hotspur, his son, is dead. He gets super enraged and decides that he’ll go after King Henry himself as his forces are currently stretched thin between battles in England, Wales, and France. He’s advised to meet with the Archbishop of York whose set himself against King Henry and given a religious rubber stamp to the rebel’s cause. Meanwhile, Falstaff is back in London, up to his old tricks, and getting in trouble with the Chief-Justice for his exploits (specifically the heist from Part 1) but gets out of them because he’s supposed to head up a group of troops and head north soon.
Falstaff then gets in trouble with the Hostess for not paying his debts at her tavern but he manages to charm her out of prosecuting them. The group of people he’s with then receive news that King Henry is back. Hal is back in London too and wandering around his old stomping grounds when he runs into Bardolph. They chat about the nonsense Falstaff is up to and Hal and Poins decide to disguise themselves as “drawers” (essentially wait staff in the tavern) to mess around with Falstaff. Meanwhile, Northumberland is hanging out with his wife and Hotspur’s widow who both urge him to get revenge for Hotspur’s death. In the tavern, Falstaff and his cronies are getting hammered when Hal and Poins show up in disguise. Hal hears Falstaff insult him, they reveal themselves to Falstaff who once again attempts to bluster his way out of what he’s said. Hal receives words his father is back in London and there’s pressing news from the fronts for him to read. Falstaff is then summoned to court.
King Henry is ill and suffering from insomnia. He then receives word about Northumberland and the archbishop’s rebellion and gathering of troops. Meanwhile, Falstaff spends some time picking some men for his new troop. Several of the men (who are the strongest and best options) offer to pay him off to not pick them. He selects the men who didn’t offer him bribes.
In a forest in Yorkshire, the Archbishop of York, Hastings, and Mowbray are discussing that the forces acting on behalf of King Henry are just over the hill when Westmoreland shows up to fetch them to discuss their grievances with Prince John who will try and end their dispute without battle. The rebels agree and go to meet Prince John who asks what their grievances are. They tell him and John promises to amend them and tells them to disband their army and he’ll do likewise. The rebels do as their told and then discover John has crossed them and he arrests them for treason and sends his army to chase after the rebels army. After the army’s chased down and captured the important peeps, Prince John sends a messenger on ahead with news of his victory to his father who is very ill now. King Henry is talking with Prince Humphrey and the Duke of Clarence about Hal. He advises Clarence that he is his brother’s favourite and so he should do his best to keep Hal in check when he becomes king. Westmoreland than shows up with the good news about Prince John’s victory, which causes the King to faint. The brothers speculate that he won’t live long and King Henry is moved to a bed. Hal shows up, talks to his father’s unconscious form (whom he thinks might be dead), and afterwards he and King Henry bond over the fact that Hal truly does love him and wants to be the best king possible.
In Gloucestershire, Falstaff is hanging out with some of his pals feasting and getting drunk. In Westminster, we learn that King Henry has died. The Chief-Justice is worried about his job as Hal has never been a friend of his. Hal’s brothers are also very concerned about the kind of king their brother will make. Hal shows up and is obviously mourning the death of his father. He surprises everyone by making up with the Chief-Justice and leaving him in his post. Back with Falstaff, he receives word that Hal has ascended to the throne and heads off in a mad dash to London to cash in on his connections with the new king. We see the Hostess and Doll getting arrested (it’s not really that important but it happens). Falstaff then sees Hal in the street and is ignored by him. One of Hal’s followers tells Falstaff that he needs to right his ways and until then he can’t come near Hal, as per Hal’s orders. Prince John is impressed with his brother’s reform and foretells that England will be fighting in France in the near future. The play ends with an epilogue from a dancer apologizing for the play and teasing for the events of Henry V, which might just have Falstaff in it.
Speech to Know: King Henry gives a decent speech in the third act where we begin to see the guilt of taking the throne has begun to weigh on him heavily.
“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,
Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee,
And hush’d with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber,
Than in the perfum’d chambers of the great,
Under high canopies of costly state,
And lull’d with sounds of sweetest melody?
O thou dull god, why liest thou with the vile
In loathsome beds, and leav’st the kingly couch
A watch-case or a common ‘larum bell?
Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast
Seal up the ship-boy’s eyes, and rock his brains
In cradle of the rude imperious surge,
And in the visitation of the winds,
Who take the ruffian billows by the top,
Curling their monstrous heads, and hanging them
With deafening clamour in the slippery shrouds,
That, with the hurly, 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 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.” III.i
View from the Pit: I have to admit that Henry IV Part 2 was a letdown after the first part. I didn’t particularly like it. I didn’t hate it or anything, but I didn’t find it as enjoyable as the first part. Part of this is because King Henry and Hal just don’t have that much page time in this play and they’re the characters I enjoy most. Instead, we get a lot of the rebels and Falstaff. And I have to confess something that may earn me the wrath of many. I know Falstaff is considered by many to be Shakespeare’s greatest comic creation but I find him really boring/annoying. Yes his puns are funny and the jokes about his fatness are entertaining for a bit, they wear thin (no pun intended) very quickly. I’m just more interested in the political maneuverings and battles than Falstaff’s efforts to get out of his latest verbal blunder, and we get far more of the latter than the former in this play. For once, I actually felt Shakespeare did need to apologize for the play as it didn’t live up to the bar set in the first part.
I’ve luckily been saved from having to watch a film adaptation this week as my library doesn’t have a copy of Henry IV Part 2. So I’ll see you next week, reader, when I tackle Henry V and we find out just what kind of king Hal turns out to be.