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Henry IV Part 2

A Play By William Shakespeare

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Crown To The Left Of Me, Joker To The Right

  • Nov 18, 2010
In the previous installment of Shakespeare's "Henriad", "Henry IV Part 1", we waited to see if Prince Hal would shake the corrupting influence of Falstaff and prove worthy of the throne. In "Part 2" we get to chew our spinach twice. Hal still stands at the same crossroads, Falstaff still tugging at his ankles.

For me, that's the weakest element of "Henry IV Part 2", the warmed-over central plot. What makes "Part 2" terrific anyway is just about everything else. Structurally, "Part 2" is shambolic compared to "Part 1," almost two stories entirely with Hal and Falstaff brought together only once, briefly, before the end. But individual scenes of the play shine with first-class Shakespearean luster, and "Part 2"'s thematic quality is singularly complicated in a way that confuses initially but rewards a second reading.

Hal is still the prince, and still in poor odor with his father despite his heroics in "Part 1." He must find his own way to glory while a civil war rages. Meanwhile, Falstaff schemes to take advantage of both the war and his friends for the sake of filling his gut.

In the idiosyncratic way of this play, we begin with neither player onstage, but rather "Rumor, painted full of tongues", who sets up an opening scene featuring the rebel Earl of Northumberland, who as it turns out will play no major role in the proceedings and will leave in Act 2. It's like Shakespeare is playing with our expectations. Then he does the same to the characters. Time and again, we will see them tripped up by "smooth comforts false, worse than true wrongs."

Only Hal seems immune with his simple maxim: "Let the end try the man."

While Shakespeare worked hard to keep Hal at the center of things in "Part 1," the character doesn't seem as well-integrated into the story here. The rebellion is dealt with this time without Hal taking an active part, or even being on stage. Falstaff carries the narrative bulk of the play almost entirely on his wide shoulders, his mischief providing amusing counterpoint to the cold-blooded realpolitik around him.

Falstaff is helped this time by a supporting cast all his own, including slatternly Doll Tearsheet and Mistress Quickly, the latter of whom introduces the phrase: "Do me, do me, do me" to the lexicon of Shakespearean quotation. The humor is more ribald here than it was in "Part 1", and more morbid, too. The first Falstaff joke is that he had his urine tested and the urine is found to be in better shape than its owner.

These episodes, and another where King Henry IV soliloquizes about his lack of sleep ("Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown"), are wonderful enough when read in isolation, enough to not mind that these story pieces never quite come together. The play's two masterstrokes both involve sharp reverses from what we have been led to expect, and though I feel the first is set up much better, they both leave an imprint on you while reading and line up with the message of "smooth comforts false" we were given at the start.

A bridge between two better plays, "Henry IV Part 2" has its own special qualities and is very much worth reading - so long as you don't read it out of order.

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Bill Slocum ()
Ranked #301
Reading is my way of eavesdropping on a thousand conversations, meeting hundreds of new and fascinating people, and discovering what it is about the world I enjoy most. Only after a while, I lose track … more
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Introduction - The play and the image displayed in the picture
This section is dedicated to Henry IV ( Part 2 ), the play by William Shakespeare. The picture is 18th century and image displayed represents the essence of the play which, we hope, will bring to life a famous scene or character from the play. The information provided in this section of william-shakespeare.info includes famous quotes / quotations, summary of the plot or story, facts about the play, a list of the cast and characters and access to the full text of the script of the play by William Shakespeare.

Summary of the plot or story
There is much confusion when the fighting is over but the royalists defeat the rebels. More fighting ensues and once again Sir John Falstaff appears in the plot encouraging Prince Hal in his boisterous ways. The rebels are finally defeated and peace reigns. However, he dies and Hal becomes King Henry V. Hal realises he must change and becomes a sober and solemn person. Falstaff is banished from Hal's court and is lectured to also change his wayward ways.

Information provided about the play
William Shakespeare never published any of his plays and therefore none of the original manuscripts have survived. Eighteen unauthorised versions of his plays were, however, published during his lifetime in quarto editions by unscrupulous publishers (there were no copyright laws protecting Shakespeare and his works during the Elizabethan era). A collection of his works did not appear ...

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