A Study Guide
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Table of Contents
Type of Work Composition and Publication Sources Background Settings Characters Plot Summary
Conflicts Tone Climax Themes The Role of Falstaff Falstaff: "the Most Substantial Character Ever Invented"
Personification Other Figures of Speech Epigrams Study Questions and Essay Topics Complete Text
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2003
Revised in 2010, 2011, 2013..©
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.
Henry IV Part II was
probably written about 1597.
It was published in 1600 in a
quarto edition that
does not include the first scene of the third
This edition was printed by Valentine Simmes.
The play was published in
full in 1623 as part of the First Folio, the first
collection of Shakespeare's plays.
Shakespeare 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 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 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 misadventures of the comic character Falstaff and his companions, and the transition of Hal from the carefree pub-crawler that he was in Henry IV Part I to a sober-minded heir to the throne of England.Characters
Rumour: Presenter 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 full attention.
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 (Nevil) 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.
Lady Northumberland: 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 Hotspur.)
Travers, Morton: 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. Falstaff is rejected by Hal when the latter becomes king.
Page of Falstaff
Bardolph, Pistol, Peto: Falstaff's companions.
Poins: Companion of Hal before the latter becomes king.
Robert Shallow, Silence: Country justices. Silence is Shallow's cousin.
Fang, Snare: Sheriff's officers.
Doll Tearsheet: Prostitute at the Boar's Head Tavern in London's Eastcheap section.
Mouldy, Shadow, Wart, Feeble, Bullcalf: Falstaff's army recruits.
Mistress Quickly: Hostess of the Boar's-Head Tavern.
Davy: Justice Shallow's servant.
William Visor: Friend of Davy. Davy asks Justice Shallow for favorable treatment of Visor in a lawsuit.
Clement Perkes: Man opposing William Visor in a lawsuit.
Beadles: Messengers of a court of law.
Grooms: Men from the royal court who strew flowers on the road before the passing of the royal train carrying Hal after his coronation as King Henry V.
Dancer: Speaker of the epilogue.
Minor Characters: Lords, attendants, porter, drawers (tapsters or bartenders).
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.
O sleep, O gentle sleep,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 overcame”1 (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 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).
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 palace’s 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 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.
The main conflicts center on (1) Henry IV and his rebellious enemies, (2) Henry's concern about his son, and (3) Henry's gnawing guilt about his accession to the throne over the body of Richard II.
loss at the Battle of Shrewsbury (Henry IV
the rebel forces regroup to renew their fight
against the king. While
considering the threat they pose, the king also
worries whether Young
himself an outstanding at
wherewithal to be a future king.
tone of the play is alternately
serious and lighthearted, with the comic
episodes of Falstaff
contrasting with the sober business of war.
However, Hal bends his mind
to affairs of state, becoming deadly serious. At
the end of the play,
when he becomes king, he chastens Falstaff,
telling him he must reform
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
According to the second definition, the climax
occurs when King
Henry dies and his son, Prince Hal, accedes to
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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 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 Falstaff, saying,
Reply not to me with a fool-born jest: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 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
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 same—rightly or wrongly—in 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 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,
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
spine to give up his carefree, irresponsible
ways to take on the heavy
burdens of kingship.
essayist and literary critic William Hazlitt (1778-1830) wrote that
Falstaff was one of the greatest comic
characters in literature. He said:
If Shakespear's fondness for the ludicrous sometimes led to faults in his tragedies (which was not often the case) he has made us amends by the character of Falstaff. This is perhaps the most substantial comic character that ever was invented! Sir John carries a most portly presence in the mind's eye; and in him, not to speak it profanely, "we behold the fulness of the spirit of wit and humour bodily." We are as well acquainted with his person as his mind, and his jokes come upon us with double force and relish from the quantity of flesh through which they make their way, as he shakes his fat sides with laughter, or "lards the lean earth as he walks along." Other comic characters seem, if we approach and handle them, to resolve themselves into air, "into thin air;" but this is embodied and palpable to the grossest apprehension: it lies "three fingers deep upon the ribs," it plays about the lungs and the diaphragm with all the force of animal enjoyment. His body is like a good estate to his mind, from which he receives rents and revenues of profit and pleasure in kind, according to its extent, and the richness of the soil. Wit is often a meagre substitute for pleasurable sensation; an effusion of spleen and petty spite at the comforts of others, from feeling none in itself. Falstaff's wit is an emanation of a fine constitution; an exuberance of good-humour and good-nature; an overflowing of his love of laughter, and good-fellowship; a giving vent to his heart's ease and over-contentment with himself and others. He would not be in character, if he were not so fat as he is; for there is the greatest keeping in the boundless luxury of his imagination and the pampered self-indulgence of his physical appetites. He manures and nourishes his mind with jests, as he does his body with sack and sugar. He carves out his jokes, as he would a capon, or a haunch of venison, where there is cut and come again; and pours out upon them the oil of gladness. His tongue drops fatness, and in the chambers of his brain "it snows of meat and drink." He keeps up perpetual holiday and open house, and we live with him in a round of invitations to a rump and dozen.--Yet we are not to suppose that he was a mere sensualist. All this is as much in imagination as in reality. His sensuality does not engross and stupify his other faculties, but "ascends me into the brain, clears away all the dull, crude vapours that environ it, and makes it full of nimble, fiery, and delectable shapes." His imagination keeps up the ball after his senses have done with it. He seems to have even a greater enjoyment of the freedom from restraint, of good cheer, of his ease, of his vanity, in the ideal exaggerated descriptions which he gives of them, than in fact. He never fails to enrich his discourse with allusions to eating and drinking, but we never see him at table. He carries his own larder about with him, and he is himself "a ton of man." His pulling out the bottle in the field of battle is a joke to shew his contempt for glory accompanied with danger, his systematic adherence to his Epicurean philosophy in the most trying circumstances. Again, such is his deliberate exaggeration of his own vices, that it does not seem quite certain whether the account of his hostess's bill, found in his pocket, with such an out-of-the-way charge for capons and sack with only one halfpenny-worth of bread, was not put there by himself as a trick to humour the jest upon his favourite propensities, and as a conscious caricature of himself. He is represented as a liar, a braggart, a coward, a glutton, &c. and yet we are not offended but delighted with him; for he is all these as much to amuse others as to gratify himself. He openly assumes all these characters to shew the humourous part of them. The unrestrained indulgence of his own ease, appetites, and convenience, has neither malice nor hypocrisy in it. In a word, he is an actor in himself almost as much as upon the stage, and we no more object to the character of Falstaff in a moral point of view than we should think of bringing an excellent comedian, who should represent him to the life, before one of the police offices. We only consider the number of pleasant lights in which he puts certain foibles (the more pleasant as they are opposed to the received rules and necessary restraints of society) and do not trouble ourselves about the consequences resulting from them, for no mischievous consequences do result; Sir John is old as well as fat, which gives a melancholy retrospective tinge to the character; and by the disparity between his inclinations and his capacity for enjoyment, makes it still more ludicrous and fantastical. (Characters of Shakespeare's Plays. London: C. H. Reynell, 1817)
Among the most memorable passages in the play are those in which King Henry—suffering from terminal illness, guilt, and anxiety about domestic strife—uses 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 subjectsOther Figures of Speech
Following are examples of other figures of speech in the play.
Alliteration: Repetition of a consonant sound at the beginning of syllables
With that he gave his able horse the head (1.1.53)Anaphora: Repetition of a word, phrase, or clause at the beginning of groups of words
O! such a day,Apostrophe: Addressing an abstraction or a thing, present or absent; addressing an absent entity or person; addressing a deceased person
O sleep! O gentle sleep!Metaphor: Comparison of unlike things without using like, as, or than
I can get no remedy against this consumption of the purse: borrowing only lingers and lingers it out, but the disease is incurable. (1.2.73)Paradox: Contradiction containing a measure of truth
In poison there is physic [healing]. (1.1.153)Simile: Comparison of unlike things using like, as, or than
The times are wild; contention, like a horseEpigrams
In the dialogue of Henry IV Part II and other Shakespeare plays, characters sometimes speak wise or witty sayings, or epigrams. Among the more memorable sayings in Henry IV Part II are the following:
Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. (3.1.32)
1....I came, I saw, I
words parody the Latin words of Julius Caesar: Veni,
(VAY ne, VE de, VE chee), meaning I
came, I saw, I conquered.
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.