Henry IV, part two is the third play in Shakespeare’s tetralogy or Henriad: four plays regarding the succession from King Richard II – Henry IV – Henry V. Written in the late 16thcentury, it covers the final days of Henry IV (1413) and the ascension of his son Henry V who reigned from 1413 – 1422.
In the previous play, Prince Henry (aka Hal, aka Harry) is chided by the King for being a wastrel, and for his association with Sir John Falstaff – who although a Knight and loyal to Henry is two-faced, craven, and hedonistic. Prince Henry vows to become a better man, but at the outset of part two – the change is not yet apparent.
This is probably my least favorite thus far, of the historical plays. I liked Henry IV part one very much, but in part two, the various acts seem disconnected. Prince Henry begins to see Falstaff for the scoundrel that he is, there is the putting down of the rebellion, and the death of the King even as he learns the rebellion is ended. There is a good deal of comic relief – perhaps more than most of Shakespeare’s historical plays – but it didn’t really work for me.
There is a touching scene between the dying King and his successor.
King Henry: …God knows, my son,
By what by-paths and indirect crook’d ways
I met this crown; and I myself know well
How Troublesome it sat upon my head:
To thee it shall descend with better quiet,
How I came by the crown, O God forgive;
And grant it may with thee in true peace live!
And the response:
Prince Henry: My gracious liege,
You won it, wore it, kept it, gave it me;
Then plain and right must my possession be:
Which I with more than with a common pain
‘Gainst all the world will rightfully maintain
Shorthly thereafter, one official inquires of another
Chief Justice: How doth the King?
Earl of Warwick: Exceedingly well; his cares are now all ended.
Henry makes a good start, and appears to be the man a king should be. The audience is given an epilogue by an unnamed dancer…that there is more of this tale yet to tell…which of course will be the play: King Henry V.
Modern day colloquialisms from Henry IV part two
Falstaff asks Pistol: What wind blew you hither, Pistol?
Pistol: Not the ill wind which blows no man to good.
Modern rendering: It’s an ill wind that blows no good
Later Falstaff asks Pistol: What, Is the old king dead?
Pistol: As a nail in the door
Modern rendering: as dead as a door nail