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Theatre / Henry IV, Part 2

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As the play is Older Than Steam and based on historical events, and as most twists in Shakespeare's plots are now widely known, all spoilers on this page are unmarked.
"Every minute now
Should be the father of some stratagem:
The times are wild: contention, like a horse
Full of high feeding, madly hath broke loose
And bears down all before him."
Northumberland, I.i

A history play by William Shakespeare. It is the second in a duology (the first being Henry IV, Part 1), and is a prequel, of sorts, to the far more famous Henry V. Part 2 has a much darker tone than Part 1, mostly due to the somewhat tragic ending.

The play begins with returning fan-favourite character Sir John Falstaff, a fat drunken rogue and friend of Hal's. He banters with his page over the quality of his urine, which has been sent to the doctor for analysis. He then announces he's off to the whorehouses for some fun. He spends much of the rest of the play cracking jokes, taking bribes from draft dodgers, and drinking with his buddies.

Meanwhile, conflict brews between King Henry IV and his son, Prince Hal. After their victory in the Battle of Shrewsbury last play, they are gearing up for another confrontation against the king's remaining enemies. Despite his efforts in Part 1, Hal still doesn't have his father's trust because he remains friends with Falstaff and his ilk. This mistrust is deepened when Hal's brother, Prince John, defeats the remaining enemies through political know-how and manipulation instead of battle. Hal no longer has any way to prove himself worthy to his father.

King Henry IV suddenly falls ill. He passes out in his bed, and a visiting Hal mistakes his sleep for death. He swears to his father's "corpse" he will be a good king and takes the crown from off the king's pillow, leaving. Henry IV wakes up to find his crown has been stolen, and he berates Hal for the theft, thinking he is only waiting for his father to die so he can become king. Hal gives an impassioned speech explaining why he took the crown and swearing that he will be a good king. Henry IV dies happily soon after, and Hal becomes King Henry V.

After spending most of the play apart, Falstaff and Hal meet again in the final scene of the play. Falstaff is extremely excited to hear the news of Hal's coronation, believing Hal will reward him, but instead, the new king flatly rejects his former friend. Hal likens his association with Falstaff to a bad dream he's just woken up from and proclaims that as king, he can no longer associate with thieves and drunks. He forbids Falstaff from coming near him under pain of death, and continues on his parade, leaving Falstaff and all the other rogues devastated in his wake.

Orson Welles famously adapted the Henriad by combining them into Chimes at Midnight with Falstaff at the centre (and him as Falstaff). In 2010, a production of Henry IV at The Globe was filmed for DVD with Roger Allam as Falstaff and Jamie Parker as Hal. Allam won an Olivier Award for his performance. In 2012, the BBC produced the play again as part of The Hollow Crown, with Jeremy Irons as Henry, Tom Hiddleston as Hal and Simon Russell Beale as Falstaff.

This play provides examples of:

  • Aesop Amnesia: At the end of Part 1, Prince Hal reconciles with his father and embraces his role as heir to the throne. At the start of Part 2, Prince Hal is goofing off with Falstaff again and the king is back to worrying about Hal's competence.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: After Hotspur's father makes a big scene about Hotspur's death, Hotspur's widow justifiably chews out her father-in-law for sending Hotspur to war, then calling in sick.
  • The Chains of Commanding: The main source of Henry's angst.
    "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown." (Act III, Scene i)
  • False Reassurance:
    • Prince John gets the rebel leaders to surrender by promising them that if they lay down arms at a designated location, he will redress their grievances. They do, and he immediately orders their executions — as John points out, he promised that he would redress their grievances, not that he would pardon them.
    • Similarly, towards the end, Hal states that if Falstaff and his associates can prove themselves capable of dignified conduct while in exile, they may one day be free to go about in a society befitting their standing... when it's been made painfully obvious that they can never live up to the standards of nobility, let alone the King's courtiers. (Prince John and the Chief Justice still consider it a mercy compared to having them killed outright.)
  • Final Speech: King Henry gives Hal advice as he dies to attack France, and Hal most certainly does.
  • Guile Hero: Prince John tricks the rebels into dispersing and then has the leaders executed, while pointing out that he never broke his word to them.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Doll Tearsheet, who contrary to popular belief did not appear in Part 1, although she has been sneaked in some productions, albeit as an extra.
  • Inadequate Inheritor: Even after his much improved conduct at the end of Henry IV, Part 1, Hal is still this since he went right back to Eastcheap and Falstaff. In fact, it's not until almost the very end of Henry IV's life that he sees Hal as worthy and even then there's one last blow-up between father and son before their reconciliation.
  • Kick the Dog: Depending on how the actors play it, the banishment of Falstaff can be this.
  • King on His Deathbed: When King Henry IV lies dying, Hal mistakes his sleep for death and takes the crown from his head; the king wakes up and accuses Hal of being eager for him to die so that he can become king, but Hal assures him that this isn't true, and the two are reconciled in time for Henry's death. Believe it or not it actually happened.
  • Miles Gloriosus: Pistol, one of Falstaff's companions.
  • Milholland Relationship Moment: The Lord Chief Justice once sent Prince Hal to prison for punching him in the face. As such, he expects to be treated poorly (if not executed outright) once Hal assumes the throne. This expectation is shared by Hal's brothers, who claim their own pain at the death of their father is nothing compared to what the Lord Chief Justice is likely to suffer at Hal's hands. However, when Hal (or rather, Henry V) finally confronts the Lord Chief Justice, it turns out he agrees that getting sent to prison was the best thing for him at the time, and congratulates the Lord Chief Justice on a job well done.
  • Mirror Character: Hal and Hotspur are shown to be equal in ability, but while Hal has the royal lineage, he wastes the opportunity. Hotspur, who would be a brilliant choice, has no blood claim to the throne whatsoever, and they both must defeat their equal in each other to prove their claim to it.
  • Mood Whiplash: Falstaff is extremely excited that his drinking buddy Hal is now the king of England. When he sees Hal passing by, he shouts greetings, which Hal ignores. Finally, when he walks up to him, Hal claims he doesn't know who he is, calls him an old man, and banishes him from his sight on pain of death. Ouch.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Initially, Falstaff was "Sir John Oldcastle", an actual historical figure who was burned at the stake for Lollardy, but Oldcastle's descendants complained, so Shakespeare substituted in the name of a knight who lived two generations after the play took place and was accused of cowardice (this character appears briefly in 1 Henry VI, where his name is usually rendered as "Fastolfe" by modern editors). A few remnants of the original name survive in the play—e.g., at one point Hal calls Falstaff "my old lad of the castle".
  • Noodle Incident: Falstaff and Shallow reminisce about their younger days without ever really explaining where their wild reputations came from.
  • Nothing Is The Same Any More:
    • Throughout both this play and Henry IV 1, Hal repeatedly promises the lowlifes and criminals he's spending time with that once he's king, he'll grant them all noble ranks and turn England into a paradise for them. But when he actually is crowned, he immediately rejects Falstaff and the other crooks, claiming he doesn't know them and having them all dismissed from his sight. It absolutely devastates the criminals, and they realize that there's no going back to the way things used to be.
    • Subverted, however, in the case of the Lord Chief Justice. See Milholland Relationship Moment.
  • Remember the New Guy?:
    • Pistol, a long-established member of Falstaff's criminal/military crew, did not appear at all in Part 1, and was not referred to in dialogue.
    • Ditto Doll Tearsheet, although she is supposedly been part of Falstaff's entourage for some time.
  • Sequel Hook: The closing speech promises that Hal and Falstaff's story will continue in a play featuring "fair Katharine of France".
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Falstaff threatens to put his foot up someone's ass in this manner in Act 2, Scene 1.
    Falstaff: Away, you scullion! you rampallian! you fustilarian! I'll tickle your catastrophe!
  • Shoot the Dog: The other usual way to play Hal's rejection of Falstaff.
  • That Man Is Dead: The newly-crowned Henry V refuses to answer to the name "Hal," even as Falstaff repeatedly cries out to him. Henry then says "I have turn'd away my former self," making it clear that Hal is gone for good.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: Hal's serious war plot and Falstaff's comic plot pretty much never meet throughout the play, until the Mood Whiplash moment at the end.
  • Wandering Minstrel: Hal and a friend dress up like some to play a prank on Falstaff.
  • Warrior Prince: Hal and Prince John.
  • Wham Line: "I know thee not, old man," Henry tells Falstaff at the coronation, distancing himself from his old friend with no forewarning.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Poins is not disowned along with Falstaff, and is not even present for the last half of the play.
  • What's Up, King Dude?: Continued from Part 1, until Hal becomes king.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Henry has one of these moments when he thinks Hal is so eager for the crown that he stole it from Henry's deathbed before Henry was actually dead. Hal protests that he genuinely thought his father was dead, and only picked up the crown in contemplation . It's up to the director and actors to decide how sincere Hal is about it.
  • "Will Return" Caption: The Epilogue promises a continuation "with Sir John in it". Circumstances seem to have prevented this, though, as Falstaff is only briefly mentioned in the next installment.