The Shakespeare Series: Henry IV, Part 2 Review

We return to the continual rise of Prince Hal in the second part of the Henry IV installment. As opposed to the intertwining relationship of Hal and Falstaff in the first play here the two are mainly kept apart, with any of their meetings mainly bittersweet. Falstaff spends much of this play messing about with a prostitute named Doll Tearsheet, who he bad mouths Hal about in front of. Whilst Flastaff tries to brush it off, he is unable.

Despite his redeeming actions in the previous play, Hal is still cavorting with the brigands and happy go lucky folk in London, seemingly having reverted back to his former self. Whilst another rebellion rises up against the king it is the work of Hal’s brother Prince John and not Hal himself that saves the day. In a famous scene Henry is on his deathbed and Hal enters thinking his father has died. With sorrow he dons the crown, but just then his father awakens, understandably getting the wrong idea from the scene in front of him.

O my son,
God put it in thy mind to take it hence,
That thou mightst win the more thy father’s love,
Pleading so wisely in excuse of it!
Come hither, Harry, sit thou by my bed

 Father and son reconcile in their final moments. When Falstaff realises that Hal is now being made king, he relishes the chance he now believes he has to better his circumstances. However, when he next encounters Hal, the once Prince has stern words for him:

 I know thee not, old man: fall to thy prayers;
How ill white hairs become a fool and jester!
I have long dream’d of such a kind of man,
So surfeit-swell’d, so old and so profane;
But, being awaked, I do despise my dream.
Make less thy body hence, and more thy grace;
Leave gormandizing; know the grave doth gape
For thee thrice wider than for other men.
Reply not to me with a fool-born jest

In fulfilling what Hal promised to us in Part 1, he spurns Falstaff, acknowledging that his youthful dreams of running amok were not as fantastical and brilliant as they really were. He accepts his role as the king of England, taking the Lord Chief Justice as his close mentor. As befits his office of King, he arrests and imprisons all the old lowlifes he used to cavort with.

I find Henry IV, Part 2 to a be a play of progression, one where we are treated to more in depth studies of Hal and Falstaff side by side. The play leads up mainly to the rejection of Falstaff at the end of the play, which is a particularly powerful and poignant scene. For all of Falstaff’s indulgences, he is a character that begs sympathy from the audience. Part 2 is not one I enjoy watching as a standalone, and I’ve almost always watched it following on from Part 1 that, by contrast, I have frequently watched on its own.

Henry IV, Part 2 is a play that is a strong part of the set of plays which begin in continuity from Richard II to Henry V. Your own personal inclinations are more likely to be what will dictate how much you enjoy Part 2 in comparison to Part 1. However, it is still a great play which manages to uncover much about the characters we came to so love and enjoy in the first part.

(photo credit: pervegalit.wordpress.com)

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