A William Shakespeare Read! HENRY IV (Part 2)

William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 2 (1598-1599).

Again a recording by Librivox.

From Wikipedia: The play picks up where Henry IV, Part One left off. Its focus is on Prince Hal’s journey toward kingship, and his ultimate rejection of Falstaff. However, unlike Part One, Hal and Falstaff’s stories are almost entirely separate, as the two characters meet only twice and very briefly. The tone of much of the play is elegiac, focusing on Falstaff’s age and his closeness to death.

Falstaff is still drinking and engaging in petty criminality in the London underworld. Falstaff appears, followed by a new character, a young page whom Prince Hal has assigned him as a joke. Falstaff enquires what the doctor has said about the analysis of his urine, and the page cryptically informs him that the urine is healthier than the patient. Falstaff promises to outfit the page in “vile apparel” (ragged clothing). They go off, Falstaff vowing to find a wife “in the stews” (i.e., the local brothels).

He has a relationship with Doll Tearsheet, a prostitute. When news of a second rebellion arrives, Falstaff joins the army again, and goes to the country to raise forces. There he encounters Mouldy, Bullcalf, Feeble, Shadow and Wart, a band of rustic yokels who are to be conscripted into the loyalist army, with two of whom, Mouldy and Bullcalf, bribing their way out. He also meets with an old school-chum, Master Shallow, and they reminisce about their youthful follies.

In the other storyline, Hal remains an acquaintance of London lowlife and seems unsuited to kingship. His father, King Henry IV, has apparently forgotten his reconciliation with his son in Henry IV, Part One, and is again disappointed in the young prince. Another rebellion is launched against Henry IV, but this time it is defeated, not by a battle, but by the duplicitous political machinations of Hal’s brother, Prince John. King Henry then sickens and appears to die. Hal, seeing this, believes he is King and exits with the crown. King Henry, awakening, is devastated, thinking Hal cares only about becoming King. Hal convinces him otherwise and the old king subsequently dies contentedly.

The two storylines meet in the final scene, in which Falstaff, having learned that Hal is now King, travels to London in expectation of great rewards. But Hal rejects him, saying that he has now changed, and can no longer associate with such people. The London lowlifes, expecting a paradise of thieves under Hal’s governance, are instead purged and imprisoned by the authorities.

At the end of the play, an epilogue thanks the audience and promises that the story will continue in a forthcoming play “with Sir John in it”. In fact, the subsequent play, Henry V, does not feature Falstaff except for a brief mention of his death.

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