Henry IV Part 2 simplified


Henry IV’s forces had won a decisive victory at the end of Part 1 over the rebels at Shrewsbury. Nonetheless, the king remained concerned with the threat posed by Welsh-led rebels, knowing that they had re-formed following the deaths of Hotspur, Worcester and Vernon at Shrewsbury. He knew they remained a serious and continuing threat to his regime. He also worried how Hotspur’s death late in the last play at the hands of his son would play out with the Welsh, now that the rebels were under new management, so to speak, now being led by a Richard Scroop, the powerful Archbishop of York. The Archbishop of York’s brother Stephen had been executed by Henry IV (then Henry Bolingbroke) back in Richard II. As is often the case, his worries are real but his adversaries turn out to be less frightening than he feared.

This play opens when Lord Bardolph, an early leader in the rebellion against Henry IV, having been misled by faulty intelligence, tells Northumberland, Hotspur’s father, that during the battle of Shrewsbury his son had slain Prince Harry and that Scotland’s Douglas had slain the king. But Morton, another leader of the insurgents, soon enters and delicately tells Northumberland that his son Hotspur was in fact killed by the prince, that the king lives, and that Douglas was captured, but was released, and has returned to Scotland. He tells Northumberland that “Hotspur’s loss cost us the war” and that “the sum of all is that the king hath won and hath sent out a power to encounter you.” Invigorated by the challenge, Northumberland decides to once again become active with the insurgency. We also learn that Richard Scroop, the Archbishop of York, not only has joined the insurgents’ cause in a leading role, but has turned the cause into a religious crusade, drawing wide-spread support. A fresh set of rebels has formed since the battle of Shrewsbury, a group that now includes the Archbishop along with Lord Mowbray, Hastings and Morton. We also now learn that back in Part 1 Northumberland, upset with his son and fearing the worst, had pleaded illness as an excuse not to join his son and his brother Worcester for the battle at Shrewsbury.

As an aside, at about this point, the Chief Justice corners Falstaff, telling him among other things that “Truth is, Sir John, you live in infamy” and that “you have the manner of wrenching the true cause the false way.”

The reconstituted group of rebels meets to make plans to overthrow the king; a less stressful meeting than the emotional, personal and counter-productive meeting in Part 1 that included Hotspur; the raucous meeting that caused both Northumberland and Glendower to skip the battle at Shrewsbury. Separately, Lady Percy, Hotspur’s widow, persuasively begs her father-in-law (the earl of Northumberland) to “Go not to wars. The others are strong. Let them alone.” She wins. He says “I will resolve for Scotland.” To the king’s benefit, Northumberland retires, not to be heard from again.

Meanwhile, Prince Harry discloses to his good friend Poins that his father is seriously ill. On the stage alone, in his nightgown, the king famously says “O gentle sleep, Nature’s soft nurse” and “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” Warwick soon enters, Warwick being a good friend of the king’s, and offers the king wise and soothing counsel, as the king then reflects with compassion on the late Richard II, saying he “knew not that greatness and I were compelled to kiss.” Warwick later adds, “To comfort you more, I have received a certain instance that Glendower is dead,” Owen Glendower being the Welsh leader of the rebels in Part 1.

By now the insurgents have reached the location where they plan to collectively submit their grievances to the earl of Westmoreland, a half-first-cousin to the king and one of the king’s key aides. It’s here where they plan to fight the king’s troops, if that’s what it takes to have their grievances accepted. The Archbishop says “What is this forest called?” Hastings replies “The Gaultree Forest.” Westmoreland enters and greets the rebels. After a pleasant discussion, the Archbishop hands Westmoreland a paper saying “This contains our general grievances.” Westmoreland responds, “This will I show the General,” the General being Prince John, the king’s third son. Prince John, the Duke of Lancaster, soon enters, chastising the Archbishop, saying “It better showed when your assembled flock circled you to hear your exposition on the holy text than see you now here, an iron man talking, cheering rebels on, turning thee word to sword, life to death.” Prince John, referring to the paper identifying their grievances says “These griefs shall be with speed redressed.” The Archbishop responds “I take your princely word for these redresses.” Hastings says “Go captain, and deliver to the army this news of peace. Let them have pay, and part.” John of Lancaster says to Westmoreland “Go, my lord, and let our army be discharged too.” The captain of the rebels having returned, Hastings says to the Archbishop “My lord, our army is dispersed already.” Westmoreland returns, saying to Prince John “The army will not go off until they hear you speak.” John of Lancaster says, “They know their duties.” Westmoreland proceeds to arrest Hastings, the Archbishop and Mowbray as traitors. The Archbishop cries “Will you this break your faith?” Prince John responds, “I promised you redress of these same grievances, which, I will perform with a most Christian care. Guards, these traitors to the block of death.” Preoccupied with his father’s health, Prince John, eager to get back to the palace, is interrupted by Falstaff who asks him for a special privilege, causing Prince John to be a little short with him.

The ill king talks of death and of hope with two of his sons, Humphrey and Thomas, encouraging them to help their brother, the Prince of Wales, govern the country. Warwick says to the king, “The prince will cast off his followers, turning past evils to advantages.” The king is carried to a bed, requesting that his crown be placed on the pillow next to him. Prince Harry enters. The others exit, the prince saying “I will sit and watch here by the king.” The king falls asleep. Harry puts on the crown and walks into the next room to see how he looks in the mirror. The king wakens, saying “Why did you leave me here alone, my lords?” Warwick enters and finds the young prince in the next room with the crown. The king asks “But wherefore did he take away the crown?” Harry enters, saying “I never thought to hear you speak again.” The king replies “The wish was father, Harry, to that thought.” The king and prince proceed to have another one of literature’s great father-son conversations. Promises are made and kept. The king dies. The year is 1413. Harry is quietly crowned king as Henry V. The Chief Justice, having had a rocky relationship with the prince, says to the new king “Peace be with us, lest we be heavier.” Their relationship blossoms, the king saying “You shall be as a father to my youth.” A better checks and balances political system evolves.

Later, as the king and his train pass over the stage, the irrepressible Falstaff cries out “King Hal, my royal Hal. God save thee, my sweet boy.” Falstaff is soon sent to the Fleet, a prison, not to be heard from again. John of Lancaster ends the play with a forecast, saying “I will lay odds that, ere this year expires, we bear our civil swords and native fire as far as France.”

Principal Characters

Archbishop of York. The Archbishop of York, also known as York or the prelate Richard Scroop, was a leader of the insurgents that “re-grouped” following the defeat in Part 1 of Hotspur and Worcester at the battle of Shrewsbury. But the reconstituted rebels fail miserably in a bloodless defeat at Gaultree Forest. York had joined the cause and helped to lead the rebels in part because his brother, Stephen, had been executed by Bolingbroke in Richard II. York was a good organizer and good leader; he just made a naïve mistake at Gaultree Forest and paid for it with his life.

Chief Justice. The Chief Justice dealt sternly with the young prince in Part 1, punishing him for his role in the Gad’s Hill robbery. The prince’s anger with the Chief Justice surfaces at the time of Henry IV’s death; at the time the prince becomes king. The Chief Justice beautifully justifies to the new king his earlier actions against the then young prince. Henry V accepts the Chief Justice’s reasoning and appoints him to serve him just as he had served his father. The Chief Justice quickly helps cut Falstaff and others from the new king’s entourage.

Henry IV. King Henry IV dies quietly late in the play and his four sons emerge as strong and competent leaders of men and their realm, led by Prince Harry, the new young king. Neither Northumberland nor Glendower pose any threat to the king in this play; both feared by Henry IV at the end of Part 1. The king’s gift to his people was his justified confidence in the leadership skills of his sons.

John Falstaff. Falstaff, also known as Jack or Sir John Falstaff, continues to have a role in this play, serving as a foil and comic diversion. Shakespeare’s purpose of Falstaff, we think, was to use him as a means to launch Prince Hal from a wayward vagabond of a youth to the strongest of kings. Again in Part 2, Shakespeare gave Falstaff some great lines. A challenge for the reader is to separate out Falstaff’s clever lines from his flawed persona.

John of Lancaster. John, Henry IV’s third son, the one who inherited his grandfather Gaunt’s title, the duke of Lancaster, comes of age in this play as quite the young man. He is seen as a talent and as being loyal to both his father and his older brother, the Prince of Wales. He and Westmorland lead the king’s forces in the clever victory over the rebels at Gaultree Forest.

Prince Harry. The Prince of Wales, also known as Harry Monmouth and Prince Hal, is the king’s oldest son, the heir to the crown, whom Shakespeare in this play carefully develops as a powerful king-to-be. He gets good advice from his father and the Chief Justice, advice that would benefit any young man. Shakespeare draws him as a really fine young man who does cut his ties to his imprudent past, committing himself to bring honor to the realm, a role he was born to fill.

Westmoreland. Westmoreland serves at the pleasure of Henry IV as John of Lancaster’s chief of staff, John a general in his father’s army. Westmoreland serves the young prince and his father with distinction. Westmoreland is Ralph Neville, who married Joan, John of Gaunt’s only daughter, a daughter through his second marriage; Henry IV his son through his first marriage. Later, we’ll hear more about the power of the Nevilles, Westmoreland being the first of many. We think at least one of the Nevilles had access to Shakespeare’s ear.

The Play