Arcadius's Reviews > Henry IV, Part 2

Henry IV, Part 2 by William Shakespeare
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Oct 21, 11

bookshelves: a-classics, i-hf-c300-to-1659
Read in October, 2011


We left Part 1 with the battle won, but not the war, so justifying the sequel. What we discover in Part 2, however, is that the rebels have actually had the stuffing knocked out of them at Shrewsbury. Deprived of Hotspur’s drive and Worcester’s brains, this sorry lot never really look like getting their act together - and in the end, they just fold before the efficient ruthlessness of Westmorland and Prince John. So much for the central action of the play.

Of course, 2H4 was also intended as a showcase for Falstaff, and Shakespeare gives us plenty. It’s not quite the same Falstaff, however – this one is clearly ageing, anxious about his cooling relationship with Hal, and not quite as funny. And in the scenes with Shallow in Gloucestershire, his charm starts to wear thin as his incorrigible selfishness and corruption become impossible to ignore. It certainly becomes clear how much damage this 'lovable rogue' could do as a royal favourite, and it’s no real wonder that Hal, as king, finds it necessary to repudiate him.

Henry IV is given a couple of superb scenes here, bemoaning the cares of state and reconciling with Hal on his deathbed. And there are plenty of other good things – Falstaff cheeking the Lord Chief Justice, the dinner at the Boar’s Head with Mistress Quickly and Doll Tearsheet, Westmorland contemptuously running rings around the rebels, the LCJ defending himself to the new king.

The only problem is that the often excellent parts don’t fuse together very well. Shakespeare succeeds in getting Hal where he wants him to be - properly set-up to mutate into the heroic national leader of Henry V – but 2H4 is a transition piece which can’t quite scale the heights of the previous and succeeding plays.
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