Eight key moments in Shakespeare's Henry IV Part II

Henry IV (Clive Wood) confides in his son Prince Hal (Geoffrey Streatfeild) in Henry IV Part II 2007
Henry IV (Clive Wood) explains the cares of kingship to his son, Hal (Geoffrey Streatfeild), in Michael Boyd's 2007 production
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1. Northumberland learns the true fate of his son Hotspur (Act 1, Scene 1)

Having pleaded illness and kept his forces at home, the Earl of Northumberland receives conflicting reports about the fate of his son and the rebel forces at the Battle of Shrewsbury.Morton arrives and tells the Earl the truth: that he saw Prince Hal kill Hotspur, after which the demoralised the rebels ran away. In addition, the Earl of Worcester, Northumberland’s brother, was taken prisoner.The grieving Earl is advised by Morton to contact the Archbishop of York, who is giving spiritual support to those opposed to the King. Northumberland accepts this advice and withdraws to plot his revenge.

2. Falstaff shirks his responsibilities (Act 2, Scene 4)

In Mistress Quickly’s tavern in Eastcheap, Falstaff carouses and engages in bawdy talk with Doll Tearsheet and his cronies. The volatile Pistol, a follower of Falstaff, arrives and starts bragging which upsets Doll. The scene descends into a minor riot as Pistol and Doll threaten one another. Eventually Bardolph manages to remove the troublesome Pistol. Prince Hal and Poins enter disguised as waiters and are appalled by the oblivious Falstaff’s insulting descriptions of them. They reveal their true identities but Falstaff is unabashed. Peto brings news from Westminster that the King is troubled by serious threats to the state and that Falstaff is being sort because he has failed to take command of his troops and march north to meet the rebels. Prince Hal, feeling guilty that he is wasting time in frivolity, bids the company a curt farewell. Falstaff says goodbye to Mistress Quickly and Doll Tearsheet but Bardolph returns shortly afterwards with a request for Doll to go to Falstaff.

 3. Henry IV is worried sick with internal strife (Act 3, Scene 1)

A troubled Henry IV reflects on his royal responsibilities which have robbed him of sleep. He confides to the Earls of Warwick and Surrey that he kingdom is like a body where “rank diseases grow”. He ponders the treachery of the Earl of Northumberland who was once Richard II’s friend, before he betrayed him and helped Henry to the throne. Now Northumberland has allied himself with the Archbishop of York to oppose Henry with a force that is rumoured to consist of 50,000 men. The Earl of Warwick reassures the King that rumour always exaggerates and that the rebels probably only number half that sum. He urges the King to take some rest before he becomes more unwell. Henry agrees and says that if it wasn’t for these internal wars, he would be on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. 

4. Falstaff’s recruiting party arrives in Gloucestershire (Act 3, Scene 2)

In a diversion from the march to York, Falstaff and Bardolph arrive in Gloucestershire where they are welcomed by Justices Shallow and Silence. They inspect the possible recruits Mouldy, Wart, Feeble, Shallow and Bullcalf. Justice Shallow recalls his youth when he and Falstaff were at the Inns of Court in London. He invites Falstaff to dine with him. In the meantime, Bardolph is bribed by Mouldy and Bullcalf to avoid being recruited. Once alone, Falstaff confesses his contempt for the nostalgic Justice Shallow, who he recalls was “like a forked radish” when he was young. Cynically, Falstaff vows to fleece Shallow if he returns from the war.

 5. Prince John tricks the rebels (Act 4, Scene 1)

The Archbishop of York consults Mowbray and Lord Hastings in Gaultree forest to prepare for the battle against the King’s forces who are nearby. The Earl of Northumberland has sent a letter to the Archbishop informing him that he cannot muster enough men so will not be joining them. The Earl of Westmorland arrives as an emissary from the King and urges the Archbishop to return to spiritual matters but also offers to take back a schedule of the rebels’ grievances to Prince John, who commands the King’s men. Mowbray thinks that even if the grievances are met, the King will never trust the rebels and they and their descendants will suffer in the future. However, the Archibishop agrees to meet Prince John, who promises to redress their grievances directly and urges the rebel commanders to dismiss their men, on the understanding that he will do the same. The rebels comply with the request but the royalist army awaits the Prince’s command before dispersing, so he seizes the initiative and arrests the Archbishop of York, Mowbray and Lord Hastings for high treason, telling them that they will be executed. 

6. The ailing Henry IV nearly loses his crown (Act 4, Scene 2)

Although very ill, King Henry discusses with the Earl of Warwick and his sons, the Duke of Clarence and the Duke of Gloucester his plans to go on a crusade when the rebels have been defeated. He wonders where Prince Hal is and implores Clarence to guide Hal after he dies. News reaches the king that the rebels have been defeated but an exhausted Henry asks for his crown to be set upon his pillow while he tries to rest. Prince Hal arrives and mistakenly thinks the King is dead so he takes the crown from the pillow and wanders off with it. Henry wakes up suddenly and panics when he discovers his crown is missing. Clarence tells the king that Prince Hal was there just before so they send for him. A furious king accuses his heir of wanting him dead but Prince Hal replaces the crown on pillow and explains that he was only rebuking this symbol of awful responsibility. Henry advises his son that the best way to keep the country united in the future will be through foreign wars and he reflects on his own troubled accession to the throne. When Prince John and the Earl of Warwick enter, Henry requests to be taken to the nearby Jerusalem Chamber because it was prophesied that he would die in ‘Jerusalem’.

 7. The Lord Chief Justice learns his fate (Act 5, Scene 2)

The Earl of Warwick thinks the Lord Chief Justice will fare badly now Hal has succeeded his father because “he loves you not”. The two men worry about the future under the new Henry V and are joined by the other princes. Henry V enters humbly and explains that “this new and gorgeous majesty” doesn’t feel natural. He reassures his mourning brothers that he will look after them like a brother and a father. The Lord Chief Justice declares that he knows Henry doesn’t like him but in the past he put the law first and foremost. Henry agrees and confirms The Lord Chief Justice’s continuance in the role. In the future, he hopes the Lord Chief Justice will be his guide and ally. 

8. A king is crowned, a rogue is reprimanded (Act 5, Scene 5)

Preparations are underway for the coronation of Henry V. Falstaff, Bardolph, Pistol and Justice Shallow await the arrival of the king. Falstaff boasts how he will soon have the king at his mercy and granting him favours. When Henry V and the royal entourage appear, Falstaff calls out to the king who ignores him and instructs the Lord Chief Justice to speak to him. When Falstaff persists, Henry declares that he doesn’t know him anymore and has left his past riotous life behind. He urges Falstaff to reform his ways or be banished. The king leaves and Falstaff tries to put on a brave face saying that this is just a show and that he will soon be summoned. The Lord Chief Justice orders Falstaff and his companions to be taken to prison. Prince John and the Lord Chief Justice discuss the likelihood that they will soon be at war with France.


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