Henry IV, Part II

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Following the royal victory at Shrewsbury, there remain two determined opposing forces under the leadership of the Earl of Northumberland and the Archbishop of York, respectively. Prince John cleverly, if ruthlessly, brings the latter’s forces to bay before they can unite with Northumberland’s, and the realm is secured.

Meanwhile the king’s concern over the moral character of young Henry continues, as the heir still consorts with the pleasure-loving Falstaff and his tavern friends. Contrary to the expectations of father and brothers, however, Prince Henry demonstrates, immediately upon the old king’s death, the determination to govern prudently and wisely.

The carrying out of his vow, seemingly made in jest in Part 1, to banish Falstaff, is the most controversial action of this play. Set against Falstaff’s great comic vitality, the new king seems cold and ungenerous, but Shakespeare establishes that Falstaff’s main motive is not good-natured fun but the hope of future royal favors, and young Henry must reject the claims of a man so cowardly, self-indulgent, and irresponsible.

The terms of banishment are relatively mild: Falstaff must not approach within ten miles of court, the king guarantees him a pension, and he can expect advancement if he reforms. Falstaff, as might be expected, will never reform, and Shakespeare transfers him next to THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR, a comedy where he can entertain without corrupting the...

(The entire section is 476 words.)