Henry IV, Part II Analysis
by William Shakespeare

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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

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*London streets

*London streets. This location is usually the realm of the comic chaos of lower-class life that constitutes much of the background of the play. The tavern-haunting Falstaff and his villainous companions embody the vigor, confusion, and immorality of London street life.

*Westminster Palace

*Westminster Palace. Royal palace, adjacent to Westminster Abbey in London, where King Henry agonizes over the outcome of the rebellion of Northumberland and his accomplices. As his health wanes, his son Prince Henry arrives, and he advises the prince to keep his nobles busy by pursuing “foreign quarrels.”

King Henry had once been told that he would die in Jerusalem. After learning that a chamber in his palace is named “Jerusalem,” he orders that he be taken there to die, and his son becomes King Henry V.

Justice Shallow’s house

Justice Shallow’s house. Gloucestershire location of Falstaff’s ludicrous efforts to recruit soldiers for the royal army.

*Warkworth Castle

*Warkworth Castle. Northumberland headquarters of the earl of Northumberland, head of the Percy family and a leader of the rebellion against Henry IV.

*Gaultree Forest

*Gaultree Forest. Yorkshire location of the deception and capture of the rebel leaders Mowbray, Hastings, and the archbishop of York by Henry IV’s other son, Prince John. The distance between Yorkshire and London makes it possible for the king and Prince Henry to dissociate themselves from this rather dishonorable action.

Modern Connections

(Shakespeare for Students)

One of the most popular characters ever created by Shakespeare is the fat old knight Sir John Falstaff, who was appealing to Elizabethan theater-goers and remains so with audiences today. Critics have observed that his popularity is partly the result of his multifaceted personality. He seems cowardly when he runs from the Gadshill robbery in Henry IV, Part One, yet his actions suggest bravery when he appears twice on the battlefield—at Shrewsbury in Henry IV, Part One and then again outside the forest of Gaultree in Henry IV, Part Two. He is dishonest and insensitive in his dealings with Shallow in Henry IV, Part Two, but his affection for both Doll Tearsheet (Henry IV, Part Two) and Prince Hal (Henry IV, Part One and Two) appears to be genuine.

Falstaff is also appealing because he is so outrageous. When caught in a lie or an insult, he usually manages to come up with an unbelievable but witty excuse, as he does after exaggerating the facts of the Gadshill robbery in Henry IV, Part One and when he slanders Hal and Poins at the Boar's Head Tavern in Henry IV, Part Two. As Poins warns the prince in Henry IV, Part Two—"my lord, [Falstaff] will drive you out of your revenge and turn all to a merriment..." if he is allowed to get away with it (II.iv.297-98).

According to most accounts, Falstaff was extremely popular in Elizabethan times. In fact he is the star of Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor, which may have been written, as some people suggest, for the same reason some movie sequels or television spin-offs are produced: to capitalize on the popularity of a character. Modern audiences may be startled when Hal, newly crowned as king, sharply rejects Falstaff at the end of Henry IV, Part Two. After all, how can he say such cruel things to an old friend who has been the source of so much amusement? Critics point out, however, that Elizabethan audiences were perhaps less sentimental about this issue than we are today. Ruled by a monarch themselves, the audiences in Shakespeare's time probably understood that with his accession to the throne, Prince Hal did not become "King Hal" (as Falstaff calls him in V.v.41) but is transformed into King Henry, who must make a clean break with his notorious past and turn completely to the business of governing the country.

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Shakespeare for Students)

Bacon, Wallace A. "Margery Bailey Memorial Lectures I: The Diseased State in Henry IV, Part Two." Speech Monographs 40 (June 1973): 75-87. Bacon defends Hal's rejection of Falstaff and argues that Henry IV, Part Two is meant to...

(The entire section is 1,744 words.)