Places Discussed

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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

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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,...

(This entire section contains 404 words.)

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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

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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 reassure us that the prince is capable of being a good leader. In connection with these issues, Bacon also discusses the disease imagery that occurs in the play, noting that most of it centers around Falstaff.

Barish, Jonas A. "The Turning Away of Prince Hal." Shakespeare Studies (U.S.) 1 (1965): 18-28. Barish supports the argument that Falstaff remains appealing in Henry IV, Part Two despite his deterioration, so that when Hal rejects him at the end of the play, we sympathize with Falstaff and condemn the new king for his loss of compassion.

Henze, Richard. "Odds and Opportunities in 2 Henry IV." Southern Quarterly 15 (July 1977): 403-11. Henze asserts that the rejection of Falstaff and the destruction of the rebels occur because neither fully understands the values at work in society: Falstaff lives simply for the moment and forgets to calculate the odds for his success in the future, and the rebels are unaware that the traditional notion of honor has been replaced by opportunism.

Holland, Norman N. Introduction to Henry IV, Part Two, by William Shakespeare. In The Complete Signet Classic Shakespeare, edited by Sylvan Barnet, 678-85. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972. Holland observes that as a play about betrayals and defeated expectations, Henry IV, Part Two is similar in mood to Shakespeare's tragedies and problem plays.

Humphreys, A. R. Introduction and Appendices to King Henry IV, Part II, by William Shakespeare edited by A. R. Humphreys, xi-xci, 189-242. The Arden Edition of the Works of William Shakespeare. London: Methuen and Co. Ltd., 1971. Humphreys provides an overview of the play, including dating and source material. In particular, Humphreys examines the play's treatment of statecraft versus morality, emphasizes Hal's emergence as a good ruler, analyzes Hal's rejection of Falstaff, and discusses the negative critical reaction to Prince John's trick against the rebels at Gaultree in IV.ii.

Knowles, Richard. "Unquiet and the Double Plot of 2 Henry IV." Shakespeare Studies (U.S.) 2 (1966): 133-140. Knowles examines the imagery of sound in the play, remarking that elements such as noise, clamor, riot, deafness, and quiet which are present in the play's serious plot are parodied in the comedic plot, and that both contribute to the play's theme of disorder.

Levin, Harry. "Falstaff's Encore." Shakespeare Quarterly 32 (Spring 1981): 5-17. In his assessment of Falstaff's part in Henry IV, Part Two, Levin focuses on the Boar's Head Tavern scene (II.iv) and the aging Falstaff's relationship with Doll Tearsheet and Hostess Quickly.

Levitsky, Ruth M. "Shakespeare's 2 Henry IV, Il.iv." Explicator 35 (Summer 1977): 23-24. Levitsky contends that Hostess Quickly's reluctance to admit swaggerers such as Pistol into her tavern is a response to the Puritan warning against swearing rather than against his bullying and yelling. As it happens, she regularly hosts Falstaff and his friends, who swear far more than Pistol does.

Manley, Frank. "The Unity of Betrayal in II Henry IV." Studies in the Literary Imagination 5 (April 1972): 91-110. Manley examines the theme of betrayal in the play. In his discussion of the effects of King Henry's usurpation of Richard II, Prince John's Gaultree stratagem, Prince Hal's relationship with his father, and the new king's rejection of Falstaff, Manley observes that there are two types of betrayal which occur in the play—true and seeming—and that Hal commits seeming betrayal with regard to his father, the monarchy, and Falstaff.

Pettigrew, John. "The Mood of Henry IV, Part 2." In Stratford Papers, 1965-67, edited by B. A. W. Jackson, 145- 67. Shannon: Irish University Press, 1969. Pettigrew argues that Henry IV, Part Two is not just a sequel to Henry IV, Part One, but that it has its own unity as a separate play. He describes the mood of Henry IV, Part Two as grim and low-key, with its focus on aging and decay in contrast to the brighter, youth-oriented mood of Henry IV, Part One.

Schell, Edgar T. "Prince Hal's Second 'Reformation.'" Shakespeare Quarterly 21 (Winter 1970): 11-16. Schell contends that Hal's second reformation, which occurs in Henry IV, Part Two (the first occurred in Henry IV, Part One), is Shakespeare's solution to the technical problems involved in writing Henry IV, Part Two as a sequel to Henry IV, Part One, and that since the prince has already mended his ways, this second reformation is necessary only from his worried father's point of view.

Seng, Peter J. "Songs, Time, and the Rejection of Falstaff." Shakespeare Survey 15 (1962): 31-40. Seng examines the songs in Henry IV, Part Two, observing that Falstaff's song in II.iv reveals the extent of his "degradation," and that Silence's songs in V.iii underscore the inevitability of the rejection of Falstaff.


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Ornstein, Robert. A Kingdom for a Stage. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1972. In a critical study that includes all of Shakespeare’s history plays, Ornstein devotes a chapter to Henry IV, Part II. He describes Hal’s development and his rejection of Falstaff.

Pearlman, Elihu. William Shakespeare: The History Plays. Boston: Twayne, 1992. A valuable scholarly overview of the histories. The chapter on Henry IV, Part II is divided into numerous brief analyses of characters and themes.

Porter, Joseph A. The Drama of Speech Acts. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979. Analyzes speech and oratory in the second tetralogy. A chapter on Henry IV, Part II explores the contrasts between Falstaff’s speech and Hal’s.

Tillyard, E. M. W. Shakespeare’s History Plays. London: Chatto & Windus, 1944. Strong on historical interpretation, Tillyard’s study explores the important themes of the second tetralogy. Traces the growth and development of Hal’s character.

Traversi, Derek Antona. Shakespeare: From “Richard II” to “Henry V.” Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press. A close reading of the second tetralogy includes a chapter on Henry IV, Part II that emphasizes character development and style.


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Ackroyd, Peter. Shakespeare: The Biography. New York: Doubleday, 2005.

Barber, C. L. The Whole Journey: Shakespeare’s Power of Development. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.

Bevington, David. Shakespeare: The Seven Ages of Human Experience. 2d ed. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2005.

Callaghan, Dympna. Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2005.

Dutton, Richard, and Jean E. Howard, eds. A Companion to Shakespeare’s Works. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2003.

Greenblatt, Stephen. Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare. New York: W. W. Norton, 2004.

Hopkins, Lisa. Beginning Shakespeare. New York: Manchester University Press, 2005.

McDonald, Ross, ed. Shakespeare: An Anthology of Criticism, 1945-2000. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2004.

Schoenbaum, Samuel. William Shakespeare: A Documentary Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 1975.

Wells, Stanley, and Lena Cowen Orlin. Shakespeare: An Oxford Guide. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.




Critical Essays