Henry IV Part 2: by Shakespeare - Summary

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      Henry IV Part Two, Probably first published in a censored Quart in 1600. Modern editors collate this text with that in the First Folio of 1623. The play covers, in a highly compressed form, the period from the Battle of Shrewsbury to Henry IV’s death in 1413. After his triumph at Shrewsbury, Prince Hal has returned to the riotous company of Falstaff and his cronies, but takes up anns when the rebel forces gather again. Falstaff, recruiting in the Cotswolds, finds a welcome with Justice Shallow, with whom, in his youth, he ‘heard the chimes at midnight. Prince John, younger son of Hemy IV, persuades the rebels to disperse their army and then arrests the leaders for high treason. The dying King hears of this successful campaign. He falls asleep with the crown beside him, and Prince Hal, thinking him dead, holds the crown that will be his. They are reconciled, and the feeble King advises his son to unite England by undertaking a foreign campaign.

      Overjoyed to hear of Hal’s succession, Fal-staff boasts of his future under the new King, but the transformed Henry V spurns him in public during his coronation procession.

      The two parts of Henry IV are an extraordinary achievements. The bare bones of the old-fashioned chronicle play are fleshed out with the riches of what is almost social history. Hotspur is a hero whose home life is that of a benevolent merchant. Falstaff is both knight and vagabond, a vital link for the future king between the court he knows and the submerged life of London’s back streets. Falstaff’s trip into the Cotswolds introduces yet another layer of English life, that of rural culture. And Shakespeare has found a different language for each of the social strata he exhibits. So popular was the magnificent creation of Falstaff that he had to write The Merry Wives of Windsor to satisfy popular demand. This is fair evidence of the great contemporary popularity of Henry IV.

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