Thursday, 31 March 2016

Henry IV Part II by William Shakespeare.

1901 edition.
Almost immediately after the success of Henry IV Part I, William Shakespeare wrote Henry IV Part II, written around 1596 - 1597 and first published in 1600. In this Shakespeare writes on the latter part of Henry IV's reign (Henry IV reigned from 13th October 1399 until his death, 20th March 1413). Though though this sequel is not generally preferred (some seeing it as a poor attempt at 'cashing in' on the success of the first part, known then simply as Henry IV) I did actually enjoy it more than the first part.

When we left Henry IV the Battle of Shrewsbury (1403) had been won, however tensions between Henry and the Percys and their allies (the rebels) still remained and civil war was under way. The play begins in Warkworth Castle, Northumberland, where the Earl of Northumberland fled after his son Henry "Hotspur" was killed in the Battle of Shrewsbury. At the gate, Rumour stands "painted full of tongues" and delivers the opening monologue:
... Why is Rumour here?
I run before King Harry's victory;
Who in a bloody field by Shrewsbury
Hath beaten down young Hotspur and his troops,
Quenching the flame of bold rebellion
Even with the rebel's blood. But what mean I
To speak so true at first? my office is
To noise abroad that Harry Monmouth fell
Under the wrath of noble Hotspur's sword,
And that the king before the Douglas' rage
Stoop'd his anointed head as low as death.
This have I rumour'd through the peasant towns
Between that royal field of Shrewsbury
And this worm-eaten hold of ragged stone,
Where Hotspur's father, old Northumberland,
Lies crafty-sick: the posts come tiring on,
And not a man of them brings other news
Than they have learn'd of me: from Rumour's tongues
They bring smooth comforts false, worse than
true wrongs.
Walkworth Castle by Lee Frost.
At Walkworth, as Rumour promised, the Earl had hears conflicting reports on events in Shrewsbury however Mortin arrives and confirms that Hotspur has been killed, and so the Earl vows revenge.

The scene then changes to London where we meet Falstaff once more; the Lord Chief Justice confronts him about his role in the Gads Hill robbery (Falstaff attempts to bluff his way out of the charges, and, later, manages to avoid further legal action concerning his broken engagement to Mistress Quickly), and meanwhile the rebels gather at the palace of the Archbishop of York to discuss further their rebellion against Henry IV. Another battle is planned, though the Earl of Northumberland, having been persuaded by Hotspur's widow Lady Percy, has gone to Scotland and does not send soldiers to help in the battle. And so, without him, the rebels confront Prince John (the second son of Henry IV) at the Forest of Gaultree (Yorkshire). Prince John, pretending to be sympathetic, convinces them to lay down their weapons at which point they're all arrested and later executed for treason.

Meanwhile, the king is becoming increasingly ill and he worries about Hal (his eldest son who will become Henry V), who has continued his friendship with London's criminal class, despite it being inappropriate for a future king. Hal has shown sadness and concern over the health of Henry IV however he is reluctant to show it publicly, fearing it will appear hypocritical, and he realises he must spend less time with his friends. He eventually visits the king at the Palace of Westminster and, following an argument, the two reconcile and Henry IV gives Hal advice on being king, most notably to distract the people from civil war with a foreign one:
Be it thy course to busy giddy minds
With foreign quarrels; that action, hence borne out,
May waste the memory of the former days.
Soon after, King Henry IV dies.

Falstaff Rebuked by Robert Smirke (1795).
In the final act Hal is crowned King Henry V and, in a rather painful scene, rejects Falstaff:
I know thee not, old man: fall to thy prayers;
How ill white hairs become a fool and jester!
I have long dream'd of such a kind of man,
So surfeit-swell'd, so old and so profane;
But, being awaked, I do despise my dream.
Make less thy body hence, and more thy grace;
Leave gormandizing; know the grave doth gape
For thee thrice wider than for other men.
Reply not to me with a fool-born jest:
Presume not that I am the thing I was;
For God doth know, so shall the world perceive,
That I have turn'd away my former self;
So will I those that kept me company.
When thou dost hear I am as I have been,
Approach me, and thou shalt be as thou wast,
The tutor and the feeder of my riots:
Till then, I banish thee, on pain of death,
As I have done the rest of my misleaders,
Not to come near our person by ten mile.
For competence of life I will allow you,
That lack of means enforce you not to evil:
And, as we hear you do reform yourselves,
We will, according to your strengths and qualities,
Give you advancement. Be it your charge, my lord,
To see perform'd the tenor of our word. Set on.
The play then ends with a epilogue promising another play, which will be the final play of what is known as 'The Henriad' (Richard II, Henry IV Part I, Henry IV Part II, and Henry V, the latter of which was written around 1599). I'm very much looking forward to reading and writing about Henry V in the coming weeks.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts of the Year