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Henry IV Part 2

William Shakespeare

Act V, Scene v & Epilogue

Act V, Scenes iii-iv

Questions for Study

Summary

Near Westminster Abbey, just outside of London, the newly crowned King Henry V and his attendants are coming from the king's coronation. Falstaff and his companions--Shallow, Pistol, Bardolph, and Falstaff's page--have ridden hard from Gloucestershire in order to arrive in time, and they place themselves along the street down which the king must walk so that they can greet him. Falstaff is full of happy anticipation of the warm welcome he will receive from the new king.

However, when he hails King Henry V (whom he still calls "Hal"), the king at first ignores him and then tells him that he does not know him. He goes on to say to the bewildered Falstaff that he remembers dreaming about a foolish old man such as Falstaff is--fat, obscene, ridiculous--but he has now woken up and despises his former dream. The king says that he has changed from the wild days when he was Prince Hal; he has put that identity behind him and will similarly put away from him the people he knew in those days. For that reason, he is banishing Falstaff and the rest--not from the country but from the king himself; none of them will ever be allowed to come within ten miles of him. He concludes by saying that Falstaff and his friends will be well provided for. He will give them an adequate income, so that poverty does not drive them back into crime, but none of them may ever come near him again, until and unless they reform themselves into virtuous, respectable people.

The king finishes his speech and sweeps onward without a backward look. Falstaff, astonished and confused, still retains some hope: he suggests to the others that this has been simply a formality that Hal was forced to put on in public and that Hal will call for his old friend Falstaff to come to him later, in private. But that hope is dashed when the Lord Chief Justice returns, accompanied by Prince John and several police officers. They have orders to take Falstaff and the others away to a prison, where they will be held until they can be sent away from London. Falstaff has no chance to get out more than a few words before he is silenced and taken to the prison.

Left alone onstage with the Lord Chief Justice, Prince John comments admiringly on the way in which his older brother, the new King Henry V, handled his former friends: offering them an income but keeping them far away from him. Prince John adds that he hears that the king has summoned his Parliament, and he expects that they will be discussing the possibility of an upcoming invasion of France. The Lord Chief Justice agrees and the two depart together toward the court.

The final scene is followed by an Epilogue that is typical of epilogues found in Elizabethan drama. Presumably meant to be spoken by the author or by a dancer (or to have only one part spoken at a time, by one or the other), it offers an exaggeratedly humble apology for the "badness" of the play and requests applause from the audience. This particular epilogue also includes a prayer for the Queen and promises the audience a sequel to the play they have just seen--one that will feature Falstaff as well as the lovely Katherine of France.

Commentary

From a certain perspective, Hal's rejection of Falstaff is both predictable and necessary. We know that Prince Hal has long been planning to turn himself into a responsible king; we can see this transformation taking place in passages like Hal's vows to his dying father (IV.v) and his adoption of the Lord Chief Justice as a role model (V.ii). (In fact, the groundwork for this psychological metamorphosis is laid as early as scene I.ii in Henry IV, Part 1, in which Hal tells us that he plans to give up his friends and his wild life in order to become a responsible king.)

Moreover, we have seen Hal gradually reject Falstaff as a father figure; he replaces him first (briefly) with his own father, Henry IV, and later with the Lord Chief Justice. So it is appropriate that the Justice finally be sent back in to finish Hal's dirty work, triumphing at last in the eternal quarrel between himself and Falstaff (and, symbolically, between the forces of order and anarchy).

However, it is difficult not to have mixed feelings about Hal's "miraculous" transformation. First, Falstaff is too sympathetic a character for us not to be a little disappointed by Hal's rejection. In addition, it is not only Falstaff's hopes for wealth and power, but also his affection for his young friend, that Hal rejects. If we read Falstaff as genuinely caring for Hal, then his feeling of betrayal must be enormous. When he greets the new King, after riding hard across the countryside to reach him, he cries, "King Hal, my royal Hal! . . . God save thee, my sweet boy! ... My King! My Jove! I speak to thee, my heart!" (41-46). Hal's cold and silencing reply--"I know thee not, old man"--cuts to the heart.

In these scenes, it also becomes evident that Hal has taken the Lord Chief Justice as a model for his speech as well as his character: Hal now talks in more regal and powerful language, shows less of a sense of humor, and appears to have given up punning entirely. It is clear that Hal wants to reject all of the trappings of his former identity: "Presume not that I am the thing I was," he says to Falstaff, "For God doth know . . . / That I have turn'd away my former self" (56-58). As the "tutor and the feeder of my riots" (62), Falstaff no longer has a place in Hal's new life. In the end, for better or worse, Hal feels that he has traded chaos for order and freedom for responsibility and that, as a result, he has become a good king.

Prince John's closing comments about France may seem a little out of place, but Shakespeare is simply paving the way for this play's sequel, Henry V, which deals with the invasion of France by the new king.

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Betrayal or Duty?

by ReadingShakespearefor450th, March 25, 2013

Reading all of Shakespeare by April 2014. Just finished Henry IV, Part Two. I blog on the plays I finish. My take on H IV, Part 2 is at:

http://ow.ly/jpnm8

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