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Henry IV Part 2

William Shakespeare

Act IV, Scene iv

Act IV, Scenes i-iii

Act V, Scenes i-ii

Summary

In his palace at Westminster, the ill King Henry IV is talking with his advisors and his younger sons, Thomas Duke of Clarence and Humphrey Duke of Gloucester. As soon as the present civil war is resolved, he says, he wants to lead an army to join the Crusades in Jerusalem; he has prepared everything he will need for this. The king is clearly sick enough that he may not last that long, but no one seems to want to be the one to say it.

Learning that Hal is in London this evening with his rascally friends, the king laments Hal's waywardness to his younger sons. Westmoreland enters, bringing news that the three rebel leaders--Mowbray, Hastings, and the Archbishop of York--have been executed. Then, Harcourt, another lord, enters with news that the rebellious Northumberland has also been overthrown. The king first rejoices but then suddenly starts to feel very sick. Conscious, but weak, the king is laid on a bed in another chamber and left alone.

Prince Hal enters, and his brothers tell him of their father's illness. Hal enters his father's room to sit by him and, contemplating the crown that lies beside him on the pillow, criticizes it for the heavy weight it has imposed upon his father. The king seems to stop breathing, and Hal, thinking he is dead, reverentially lifts the crown onto his own head and goes into another room to think alone.

King Henry wakes up suddenly and, calling his attendants, learns that Hal was with him but a moment before. Finding his crown gone, he becomes angry and bitter, thinking that Hal has revealed his own greediness and lack of love for his father. But Warwick spies Hal weeping in the next room, and King Henry sends the others away to speak with Hal alone.

The king angrily rebukes Hal for being so quick to seize the crown. He condemns him for his careless, violent, freewheeling life, and he paints a vivid picture of the horrors he thinks England can expect when Hal becomes king. Hal kneels before his father, weeping, and swears that he loves his father and was full of grief when he thought him dead; he says that he views the crown as an enemy to fight with, not as a treasure. King Henry, moved by the speech, lets Hal sit next to him. With his dying breath, he tells Hal that he hopes he will find more peace as king than Henry did.

The younger princes then return, and King Henry is pleased to see them. Upon asking the name of the chamber where he first collapsed, he is told that the room is called "Jerusalem." The king realizes, at last, that he will never see the real Jerusalem--where it had once been foretold that he would die--but he will die in the room named "Jerusalem." The others carry him away to this room.

Commentary

Hal's musings as he looks at the crown on his father's pillow are similar to the earlier thoughts of King Henry himself. The Prince's question, "Why doth the crown lie there upon his pillow, / Being so troublesome a bedfellow?" (Iv.v.20-21) is a strong reminder of his father's earlier "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown" (III.i.30-31). Clearly, Hal has started to view kingship as the weighty responsibility that it is; this is a clear sign that he has matured beyond his youthful hell-raising.

Hal has also started to manifest a strong devotion to his nation, his lineage, and his family inheritance as king. When, thinking his father dead, he puts the crown on is own head, he makes a strong statement about his sense of ancestral royalty: "[P]ut the world's whole strength / Into one giant arm, it shall not force/ This lineal honor from me. This from thee / Will I to mine leave, as 'tis left to me" (IV.v.42-46).

King Henry, of course, misinterprets Hal's actions when he awakes and immediately tries to use Hal's perceived theft of the crown as a lesson to his younger sons: "See, sons . . . / How quickly nature falls into revolt / When gold becomes her object!" (64-66). We also see a resurgence of one of King Henry's old insecurities: he seems to be completely convinced that his son hates him and that Hal cannot wait for him to die so that he can take the crown. "I stay too long by thee, I weary thee," he says, with a mixture of anger, grief, and bitterness. "Thy life did manifest thou lov'dst me not, / And thou wilt have me die assur'd of it" (93, 104-5).

King Henry follows this statement with his vision of what Hal will do once he becomes king. We saw the king earlier express his concern about the fate of the country when Hal's "headstrong riot hath no curb, / When rage and hot blood are his counsellors" (62-63). Now he tells Hal directly what he fears: that Hal will "[p]luck down my officers; break my decrees . . . / Harry the fift is crown'd! Up, vanity! Down, royal state! . . . / For the fifth Harry from curb'd licence plucks / The muzzle of restraint, and the wild dog / Shall flesh his tooth on every innocent" (117-120, 130-132). King Henry fears that Hal will get rid of his wise counselors, break the laws, remove the judges, and fill the court instead with his foolish, rascally friends--the "apes of idleness" (122). If he does that, King Henry knows, the result will be violence. Without the restraint of law, anarchy will burst forth, and England will become lawless and wild: "a wilderness again, / Peopled with wolves, [its] old inhabitants!" (156-7).

Hal's response is memorable and touching. He swears to his father that he is not really a rioter and vows upon his life to prove that his claim is true. He also explains that he understands the seriousness of the responsibility the crown confers. He says that when he took the crown from his father's pillow, he looked at it not as a treasure, but as "an enemy / That had before my face murder'd my father, / The quarrel of a true inheritor" (165-168).

King Henry's final words to his son recall the way in which Henry came to power. They also suggest that the civil wars that have plagued his reign are a direct result of that initial bloodshed: "It seem'd in me / But an honor snatch'd with boist'rous hand . . . / For all my reign hath been but as a scene / Acting that argument" (190-1, 197-8). He explains that he had always wanted to go to Jerusalem in order to atone for the murder of his predecessor, King Richard. Finally, he gives Hal some strategic advice; in order to prevent civil wars at home, he says, make war overseas: "[B]usy giddy minds / With foreign quarrels" (213-4). In this speech, Shakespeare quickly summarizes the events of this play's prequels and sequels: from Richard II, in which Henry IV rose to power, to Henry V, in which Prince Hal, now Henry V, will invade France.

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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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