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Henry IV Part 2

William Shakespeare

Act V, Scenes i-ii

Act IV, Scene iv

Act V, Scenes iii-iv

Summary

Falstaff and Bardolph have returned to Gloucestershire, where they are warmly welcomed by Justice Shallow. Shallow gives orders to his servant, Davy, to prepare a fine dinner for the guests; Davy continually interrupts him by asking questions about the household management and asking favors for servants and local peasants who are in trouble. Falstaff, left alone, laughs over Shallow's friendly foolishness and declares that he will get enough material out of observing Shallow to make Prince Hal laugh for a year.

Back in the king's castle at Westminster, the Lord Chief Justice, Warwick, and the younger Princes--Prince John, Clarence, and Gloucester--meet. We learn that King Henry IV has finally died and that everyone in the castle is frightened of what will happen to them, and to the rule of law, now that Prince Hal is in charge. The Lord Chief Justice, especially, expects nothing but evil to befall him, since he has never shied away from scolding Hal for his violations of the law. Moreover, he is responsible for briefly imprisoning Hal (when Hal struck him once in a dispute), and he is the most despised enemy of Hal's lawless friends, particularly Falstaff. The young princes urge the Justice to speak flatteringly to Falstaff now, but the Justice says that he has always done what he believes is right, and he will not compromise now.

Prince Hal enters, dressed in the royal robes of the king. From now on he is King Henry V. The new king Henry addresses his brothers and the courtiers: he tells them that they should not be afraid that he, as the new King, will do them any harm. Still, he notices that they are looking at him strangely--especially the Justice. King Henry V reminds the Justice of the "indignities" that he subjected him to while he was still a prince, by rebuking and punishing him when he broke the law. But the Justice says that he was only acting to maintain the laws and order of Henry IV, the new king's own father. He asks Henry V to imagine himself in a similar situation and decide whether the Justice was wrong.

King Henry V, in an unexpected move, agrees with the Justice. He tells him that he has always been wise and just, and he thanks the Justice for having punished him when he was a wild young prince. Moreover, he tells the Justice that not only may he keep his job, but he will have great honor; he asks the Justice to serve as a father figure to him, teaching him how to honorably keep order and helping him keep his own sons in line whenever he might have them.

Commentary

Falstaff's return to Gloucestershire in V.i brings us back to another of Shakespeare's homely, humorous depictions of country life. Once again, the detailed attention to the small banalities of ordinary life--the blacksmith's latest bill for shoeing the horses, a heated argument between two local men, how to go about tapping the wages of a servant who lost a sack of grain at the market fair--reminds us that there is more to the world than the conspiracies of noblemen in their castles. Falstaff's thoughts of Prince Hal and how he can make him laugh are touching, and they become even more so when Hal rejects Falstaff in subsequent scenes.

The official transformation of the wild Prince Hal to the regal King Henry V in V.ii is a turning point in the play, and it makes his speeches in this scene, particularly those addressed to the Chief Justice, especially important. The terror with which the noblemen of the court--even Hal's own younger brothers--regard the new king shows us how genuinely amoral they think Hal is. Having not heard the conversation between Prince Hal and his father in IV.v, in which Hal swore to be a worthy king, they still think of Hal as being full of "riot." They are probably also reminded of the speeches in which Henry IV speculated on the violence and anarchy that he thought would accompany Hal's rise to power (IV.iv).

Many critics feel that this scene shows the final conclusion of Hal's inner journey from youth to maturity, from wildness to responsibility, and from "riot" to law and order. He no longer thinks that his royal birth is something that should make his life more carefree (if, in fact, he ever did); he has learned what his father knew, that "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown" (III.i.30-31). That is, power brings with it more responsibility, not less, and a responsible ruler is, almost by definition, unfree. The understanding of these crucial paradoxes of power is finally visible in King Henry V's newly solemn bearing and powerful, humorless speech.

Henry V's decision to accept the Lord Chief Justice as his "father" is particularly significant. "You shall be as a father to my youth," he tells the Justice. "My voice shall sound as you do prompt mine ear, / And I will stoop and humble mine intents / To your well-practis'd wise directions" (118-121). Later, he actually addresses the Justice as "father" (140). Critics have long seen this as the penultimate step in Hal's rejection of Falstaff and everything he stands for--wild life, anarchy, violation of the law, and wit at the cost of responsibility. Falstaff was Prince Hal's father figure, but the Lord Chief Justice is King Henry V's father figure--the ultimate emblem of the rule of law and of responsibility and Falstaff's opposite.

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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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