Henry IV, Part 2
Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
HENRY IV, PART 2
In the wee hours, an insomniacal King Henry IV is not just guilt-ridden now, but also ill; and sickness continues serving as a metaphor and theme running throughout the play (e.g., III.i.38-40). Henry has never been able to forget the usurpation, and doesn’t understand his son, so Shakespeare may be attempting to create a somewhat moving portrayal of this king. The anxieties expressed in this scene look back to Richard II and ahead to Henry V. Henry moans about his insomnia in a famous line: “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown” (III.i.31).
Henry consults the Earls of Warwick and Surrey about the rebellion. He reflects back on the events recounted in the earlier plays, insisting that he never planned a usurpation:
(Though then, God knows, I had no such intent
But that necessity so bow’d the state
That I and greatness were compell’d to kiss)…
He also recalls Richard II’s prophecy about the eventual rift with Northumberland. But Warwick is encouraging and tells Henry that at least Glendower is dead. Henry will rest now and travel to the Holy Land soon.
Justice Shallow meets kinsman Justice Silent and conversation includes mention of cousin William being “a good scholar … at Oxford” (III.ii.10) before drifting around to Shallow’s good old days when he and Falstaff sowed their wild oats. Sir John then did “break Scoggin’s head at the court-gate” (III.ii.30). Of course, most of the old chums are dead now, including someone named Double: “John a’ Gaunt loved him well and betted much money on his head” (III.ii.44-45). If the reference to Robin Nightwork 55 years ago (III.ii.214-217) means anything, is it related to the fact that Leicester (Elizabeth’s “Sweet Robin”) was 55 in 1586 (Ogburn and Ogburn 726)? The Scoggin and Gaunt references are connected to Chaucer by Thomas H. McNeal [“Henry IV, Parts I and II, and Speght’s First Edition of Geffrey Chaucer,” The Shakespeare Association Bulletin 21.2 (April 1946): 87-93].
Shallow speaks of death and the price of livestock in the same breath. Bardolph enters, then Falstaff, and Shallow has some men to be examined as potential recruits for Falstaff, who makes witty remarks about their names (Mouldy, Shadow, Wart) and rather arbitrarily accepts some and rejects others in this scene seeming to function as a satire on recruitment malpractices.
Falstaff, remarking nostalgically that “We have heard the chimes at midnight, Master Shallow” (III.ii.214-215), goes off with the vain Shallow and the silent Silent while two of the recruits try to bribe Bardolph to get out of duty. Surprisingly, another named Feeble proves rather valiant: “I’ll ne’er a base mind” (III.ii.235; cf. 240). Falstaff returns and approves of the defections, noting that although those avoiding the war are of sound body, it’s spirit that Falstaff values (III.ii.257ff). Falstaff plans to capitalize on Shallow’s fondness for yammering enthusiastically about the old days: “and every third word a lie, duer paid to the hearer than the Turk’s tribute” (III.ii.306-308). “And now is this Vice’s dagger become a squire, and talks as familiarly of John a’ Gaunt as if he had been a sworn brother to him, and I’ll be sworn ‘a ne’er saw him but once in the Tilt-yard” (III.ii.319-322).
Various references in this scene and the historical setting of the play put one in mind of Chaucer, though the father of English poetry is never mentioned. Chaucer does seem to have been something of a “sworn brother” to John of Gaunt and he wrote an envoy to someone named Scogin.