Henry IV, Part 2
Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
HENRY IV, PART 2
Shallow hosts Falstaff at his home and gives dinner orders to his servant Davy in a befuddled manner. Davy concurrently tries to get a word in on behalf of one William Visor of Woncote in a legal suit:
I grant your worship that he is a knave, sir; but yet God forbid, sir, but a knave should have some countenance at his friend’s request. An honest man, sir, is able to speak for himself, when a knave is not. (V.i.43-47)
The reference to this William “Visor” (mask?) who is a knave who cannot speak for himself is intriguing, and some of the cryptic material in this scene may also refer to Burghley (Ogburn and Ogburn 997).
Shallow thinks he’s networking since Falstaff is Hal’s pal and presumably will eventually have an in at the royal court. But Falstaff has no respect for Shallow, as he makes clear: “I will devise matter enough out of this Shallow to keep Prince Harry in continual laughter the wearing out of six fashions” (V.i.78-80).
The Lord Chief Justice hears that Henry IV is dead and worries about his prospects now that he’s made some enemies, meaning Prince Hal — now Henry V. Warwick agrees that he’s in trouble. In general, everyone expects the worst, and Warwick wishes Hal were more like any of the other brothers: John of Lancaster, Thomas of Clarence, or Humphrey of Gloucester. Clarence anticipates that the Chief Justice will now have to kowtow to Falstaff. But Henry V enters and assures everyone that they need not fear him: “This is the English, not the Turkish court” (V.ii.47); he’ll act as a kind of father to his brothers (V.ii.57). And to the man’s surprise, Hal commends the wisdom and fairness of the Chief Justice. He plans to assemble the high court of Parliament to select advisors and create a glorious reign.
Peachy. But “What became of the Chief Justice in Henry V?” (Goddard, I 202).
Shallow, Silent, Falstaff, and Bardolph drink wine. Pardoxically, Silent becomes the life of the party when drunk and can’t be shut up. Davy announces Pistol, who in his blustering way reveals that Henry IV has died and Henry V is now king. For future reference, take note of his use of the word “foutre” (V.iii.99, 115). Falstaff now cananticipate a life of leisure and makes grand promises to Pistol and Shallow. He also will have vengeance on the Lord Chief Justice. Silent has passed out.
An uncomfortably disturbing and “sordid little episode” before the coronation scene is often omitted from performances (Wells 150): Mistress Quickly and Doll Tearsheet are hauled off by a Beadle and his officers to prison. Apparently order is being restored on all levels, but this seems to signal like police state dynamics. Quickly cries police brutality: a dislocated shoulder; Doll is to be publicly whipped — the punishment for prostitution. She claims to be pregnant and threatens the officials with a possible miscarriage. The Beadle is sure she’s faking pregnancy: if she miscarry, “you shall have a dozen of cushions again; you have but eleven now” (V.iv.14-15). Mention is made of a man or two having been killed, beaten to death by her and Pistol. Are these the consequences of excessive tolerance under Henry IV, now to be amended under a law-and-order king, Henry V?
The rejection scene is the climax of the play. Hal’s comic scenes have diminished in preparation for the rejection of Falstaff, the first drastic indication of the new cold and calculating Henry V. In fact, Falstaff is seen with Hal only twice in this play: in the tawdry scene of erotic pathos with Doll Tearsheet, and then this brutal insult and rejection.
Outside Westminster Abbey where the coronation will take place, the crowd cheers the approaching Henry V. Falstaff arrives with Shallow, Pistol, Bardolph, and his page. Falstaff has what he thinks is a superfluous thousand pounds from Shallow now that he’ll be a favored courtier; Shallow expects he’ll receive a knightship. Pistol reports of the arrest of Doll:
Thy Doll, and Helen of thy noble thoughts,
Is in base durance and contagious prison,
By most mechanical and dirty hand.
Note the short line, drawing attention to “Hal”ed?
Pistol is said to be speaking “nought but truth” (V.v.38) — sort of vero nihil verius. Falstaff thinks he will be able to arrange for Doll’s release.
When Henry passes by and Falstaff joyously greets him, the moment is “one of the most devastating in any of Shakespeare’s plays” (Garber 357). Henry’s words are: “I know thee not, old man” (V.v.47).
Then he subjects Falstaff to a lecture about what an embarrassment he is, and a glutton. “How ill white hairs becomes a fool and jester!” (V.v.48). Falstaff should concern himself with the state of his soul. “Leave gormandizing” (V.v.53). Henry banishes Falstaff in the form of a restraining order — Falstaff is not to come within ten miles of the King. “Falstaff is thus publicly repudiated and humiliated” (Asimov 417). Is Henry a “coldhearted prig”? “Accepting the Shakespearean situation, we must see that Falstaff had invited the public humiliation by accosting the new King publicly, and on the coronation day of all times” (Asimov 417). Falstaff will receive a small allowance so that he doesn’t turn to thievery to make a living. “Surely this is decent treatment” (Asimov 418). But “Falstaff, once Hal is crowned, becomes a figure to be dreaded, to be banished ten miles from the royal person. In the cruel speech of rejection, Henry V is at some trouble to ensure that Falstaff be given no opportunity of dialogue” (Bloom 277).
Falstaff inwardly collapses. Henry moves on and Falstaff is immediately concerned about the thousand pounds he borrowed from Shallow. He tries to bluff about the former Prince Hal having to put on this show in public but that he, Falstaff, will be sent for privately; but he doesn’t believe it and neither does Shallow. They all plan to go off to dinner, but the Lord Chief Justice and Prince John enter with officers and Falstaff and the rest are led off to the Fleet — London Prison. Words and wit have abandoned Falstaff, and he can only mutter, “My lord, my lord–” (V.v.93). “Shakespeare spares us the sadness of the hearing; perhaps we might venture that Shakespeare also spared himself, since nothing appropriate remains for Falstaff to experience, except for his beautiful death scene as reported by Mistress Quickly and his other survivors in Henry V” (Bloom 306).
The Chief Justice and John approve of Henry V’s resolve, and they expect we’ll all be off with our “civil swords” (V.v.106) to war with France soon, oh happy day. “From snatching travelers’ purses in pure fun, Henry goes on to annexing crowns that do not belong to him in dead earnest…. An amateur retail robber becomes a professional wholesale one. ‘Leave gormandizing,’ he says to Falstaff, and turns to his attempt to swallow France” (Goddard, I 211).
An Epilogue, apparently in Shakespeare’s own voice and “written when Henry the Fifth was still only in the planning stage” (Wells 150), speaks directly of the company’s next intentions with the chronicle history. At this point we can expect more fun with Falstaff, but of course Shakespeare’s plans changed and he kills off Falstaff early in Henry V.
Apparently the Cobhams objected to their ancestor Sir John Oldcastle being depicted in an earlier version of the Henry IV plays, prompting Shakespeare to change the name to Falstaff. “Oldcastle was viewed as a proto-Protestant and martyr” (Asimov 329). Note that Shakespeare does not say that the character is entirely fictional, just that he’s not Oldcastle (Ogburn and Ogburn 716).
Some seeming stylistic inconsistences at one time had Shakespeareans suggesting that latter portions of the play were collaborative. An older Oxfordian explanation was that when Oxford received his short-lived commission for service in the Low Countries he left the half-done play to be finished by his secretaries/associates or the “University Wits” (Clark 746).
One way of mapping the decline is to notice how much of this play is written in prose. Almost every scene in verse is followed immediately by a longer one in prose, full of topical humor, bawdy puns, sexual innuendo and braggadocio, and endless discussions of how much things cost. The prose world is swallowing up the world of poetry…. (Garber 348)
Part Two is a “darker work than Part One; “Military success is achieved through treachery and subterfuge rather than valor and heroism” (Farina 120). The elder Ogburns think that part of the issue in the final version of the plays we have concerns the rightful heir inheriting vs. an outsider (Ogburn and Ogburn 1195). They also suspect that Oxford tried in the end to bequeath the Shakespeare name onto Southampton (Ogburn and Ogburn 1197).
“The king’s role … is a quintessentially lonely one, and the lack of forgiveness shown to Falstaff is part of the cost of being King” (Garber 357). Huh? The rejection of Falstaff makes us rethink Hal throughout the two Henry IV plays and casts an interesting shadow over the supposedly glorious flag-waving thrills of Henry V. Why did Hal hang out with Falstaff to begin with? Was it a need to prove something to himself? That he can hold his own in wit? “To reject Falstaff is to reject Shakespeare” (Bloom 278). Falstaff will die the death of a rejected father-substitute and dishonored mentor. But while Hotspur and Henry IV were merely in the way of Hal’s route to the crown and did not constitute an inward menace, Falstaff must be banished. Obviously he poses a real inward threat to Hal’s sense of identity. “Falstaff’s irreverence is life-enhancing but state-destroying…. the heroic posturings at Agincourt could not withstand a Falstaffian commentary, a counterchorus that would have sunk the play, however gloriously” (Bloom 282). Expect repression, a horrifying psychology portrait, and an even more horrifying roar of popularity with Henry V. It’ll be like our own times.