Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Henry IV, Part 2

Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University



The Archbishop of York, Mowbray, Lord Bardolph, Hastings, and other rebels await word on the size of the army led by one of Hal’s brother’s, Prince John of Lancaster. Northumberland has weaseled out again — perhaps Falstaff-like — and sends them his best. Royalist Westmoreland brings a message and inquires about the Archbishop’s traitorous behavior:

Turning your books to graves, your ink to blood,
Your pens to lances, your tongue divine
To a loud trumpet and a point of war?

The Archbishop says that the King is a disease, and further grievances are aired by all: “When we are wrong’d and would unfold our griefs, / We are denied access unto his person / Even by those men that most have done us wrong” (IV.i.77-79) — a complaint also at the heart of the 1601 Essex “Rebellion.” The debate continues, but Westmoreland eventually gets to the point: Prince John is not only willing to give them audience but may be persuaded by their case. Mowbray is distrustful, but Hastings and the Archbishop give this a positive reading: the King is too beset with problems to snub this opportunity for peace.

His foes are so enrooted with his friends
That, plucking to unfix an enemy,
He doth unfasten so and shake a friend,
So that this land, like an offensive wife
That hath enrag’d him on to offer strokes,
As he is striking, holds his infant up
And hangs resolv’d correction in the arm
That was uprear’d to execution.

So they will meet with Prince John. “Our peace will, like a broken limb united, / Grow stronger for the breaking” (IV.i.220-221).


“The most decisive and successful leader in this play, Prince John, is also its least attractive character,” and possibly “as the Prince of Wales comes closer to the throne, so he comes more closely to resemble his younger brother” (Wells 149). Prince John greets Mowbray, Hastings, and the Archbishop. He convinces them to lay down arms and disband the army, then betrays his word and arrests them for treason.

I promis’d you redress of these same grievances
Whereof you did complain, which, by mine honor,
I will perform with a most Christian care.

Thus John succeeds over the rebel forces by means of a cold, calculated ruse, not by any valor. He represents a new machiavellian sort of political expediency and efficiency. Historically, the betrayal was carried out by Westmoreland, Lancaster being only 16 years old at the time (Asimov 406). Oxfordians have speculated about John being a depiction of Burghley, but certainly his son Robert Cecil fits the unscrupulous bill (Ogburn and Ogburn 728). Consider the accession of James (IV.ii.82ff) that some see possibly alluded to here (Ogburn and Ogburn 1194).


A rebel soldier, Colevile, who knows Falstaff by his girth, surrenders to him. Prince John, Westmoreland, and Sir Blunt arrive and Prince John mocks Falstaff’s cowardice. Falstaff acts hurt — “I never knew yet but rebuke and check was the reward of valor” (IV.iii.31-32) — instead comparing himself with Caesar for capturing the one supposedly dangerous enemy: “I came, saw, and overcame” (IV.iii.41-42). Falstaff threatens that if his deed is not recorded with other valiant deeds of the day, he will have the event published in a broadside, with an image of Colevile kissing his foot.

Historically, Prince John was responsible for bringing the Lollard, Sir John Oldcastle, back to London for trial in 1417, and he was also present at the execution: Oldcastle’s roasting over a slow fire. So this encounter in the play has a chilling hidden significance (Asimov 408).

Captives are to be taken to York for execution and the Prince must go visit his ill father the King. John tells Falstaff he “Shall better speak of you than you deserve” (IV.iii.85), and afterwards Falstaff soliloquizes on his disregard for Prince John, who, of all things, doesn’t drink: “this same young sober-blooded boy doth not love me, nor a man cannot make him laugh, but that’s no marvel, he drinks no wine” (IV.iii.87-89). Falstaff renders a discourse on the benefits of alcohol, including a kind of chemical anatomy of wit. He tells Bardolph he will take up with Justice Shallow now.


Henry, in his sick room, still babbles to his sons Thomas and Humphrey, and to Warwick, about crusading to the Holy Land. He asks about Hal and is disappointed to learn that the heir to the throne remains among his lowlife companions. Henry instructs Thomas in being a wise counselor, to his own future advantage. Good news about the end of the rebellion arrives, and Northumberland too has been defeated. Northumberland had, in Richard II, betrayed and hounded Richard; in Henry IV, Part 1 had betrayed Henry and then his own son; and in this play betrayed the Archbishop of York. So we’re pleased to be rid of this guy finally (Asimov 409).

Hal’s and Oxford’s “zest for bohemian ways” had been at stake in early versions of this material. In the final revision of the play, however, Oxford may have speculated on the death of his monarch and perhaps his own death: see Clarence’s words (IV.iv.125-128) in this regard (Ogburn and Ogburn 727), and the fact that Henry was a man of action, not a great thinker (IV.iv.102ff). This is perhaps Oxford “exhausted from intense intellectual activity” (Ogburn and Ogburn 1194).


Henry goes to another room and asks for his crown to be placed on the pillow beside him. Hal now enters and thinks Henry is dead. He remarks on the cares of the crown, sort of, and puts it on:

Lo where it sits,
Which God shall guard; and put 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.

Hal takes the crown into another room.

Taking the crown while the monarch is still alive may refer to the Essex Rebellion (Ogburn and Ogburn 1193). In any case, Henry wakes up and calls for the others. He learns that Hal was in the room and laments the future of the kingdom with a suspect bee analogy (IV.v.74f). Henry summons his heir, accusing Hal of being overly zealous in snatching the crown:

Thou hast stol’n that which after some few hours
Were thine without offense, and at my death Thou hast seal’d up my expectation.

Henry continue a long tirade, again expressing dread over the future of the kingdom under the rule of Hal.

Hal finally defends himself, claiming he had been too grief-stricken to speak: “O, pardon me, my liege! but for my tears, / The moist impediments unto my speech, / I had forestall’d this dear and deep rebuke” (IV.v.138-140). He protests his devotion to his father and says he was heart-stricken to find what he thought was the death of Henry: “If I do feign, / O, let me in my present wildness die” (IV.v.151-152). He claims was merely upbraiding the crown (“bad crown!”), not being avaricious.

Thus, my most royal liege,
Accusing it, I put it on my head,
To try with it, as with an enemy,
That had before my face murdered my father….

(Has Hal learned some tricks from Falstaff?) Henry believes him and is relieved. “God knows, my son, / By what by-paths and indirect crook’d ways / I met this crown” (IV.v.183-185). He wishes Hal a peaceful reign and gives some quick advice about ruling, including this gem: “Therefore, my Harry, / Be it thy course to busy giddy minds / With foreign quarrels” (IV.v.213-214). “This course of advocating a foreign war merely to solve domestic problems seems to us today to be completely immoral” (Asimov 412); but Asimov was writing close to 40 years ago. Now it’s de rigueur. As for the conclusion of Henry IV’s advice, “Was there ever such a ‘therefore’? ‘My reign was a futile one: therefore, go thou and do likewise. Use the trick I planned to use.’ Or to put it even more cynically: ‘Make war, dear boy, and God grant your reign may be a peaceful one'” (Goddard, I 197).

Goddard makes much of the fact that Prince John enters at this precise point (Goddard, I 197). Others enter, and Henry learns that the room in which he is dying is called the Jerusalem Chamber. Henry IV died on 20 March 1413 at the age of 47 (Asimov 413). As composer and American national treasure Carmen Lombardo wrote so eloquently, “Boo Hoo.”

Act V