It’s kind of odd how I got the gist of this one better than 1 Henry IV, and yet it just didn’t feel as good. It felt a bit muted, as if Shakespeare was having fun experimenting and biding his time, but ultimately, there wasn’t much cohesiveness to it.
2 Henry IV is about King Henry IV and his son, Prince Harry (soon to be Henry V) and their relationship. But that only crops up in small doses. Even Prince Henry doesn’t get as much a part, though Henry and Harry get the best monologues of the play.
The king is dying after the battle of Shrewsbury, where the Prince killed Northumberland’s son, Percy Hotspur. But rebellion is still stirring again, gathered around the Earl of Northumberland, who is having trouble with the idea of going to war again after losing his son. Prince Harry seems to have backslid into his roguish ways a bit, though the king doesn’t seem to be aware that he’s spent less time with his thieving friends than before. Sir John and the friends made out well as far as their riches and reputation go by serving with the Prince at Shrewsbury and helping put down pockets of rebellion. Harry even let Sir John take the credit for killing Hotspur, which has given him more fame than he’d otherwise deserve.
Perhaps this was a gift of sorts, knowing the prince would have to leave this odd friendship behind for good when he ascended the throne.
But in between the scenes of King Henry and of Sir John, there are some dealings with the rebellious lords, contemplating what’s to be done and raising armies. Prince John (Harry’s younger brother) figures out how to deal with them pretty effectively by the end.
All in all, it’s very loosely wrapped up and not as impressive as the other monarchical history plays I’ve read. There just seems to be too much and not enough going on, and the comedic moments with Sir John aren’t as good as before.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been ill for over a week and still have a medication hangover, but I just couldn’t quite get into this one. It feels very much like a stepping-stone to hurry up and get to Henry V, the story about the king Shakespeare really admired and wanted to tell.
That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t some good points, some notable quotables, as usual:
NORTHUMBERLAND: What news, Lord Bardolph? Every minute now
Should be the father of some stratagem.
The times are wild; contention, like a horse
Full of high feeding, madly hath broke loose,
And bears down all before him.
–Act 1, Scene 1
LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: I sent for you, when there ere matters against you for your life, to come speak with me.
SIR JOHN: As I was then advised by my learned counsel in the laws of this land-service, I did not come.
LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: Well, the truth is, Sir John, you live in great infamy.
SIR JOHN: He that buckles himself in my belt cannot live in less.
LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: Your means are very slender, and your waste is great.
SIR JOHN: I would it were otherwise; I would my means were greater and my waist slenderer.
LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: You have misled the youthful Prince.
SIR JOHN: The young Prince hath misled me. I am the fellow with the great belly, and he my dog.
LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: Well, I am loath to gall a new-healed wound. Your day’s service at Shrewsbury hath a little gilded over your night’s exploit on Gads Hill. you may thank th’unquiet time for your quiet o’erposting that action.
SIR JOHN: My lord–
LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: But since all is well, keep it so. Wake not a sleeping wolf.
–Act 1, Scene 2
PRINCE HARRY: Marry, I tell thee, it is not meet that I should be sad now my father is sick; albeit I could tell to thee, as to one it pleases me, for fault of a better, to call my friend. I could be sad; and sad indeed, too.
POINS: Very hardly, upon such a subject.
PRINCE HARRY: By this hand, thou thinkest me as far in the devil’s book as thou and Falstaff, for obduracy and persistency. let the end try the man. But I tell thee, my heart bleeds inwardly that my father is so sick; and keeping such vile company as thou art hath, in reason, taken from me all ostentation of sorrow.
POINS: The reason?
PRINCE HARRY: What wouldst thou think of me if I should weep?
POINS: I would think thee a most princely hypocrite.
PRINCE HARRY: It would be every man’s thought, and thou art a blessed fellow to think as every man thinks. Never a man’s thought in the world keeps the roadway better than thine. Every man would think me a hypocrite indeed. And what accites your most worshipful thought to think so?
POINS: Why, because you have been so lewd, and so much engrafted to Falstaff.
PRINCE HARRY: And to thee.
POINS: By this light, I am well spoke on; I can hear it with mine own ears. The worst that they can say of me is that I am a second brother, and that I am a proper fellow of my hands; and those two things I confess I cannot help.
–Act 2, Scene 1
There are plenty more, but they’re lengthy and I’m about to fall asleep typing (hee hee).