Sunday, February 13, 2011

Optional Work: Henry IV Part II

Thanks to my Shakespeare app on my iPhone and the mostly quiet atmosphere of the UTSA library during my lunch hour, I managed to finish Henry IV Part II. It is not as exciting as Part I, and it is not as humorous, mostly due to Falstaff and Hal almost entirely separate story lines. The play even borderlines on the tragic side as Falstaff is ultimately rejected by the newly crowned King Henry V. It is one of the scenes that is painful to read because we all know what is about to happen, and yet Falstaff is more confident as opposed to even just hopeful, and why wouldn’t he be? The rejection of Falstaff is when one those issues in literature that has been solved, and yet it remains unresolved (if that makes any sense). I would not be surprised if the issue does not come up during the exam for those people who choose to add this play to their exam reading list.


Henry IV Part II is of course a history play just like Part I. Just like with my previous post, I will save the rest of my comments on the actual history for the history section of this post.


In this play, King Henry IV actually has a more prominent role in this play, and there is less focus on Prince Hal and Falstaff. Falstaff is still around, and he is still unreliable. Hal is still playing tricks on him. Hal is also in the process of going down the final road to becoming king, as his father is ill and it is generally assumed that he will not be alive much longer. There is even a moment when the King and his prodigal son of sorts are able to have a type of reconciliation. For me, this pinpoints the moment when Hal begins his “change” that he had been planning on all along. There is also some focus on Falstaff’s age and the fact the he himself may be close to death. In Henry V, the fat knight actually dies and his death is attributed to Hal’s rejection.

This play also includes yet another uprising against King Henry IV, but this one is defeated not by a battle, but by the machinations of Hal’s brother, Prince John. It would appear that trickery and manipulative behavior are not traits that are exclusive to Hal when it comes to the royal family. But I suppose it cannot really be that surprising as their father took the crown from Richard II with much of the same type of behavior.

Meanwhile, Falstaff appears to be even more involved in the London underworld, and even looks for a wife among the prostitutes. After Hal inevitably rejects him, there is an epilogue at the end of the play that promises the story will continue with Falstaff in it. However, anyone who has read Henry V knows that Falstaff is not in it, and he is only mentioned when others are discussing his sickness and eventual death.


Last week I discussed the history of the text more than I did the actual history during the time of King Henry IV’s reign. He came to the throne after the deposition of his cousin, Richard II. Henry’s father was John of Gaunt, someone who enjoyed a position of considerable influence during the reign of Richard II. And while Henry actually participated in a rebellion against his cousin, he wasn’t punished, but was actually elevated by the king from the position of an Earl to that of a Duke. Of course, their relationship did not remain this close, especially after Richard had him banished then attempted to take away the land he was to inherit from his father. Henry manages to gain enough military support to have himself crowned king, and have Richard thrown in jail. And then, enter the rebellions and assignation attempts. Many have argued that the issues he had while he was king came from the fact that he was never meant to take the throne. I could go on and on with all of the different issues considering the Lancaster branch of the Plantagenets, but that would be a never-ending discussion.

Next week I will return to medieval literature with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Hopefully I will survive, because I really want to discuss Shakespeare’s The Tempest afterwards.

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