Henry IV Part 2

Henry IV Part 2 Summary and Analysis of Act 4

Scene One:

In Gaultree Forest, the Archbishop of York, Hastings, and Mowbray wait with their officers. The Archbishop shares the bad news: Northumberland has sent word that he will not join them. The men remain committed to their cause, and their forces are about to clash with the army of the king. An envoy approaches: it is Westmoreland, who addresses the men respectfully and asks to listen to the rebels' grievances. He promises that if the rebels give up their war, the king will hear their complaints and seek to address them. The Archbishop and Mowbray begin to speak of some of their grievances. At first, the rebels, particularly Mowbray, are skeptical. The Archbishop gives Westmoreland a piece of paper detailing the rebels' grievances, and Westmoreland brings the message back to Prince John. The rebels discuss this development. The Archbishop in particular trusts the king to keep to his word.

Prince John enters; he speaks to the men in a much more disrespectful and much less conciliatory tone than Westmoreland did. But he promises that the men's concerns will be addressed. The rebels take his word for it, and they send orders to disband their army. The Prince is supposed to do the same. The men all begin to drink together, making pleasant conversation. But once the rebel army is disbanded, the rebel leaders are arrested. They are to be executed promptly: when the Archbishop accuses the prince of going back on his word, Prince John says that he only promised that the men's concerns would be addressed. Their grievances will indeed be addressed, but the rebels will die traitors' deaths.

Scene Two:

After the battle of Shrewsbury, rumor gave Falstaff a (false) reputation as a great warrior. Familiar with this reputation, a rebel knight named Colevile meets Falstaff and promptly surrenders to him. Prince John enters, reproaching Falstaff for arriving so late. Falstaff offers his prisoner. John asks questions of the prisoner, who admits he was a rebel knight. He speaks defiantly to John. The prince orders for Colevile to be sent with other rebels to York for execution. Falstaff asks permission to return home, going through Gloucestershire. Permission is granted, and all but Falstaff exit. Falstaff speaks of how much Prince John dislikes him, and he blames the boy's sourness on not enough drink. He praises alcohol and its many positive affects on character. Bardolph enters, and Falstaff tells him that they shall now head back to Gloucesterschire to swindle Justice Shallow.

Scene Three:

The king waits for the news about the battle, hoping that a clean victory will mean that he finally will go on his Crusade. He asks where Prince Hal is, but receives a false answer. The king speaks to Thomas of Clarence, one of Hal's brothers. He observes that Thomas is the brother Hal loves best; therefore, the king advises, Thomas must remain close to Hal and act as a mediator between Hal and the other brothers. Thomas promises that he will. King Henry asks where Hal is now, and Thomas reports that Hal is dining in London with Poins and company. The king speaks bitterly of the prince's excesses. Hal's bad choice of company causes the king great pain. Warwick tells the king that he need not fear: the prince studies the Eastcheap crowd to gain knowledge, but once the knowledge is gained he will associate with them no longer.

Westmoreland enters with news of victory at Gaultree Forest. Harcourt enters with more good news: the forces of Northumberland and Lord Bardolph have been defeated by the Sheriff of Yorkshire. The king swoons. His sons fret over his unconscious body: Thomas of Clarence points out that the river has flowed three times, with no ebb, and the elderly say that the last time it behaved this way was before the death of their great-grandfather, Edgar. King Henry revives, and asks to be brought to a bed in another chamber.

Prince Hal enters, asking about the king's health. They tell him it is not good, but Hal says the good news should revive him. All exit except Hal, who stays to keep watch over his father. Hal, not seeing any sign of breathing, thinks the king is dead. He takes the crown and puts it on his own head, exiting with it. The king wakes, and calls for Warwick, Gloucester, and Clarence. On hearing that Prince Hal has returned, he sends Warwick to summon him; on seeing that the crown is missing, King Henry quickly figures out why. He angrily speaks of how greed puts an end to love and filial piety. Warwick returns, saying that the prince was weeping in a nearby room. The king demands to speak to Hal alone.

In a beautiful and moving passage (4.3.245-292), the king speaks of how Hal has shown all his life that he does not love his father, and now he makes sure that the king dies knowing it. He also speaks with worry about the prince's choice of friends; King Henry has misgivings about Hal's ability to rule effectively. Hal pleads for his father's forgiveness, saying that he looked at the crown as a burden that crushes its wearer. He sought to try it on, as one confronts an enemy. His excuse is for the most part true. His father accepts Hal's reasons, and he gives Hal a final bit of advice. With the rebels put down, now England is unified, strong enough to make war on foreign soil. The king's Crusade will never come in his lifetime, but Hal must take advantage of the new stability to enlarge the domain of England. Hal promises he will. Prince John, accompanied by the others, enters to see his father. The king tells them to carry him to the Jerusalem chamber to die. He says it was prophesied that he should die in Jerusalem, and he thought it meant he would die in the Holy Land.

Act IV Analysis:

The incident at Gaultree Forest is another parallel-contrast between 1 Henry IV and <>2 Henry IV. Like the first play, this play heads toward a showdown between the forces of the king and the rebels. But unlike the first play, which climaxed in a great battle and Hotspur's honorable death in battle, this play gives us deception and the distasteful treachery of Prince John. The rebels are honorable men with legitimate grievances against the king; Prince John obeys the letter of his vow, but not the spirit. Restoring order to the land seems not only bloody, but morally dubious. Even the semblance of honor is gone.

Again, Falstaff's antics seem out of place. Although Colevile's surrender to Falstaff initially seems comic, the laughs stop when Prince John orders Colevile's execution. We are going to have more of Falstaff's antics in Gloucestershire, but in the context of the treachery of Gaultree and the impending death of Henry IV, Falstaff's humor is becoming increasingly distasteful.

The king knows very well that his death is approaching. His advice to Thomas of Clarence, given even before he swoons, has the taste of a man's parting words to his son. The theme of expectation is important here, and prophecy plays a role. The princes speak of the river's strange behavior, which anticipates the king's death. And the prophecy of the king dying in Jerusalem will also be fulfilled, although not in the manner expected: the king is to die in the Jerusalem chamber.

Hal's excuses to his father are true enough, but there is an element of eagerness in his taking of the crown. Although joy is not one of his emotions, he takes the crown with the eagerness of one fulfilling his destiny. The last scene between Hal and King Henry is powerful; as expected, there is some element of bitterness in King Henry's words to his son. The theme of time and death and the theme of fathers and sons are central in this scene: there is a handing of the crown from one generation to the next, forgiveness, and expectation. King Henry speaks of how Hal's behavior has continually disappointed him throughout the years. But Hal promises that his reign will not disgrace his father's memory. The theme of atonement is important in understanding both Hal and his father. For all of his past outrages, Hal still wants to win his father's approval: it can only come now in the form of a promise, but in Henry V, Hal will make good on his word. He will be the kind of king of whom his father would have approved.