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PlayShakespeare.com: The Ultimate Free Shakespeare Resource
PlayShakespeare.com: The Ultimate Free Shakespeare Resource

Henry 4, Part 2 Synopsis

Period written: 1598
First known performance:

Good and bad rumours of the outcome at the battle of Shrewsbury reach the ears of Northumberland and other rebels. When he learns the truth, and hears of the approach of the King’s forces, he makes plans to join with the Archbishop of York, who is also preparing a force; but Lady Northumberland manages to dissuade her husband from joining with the Archbishop.

Falstaff, about to travel north to recruit soldiers, receives a series of rebukes from the Lord Chief Justice. Mistress Quickly tries to have him arrested for debts, but he manages to appease her. He then engages in a mixture of banter and quarrelling with Doll and Pistol. Prince Henry and Poins disguise themselves as tavern men and spy on Falstaff. They overhear him being scornful at their expense and then confront him. The revelry is disrupted by a call to arms.

King Henry reflects on the nature of kingship, and discusses the state of the kingdom with Warwick and Surrey. Falstaff travels north, passing through Gloucestershire, where he visits two justices, Shallow and Silence, whom he knows of old. They have assembled a number of local men for Falstaff and Bardolph to conscript, and a selection is made in which bribery proves to be a more important factor than fighting ability.

The Archbishop, Mowbray, and Hastings meet Westmoreland and explain their grievances, which he agrees to put before Prince John. John agrees to see the grievances redressed and the rebels dismiss their army. But John then arrests the rebel leaders and has the scattered army pursued. One of the rebels, Colevile, yields to Falstaff, who then has to defend his achievement against Prince John’s skepticism.

The King, now very ill, hears news of the rebel overthrow, and takes to his bed to sleep. When Prince Henry visits him, he thinks his father is dead, which causes him to reflect on the burden of kingship and take up the crown. After leaving the room, the King awakes. Seeing the crown gone, he accuses his son of wanting him dead, but the Prince resolves his fears and they are reconciled. The King dies soon after. News of his death alarms the lords, and especially the Lord Chief Justice, fearful that the Prince as King will exact retribution for previous chastisement. But Henry affirms his intention to rule wisely, and reappoints the Chief Justice.

Falstaff, on his way back to London, has stopped off again in Gloucestershire. He is drinking with Shallow and Silence when Pistol brings news of the King’s death. They travel to London immediately, where Mistress Quickly and Doll have been arraigned by beadles. They wait in the street to see the King, expecting to be shown favour, but Henry firmly rejects Falstaff, who is then sent to Fleet prison with his companions. Prince John reflects on the likelihood that the next major political event will be a French campaign.

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