Norman N. Holland
Department of English
University of Florida
P. O. Box 117310
Gainesville FL 32611-7310 U.S.A.
Henry IV, Part Two: Expectation Betrayed
Norman N. Holland
Holland, Norman. Introduction. William Shakespeare. The Second Part of [King] Henry IV. Ed. Norman N. Holland. The Signet Classic Shakespeare. New York and Toronto: New American Library, 1965. pp. vii-xlii.
Betrayal, someone has said, is the quintessential Shakespearean theme. Certainly, it would seem to be in Henry IV [Part Two], for this play hinges on two betrayals. Prince John promises the rebels in a battlefield parley their "griefs shall be with speed redressed. Upon my soul, they shall." Then, once the rebels' troops are discharged, he tells them he will indeed redress their grievances "with a most Christian care"--but executes them as rebels. "God, and not we, hath safely fought today." (Some outraged critics have called the line blasphemous.) Then, at the end of the play, after the death of Henry IV, Falstaff expects to be "one of the greatest men in this realm" in something other than size. He cheers his newly crowned Hal only to be answered by one of the most magnificent and brutal lines in all literature: "I know thee not, old man. Fall to thy prayers." Dismissed, banished, he dies in Henry V because "The King has killed his heart."
The ethical rightness or wrongness of these actions1 constitutes one of the two bones of contention this play has cast among critics. The other is the relation of this play to Part One: are Parts One and Two2 separate plays or one long ten-act play? The answers to both (like all questions we ask of Shakespeare) must come from a recognition of the significant wholeness of the work of art he has created, for these two seeming betrayals, morally ambiguous as they may appear, make only two among a host of other such incidents in the play.
For example, in an episode that Shakespeare carefully retained from his sources, the old king, believing a prophecy he is to die "in Jerusalem," expects to die on a Crusade. Instead, he finds himself dying, not in the city Jerusalem but in a room in Westminster called "Jerusalem." Once Henry IV is dead, the Lord Chief Justice (who had clapped Hal in prison) thinks himself a man doomed, but instead, the new king creates him, Chief Justice anew, "a father to my youth," and puts him in charge of Falstaff. Bringing these and many other such reversals to a fullness and completion is, of course, the reformation of Hal himself from the madcap prince to what he will be in Henry V, "the mirror of all Christian kings." "Let the end try the man," he had warned earlier; and at the end he actsTo mock the expectation of the world,
To frustrate prophecies, and to raze out
Rotten opinion, who hath writ me down
After my seeming.
"Expectation mocked" is the key, a theme that pervades and informs the comic scenes as well as the serious ones. To the Lord Chief Justice's amused outrage, Falstaff, who illustrates "all the characters of age," has the gall to set down his name "in the scroll of youth" and--even--call the Justice old. He manages to elude the legal powers of the Lord Chief Justice (roughly equivalent to the Chief Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court), and then he has the effrontery to try to borrow a thousand pounds from him. Mistress Quickly believes Falstaff will marry her (perhaps the silliest of all expectations in a play of silly expectations), and thus Falstaff manages to turn her lawsuit into a cozy dinner party. Old Justice Shallow, in one of the most exquisite moments of the play, turns away from that death that hovers over all the characters to a startling image of vitality and (in Elizabethan English) virility:
Shallow, the classic portrait of the old grad; makes much of "the wildness of his youth," but we find that his talk is all an old man's lying. Young Shallow was thin, puny, "ever in the rearward of the fashion," and yet notes Falstaff ruefully; "Now has he lands and beeves." Everywhere expectation is overturned. Falstaff picks (from Shallow's point of view) precisely the wrong men. for. his recruits. Yet even so, Francis Feeble of valorous name turns out to have that stoical acceptance of destiny that constitutes (as we shall see) the essential ethic the play puts forward.
Shallow. Jesu, Jesu, the mad days that I have spent! And to see how many of my old acquaintance are dead hence. Silence. We shall all follow, cousin. Shallow. Certain, 'tis certain, very sure, very sure. Death, as the Psalmist with, is certain to all, all shall die. How [much for] a good yoke of bullocks at Stamford Fair?
The same sense of expectation mocked permeates the language and imagery of the play. What should give hope or security does not. Armor "worn in heat of day . . . scald'st with safety," while, conversely, "In poison there is physic." Hopes, like ships, "touch ground and dash themselves to pieces," while even houses are "giddy and unsure." The very buds,Fathers who care for their sons, like bees that gather honey, "are murdered for [their] pains." Sleep, in the King's lovely apostrophe, comes to the least likely, the shipboy suffering a storm in the crows' nest:which to prove fruit,
Hope gives not so much warrant as despair
That frost will bite them.
The least fortunate are most fortunate--one cannot predict, for premonitions themselves run by opposites:Canst thou, O partial steep, give thy repose
To the wet sea-son in an hour so rude,
And in the calmest and most stillest night,
With all appliances and means to boot,
Deny it to a king? Then happy low, lie down
Uneasy Lies the head that wears a crown.
Against ill chances men are ever merry,
But heaviness foreruns the good event.
Even the mere dramaturgic context of 2 Henry IV mocks expectation. The madcap prince of Part Two reverses the reformation we have already seen in Part One (see pp. 219-23). The Odd epilogue treats the plays as the unsuccessful payment of a debt--an expectation--and goes on to contract a further debt: "Our humble author will continue the story; with Sir John in it." But Falstaff does not appear in Henry V, and further, he is not to be confused with the character you expected him to be; "Oldcastle died martyr, and this is not the man."
Even odder than the epilogue is the induction with Rumor as the presenter. Shakespeare, as always, sets up the internal logic of his work from the very opening lines: Rumor, whatever else he may be, is the creator and defeater of expectations par excellence, bringer of "smooth comforts false, worse than true wrongs." Here, he announces falsely a rebel victory at Shrewsbury and the death of Prince Hal under the sword of Northumberland's son Hotspur. Then, almost the entire first scene of the play deals with expectations created and defeated (even down to the opening lines in which a porter says that Northumberland will be found in the orchard, but then the Earl himself unexpectedly appears). And, of course, no one expected the madcap prince to overcome "the never-daunted Percy." Learning of his son's death, Northumberland says,Much later in the play, another old man, King Henry IV, will echo his paradox: "Wherefore should these good news make me sick?" In either case, news--words--seem to have an effect opposite to what one would expect.these news,
Having been well, that would have made me sick,
Being sick, have in some measure made me well.
The first scene shifts to the second, from one diseased old man to another:
The Page's response, itself a mockery of what we might expect from a doctor, continues from the previous scene the tension between words and body.
Falstaff. Sirrah . . . what says the doctor to my water [i.e., urine]?
Page. He said, sir, the water itself was a good healthy water; but, for the party that [owned] it, he might have [morel diseases than he knew ....
As we might expect from Falstaff's "throng of words" or, indeed, the figure of Rumor, "painted full of tongues," wards-"prophecies," "seeming," "rotten opinion," "news"--all play a key role in 2 Henry IV in creating expectations that deeds and persons then defeat in fact, asMost notably, Prince John tricks the rebels with his "princely word": "I give it you, and will maintain my word"--though the letter, not the spirit. But there are others whose words create false expectations: Mistress Quickly's malapropisms and Pistol's ranting in garbled quotations make us expect to hear one thing; then, when we hear their blunder, our expectation is mocked. And the rebels, too, create false hopes with words:chances, mocks,
And changes fill the cup of alteration
With divers liquors.
As Lard Bardolph's words hint, this play uses (unusually often for Shakespeare) names that tag their bearers in a manner almost Dickensian: Pistol, Shallow, Shadow, and Moldy; Doll Tearsheet and Jane Nightwork of amorous name; the sheriff's men, Fang and Snare; Mistress Quickly, whose name, in Elizabethan pronunciation, conceals a ribald pun; Goodman Puff, fat as Falstaff, and hungry Francis Pickbone; Traverse, who, in the opening scene, denies ("traverses") Lord Bardolph's report. Yet, as one would expect in a play of expectations mocked, the actual, physical characters often belie their tags; Sampson Stockfish is a fruiterer, Bullcalf a coward, and Feeble brave.We fortify in paper and in figures,
Using the names of men instead of men,
Like one that draws the model of an house
Beyond his power to build.
We would be wrong, though, to conclude that words always build up false expectations, that 2 Henry IV envisions no larger plan that one can trust--such a skepticism would be utterly foreign to Shakespeare and the Elizabethans' sense of cosmic order. There is, as the King says, a plan, though a bitten one, "the book of fate" that lists the defeats of our expectations:And Warwick goes an to make an important statement of tile Elizabethans' anecdotal or symbolistic view of history:O, if this were seen,
The happiest youth, viewing his progress through,
What perils past, what crosses to ensue,
Would shut the book, and sit him down and die.
There is, then, a larger order, and some of the characters find their place in it. Others, notably Falstaff and the rebels who are "betrayed," do not. What is the essential difference between those who find a place and those who are "betrayed"?There is a history in all men's lives,
Figuring the nature of the times deceased,
The which observed, a man may prophesy,
With a near aim, of the main chance of things
As yet not come to life.
As so often in Shakespeare, a peripheral episode tells us, a scene superfluous to the main plot but one which Shakespeare spent some pains to improve from his sources (see pp. 183-89). Hal, thinking his father dead, takes his crown into another room. His father revives and accuses him of wishing parricide. It is, of course, one more episode of expectations mocked, but the King's words tell us more: he accuses Hal of being "hasty," unable to "stay," of wishing his father's death: "What! Canst thou not forbear me half an hour?" Slowly, Hal answers. He did not "affect," that is, crave, desire, the crown. Rather, he took it as an enemy: it "bath fed upon the body of my father." Its gold is no medicine, but rather "hast eat thy bearer up." The King is pleased with. his son's."pleading so wisely." Wherein does the wisdom lie?
The King explains, in his next speech, "the very latest counsel that ever I shall breathe," presumably, therefore, the most important. He recalls the way he took the crown from Richard in Richard II,The ward "purchased" is important: a legal term, it refers to the acquiring of land other than by inherited succession ("successively"). The word reflects, as the whole play does, the feudal and Renaissance prejudice against those who violate the natural order of things by taking for themselves against the ordained patterns of birth and inheritance. Henry sinned when he "snatched" the crown, but Hal will wear it free of such sin, for he inherits it. The King's accusations tell us Hal's wrong in taking the crown from his sleeping father lay in his inability to "forbear," to "stay," in his "wish," his being "hasty."How troublesome it sat upon my head.
To thee it shall descend with better quiet.
It seemed in me
But as an honor snatched with boisterous hand.
And now my death
Changes the mood, for what in me was purchased
Falls upon thee in a more fairer sort,
So thou the garland wear'st successively.
Hal's answer is wise in that he says he did not crave the crown, but rather recognized that the crown is an enemy that feeds on its bearer, eats its bearer up.Thou hast stolen that which after some few hours
Were thine without offense.
Appetite is both the sin and the danger, that appetite which, as the Prince had jokingly confessed earlier, "was not princely got." To be truly a prince, one must not crave and try to take, but rather forbear, wait, trust, put oneself in that larger order: God's, nature's, his father's. Appetite governs the common man, not the prince, and, indeed, it was the common people's appetite that let Henry take the crown from Richard, though, says the Archbishop,The wise monarch provides for his people's appetites. Henry's last counsel--for his expectation was again foiled, his statement of Hal's rightful title was not his "latest counsel"--Henry's last advice is to "busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels," to turn appetite elsewhere, for Henry knows all too well the rebel and vain spirit is one that seeks to take for itself rather than accept the natural order of monarchy.The commonwealth is sick of their own choice;
Their overgreedy love hath surfeited.
Thou, beastly feeder, art so full of [Henry]
That thou provok'st thyself to cast him up.
So, so, thou common dog, didst thou disgorge
Thy glutton bosom of the royal Richard;
And now thou wouldst eat thy dead vomit up,
And howl'st to find it. What trust is in these times?
That larger order is not wholly beneficent, for it includes, as Shallow reminds us, death. "Death, as the Psalmist saith, is certain to all, all shall die," all: Northumberland, the King, Shallow, Silence, Falstaff, the Lord Chief Justice--all the old men in this play of old men are dying. Some try to put it aside, like Falstaff: "Peace, good Doll! Do not speak like a death's head. Do not bid me remember my end." But death cannot be put aside. In Sir Thomas Browne's beautiful sentence, "This world is not an inn but an hospital," not a place to feed but a place to die in. One may consult the doctor as Falstaff does; or, as the Archbishop's rebellion tries to do,But purges and potions, be they the medicinable gold that the crown so distinctly is not or the sherris-sack whose virtues Falstaff so eloquently proclaims, are of no real use, for death is certain. Though it may be unexpected, in a chamber flamed Jerusalem instead of the city, death itself is certain.diet rank minds sick of happiness
And purge the obstructions which begin to stop
Our very veins of life.
The play's images of medicines represent one kind of defense against the acceptance of a larger, cosmic order that includes disease and death; words represent another. Thus, the rebels project and plan, emitting words, "publishing the occasion of our arms." They "fortify with the names of men." The Archbishop, so "deep within the books of God," turns himself into "an iron man talking." In general, the rebels emit words and then take them for things, as their predecessor Hotspur did,They forget their physical selves and ask only for their "articles," "this schedule," their "conditions" in a "true substantial form." And verbal form is all John gives them.who lined himself with hope
Eating the air and promise of supply.
Falstaff, too, emits a "throng of words" that wrench the "true cause the false way." Contrasted with them, taking language in,but once learned, he will no longer speak, emit, such words, but rather take them "as a pattern or a measure" with which to judge the lives of others.The Prince but studies his companions
Like a strange tongue, wherein, to gain the language,
'Tis needful that the most immodest word
Be looked upon and learned,
In other words, the Prince will not thrust up a merely verbal reality against the larger order. Rather, he will make himself and his language a part of that larger order, as Prince John does: "God, and not we, bath safely fought today." Pathetically, the rebels themselves try to become part of some larger order: "We are time's subjects."But "occasion" is a transitory thing, a .creature of time, and time itself is a great betrayer. The King's party fits into a firmer order: "Construe the times to their necessities." When Warwick states the Elizabethan view of history, he speaks of it as a "necessary form." When King Henry disclaims any intent on his part of seizing Richard's crown, he says,We see which way the stream of time doth run,
And are enforced from our most quiet there
By the rough torrent of occasion.
And he accepts the rebel threatNecessity so bowed the state
That I and greatness were compelled to kiss.
The rebels, however, are responding, not to "necessities," but their "most just and right desires," the "demands" they seek to "enjoy." Appetite is their failure, and John's strategy simply traps them as animals are baited and trapped by their appetites. They drink as token of their wishes granted, but the drink also symbolizes their failure and defeat through appetite. (Indeed, the Archbishop after drinking finds himself "passing light in spirit.")Are these things then necessities?
Then let us meet them like necessities.
The real drinker, though, the very essence of appetite, is, of course, Falstaff. "He bath eaten me out of house and home," Mistress Quickly complains. "The old boar" (earlier he had been a sow) doth "feed in the old frank," monetarily, emotionally, and gastrically. At Shallow's, "We shall do nothing but eat, and make good cheer." Falstaff feeds on Shallow, too, taking a thousand pounds from him, promising to turn him into verbal jokes just as he himself ("the cause that wit is in other men") turns himself to words. Hat's succession provokes him into a riot of appetite: "Let us take any man's horses; the laws of England are at my commandment."
Thus, it is supremely appropriate that Hal reject him ("the feeder of my riots") in terms of food, as, earlier, he had taken leave of a Falstaff richly symbolized as a withered apple. In the coronation scene, Falstaff calls out, "My King! My Jove!" (thus identifying himself with Saturn, the titan who devoured his own children). Hal replies:Not only does Hal put aside appetite--he fends off Falstaff's wordmongering (even as he himself lapses into two jokes-though he immediately counters, "Presume not that I am the thing I was"). Saddest of all, most brutal but most necessary, he reminds Falstaff of his role as an old man and of the grave's mouth that gapes so widely for him.I know thee not, old man. Fall to thy prayers.
How ill white hairs becomes a fool and jester!
I have long dreamt of such a kind of man,
So surfeit-swelled, so old, and so profane,
But, being awaked, I do despise my dream.
Make less thy body hence, and more thy grace.
Leave gormandizing. Know the grave doth gape
For thee thrice wider than for other men.
Reply not to me with a fool-born jest.
The mouth, food and medicine going into it, words coming out, these images dominating a play of appetites acid expectations mocked--Shakespeare here harks back to a truth of infancy, to a time when life was a life of the mouth. Psychologists such as Erik Erikson have been stressing in recent years the crucial importance of that time when we must discover our own identities; when we learn, taught by our own appetites, that we must await, trust, expect another to feed us. It is this ability to trust in another that enables the infant to experience that other as an existence separate from his own desires; to experience, therefore, his own separateness, his identity. The paradox continues into later life: it is the ability to glue up one's own desires, to trust, even to merge and identify with the "necessity" represented by others, even, in a sense, to tolerate being engulfed by or devoured by it (as King Henry's crown, emblem of the larger order, has eaten its bearer up), that enables us to reemerge, as we did in earliest infancy, into a new sense of identity, a new role. In a paradox almost Biblical, we must lose ourselves to find ourselves.
So with Falstaff: to grow into the new role he should assume now that Hal is king, he must curb his appetites ("Leave gormandizing") and learn to depend on another (the "competence of life" his new king allows him). He must live with the certainty that the grave gapes for him, that he will himself be devoured. As for the rebels, they do not let themselves be merged into the larger necessity represented by the monarch; instead, they try to create roles for themselves out of their own words (or mouths). Necessarily, they fail.
Prince Hal, too, must give up an identity based on his own appetites, that of the madcap prince, and accept an identity set out for him, that of the hero-king. As Ernst Kris points out in a psychoanalytic study of this play,' Hal, until his father's death, refuses to fall back into the role his father has planned for him. Rather, he puts aside his father, stained and imperfect as a curber of appetites because he himself "snatched" the crown "with boisterous hand," and he takes an identity from Falstaff, a father-substitute. Once his real father is dead, however, he can put aside Falstaff (ultimately rendering him as dead as his true father) and be taken into the role his father wished for him. Indeed, he can even accept a proper father-substitute in the person of the Lord Chief Justice.
Food is our earliest experience of trust; justice is a later one. Again, we must learn to wait rather than try to grab--we must trust in the larger necessity of law. 2 Henry IV gives us a pair of justices: a true one in the Lord Chief Justice, a false one in Shallow, who succumbs to his servant's entreaty to "bear out a knave against an honest man." Shallow lets himself merge into a larger order, but one of his servants' making, so that, as Falstaff points out, they become like foolish justices, he a justicelike servingman. The Lord Chief Justice, however, speaks to Hal with "the person of your father"; "the image of his power lay then in me." He justifies his earlier action of imprisoning the Prince by reminding the new young king that he, now, has a new identity--"As you are a king, speak in your state." And Hal responds by assuming his kingly role, merging himself in his father's identity so that "I live to speak my father's words." To the Lord Chief Justice,Thus, Hal merges into his father and contrasts with the Archbishop, who rebelled though he was "the imagined voice of God himself"; he didYou shall be as a father to my youth.
My voice shall sound as you do prompt mine ear.
And I will stoop and humble my intents
To your well-practiced wise directions.
My father is gone wild into his grave,
For in his tomb lie my [appetites]
And with his spirits sadly I survive
To mock the expectation of the world . . . .
misuse the reverence of [his] place,
Employ the countenance and grace of heaven,
As a false favorite does his prince's name,
In deeds dishonorable.
The right people of the play merge into a larger order; the wrong people resist or misuse that larger order. Shallow's very name tells us something about their failure: as Prince John says to the rebels,The image is of a river, and the Archbishop had earlier compared himself and the other rebels to a river in flood, saying that, if their demands are granted, "We come within our awful banks again." Henry IV, too, is linked to a flooding river: in a detail Shakespeare retained from his sources, Henry (who was himself a rebel) dies as the Thames thrice floods without ebb. As for Hal,You are too shallow, Hastings, much too shallow;
To sound the bottom of the after-times.
He has put aside flooding and merged himself into the identity ordained for him by that larger order, vast as the sea. The play can end now, as it began, with a rumor. But now a true rumor, for a bird sings the music of true expectation, the King's will merged into the nation's destiny.The tide of blood in me
Hath proudly flowed in vanity tilt now.
Now doth it turn and ebb back to the sea,
Where it shall mingle with the state of floods
And flow henceforth in formal majesty.
In short, the theme of betrayal permeates and informs the language, incidents, and characters of 2 Henry IV, but it is betrayal in a special sense: "expectations mocked." That is, the play begins with a sense of hunger or appetite:Then, against selfish or foolish appetite, the play poises a larger, parental plan of justice or monarchy or necessity that threatens to swallow up the characters by danger, disease, or death. And yet this larger necessity offers the paradoxical and unexpected possibility of a new identity, a kind of rebirth into a new self for those who can merge themselves into it. True princeliness calls for this ability to trust in the larger order, to achieve identity by the very act of curbing the self and its appetites and being merged into the greater plan. True rebellion means-in its most primitive senses--Feeding oneself, resisting trust in that larger order by substituting one's own medicines, wards, appetite, food, plans: "eating the air." And thus, the play itself answers the critics who have been troubled by Prince John's trick on the political rebels and Prince Hal's rejection of the appetitive rebel, Falstaff. These two "betrayals" become necessary and inevitable if we take the play on its own emotional and intellectual terms: the original failure of trust was the rebels' own. inability to merge (without wordy conditions) into the larger order of nature.Open your ears, for which of you will stop
The vent of hearing when loud Rumor speaks?
Again, if we take the play on its own terms, we can see the answer to the second critical issue: the relation of Part Two to Part One. The external evidence from Elizabethan stage-practice that the two plays must have been separate and self-sufficient entities is clear enough. The internal evidence is clear, too. Part One and Part Two are quite different in their essential dramatic ideas, but they make a matched pair.
We can see the difference in the Falstaffs of the two parts. Twinned in avoirdupois, soldiering, and appetites, they nevertheless differ in some important ways. In both parts, Falstaff is a creature who defeats expectation, not only in the action, but also in our response (as Freud notes). From the point of view of the literary historian, as Bernard Spivack has shown, this mocking of our expectations places him in the tradition of the deceptive Vice of the morality plays or the tricky Ambidexter of a Cambises. But in Part One, Falstaff seems more triumphant: the Chaplinesque clown who, by his ability to play many parts, triumphs even over death, as (in the final battle) he feigns a death-and-rebirth. In Part Two, Falstaff resists, but succumbs to, the preordained role pointed out by Philip. Williams and C. L. Barber. He becomes the slain god, the Lord of Misrule who must be banished to restore health to the land. Hal is absorbed into the role of the hero-king, while Falstaff is engulfed by a mythic significance that demands his rejection and death.
Miss Caroline Spurgeon noted some years ago that the Falstaff of Part One uses many images from books and the Bible, while the Falstaff of Part Two speaks in grotesque, rough, coarse similes drawn from body functions and appetites. We can add that Falstaff One uses a very distinctive figure of speech: the enthymeme: "If I travel but four foot by the squire further afoot, I shall break w my wind." "If the rascal have not given me medicines to t make me love him, I'll be hanged." "And 'twere not as good a deed as drink to tuna true man and to leave these rogues, I am the veriest varlet that ever chewed with a tooth." (These all occur within ten lines in Part One, suggesting the frequency of the figure.) Falstaff Two almost entirely lacks this figure of speech; instead, he has become something of a monologist. He takes in a .character, then turns him into a satirical portrait: we see Falstaff Two do with himself, his page, his tailor, Pistol, Prince Hal, Poins, Bardolph, Shallow, Prince John, and, of course, sherris-sack, in monologues quite different in style from his catechism of honor in Part One (which tests a role). Falstaff Two may be responding to the same taste that led Jonson to put such incidental character sketches into Every Man Out of his Humor and Cynthia's Revels or that accounts for the popularity of the character-books of Hall, Overbury, and others in the early seventeenth century, but, in any case, he has shifted from acting out different roles (often taken from books and the Bible) to a more passive taking in of what he sees, then spewing it out in words (the image of vomit occurs several times in 2 Henry IV). Falstaff One's big comic scene is the play-within-the-play in the tavern, when he tries on the roles of King Henry and Prince Hal. Falstaff Two's big comic scene is the recruiting, when he looks at the prospective draftees and coins them into a mint of witty remarks. In short, he becomes the walking embodiment of everything the play rejects: appetite, wordmongering, resistance to one's proper role. He becomes, like Iago in the tragedies, or Autolycus and Caliban in the last plays, Shakespeare's homo repudiandus, the character who focuses in himself everything to be rejected. This, then, is the essential difference between the Falstaffs of Part One and Part Two: the earlier Falstaff actively tries on different roles; the later and more passive Falstaff finds himself forced into a pattern laid dawn for him by his context.
And so does Hal. In Part One, he actively chooses the role of hero; in Part Two, he lapses into kingship. The rest of the characters show the same passivity. Part One gave us an active, scrappy group of rebels; Part Two represents rebellion by talkers and bargainers. Part One sharply opposed characters as good son-bad son; good father-bad father; hot spur and false staff; and Hal forged a role for himself between such extremes. Part Two makes only one such sharp pairing: the good justice, who merges into his master's voice, as against the bad justice, who merges into his servant's. Mostly, Part Two bunches fairly nondescript characters into the roles they must assume--and so the Folio text lists them, in bracketed groups as "Opposites against King Henrie the Fourth," "Of the Kings Partie," "Country Soldiers," "Irregular Humorists," and the women. In the same way, Part Two abounds in references to parts of the body, parts of a house, parts of a kingdom--the later play constantly stresses a sense of role within a larger plan.
These different ways of dealing with role are what make Parts One and Two quite separate but nevertheless a matched pair. In both, the problem is to bring Hal to the role laid down for him by his father, his King, his God. Part One offers the active solution; Part Two, the passive. In the first play, Hal takes from the takers, robs Hotspur and Falstaff of the honors or money they had robbed from others. In the second, Hal is the taker taken: he learns to put down his cravings and appetites and be taken up into the larger plan. Part One is the sunnier version--my pun is intentional--for it looks at the problem of Hal's achieving at-oneness with his father from the point of view of the son who actively battles the rebel within and without. Part Two sees the theme with the eyes of a dying father, in terns of passive expectation, trust, and acceptance of necessity. It is this atmosphere of passivity that keeps the magnificent fighter-Hal of Part One out of the action--what action there is--in Part Two. Finally, is Henry V; these active and passive solutions fuse. Hal's active battling fulfills the role he must passively accept. He brings the drives and appetites of others and them roles as Scot, Irishman, Welshman, or French princess into the service of his kingly function:The King must bear all--all but a few traitors and "irregular humorists" who insist on keeping separate. They must die.Upon the King! Let us our lives, our souls,
Our debts, our careful wives,
Our children, and our sins, Iay on the King!
Betrayal is the quintessential Shakespearean theme--provided we recognize the special tone that Shakespeare gives it. All his works deal with the taming of shrewishness: the masking over or mastery of hate by love. Betrayal, for Shakespeare, seems to mean a situation in which one can expect love, but in which love falls away and reveals an unsuspected or unmastered hate beneath. Iago is the obvious example, but we can look at all the tragedies as situations in which the love between a man and a woman, love either new or preexisting or expectable, fails to master hate. When love succeeds, the issue is comic, as in Measure for Measure and The Merchant of Venice, which temper hard justice with feminine mercy. All's well that ends well--that ends in love as Henry V's wars in France will.
So understood, 2 Henry IV, written near the end of 1597 or early in 1598, occupies a pivotal point in the Shakespearean canon. In the early comedies, romantic love overcomes feuds and hatreds, while in the early histories and tragedies, family or romantic love fails to control political and social aggressions. In the plays of 1598-1601, Shakespeare seems to play with the thought that passivity best counters aggression or romantic assertiveness. Claudio in Much Ado lets his Prince do his wooing for him. In Twelfth Night, the woman takes the role of wooer, as she does in As You Like It. 2 Henry IV also looks forward to the tragedies, the uncurbed and parricidal drives of Brutus and Cassius, and even more, to that character who, more than any other in Shakespeare, resists the role his father had set up or him, putting up instead his own smokescreen of words--Hamlet. In many ways, but notably in the special, paternal way love controls rebellion and aggression, 2 Henry IV seems closer to the tragedies and "problem plays" than to the earlier histories.
The passivity of 2 Henry IV may also explain why it has become less popular than the other histories. It was apparently as popular as Part One in the eighteenth century, but, then, eighteenth-century audiences were still committed to a larger, hierarchical plan in society. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries prize precisely the acquisitive, assertive behavior that resists inherited patterns and plans, and this particular history play, which so sharply rejects such social individualism, has fallen in popularity. But 2 Henry IV can look for better days with newer approaches to Shakespeare. Nineteenth-century audiences concentrated on the events represented by the plays rather than on the plays as themselves events and, therefore, they wanted to see in the histories one long epic glorifying England's history--to them, 2 Henry IV marked a sordid low. Today, however, we recognize that Shakespeare's histories embody Elizabethan political views, not nineteenth-century Whiggery, and we are better at accepting Shakespeare's plays on their own terms, as things-in-themselves. When we do so accept 2 Henry IV, we find it offers moments as fine as any in the Shakespearean canon: the brilliant and pathetic portrait of Shallow; the grotesquery of Pistol; the Prince's reconciliation with his father; the King's apostrophe to sleep; the rejection of Falstaff. More important, when we accept the play itself as an event, our experience of the play becomes our own act of trust.
1 Mr. Stanley McKenzie, in an unpublished paper, very skillfully analyzes the ethical problem of the two "betrayals" in terms of the structure and imagery of the play. I am indebted to him for a number of the ideas which follow. Return to main text.
2 "Part Two" in the title of an Elizabethan history play simply means that the play deals with events later in the reign of the king named in the title than those the Part One play deals with. It does not imply that the play in question is an integral part of a series, like a chapter in a novel. Return to main text.