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Royal Shakespeare Company, 2007

Henry IV Part 2

Synopsis and plot overview of Shakespeare's Henry IV Part 2

TL;DR (may contain spoilers): King Henry IV fights off a growing rebellion while his son drinks and robs people; his son redeems himself.King Henry IV is dying; Falstaff is ... Falstaff-ing; Prince John is unethical; and Hal becomes King.

Henry IV Part 2 Summary

King Henry IV suffers from illness, so his youngest son Prince John fights the rebels, while Prince Hal prepares to be king. Meanwhile, Hal's friend Falstaff causes trouble, recruits, and speaks ill of Hal. Henry dies, and Hal becomes King Henry V. He banishes Falstaff from court, ready to wage war on France.

More detail: 2.5 minute read 

Act I 

Henry IV Part 2 follows King Henry IV's victory at the battle of Shrewsbury in Henry IV Part 1. The Earl of Northumberland mistakenly hears that his son, Hotspur, is actually the victor. The rebel lords meet together in council and resolve to oppose the King's forces led by Prince John, the King's second son and Hal's brother. But the word of Hotspur's death finally reaches his father. Hotspur's mother and widow persuade him not to oppose Prince John's army. 

He hath eaten me out of house and home

— Henry IV Part 2, Act 2 Scene 1

Sir John Falstaff has returned to London with praises after taking credit for killing Hotspur. The Lord Chief Justice criticises him for his past crimes. But the Chief justices ultimately wishes Falstaff well because he has just been called on to join a campaign for Prince John. 

Act II

Yet before he can go, Falstaff is arrested for his debts to the Boar's Head Tavern. A fight between Falstaff and the officers ensues. The Lord Chief Justice, who returns to the tavern after hearing about the fuss, examines the fight. Falstaff persuades the owner of the tavern, Mistress Quickly, to make peace and lend him more money. 

Two men with their backs to the camera, with red hair and wearing woollen tunics or cloaks, one with furred boots, stare at a figure in shining gold armour and a trailing cloak, with a crown on his head. Swords are on the floor, and a bare tree is behind.
Henry IV Part 2, RSC, 1975

Later at the tavern, Falstaff, Nym, and Bardolph, along with Falstaff's lady friend, Doll Tearsheet, are joined by two strangers. The strangers turn out to be Prince Hal and his friend Poins in disguise. Falstaff enjoys his evening with his friends and Doll Tearsheet. But the swaggering Pistol comes to warn Falstaff he should have departed for the wars by now. When Falstaff rejects his assignment and ends up speaking badly of Hal, Hal and Poins reveal themselves and an argument ensues. Another messenger comes to fetch Falstaff for the war. 


As Falstaff makes his journey, he passes through Gloucestershire. He finds his old friends Justice Shallow and Master Silence who reminisce about their youthful days. Falstaff takes the weakest of Shallow's pressed-men to serve as soldiers (allowing others to buy themselves out). And he enjoys Shallow's hospitality before setting off to join the army. 

Royal Shakespeare Company, 2007. Henry IV leans against his son's shoulder; Hal rests his cheek against his father's head. Each has one hand on the crown in the centre of the foreground. Both look sorrowful but calm.
Henry IV Part 2, RSC, 2007

Act IV

As the rebels gather to fight, Prince John agrees to look into their demands and offers a toast to future peace. The rebel armies disperse before Prince John orders the arrests of the rebel leaders for treason. Arriving late to the battle, Falstaff takes the last prisoner as the Prince orders his forces back to London, where the King is very ill. 

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.

— Henry IV Part 2, Act 3 Scene 1

The King is in the middle of giving advice to Hal's younger brothers when news of the peace arrives. He is close to death. As he sleeps, Hal arrives from the city. He finds his father apparently dead and, mourning his position as heir, he takes the crown from the bedside into the next room. The King awakes and believes that Hal's only aim was to become King. He gets upset, but the father and son soon make up before the King is moved into a special room to prepare to die.

Falstaff has a red gown, shaggy long almost-white hair, and a short brown beard, he holds a tankard. Justice Silence wears a white shirt, and has his hands upraised, his eyes closed, and his mouth open.
Henry IV Part 2, RSC, 2000

Presume not that I am the thing I was

— Henry IV Part 2, Act 5 Scene 5

Act V 

When news of Henry IV's death and Hal's succession as Henry V reaches Gloucestershire, Falstaff sets off at once to London with Shallow. They travel night and day to reach London in time for the coronation, expecting to be given high office at court. Falstaff is amazed and deeply hurt, however, when Henry denies knowing him and banishes him from coming within ten miles of his court. Henry calls a Parliament, and Falstaff is left wondering if his beloved Hal will change his mind later. Prince John and the Lord Chief Justice anticipate the new King's wars in France, which take place in Henry V.

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