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Henry IV, Part 2 /

Further Reading: Henry IV, Part 2

Abbreviations: R2=Richard II; lH4=Henry IV, Part 1; 2H4=Henry IV, Part 2; H5=Henry V

Anonymous. The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth. In Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, ed. Geoffrey Bullough, vol. 4, pp. 299–343. 1962. Rpt., London: Routledge and Kegan Paul; New York: Columbia University Press, 1975.

One of the primary sources for Shakespeare’s second Henriad (1H4, 2H4, and H5), this short play is a freewheeling popular treatment of the Prince Hal story from which Shakespeare borrowed in creating his own crown-stealing episode and rejection of Falstaff sequence in 2H4. Shakespeare altered the image of a hooligan prince by omitting passages (Hal’s explicit wish for his father’s death so that he might wear the crown), transposing antagonistic encounters (Falstaff replaces Hal in an early confrontation with the Lord Chief Justice), and reporting rather than depicting certain incidents (Hal’s striking of the Lord Chief Justice). Shakespeare supplemented The Famous Victories with material from the historical chronicles.

Belsey, Catherine. “Making Histories Then and Now: Shakespeare from Richard II to Henry V.” In Uses of History: Marxism, Postmodernism, and the Renaissance, ed. Francis Barker, Peter Hulme, and Margaret Iversen, pp. 24–46. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991.

Belsey provides a reading of the second tetralogy (R2, 1H4, 2H4, H5) that reveals “marks of the struggle to fix meaning, and simultaneously of the excess which necessarily renders meaning unstable.” The world of Bolingbroke/Henry IV is one in which words are no longer “anchored” in their referents; by extension, then, there is no longer a direct and simple link between king and kingship. Because the law of succession, “the only power on earth that supports the materiality of titles,” is broken in R2 when the king seizes Bolingbroke’s title, the latter’s reign “becomes in consequence one of bitter uncertainties, of conflicts for meaning which are simultaneously conflicts for power.” Belsey takes issue with the subversion/containment model of New Historicism (see Greenblatt below), arguing that subversion is better understood as the equally valued “defining, differentiating other” of power and not as its justification and reaffirmation.

Berger, Harry, Jr. “What Did the King Know and When Did He Know It: Shakespearean Discourses and Psychoanalysis.” South Atlantic Quarterly 88 (1989): 811–62.

Berger argues that “speakers should be treated as the effects rather than the causes of their language and our interpretation.” To illustrate his theory, Berger focuses on the speeches of Henry IV and finds “behind” what the character says an interplay of “the pressure of the sinner’s discourse and the counterpressure of the victim/revenger’s discourse”; Henry’s language is “torn apart” by the tension between the ethical desire for atonement and the political need for self-justification. Until his final exit, the king vacillates between these two conflicting discourses, always struggling with “the desire for moral legitimacy [and] with despair at the futility of the desire.” By focusing not on “what critics think of Harry” but on “what Harry thinks of Harry,” Berger, while not a “Harry-lover,” avoids becoming a “Harry-hater.”

Bevington, David, ed. Henry the Fourth Parts I and II: Critical Essays. New York: Garland Publishing, 1986.

Designed to collect “the best” that has been written about the Henry IV plays, this anthology includes examples of neoclassical criticism, the character criticism of the Romantic and Victorian periods, and several schools of critical thought associated with the twentieth century (e.g., the historical, New Criticism, myth criticism, psychoanalytic criticism, speech-act theory, and performance criticism). The 31 items, spanning the years 1744 to 1983, include Maurice Morgann’s “An Essay on the Dramatic Character of Sir John Falstaff,” A. C. Bradley’s “The Rejection of Falstaff,” John Dover Wilson’s “The Falstaff Myth” (from The Fortunes of Falstaff), E. M. W. Tillyard’s “Henry IV” (from Shakespeare’s History Plays), W. H. Auden’s “The Prince’s Dog” (from The Dyer’s Hand and Other Essays), C. L. Barber’s “Rule and Misrule in Henry IV” (from Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy), G. K. Hunter’s “Shakespeare’s Politics and the Rejection of Falstaff,” Jonas A. Barish’s “The Turning Away of Prince Hal,” Sigurd Burckhardt’s “ ‘Swoll’n with Some Other Grief’: Shakespeare’s Prince Hal Trilogy” (from Shakespearean Meanings), and Ronald R. Macdonald’s “Uneasy Lies: Language and History in Shakespeare’s Lancastrian Tetralogy.”

Greenblatt, Stephen. “Invisible Bullets: Renaissance Authority and Its Subversion.” In Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England, pp. 21–65, esp. pp. 47–56. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

In this influential and frequently reprinted example of New Historicism, Greenblatt finds parallels between the English incursions into the New World and Hal’s transformation from madcap to monarch. Both the English colonizers, in their attempts to subdue the native inhabitants of the Americas, and Hal, in his efforts to control the domestic underworld associated with the taverns of Eastcheap, paradoxically encourage opposition in order to reaffirm their authority over those confined to the margins of society (the Indians in the former; the vagabonds, thieves, and prostitutes in the latter). If audiences are frustrated at the harshness of Hal’s rejection of Falstaff—the final betrayal in a series of “squalid betrayals”—that frustration validates “a carefully plotted official strategy whereby subversive perceptions are at once produced and contained.” While the Henry IV plays may support a Machiavellian hypothesis about “princely power” originating in force and fraud, Greenblatt questions whether the position of the theater within the state allows drama to raise an alternative voice.

Hodgdon, Barbara. Henry IV, Part Two. Shakespeare in Performance Series. Manchester Manchester University Press, 1993.

In an introductory overview of the play’s theatrical afterlife from the seventeenth century to the present, Hodgdon pays special attention to the “Falstaff problem” (i.e., whose play is it—Falstaff ’s or Hal’s—and how is Falstaff ’s rejection handled?) and urges sensitivity to “intersections” between theatrical events and their cultural contexts. “Tracing how a Falstaff accommodates to or . . . is accommodated with a production is crucial to the history of how [2H4] has been appropriated to serve various visions of ‘England.’ ” Hodgdon devotes separate chapters to five twentieth-century productions: Michael Redgrave’s 1951 revival at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Terry Hands’s 1975 staging at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, David Giles’s 1979 BBC version, Trevor Nunn’s 1982 production for the RSC at London’s Barbican Centre, and Michael Bogdanov’s 1986–89 revival for the English Shakespeare Company. The chapters on the BBC and Bogdanov productions also include observations on Orson Welles’s 1966 film Chimes at Midnight.

Howard, Jean. “Forming the Commonwealth: Including, Excluding, and Criminalizing Women in Heywood’s Edward IV and Shakespeare’s Henry IV.” In Privileging Gender in Early Modern England, ed. Jean R. Brink, pp. 109–21. Sixteenth Century Essays and Studies 23. Kirksville, Mo.: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 1993.

Howard uses Edward IV and 2H4 to explore how the English history play served to forge and reforge “the links between polis [the state] and patriarchy” amid the changes in gender and class relations precipitated by the increasing urbanization and commercialism of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. In 2H4 Shakespeare employs “the figure of the whore and the discourse of prostitution to handle cultural anxieties about the leveling implications of social change attendant on the emergence of a ‘nation’ from a factionalized feudal state.” In contrast to Part 1, the lawlessness of the tavern world in Part 2 is no longer general but specifically sexual, and more visibly linked with a female challenge to the socially stratified and hierarchically gendered commonwealth. When Doll Tearsheet is carted off at the end, “what is partly being acted out is the violent reimposition of patriarchal control over female sexuality.”

Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince (1513), ed. and trans. Robert M. Adams. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 1992.

In this famous political treatise, Machiavelli draws on his experience as a member of the Florentine government in order to present his conception of the kind of strong leader and tactics required to impose political order for the good of the unified Italy he envisions. Because Machiavelli separates politics from ethics and is more concerned with ends than with means, his name has become identified with all that is cynical and even diabolical in state affairs. In Shakespeare’s England, this exaggeratedly negative reputation gave rise to the conventional villain known as the Machiavel. In the scholarship on 2H4, critics have argued for an affinity between Machiavelli’s political tenets and the strategies and policies of Henry, Prince Hal, Falstaff, Northumberland, and Prince John. The phrase “White Machiavel” has been adopted by those who find in Hal a more temperate, attractive development of Machiavellian pragmatism.

McAlindon, Tom. “Pilgrims of Grace: Henry IV Historicized.” Shakespeare Survey 48 (1995): 69–84.

Critical of both the history-of-ideas approach of E. M. W. Tillyard and the “new historicist/cultural materialist” interpretive frameworks constructed by Stephen Greenblatt and Graham Holderness, McAlindon focuses on topical allusions. The H4 plays’ rebellions and the insistent concern with the twinned themes of grace and rebuke suggest a major historical analogy with the Northern Rebellions of 1569–70 and, even more notably, the 1536 rebellion known as the Pilgrimage of Grace, a protest movement that had assumed “archetypal status” in the popular consciousness of Shakespeare’s audience. In Part 2, the spirit of rebuke is intensified as evidenced by Northumberland’s entrapment in his disgraceful past, Prince John’s treachery at Gaultree, Henry’s final encounter with his son, and Hal’s rejection of Falstaff. The fact that Henry dies in the Jerusalem Chamber signals that “he has, through his son, found grace.”

Rackin, Phyllis. “Foreign Country: The Place of Women and Sexuality in Shakespeare’s Historical World.” In Enclosure Acts: Sexuality, Property, and Culture in Early Modern England, ed. Richard Burt and John Michael Archer, pp. 68–95. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994.

Rackin examines early modern texts to show how Renaissance distinctions separating men from women were “grounded” not in biology and psychology but in the “ordered” and “privileged” discourses of theology and history. In Shakespeare’s history plays, women—“aliens in the masculine domain of English historiography”—are marginalized through a process of “geographic and generic containment.” In 2H4, this containment takes the form of two marginal spaces clearly marked as “feminized” and “theatrical”: the lowlife tavern world of Eastcheap (the female unruliness of which mirrors the disorder of the “disreputable feminized world” of the Elizabethan playhouse) and the epilogue.

Traub, Valerie. “Prince Hal’s Falstaff: Positioning Psychoanalysis and the Female Reproductive Body.” Shakespeare Quarterly 40 (1989): 456–74.

In a feminist “reading of drama through psychoanalysis and psychoanalysis through drama,” Traub argues that Shakespeare’s plays and modern psychoanalytic theory are linked by a “cultural estimation of the female reproductive body as a Bakhtinian ‘grotesque body.’ ” In the H4 plays, this “grotesque body” is figured in the character of Falstaff, whose swollen belly is repeatedly feminized—see, for example, his iteration of “womb” (2H4, 4.2.22). Falstaff thus represents not the surrogate father of traditional psychoanalytic criticism but “a projected fantasy of the pre-oedipal maternal” whose rejection is required if Hal is to assert control and develop into the male subject of H5.

Watson, Robert N. “Kinship and Kingship: Ambition in Shakespeare’s Major Histories.” In Shakespeare and the Hazards of Ambition, pp. 14–82, esp. pp. 47–75. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984.

Using Freud’s Oedipal model to explore the theme of ambition in Shakespeare’s plays, Watson argues that the “ambitious refashioning of one’s identity constitutes an Oedipal crime.” Hal is “the Oedipal son who typically rises against the tyrannical father who was formerly a rebel himself ”; in Part 2, where his filial identity remains “badly in doubt,” Hal ultimately manages to break free of “the long, deadly chain-reaction of patricides.” Allowing the private and public implications of rebellion to coalesce in Hal, Shakespeare grounds the story of English usurpation “in a study of the political history of all societies and in the psychological history of all young men.” The crown-stealing episode, “the starkest explication of Hal’s apparent Oedipal destructiveness,” shows how fruitful Shakespeare found the psychosymbolic situation for exploring the hazards of ambition.

Willson, Robert F., Jr. “Recontextualizing Shakespeare on Film: My Own Private Idaho, Men of Respect, Prospero’s Books.” Shakespeare Bulletin 10.3 (1992): 34–37.

Willson examines Gus Van Sant’s 1991 My Own Private Idaho, a film adaptation of 1H4 and 2H4, as a representative example of directorial readings that “displace” Shakespeare’s characters, themes, imagery, and other patterns “from their traditional nexuses to new and unexpected locations on the cultural landscape.” The result is “fresh Shakespeare.” In the street life of the contemporary Pacific Northwest, Keanu Reeves plays an updated Prince Hal as the rebel son of Portland’s wealthy, dying mayor. The son immerses himself in the city’s drug- and sex-ridden subculture where he keeps company with prostitutes, thieves, and junkies. Chief among his companions are “Bob Pigeon,” a translated Falstaff, and a narcoleptic prostitute (River Phoenix) who, as a refigured Poins, is searching for his lost mother. The film’s conclusion relies on the audience’s “awareness of Shakespearean and film/popular culture conventions to elicit sympathy for outcast Poins and Falstaff and not mainstream Hal.”

Young, David P., ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Henry IV, Part Two: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968.

This collection of important earlier twentieth-century criticism reprints the following commentaries: L. C. Knights’s “Time’s Subjects: The Sonnets and King Henry IV, Part II,” Clifford Leech’s “The Unity of 2 Henry IV,” C. L. Barber’s “The Trial of Carnival in Part Two” (from Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy), Robert B. Pierce’s “The Generations in 2 Henry IV,” Harold E. Toliver’s “Falstaff, the Prince, and the History Play,” and Derek Traversi’s “The Final Scenes of 2 Henry IV” (from Shakespeare from Richard II to Henry V). Also included are excerpts from A. C. Bradley’s “The Rejection of Falstaff,” J. Dover Wilson’s “King Henry’s Speech” (from The Fortunes of Falstaff), E. M. W. Tillyard’s Shakespeare’s History Plays, Harold Jenkins’s The Structural Problem in the Henry IV Plays, A. P. Rossiter’s “Ambivalence: The Dialectic of the Histories,” R. J. Dorius’s “A Little More Than a Little,” and A. R. Humphreys’s observations on the play’s style (from the critical introduction to his Arden edition).