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Henry IV, Part 2

Creation of the play

Henry IV, Part 2 can plausibly be dated to 1597. The play was certainly completed before the end of 1598, since Ben Jonson refers to Justice Silence in his 1599 play Every Man Out of His Humour. It could not have been written before the 1595 publication of one of its principal sources, Samuel Daniel’s The First Fowre Bookes of the Ciuile Warres. The epilogue to Henry IV, Part 2 suggests that the play closely followed Henry IV, Part 1, which was probably written in late 1596 or early 1597.

King Henry IV. John Stow, The Chronicles of England
King Henry IV. John Stow, The Chronicles of England, [1580]. British Library, 807.c.30, p. 542. Larger image

It is generally believed that Henry IV, Part 2 was begun only after the success of Henry IV, Part 1. However, the second play complements and continues the first, and it has been suggested that Shakespeare did intend to write two plays, either from the outset or once he had begun to write Henry IV, Part 1.

Early performances

There is no surviving evidence for early performances of Henry IV, Part 2. It has been suggested that the play was performed alongside Henry IV, Part 1 during the winter season 1596-1597 and again during the winter season 1597-1598, although there are no early records that the two plays were given on successive days. Performances in 1597 could have been given by the Lord Chamberlain ’s Men at the Theatre. The original casting of the principal parts could have been the same as that suggested for Henry IV, Part 1, with Richard Burbage as Prince Henry, Augustine Phillips (or even Shakespeare himself) as King Henry, and either William Kemp or Thomas Pope as Falstaff.

Publication in quarto and folio

Henry IV, Part 2 appeared in two editions (the first of which was reissued) before 1642.

  • Quarto a, 1600. This quarto appears to have been printed from Shakespeare’s foul papers. It omits the first scene of act 3, and 8 other passages. The scene might have been omitted as the result of missing leaf in the manuscript passed to the printer. The other passages were probably cut deliberately, some to shorten the play in performance, and some for censorship reasons. (British Library has quire E only from this quarto. Copy of complete quarto from National Library of Scotland.)
  • Quarto b, 1600. This quarto is identical to quarto a, except that it adds the missing first scene of act 3 and resets the immediately surrounding text. The changes affect quire E only, which has 6 leaves instead of 4.
  • First folio, 1623. The relationship between the quarto and the first folio text is complex. The folio includes 8 passages omitted from the quarto, and differs from the latter in many details. The folio text might have been printed from a manuscript made for stage use or reading, but not directly dependent on Shakespeare’s foul papers. Or it could have been printed from a copy of the quarto collated with such a manuscript. It has also been suggested that the folio was printed from a manuscript which was a transcript of an annotated version of the quarto.
  • Second folio, 1632. Printed from the first folio.

The manuscript of Henry IV, Part 2 was presumably purchased from the Lord Chamberlain’s Men by the booksellers Andrew Wise and William Aspley in 1600. They entered the play on the Stationers’ Register on 23 August 1600 as ‘ the second parte of the history of kinge Henry the iiiith’, and quarto a was printed for them that same year by Valentine Simmes. The omission of act 3 scene 1 led to the reissue, quarto b, also in 1600.

The printed text seems to have been censored, perhaps because the play was published following the 1599 rebellion in Ireland, which the Earl of Essex had failed to crush, and soon after the Earl’s trial in 1600 for signing a dishonourable treaty with the Irish rebels and leaving his post without permission. Allusions to Richard II were removed from the quarto of Henry IV, Part I, probably because of the frequent identification of Queen Elizabeth I with the deposed king.

British Library copies of Henry IV, Part 2 contains detailed bibliographic descriptions of all the quarto copies of the play.

Shakespeare’s sources

Several sources were particularly important for Shakespeare’s creation of Henry IV, Part 2.

  • Raphael Holinshed, The Third Volume of Chronicles (1587). Shakespeare used Holinshed for the events in the play.

    King Henry IV is reconciled to the Prince of Wales. Raphael Holinshed, The Third Volume of Chronicles
    King Henry IV is reconciled to the Prince of Wales. Raphael Holinshed, The Third Volume of Chronicles, [1587]. British Library, L.R.400.b.23, p. 539. Larger image

  • Samuel Daniel, The First Fowre Bookes of the Ciuile Warres between the Two Houses of Lancaster and Yorke (1595). Daniel’s work influenced Shakespeare’s treatment of King Henry’s guilt over his usurpation of the throne and the death of Richard II.
  • John Stow, The Chronicles of England (1580), The Annales of England (1592). Shakespeare used Stow rather than Holinshed for some parts of the play, for example the advice giving by the dying King to his son Prince Henry.
  • The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth (1598). Despite its publication date, this anonymous play was probably performed from the late 1580s. Shakespeare used it for some details of his comic scenes, but also for the death-bed scene in which Prince Henry takes the crown from the sleeping King.

Story of the play

Note: the links below will take you to the page in the quarto where each act begins, according to standard modern editions. (The quartos themselves have no act divisions.) The quarto shown for each play is always the earliest in the Library's collection - unless it is a 'bad' quarto in which case it is the earliest 'good' quarto.

Henry IV, Part 2 is set in the early 15th century. The action begins after the Battle of Shrewsbury and continues the history of the King’s reign begun in Henry IV, Part 1.

(Prologue) Rumour recounts the spreading of false news of Hotspur’s victory in the Battle of Shrewsbury.

(Act 1) At his castle in Warkworth, Northumberland learns of his son Hotspur’s death and the King’s victory at Shrewsbury. In London, Falstaff encounters the Lord Chief Justice who rebukes him for his behaviour. At York, the Archbishop of York and other lords plan further rebellion.

(Act 2) At the Boar’s Head Tavern in London, Mistress Quickly has Falstaff arrested for debt. The ensuing scuffle is interrupted by the Lord Chief Justice, and the matter is settled amicably. At Warkworth, Northumberland is persuaded not to join the rebels but fly to Scotland. Back in London, Falstaff and his followers carouse with Mistress Quickly. They are joined by Prince Henry, but their merriment is quickly ended by a messenger from the King and the departure of the Prince to join his father.

(Act 3) The King resolves to take action against the rebels at York. On his way to join the King’s army, Falstaff stops off in Gloucestershire to recruit soldiers with the help of Justices Shallow and Silence.

(Act 4) The Archbishop of York and the other rebel lords prepare for battle. Westmoreland hears their grievances on behalf of Prince John of Lancaster, who commands the King’s forces. Prince John agrees to redress their wrongs, but as their army begins to disperse he arrests them. At Westminster, the King is gravely ill. Prince Henry visits his sickbed and, finding him asleep, takes the crown from his pillow. King Henry, who is dying, confides in and advises the Prince who will soon ascend the throne.

(Act 5) Falstaff returns to London, making another visit to Justices Shallow and Silence on the way. The King is dead, and the Prince is now Henry V. In Gloucestershire, Falstaff hears of the Prince’s accession and makes haste to London. Returning from his coronation, Henry V meets Falstaff and disowns him.

(Epilogue) An actor apologises for an earlier displeasing play, and pleads on behalf of this one. He promises to continue the story in yet another play, with Sir John Falstaff and Katherine of France.


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