Henry IV, Part 2 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry IV, Part 2 | Act 2, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

Prince Hal and Poins enter his quarters in London. Hal is complaining that he feels tired, and he resents the responsibilities of being royal as well as the fact that so much is now considered beneath him—even too much familiarity with companions like Poins. Poins asks why the prince speaks so idly when his father is ill. Hal answers with a question: How would it look were he to weep over his father's illness? Poins tells Hal that people will think him a hypocrite if he says he is sad about his father's health when he has spent so much time with men like Falstaff.

Bardolph and the page enter with a letter for Prince Hal from Falstaff. Hal decides to visit Falstaff in disguise to spy on him. He pays the page and Bardolph to keep his plan secret.

Analysis

In our first interaction with Prince Hal since Henry IV, Part 1, we can see the changes already working on him. In Part 1 he caroused with Falstaff, Poins, and other disreputable types to the disappointment of the king and his court. He behaved so with the idea that his sudden turnaround into a responsible monarch would impress the court and country. When King Henry IV exacts a promise from Prince Hal to act like the prince he is in Part 1 and reform his behavior, we see him here, in Henry IV, Part 2, working toward that aim.

Still Hal is unable to fully divest himself of his ties to Falstaff—who, for Hal, represents youth, private life, and freedom from the stifling role of a prince—just yet. Thus he decides to spy on the man in the tavern later that evening. It is interesting that his decision to seek out Falstaff in disguise comes right after his asking Poins about the hypocrisy of grieving for his father while spending time with men like Falstaff. It ties into the theme of appearance versus reality. Prince Hal and Poins are going in disguise to see the true nature of the man (even if it is in jest) when Falstaff doesn't know it is them.

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