Henry IV, Part 2 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry IV, Part 2 | Act 3, Scene 1 | Summary



Ill and suffering insomnia, King Henry IV is up at night in his palace at Westminster, discussing the hardships of being a ruler. The earls of Warwick and Surrey arrive, and they talk of Northumberland's betrayal. The king is worried that the rebels claim to have 50,000 men, but Warwick refutes that, saying they have perhaps half that number. He then tells Henry that Glendower is dead, and gently tells King Henry that he is too unwell to keep these late hours and should rest. Henry is pleased, dismissing his vassals with a wish to visit the Holy Land when the domestic strife is ended.


Sleep plays an important role in the play and is mentioned in a number of monologues. Here, Henry IV talks of being unable to sleep. He mentions the common people that are able to sleep and wonders why such a simple thing should be denied a king. This speech and scene is a nice lead up to Henry finally sleeping and Prince Hal believing him to be dead. It also gives us one of the most famous lines in Shakespeare: "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown" (31). Henry IV contemplates the unfortunate side of being king and the downsides of monarchy. Sleep is not troubled when you lead a simple life, but with the power of kings comes burdens of royal magnitude.

When his noblemen arrive, Henry IV speaks of Northumberland's rebellion. Henry remembers Richard II's prediction that Northumberland would rise against Henry just as Henry had risen against Richard. It sends the king into despair as thoughts of the past, and how it informs the future, haunt him. Henry mentions going to the Holy Land, Jerusalem, something that he's mentioned in previous plays. But he's not just interested in making a personal pilgrimage: Henry, who lived during the height of the Crusades, wants to launch one of his own. Strife at home has kept him from what he sees as a holy act.

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