Henry IV, Part 2 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry IV, Part 2 | Act 4, Scene 3 | Summary

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Summary

At the palace, King Henry IV asks his sons Humphrey of Gloucester and Thomas of Clarence where Prince Hal is. Humphrey answers that he thinks he's hunting in Windsor. The king tells Thomas to support his brother after Hal is made king. Thomas agrees, but then admits that Hal is not hunting and is instead in the London taverns with Poins and others of his hangers-on.

Henry IV worries when he hears of this, but the earl of Warwick assures him that the prince is only observing Poins and the rest: "The Prince but studies his companions / Like a strange tongue, wherein, to gain the language." He argues Hal will cast his disreputable friends aside when it is time for him to rule.

The earl of Westmoreland arrives to tell the king how John has captured the archbishop of York, Lord Mowbray, and Lord Hastings and scattered their army, ending the rebellion. Harcourt then enters to announce that Northumberland and Lord Bardolph were defeated in Yorkshire.

Even with this good news, the king is distressed. He falls into a fit while his sons and advisers worry for his health. When the king returns to his senses, he asks to be taken to a quiet chamber. He removes his crown and places it on a pillow.

Prince Hal arrives. After speaking with his brothers about their father's illness, he is left alone with the king. Once left alone, the prince speaks of the burdens that come with the crown, claiming that it has stifled his father even as it symbolized his power. Believing his father to be dead, he picks up the crown, places it on his head, and leaves.

King Henry IV wakes and becomes upset that his crown is missing. Warwick leaves to find Prince Hal, leaving the king with his other two sons. The king speaks of the treachery of sons toward their fathers, arguing that they bring their children power and riches only to be murdered for them. Warwick returns and says that he found Prince Hal crying in the next room. The prince enters and Henry calls him over, ordering everyone else to leave.

The king rebukes Hal for taking the crown before he was even dead, warning him he is not ready for the challenges it brings. After he gets over his outrage that Hal would steal the crown before he's even dead, he finally speaks his concerns: that Hal will undo everything Henry IV has done during his kingship.

Prince Hal returns the crown and kneels, then explains that he thought his father to be dead—otherwise he would never have dared take it. The king is satisfied, and they speak of other things. Henry IV tells Hal of how he came to win the throne and hopes that Hal's ascension is easier. He suggests Hal keep his lords busy with wars in foreign lands to keep them from rebelling. Hal answers he will maintain the crown Henry has given him.

Prince John of Lancaster enters, along with the other brothers and attendants. King Henry asks the name of the room he collapsed in, and Warwick tells him it is called the Jerusalem chamber. Henry recounts a prophecy that said he would die in Jerusalem, which he had assumed meant the Holy Land. He asks them to bear him back to that chamber to die.

Analysis

There are a number of themes at work in this scene. Prince Hal's behavior with his old friends gives the appearance of him not caring about his role in the succession, but Henry IV's advisers assure him this is not the case—rather, the prince has ulterior motives for doing so. Whether this is true or not remains to be seen, but it muddies the waters of expectation.

Prince Hal's thoughts on the responsibilities of a king echo his father's thoughts in Act 3. Unlike Falstaff's comparison between father and son in the previous scene, it seems they are more alike than they first appear. In addition, Hal's speech shows his personal growth from a young man into a future king. He is breaking more clearly from Falstaff and his misspent youth and allying himself with his father.

This responsibility is echoed in King Henry IV's criticisms of Hal when he wakes to find the crown gone from his pillow. He's worried about his legacy. He fears Prince Hal will dismiss his advisers, break the laws, and put his friends into positions of power: "Pluck down my officers, break my decrees, / For now a time is come to mock at form. / Harry the Fifth is crowned. Up, vanity, / Down, royal state (271–74). Hal will undo everything Henry IV has worked so hard to put in place, resulting in the anarchy and wildness that characterizes the period before he took the throne.

Prince Hal's response comforts his father, showing he takes the responsibility of legacy seriously. He promises to prove what he says is true, that he will be a good king. Hal even states he took the crown not out of longing for it but to look on it as an enemy, a murderer, for it is killing his father. Father and son are at last reunited.

In the king's advice to his son about ruling, the theme of the past haunting the present is illustrated again. Henry IV suggests the wars he's fought as king are a result of all the bloodshed necessary to win the crown in the first place. He tells Hal to focus on wars abroad in order to keep the peace at home—they will keep those with rebellion on their mind busy and away from England. This foreshadows the events in Henry V, and it points, again, to a corrupted and problematic world, in which peacetime is no longer the goal of war—instead, a successful king merely focuses warlike energy in the right direction.

In keeping with traditional stories about prophecies, Henry has misinterpreted the prophecy of his death. He had wanted to go to Jerusalem to atone for his part in the death of Richard II, but he knows it is too late to make it there. In an instance of dramatic irony, the king travels to a different Jerusalem and has a different reconciliation than he had expected. The resolution of the prophecy seems to give Henry comfort and allows him to face death contentedly.

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