Henry IV, Part 2 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

Get the eBook on Amazon to study offline.

Buy on Amazon Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "Henry IV, Part 2 Study Guide." Course Hero. 16 Oct. 2017. Web. 25 Sep. 2023. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Henry-IV-Part-2/>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2017, October 16). Henry IV, Part 2 Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved September 25, 2023, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Henry-IV-Part-2/

In text

(Course Hero, 2017)



Course Hero. "Henry IV, Part 2 Study Guide." October 16, 2017. Accessed September 25, 2023. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Henry-IV-Part-2/.


Course Hero, "Henry IV, Part 2 Study Guide," October 16, 2017, accessed September 25, 2023, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Henry-IV-Part-2/.

Henry IV, Part 2 | Context


The Histories of Shakespeare

Henry IV, Part 2 is part of Shakespeare's second historical tetralogy, which is called the Henriad by scholars (made up of Richard II, Henry IV, Part 1, Henry IV, Part 2, and Henry V). The Henriad focuses on the founding of the royal house of Lancaster. Later events are recounted in Shakespeare's first tetralogy (Henry VI, Part 1, Henry VI, Part 2, Henry VI, Part 3, and Richard III, written in the early 1590s). These plays take place during the Wars of the Roses (1455–85 clashes between the houses of Lancaster and York), which would end with the crowning of Henry VII, the first ruler of the Tudor dynasty. Shakespeare wrote Henry IV, Part 2 around the year 1598, nearly 200 years after the events in the play take place. At that time Elizabeth I, the last Tudor ruler, held the throne.

Succession, Divine Right, and Legitimacy

The period that Shakespeare dramatizes in Henry IV, Part 2 is one of political instability and upheaval. The play details the founding of the Lancastrian dynasty, setting up the dynastic quarrel at the root of the Wars of the Roses (named for the red rose that symbolized the house of Lancaster and the white rose of York). Henry IV and Henry V were descended from the duke of Lancaster. Henry IV usurped the throne from Richard II and bypassed the rightful hereditary heir, Edmund Mortimer.

This deviation from following the right of rulership is one of the issues that bothers Henry IV so much in the play. He has usurped his position and thus does not have the divine right of kings that previous monarchs claimed—invoking the divine right of kings was a powerful tool for maintaining peace and stability, and neither Henry nor his descendants can honestly claim legitimacy. He hopes Henry V's inheritance of the throne will legitimize his Lancastrian dynasty. Unfortunately, the coming years are marked with struggle between the Lancasters and Yorks over the throne. The quarrel is finally resolved when Henry Tudor (Henry VII) marries Elizabeth of York and takes the throne. Elizabeth I was directly descended from this line and was the reigning monarch during the period when Shakespeare wrote his plays.

Shakespeare portrays pre-Tudor England as a time of enormous upheaval and danger. In doing so he is helping to legitimize the Tudors, who were also usurpers—Henry Tudor had at best a weak claim to the throne. But in painting the Wars of the Roses as a terrible time, and the rise of the Tudor dynasty as the beginning of an era of stability and strength, Shakespeare implicitly suggests that the takeover was justified.

Historical Sources and Artistic Inventions

Shakespeare is thought to have used a number of sources for his Henriad, the first most likely being Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1587) by Raphael Holinshed. While Shakespeare did use historical information as a jumping-off point, he did alter or invent other historical details, events, and people. Other probable sources include The First Foure Bookes of the Civile Wars (1595) by Samuel Daniel and The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Famelies of Lancastre and Yorke (1548) by Edward Hall. Although Shakespeare researched his history, he still changed the facts to suit the medium of theatre. He condenses time, combines battles, and creates or modifies characters. Sir John Falstaff, for example, appears nowhere in history.

An Outsized Character—The Development of Falstaff

Sir John Falstaff, perhaps inspired by the real Prince Henry's friend Sir John Oldcastle, is considered to be one of Shakespeare's greatest characters, but there is a significant difference between the Falstaff in Henry IV, Part 1 and Part 2. In Part 1 Falstaff is a boisterous, lively force of nature, the friend and father figure that Prince Hal associates with in his misspent youth. But in Part 2 Falstaff shows the darker side of his chaotic nature without the mitigating influence. He's still witty, but he's also conniving people out of their money, insulting the law, and insulting his friends. He's slippery, dishonest, and self-aggrandizing. In Part 1 he's a jolly, humorous figure, larger than life. In Part 2 he's made to be a small man, made smaller by Henry V's rejection of him.

Despite his treatment in Henry IV, Part 2, Shakespeare includes the Epilogue to let his audiences know that Falstaff, always a crowd favorite for his wit and bawdiness, would return in another play. Supposedly Elizabeth I was so enamored of the character she asked Shakespeare to pen a play with Falstaff as the main character seeking marriage. Shakespeare then wrote The Merry Wives of Windsor. Falstaff does not appear in Henry V as promised; instead he dies off page.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about Henry IV, Part 2? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!