The stirring continuation of the themes begun in "Henry IV, Part One" again pits a rebellion within the State and that master of misrule, Falstaff, against the maturing of Prince Hal. Alternating scenes between bawdy tavern and regal court, between revelry and politics, Shakespeare probes at the sources, uses, and responsibilities of power as an old king dies and a young king must choose between a ruler's solemn duty and a merry but dissipated friend, Falstaff. The play represents Shakespeare at the peak of his maturity in writing historical drama and comedy.
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Written in 1598, hard on the heels of the massive popular success of Henry IV Part One, Henry IV Part Two takes up where the first part finished, and completes Shakespeare's portrayal of the troubled reign of Henry IV. Rebellion has apparently been quelled, but dissension still permeates the country, and Henry is disillusioned, sick and dying. After the pace and comedy of Part One., Part Two is a much more subdued and gloomy affair. The tone is set by the early appearance of Falstaff, who relishes the possibilities of easy picking in the face of more civil unrest with his sinister quip that "I will turn diseases to commodity".
The drama focuses on Henry IV's difficult relationship with his son Prince Hal, and the latter's gradual emergence as a charismatic sovereign. In the process he sheds his image as a prodigal wastrel dramatised in the first half of Part One, assuming the title of King Henry V in the closing scenes of Part Two. Perhaps the most poignant moment of the whole play remains Henry's cold-blooded rejection of Falstaff, his surrogate father for much of Part One. "I know thee not, old man" he tells the crushed Falstaff as he assumes the royal crown, preparing the audience for the type of monarch they will see in Shakeseare's subsequent dramatisation of English history, Henry V. --Jerry BrottonReview:
enjoys the same high standards of design and production as its predecessors. The text pages clearly differentiate text, collation, and notes; the documentation is full but inconspicuous; and it has been well proof-read ... Dr Weis provides an economical but illuminating discussion of Shakespeare's sources ... The annotations throughout are lucid and economical, responsive to both levels of plot. ... Rene Weis's edition can be recommended as a thoughtful and sensitive response to the play, which ranks alongside the outstanding 1966 New Arden edition by R A Humphreys. ( Brian Vickers, ROES, vol 50 no 200 (1999))
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