1. When was the play first performed?
2. Where was the play first performed?
At The Theatre, James Burgage’s playhouse in Shoreditch, north of London’s city walls.
3. How does this play fit into Shakespeare’s career?
Your word of the day: “tetralogy,” a set of four works. Shakespeare wrote two tetralogies based on English history. His first, when he was learning his craft, looks at the War of the Roses in the three parts of Henry VI and Richard III (the only one regularly staged). The second tetralogy—Richard II, the two parts of Henry IV, and Henry V, all four among the most admired of Shakespeare’s works—comes towards the middle of his career.
4. How is this play like Shakespeare’s other plays?
This is a sequel to Shakespeare’s blockbuster Henry IV, and Shakespeare looks out for the box office by picking up the narrative from where Part 1 leaves off and by giving Part 2 a structure that looks to be the twin of Part 1 as it switches back and forth from the world of royalty—the King, Prince Hal, the rebellious nobles—to the tavern life of Falstaff and his companions…
5. How is this play unlike Shakespeare’s other plays?
… BUT Shakespeare, who never behaves, tempts us to expect a serio-comic play like Henry IV, Part 1, that ends in a “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” between Prince Hal and Hotspur. He gives us instead something deeper, a comic-serio play about the Prince and his two father figures, the King and Falstaff.
6. What do scholars think about this play?
As many film critics rank
Godfather II above Godfather I, many Shakespeare scholars think that Henry IV, Part 2, may be even better than its predecessor. I am one of those many. It might also be the best play yet about a man growing old.
7. Are there any controversies surrounding the work?
None except academic squabbles about when exactly Shakespeare wrote this relative to The Merry Wives of Windsor, the other “Falstaff play.”
8. What characters should I especially look for?
Shakespeare introduces an unusual number of new characters near the middle of this play: Doll Tearsheet (Falstaff’s combative “whore”), Pistol (Falstaff’s outrageous “ensign”), and Justice Shallow (Falstaff’s prosperous “host” in Gloucestershire). All brighten and deepen the play.
9. What scene should I especially look for?
The final scene is perhaps Shakespeare’s most haunting, and Act Two, scene four, at the Boarshead Tavern, is perhaps his best.
10. What is the language like?
As fancy as calling a crown a “polished perturbation,” as simple as “I am old.”