Henry IV Part 2
Henry IV Part 2
by William Shakespeare
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Henry IV Part 2 Theme of Warfare

There's a whole lot of talk about warfare, but very little action in Henry IV Part 2. Instead, the play looks back on the events surrounding the battle at Shrewsbury (from Part 1) and even looks ahead to the war Henry V will wage against France in the play Henry V. Like the other Henry plays, Part 2 reminds us that civil war is a family affair – civil strife is frequently associated with domestic abuse. The play also reveals that King Henry IV's unfulfilled plans for a crusade are hardly more than a diversionary tactic. At other times, Shakespeare points to the kinds of corruption and deceit that inevitable accompany war – Falstaff is up to his old tricks again, taking bribes from recruits and devising a scheme to defraud the military so he can receive a wounded soldier's pension. Even Prince John, the military leader in charge of the king's forces, manages to avert a bloody battle only after he deceives the rebel leaders.

Questions About Warfare

  1. What does Rumour have to say about the battle at Shrewsbury in the Induction (prologue)?
  2. Henry IV has always wanted to lead a crusade to the Holy Land. Why does he want to wage war in Jerusalem? (Tip: Pay attention to what he says to Hal on his deathbed.)
  3. What happens to the rebels at Gaultree Forest?
  4. There's plenty of talk about warfare in Henry IV Part 2 but we never see an actual battle. Why do you think that is?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

If warfare and "honour" go hand-in-hand in Henry IV Part 1, then Part 2 is all about the relationship between warfare and corruption.

In the play, Shakespeare reminds us that, if a kingdom is like a large family, then civil warfare is tantamount to domestic violence.

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