Study Guide

Henry IV Part 2 What's Up With the Title?

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What's Up With the Title?

The title is pretty straightforward. We know we're getting the second installment of a play that covers the reign of King Henry IV.

The titles of Shakespeare's plays weren't always so simple. If we were to pick up one of the first published editions of the play, we'd get a lot more information. Elizabethan publishers were always taking it upon themselves to add a little something extra to spice up title pages. The 1600 Quarto, for example, reads like this:

Second part of Henrie
the fourth, continuing to his death,
and coronation of Henrie
the fift.

With the humours of sir John Fal-
staffe, and Swaggering

As it hath been sundrie times publikely
acted by the right honourable, the Lord
Chamberlaine his servants

Written by William Shakespeare

You can check out the original by clicking here.

This extra information could be useful, don't you think? It looks like Henry IV's reign is coming to an end here and his son, Henry V, is going to take over. Hmm. The death of a king and the installation of a new one? Sounds pretty dramatic. Come to think of it, the matter of kingly succession would have been especially relevant for English audiences in 1600 (when this edition was printed) because the unmarried and childless Queen Elizabeth I (b. 1533 - d.1603) was pretty old by this time and had no heir to inherit the throne.

On the other hand, if we're worried things will get a little too heavy, the title page also promises that we're in for some serious fun – who wouldn't love the "humours" of Falstaff and the antics of the "swaggering" Pistol? (We saw Part 1 and Falstaff was hilarious. By the way, if you haven't checked out Shmoop's guide to Henry IV Part 1, you should.)

So, we know by now that the play is going to mix some "high" historical matters of state with some "low" comedic antics involving fictional characters, just like Henry IV Part 1. We're also told that the play has been popular on stage and was performed by the Lord Chamberlain's Men. (Psst. That's the name of theater company Shakespeare belonged to for most of his career. The name was later changed to the King's Men when James I was crowned King of England in 1603, becoming the company's official patron.) Who knew you could learn so much about a play just by reading a title?

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