Study Guide

Henry IV Part 2 Family

By William Shakespeare

Family

RUMOR
...Hotspur's father, old Northumberland,
Lies crafty-sick. (Induction.36-37)

When Rumour says that Northumberland "lies crafty-sick" at Warkworth castle, we're reminded of the way the earl betrayed his son, Hotspur, by pretending to be too ill to help him fight at the battle at Shrewsbury, where Hotspur lost his life. As if to emphasize the familial betrayal, Rumour refers to the old man not simply as "Northumberland," but as "Hotspur's father." It's also important to note that the reference to Northumberland's betrayal of his son occurs at the beginning of the play, in the Induction, which tips us off that father-son relationships will be an important theme in the play.

NORTHUMBERLAND
Let order die,
And let this world no longer be a stage
To feed contention in a lingering act;
But let one spirit of the first-born Cain
Reign in all bosoms, that, each heart being set
On bloody courses, the rude scene may end,
And darkness be the burier of the dead. (1.1.170-176)

When Northumberland learns the news that his son, Hotspur, has been killed in battle, he calls for more rebellion and civil disorder – "let order die!" There's a whole lot to say about this passage but the point we want to make for our discussion of "Family" is this: the loss of his son incites Northumberland to call for the "spirit" of "Cain" to "reign" in the hearts of every man. Cain, as we know, is the firstborn son of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis. He's also known for being the first person, ever, to commit murder (he killed his brother, Abel). So, when Northumberland imagines rebellion against the king, he imagines it as a form of domestic violence, which reminds the audience that civil strife is, in fact, a family affair.

FALSTAFF
For the box of the
ear that the prince gave you, he gave it like a rude
prince, and you took it like a sensible lord. I have
checked him for it, and the young lion repents.
[Aside.] Marry, not in ashes and sackcloth, but in
new silk and old sack.
CHIEF JUSTICE
Well, God send the prince a better
companion.
FALSTAFF
God send the companion a better prince! I
CHIEF JUSTICE
Well, the king hath severed you and
Prince Harry. (1.2.197-208)

In Henry IV Part 1, Prince Hal rebelled against his father, King Henry IV, and took up with Falstaff, who became a kind of surrogate father figure to the prince by tutoring him in the wild ways of life in Eastcheap, London. Here, Falstaff sounds like a parent when he claims he put Hal in check when the prince "boxed" the LCJ on the ears. Falstaff did no such thing, of course – he's mocking the Lord Chief Justice, who knows that Falstaff is a bad influence on Hal. When the Lord Chief Justice points out that Hal and Falstaff have been "severed" or separated, we're alerted to the fact that Hal and Falstaff don't spend much time together in Part 2. In fact, Hal and Falstaff will only have one personal encounter (in Act 2, Scene 4) before Hal becomes King Henry V and banishes Falstaff altogether in Act 5. Here, it seems that Hal and Falstaff have already begun to grow apart. Is Shakespeare preparing the audience for Hal's painful rejection of Falstaff? Check out "Power" is you want to think about this some more.

NORTHUMBERLAND
Alas, sweet wife, my honor is at pawn,
And, but my going, nothing can redeem it.
LADY PERCY
O yet, for God's sake, go not to these wars.
The time was, father, that you broke your word,
When you were more endeared to it than now,
When your own Percy, when my heart's dear Harry,
Threw many a northward look to see his father
Bring up his powers; but he did long in vain.
Who then persuaded you to stay at home?
There were two honors lost, yours and your son's. (2.3.7-16)

As we know, Northumberland betrayed his son, Hotspur, when he faked an illness and stayed home from the battle at Shrewsbury. This move on Northumberland's part left Hotspur outnumbered by the king's forces. Here, Hotspur's wife, Lady Percy, blames her father-in-law for Hotspur's death and insists that Northumberland lost his "honour" when he abandoned his son. In both parts of Henry IV Shakespeare frequently reminds us that fathers cannot always be trusted to care for their children.

NORTHUMBERLAND
I pray thee, loving wife, and gentle daughter,
Give even way unto my rough affairs.
Put not you on the visage of the times
And be, like them, to Percy troublesome.
LADY NORTHUMBERLAND
I have given over, I will speak no more.
Do what you will; your wisdom be your guide. (2.3.1-6)

Here, Northumberland argues with his wife and daughter-in-law about his role in the rebellion and plans to join the Archbishop of York's revolt against King Henry IV. What's interesting about this passage is the way in which Northumberland asks the women to be obedient to him (to "give even way to his rough affairs"). When Northumberland asks Lady Percy and his wife to "put not on the visage [face] of the times," he's asking them not to be rebellious and unruly. Perhaps inadvertently, he compares their disobedience (arguing with the head of the household) to the recent civil rebellion. In other words, the quarrelsome women are acting toward him in the exact same way that he and the other the rebels are acting toward King Henry IV. Northumberland's domestic quarrel, then, is aligned with civil rebellion. Compare this passage to 4.1, below.

ARCHBISHOP
So that this land, like an offensive wife
That hath enraged him on to offer strokes,
As he is striking holds his infant up
And hangs resolved correction in the arm
That was upreared to execution. (4.1.220-224)

This is a bizarre passage, don't you think? When the Archbishop of York says that it's in King Henry's best interest to make peace with the rebel leaders, he reasons that Henry can't punish his enemies without also harming his friends. Because political alliances and relationships are so complex, executing one of the rebels might end up offending one of Henry's cherished allies. What's fascinating about the Archbishop's analogy is that he compares King Henry to a father and husband who might lift his hand to strike an "offensive wife" (the rebel leaders) but would stop if the "wife" held up his "infant" (Henry's cherished allies). This isn't the first time we've seen a comparison between civil strife and domestic violence and it's certainly not the last.

History Snack: The Archbishop's speech seems to echo the common 16th century political and social idea that a kingdom is much like a great big family. Check out what Desiderius Erasmus (a famous Renaissance humanist) wrote in his popular "how to" guide for monarchs:

The good prince ought to have the same attitude toward his subjects, as a good paterfamilias [father] toward his household – for what else is a kingdom but a great family? What is the king if not the father to a great multitude? (The Education of a Christian Prince, 1516).

PRINCE HENRY No; I will sit and watch here by the king.
                                                                          All but Prince and King exit.[...]
Thy due from me
Is tears and heavy sorrows of the blood,
Which nature, love, and filial tenderness
Shall, O dear father, pay thee plenteously.
My due from thee is this imperial crown,
Which, as immediate as thy place and blood,
Derives itself to me. [He puts on the crown.] Lo,
   here it sits,
Which God shall guard. And put the world's whole
   strength
Into one giant arm, it shall not force
This lineal honor from me. This from thee
Will I to mine leave, as 'tis left to me.(4.3.166; 183-195)

This is a rather tender moment, wouldn't you say? Here, Prince Hal sits beside his slumbering father and promises to defend the crown when he is king. Unfortunately, the king is sleeping when his son pours his heart out.

PRINCE
I never thought to hear you speak again.
KING
Thy wish was father, Harry, to that thought.
I stay too long by thee; I weary thee.
Dost thou so hunger for mine empty chair
That thou wilt needs invest thee with my honors
Before thy hour be ripe? O foolish youth,
Thou seek'st the greatness that will overwhelm
   thee.
Stay but a little; for my cloud of dignity
Is held from falling with so weak a wind
That it will quickly drop. My day is dim.
Thou hast stolen that which after some few hours
Were thine without offense, and at my death
Thou hast sealed up my expectation.
Thy life did manifest thou lovedst me not,
And thou wilt have me die assured of it.
Thou hid'st a thousand daggers in thy thoughts,
Which thou hast whetted on thy stony heart
To stab at half an hour of my life. (4.3.244-262)

In one of the play's most striking moments, Prince Hal, thinking his father has died, takes the royal crown and leaves the room. When the king wakes up from his nap, he's ticked and goes off on his son, accusing Hal of hiding a "thousand daggers" in his "thoughts." In other words, Henry has always suspected that Hal doesn't love him and wants to see him dead so he, Hal, can get his hands on the crown. (Apparently, Henry has forgotten all about how Hal saved his life during battle in act five of Henry IV Part 1.)

This passage speaks to the delicacy of lineal succession and the consequences of primogeniture (the system by which eldest sons inherit their fathers' wealth, titles, lands, power, debt, etc.). As long as one's father is alive, a son has limited power and wealth, which can strain even the best father-son relationships. Shakespeare explores the idea that all sons (not just princes who stand to inherit kingdoms) inevitably look forward to their fathers' deaths in other plays as well – particularly Hamlet and King Lear.

We also want to point out Henry's witty remark that Hal "fathered" the idea that King Henry was dead. In other words, Henry claims that Hal "wish[ed]" his father was dead and, was therefore, quick to imagine that the old man had passed away when, in fact, he was only sleeping.

PRINCE, placing the crown on the pillow
O pardon me, my liege! But for my tears,
The moist impediments unto my speech,
I had forestalled this dear and deep rebuke
Ere you with grief had spoke and I had heard
The course of it so far. There is your crown,
And He that wears the crown immortally
Long guard it yours. (4.3.293-299).

Hmm. Hal seems sincere when he apologizes to his father for laying claim to the crown prematurely. What do you think? Should we believe him?

WARWICK
My lord, I found the prince in the next room,
Washing with kindly tears his gentle cheeks,
With such a deep demeanor in great sorrow
That tyranny, which never quaffed but blood,
Would, by beholding him, have washed his knife
With gentle eyedrops. He is coming hither. (4.3.235-240)

Warwick, who seems to know Hal well, defends the prince after Henry IV flips out about Hal "trying on" the crown. In fact, Warwick reports that Hal went crying into another room when he thought his father was dead so, it seems that Hal was devastated. Yet, Warwick also says something kind of strange here. Apparently, Hal was sobbing so much that his tears could have "wash'd" a bloody knife. Of course, Warwick means to imply that Hal is sorrowful but, the image of "tyranny's" bloody knife in this passage seems kind of menacing, don't you think?

KING
O my son,
God put it in thy mind to take it hence
That thou mightst win the more thy father's love,
Pleading so wisely in excuse of it.
Come hither, Harry, sit thou by my bed (4.3.334-338)

It's a good thing King Henry decides to forgive Hal for taking his crown because Henry's on his death bed. In the play, it's pretty important for Hal and his father to reconcile before Hal inherits the throne. In fact, it seems as though the well-being of the war-torn country depends on it, which you can read all about by going to "Quotes" for "Power."