Study Guide

Henry IV Part 2 Warfare

By William Shakespeare

Warfare

NORTHUMBERLAND
The times are wild. Contention, like a horse
Full of high feeding, madly hath broke loose
And bears down all before him. (1.1.12-14)

Northumberland sure likes his similes. (A simile is a comparison of one thing directly to another.) Here, Northumberland says that civil warfare is like a horse that's broken out of its stall. In other words, the times are wild and unpredictable.

LORD BARDOLPH
As good as heart can wish.
The king is almost wounded to the death,
And, in the fortune of my lord your son,
Prince Harry slain outright; and both the Blunts
Killed by the hand of Douglas; young Prince John
And Westmoreland and Stafford fled the field;
And Harry Monmouth's brawn, the hulk Sir John,
Is prisoner to your son. O, such a day,
So fought, so followed, and so fairly won,
Came not till now to dignify the times
Since Caesar's fortunes. (1.1.18-28)

Lord Bardolph is reporting false information to Northumberland here. The truth is that Hotspur has been killed at the battle at Shrewsbury, where the king's forces have been victorious. Consequently, the remaining rebels proceed with more caution in Henry IV Part 2, planning each of their steps carefully instead of running headlong into battle like Hotspur did in Part 1.

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 firstborn 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 that his son is dead, he calls for a major battle to "end" the "lingering" rebellion against the king once and for all. When he says let the "spirit of the first-born Cain / Reign in all bosoms," he imagines an entire country fighting and murdering their "brothers" until everyone is dead and buried in "darkness." Harkening all the way back to the first son's murder of his brother in the book of Genesis, Northumberland anticipates an apocalypse (end of the world).

We also notice that Northumberland uses a theater metaphor here when he says the world should stop being a "stage" where civil strife is dragged out in prolonged action (like a really long play). Instead, he wants the "rude scene" to "end." When we think about it, the metaphor conjures a vivid image of corpses scattered all over a theater stage, which is exactly what a stage looks like at the end of a tragedy. For funzies, you might to compare this passage to the end of Hamlet.

KING
I will take your counsel.
And were these inward wars once out of hand,
We would, dear lords, unto the Holy Land. (3.1.110-112)

King Henry IV has been talking about leading a crusade ever since he started feeling guilty about the deposition of King Richard back in Richard II. So, we're not surprised here when he says he wishes the civil war were over so he could lead an army to Jerusalem. Why is Henry so eager to rumble with the "pagans" in the Holy Land? Be sure to check out 4.5 below.

BARDOLPH
Sir, a word with you. I
have three pound to free Mouldy and Bullcalf.
FALSTAFF
Go to, well. (3.2.252-254)

Falstaff's corrupt draft practices continue in Part 2. Here, he takes bribes from Mouldy and Bullcalf, who don't want to serve in the military. This recalls Falstaff's behavior in Henry IV Part 1, where he abused his powers as the Captain of a troop of foot soldiers. Not only did he take bribes from able bodied soldiers, "yeoman's sons" whose families could afford to buy their way out of service, he also amassed a group of "ragged" troops, many of whom are fresh "out of prison" (Henry IV Part 1, 4.2.4).

ARCHBISHOP
So that this land, like an offensive wife
That hath enraged him on to offer strokes, (4.1.220-221)

When the Archbishop of York says that King Henry is like a husband who raises his hand to strike his "wife," he compares the civil war to domestic violence. If you're interested in thinking about this some more, check out "Quotes" for "Family."

ARCHBISHOP
Wherefore do I this? So the question stands.
Briefly, to this end: we are all diseased
And with our surfeiting and wanton hours
Have brought ourselves into a burning fever,
And we must bleed for it; (4.1.56-60)

Archbishop of York claims that a little blood shed during battle is just the thing the "diseased" country needs in order to heal. What the heck is he talking about? How is it possible to "heal" a country with bloodshed? Basically, York is punning on the old school medical practice of "bleeding" sick patients. The idea was that the human body was made up of four basic elements, called humors: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. These elements were supposed to influence a person's general health, disposition, and mood. When someone got sick, one of the first things a physician did was check to make sure all the "humors" were in balance (by inspecting blood, stool, urine, mucous, and so on). If it was looking like a person had too much blood, then the solution was to drain some of it (using blood-sucking leeches or a sharp knife). Check out "Quotes" for "Weakness" if you're interested in learning more about the play's portrayal of disease.

WESTMORELAND
Good tidings, my Lord Hastings, for the which
I do arrest thee, traitor, of high treason.—
And you, Lord Archbishop, and you, Lord Mowbray,
Of capitol treason I attach you both. (4.1.362-365)

If Henry IV Part 1 portrayed dramatic battle scenes, the show-down between the king's forces and the rebels in Part 2 is decidedly anti-climactic, you know? The fact that Prince John tricks the rebels into disarming suggests the play is more about political strategy than physical warfare.

KING
Therefore, my Harry,
Be it thy course to busy giddy minds
With foreign quarrels, that action, hence borne
   out,
May waste the memory of the former days. (4.5.371-374)

Hmm. Why is Henry IV advising Prince Hal to drum up a foreign war when he becomes king? To "busy giddy minds," of course. In other words, a foreign war might be just the thing to keep idle minds from thinking about waging a civil war against the king. This bit of fatherly advice seems to suggest that Henry IV has wanted to lead a crusade (for the past three plays) in order to distract his enemies, no?

JOHN OF LANCASTER
The king hath called his parliament, my lord.
[…]
I will lay odds that, ere this year expire,
We bear our civil swords and native fire
As far as France. (5.5.104; 106-108)

Henry IV Part 2 ends with a hint that, in the play's sequel, England will be at war. This turns out to be an accurate prediction. In Henry V, Hal decides to invade France and reclaim some territories that his family has always believed belonged to them.