Paintings of William Shakespeare’s Plays 18: Henry IV part 2

Robert Smirke (1753–1845), Falstaff Rebuked (c 1795), oil on canvas, 79.4 x 55.5 cm, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons.

In the first of these two articles showing paintings of William Shakespeare’s two plays about King Henry IV, I covered the first play. This described events leading to the rebellion against the King and the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403.

Following the defeat of that rebellion at Shrewsbury, Lord Bardolph misinforms Northumberland, who had excused himself from the battle as sick, that the King was defeated and killed there, and that Hotspur had killed Prince Harry. This is contradicted by a servant and an eye-witness, who warns Northumberland that Prince John and Westmorland are leading an army north, towards him. But the Archbishop of York is raising forces to help Northumberland.

The large figure of Falstaff, with the comic contrast of a small page provided by Prince Harry, is made aware by the Lord Chief Justice that his involvement in the highway robbery is well known, but he hasn’t been punished for that because of his service to the King at Shrewsbury. Falstaff has been sent north with Prince John, to separate him from Harry, and takes the opportunity to ask the judge for the loan of a thousand pounds to cover his expenses. His request is refused, so Falstaff sends begging letters for a military pension for a limp that he has just acquired.

With the King’s forces divided into three, the Archbishop of York, Lord Bardolph and others are encouraged in their continuing rebellion.

Falstaff is arrested for breach of promise with Mistress Quickly, who has been supporting him for years on the strength of his promise to marry her. After unsuccessfully trying to claim that she is mad, Falstaff renews his promise with her and convinces her to pawn her silver so she can lend him more money. She invites him to supper, offering him the company of Doll Tearsheet, a prostitute.

The judge hears of the King falling ill. Prince Harry tells Poins he is sad to hear of his father’s illness. He is then handed a letter from Falstaff warning the Prince that Poins has been claiming he (Harry) will marry Poins’ sister, which Poins denies. The two of them decide to spy on Falstaff when he dines at the tavern.

Northumberland is persuaded not to join the rebel forces, and flee instead to Scotland until the outcome of the rebellion is apparent.

While dining at the tavern with Mistress Quickly and Doll Tearsheet, Falstaff is accosted by Pistol, who is eventually ejected by Bardolph. Falstaff seats Doll Tearsheet on his knee and talks insultingly of Prince Harry, who is spying on them.

Thomas Stothard (1755–1834), Falstaff and Doll Tearsheet (date not known), oil on panel, 21.2 x 15.3 cm, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons.

Thomas Stothard’s undated painting of Falstaff and Doll Tearsheet shows the couple together, with Mistress Quickly behind, and the Prince and Poins behind the arras at the left.

Henry Fuseli (1741-1825), Henry IV Part 2 Act II Scene 4 (1805), further details not known. Wikimedia Commons.

In 1805, Henry Fuseli painted this scene, Henry IV Part 2 Act II Scene 4, for Boydell’s ill-fated Shakespeare Gallery in London.

The Prince and Poins reveal themselves, only for Falstaff to excuse himself, but the Prince is called away suddenly to the King, and Falstaff has to return to the army.

The King is anxious and unable to sleep, but is comforted to learn that Glyndwr is dead.

Falstaff is back to recruiting his soldiers, this time in Warwickshire with his old friends Justices Shallow and Silence. Again he accepts bribes, offered via Bardolph, to exempt the most able-bodied.

John Cawse (1778–1862), Bardolph and Falstaff putting Wart through the Drill (c 1827), oil on canvas, 59.8 x 84.1 cm, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons.

John Cawse’s Bardolph and Falstaff putting Wart through the Drill from about 1827 shows the two judges sat at the left, as Bardolph, with the prominent nose, brings recruits before Sir John.

John Cawse (1778–1862), Falstaff Ridiculing Bardolph’s Nose (c 1820), media and dimensions not known, Cornell University Library, Ithaca, NY. Wikimedia Commons.

Cawse also painted Falstaff Ridiculing Bardolph’s Nose in about 1820.

The Archbishop of York and other rebels in the Forest of Gaultres hear that Northumberland won’t be joining them after all. Westmorland from the royal army arrives and takes a list of their grievances back to Prince John, who arranges a meeting at which he assures the rebel leaders that the King will respect any agreement making peace with them. At that, the rebels dismiss their forces, and those leaders are promptly arrested for treason, to be executed despite their grievances being addressed.

A rebel commander meets Falstaff, and hearing his name, surrenders to him immediately. The rebel is handed over to Prince John, who has him sent to York for execution.

The King, now sick in bed, speaks anxiously of the future of his kingdom under Prince Harry. He is told of the defeat of the Archbishop’s army, and that the Sheriff of Yorkshire has defeated Northumberland and his Scottish allies. That news causes the King to have a seizure, then to fall asleep, his crown next to his head.

Prince Harry arrives and alone with the sleeping King, he considers a monarch’s responsibilities. When he suspects the King has died, Harry tries the crown on. The King awakens, notices the crown is missing, and when Harry returns admonishes him at length. Harry, now weeping, assures his father of the truth. They are reconciled, as the King grows convinced that he will soon die there.

As Falstaff is returning from battle, he drops in to Justice Shallow’s house. The Lord Chief Justice then learns of the death of King Henry IV. The court assembles, with many anxious about how they will fare under the new King. Harry, though, surprises them with a thoughtful and dignified speech.

John Cawse (1778–1862), Pistol Announcing to Falstaff the Death of the King (c 1820), oil on canvas, 52.2 x 78 cm, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons.

John Cawse painted two different versions of Pistol Announcing to Falstaff the Death of the King, above and below, although their details appear to have been merged into a single one.

John Cawse (1778–1862), Pistol Announcing to Falstaff the Death of the King (c 1820), oil on canvas, 52.2 x 78 cm, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons.

Falstaff, Bardolph and the page are dining at Justice Shallow’s house when Pistol bursts in to announce the death of the old King and Harry’s succession. Falstaff sets off for London full of hope for his future relationship with the new King. In the city, Mistress Quickly and Doll Tearsheet are arrested by beadles for a fatal beating.

Falstaff and his friends eagerly await Harry’s coronation as King Henry V. Falstaff has borrowed another thousand pounds in the expectation of a new position, but the new King publicly renounces his old ways and rejects Falstaff, banning the old knight from coming within ten miles of him, on pain of death.

Robert Smirke (1753–1845), Falstaff Rebuked (c 1795), oil on canvas, 79.4 x 55.5 cm, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons.

Robert Smirke’s painting of Falstaff Rebuked from about 1795 shows Sir John on the right as he bows to the newly crowned King.

The Lord Chief Justice then commits Falstaff and his friends to Fleet prison for debtors. There are also rumours of the new King starting a military campaign in France, where Falstaff might end up dying of a sweat.


Wikipedia on Shakespeare’s play.
Full text at Project Gutenberg.

Michael Dobson and Stanley Wells (eds) (2015) The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare, 2nd edn, Oxford UP. ISBN 978 0 19 870873 5.