OK, so The First Part of Henry the Fourth gave us a rebellious Hal, a rebel Hotspur, a wild Falstaff and a pretty boring Henry. When the play ends, Hotspur is dead, Hal a hero and reunited with his father, but the rebellion is not over.
So what is our expectation for The Second Part of Henry the Fourth?
Historically speaking, there is continued rebellion, but one of the main conflicts of the first play, between Hal and his father, is missing. The charismatic rebel Hotspur is gone. And Hal has left the tavern behind. So what is there left?
Many critics write this play off as a kind of reboot of The First Part, but I’m not buying it.
- In this play, we have a rebellion. But it is gutted to the point that we don’t even get to see a battle.
- In this play, we have a renewal of tension between Hal and his father, but it seems more of a strain for Shakespeare than it does for the characters.
- In this play, Hal spends more time with his father and Poins than he does with Falstaff.
If this play IS a reboot, it’s a lame one. A mere shadow of its former self.
I’ve heard some call it the masterwork of someone who knows what the audience’s expectations are, and who confounds them at every turn.
But just because you confound expectations doesn’t make it a good play.