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MonkeyNotes-Henry IV, Part 2 by William Shakespeare
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Literary Information

Shakespeare’s achievements transcend his sources. He used a variety of sources and reshaped them. He owes much of his story to the third volume of Raphael Holinshed, Chronicles of England (2nd ed., 1587). Holinshed is followed faithfully, though with constructive selection and rearrangement of events. Shakespeare’s adjustments are significant. He has Hal accompany the King against the Welsh after Shrewsbury. Holinshed refers to campaigns, which Henry plans or executes but he does not say that Hal participates. Shakespeare condenses the time between rebellions. In Holinshed the King is a strong leader for ten years after Shrewsbury. In the play he is afflicted almost immediately after Shrewbury and he is sick throughout. The Gaulttree negotiations in Holinshed are handled entirely by Westmoreland.

Samuel Daniel: The First Four Books of the Civil Wars Between the Two Houses of Lancaster and Yorke (1598). Daniel’s influence is more on the tones and attitudes than on facts. The verse is written in simple lines and make the King a tragic hero.


John Stow: The Chronicles of England (1580), The Annals of England (1592). Many of the play’s detail seemed to originate with Stow rather than Holinshsed. The title of “Duke of Lancaster” for Prince John and York’s reference to a “schedule” of grievances echo Stow’s “schedule” rather than Holinshed’s “scroll.” Holinshed treats the death bed of the King briefly, but Stow elaborates on it.

Historical Information

In Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (1587), the chief source for his English chronicle history plays, Shakespeare found the story of three rebellions against the King Henry IV. The first play (Henry IV, Part 1) depicts his victory against the rebels at Shrewsbury. The second play (Henry IV, Part 2) deals with the north of England where civil war again threatened.

Henry IV had to deal with the Welsh, French, Lollards (native religious protestants), and Scots. But this play is concentrated only at on the rebellion from the northern part. Rumors and reports of what happened at Shrewsbury occur in 1403. In 1405, the rebellion led by the Archbishop of York occurred. The rebel leaders were arrested and executed. In 1408, Northumberland and Bardolph were defeated and sentenced to death.

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