Henry IV Part 2

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The Right to the Throne Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Lies, Honesty, Morality Theme Icon
Disease Theme Icon
The Right to the Throne Theme Icon
Time Theme Icon
Warfare Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Henry IV Part 2, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
The Right to the Throne Theme Icon

The struggle for the English crown that drove the action in Henry IV Part 1 continues to power the plot of Henry IV Part 2 as the exhausted King Henry IV keeps on trying to defend his throne against the threatening band of rebels—now lead by the Archbishop of York, Mowbray, and Hastings—plotting to take it away from him. As in Henry IV Part 1, characters endlessly discuss the recent history leading up to Henry IV’s reign. The rebels feel that Henry wrongfully usurped the English throne from King Richard II and are determined to depose Henry to avenge Richard’s blood. Even as King Henry IV strives to maintain his throne, he is wracked by self-doubt and guilt for his past actions, wondering whether he really did act wrongly. “God knows, my son,” he tells Prince Hal, “by what by-paths and indirect crook’d ways I met this crown; and I myself know well how troublesome it sat upon my head.” The unexpectedly silly twist to King Henry IV’s deathbed scene—as Prince Hal assumes that his father is dead and exits the room with the crown so that the king wakes up and grows infuriated, assuming his power-hungry son is eager for him to die—challenges expectations about the throne in another capacity. By depriving the scene of some of its gravity, the play demonstrates that the supposedly solemn, sacred ritual whereby a crown passes from king to prince is in fact just as complex, ego-addled, and human as any father-son relationship.

The struggles surrounding Prince Hal’s royal seat are also carried over from Henry IV Part 1. As in the previous play, Prince Hal has to contend with the public persona he’s built up over years of fooling around with Falstaff and Poins at the tavern. Everyone, including his own father the king, assumes that Hal is just a playboy unfit to take the throne. Indeed, the royal court and advisors are tremendously anxious after King Henry IV dies, assuming that King Henry V will use his new power to play out adolescent revenges. When the new king demonstrates that he has put childish ways behind him and plans to rule by integrity and firm morals, everyone is as shocked as they delighted.

The Right to the Throne ThemeTracker

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The Right to the Throne Quotes in Henry IV Part 2

Below you will find the important quotes in Henry IV Part 2 related to the theme of The Right to the Throne.
Act 1, Scene 3 Quotes

The commonwealth is sick of their own choice:
Their over-greedy love hath surfeited…
…Thou, beastly feeder, art so full of [King Henry IV]
That thou provokes thyself to cast him up.
So, so, thou common dog, didst thou disgorge
Thy glutton bosom of the royal Richard;
And now thou wouldst eat thy dead vomit up. (87-98)

Related Characters: The Archbishop of York (speaker), King Henry IV
Related Symbols: Sickness
Page Number: 1.3.91-103
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Archbishop of York, a rebel sympathizer, advises the rebels to begin their attack on Henry IV very soon. The Archbishop argues that the people of England are ready for a new king: everywhere, he can sense that the people are "stuffed" with Henry IV, and are on the verge of vomiting him up.

The Archbishop makes an interesting point when he compares Henry IV to his predecessor, Richard II, whom Henry IV dethroned. In a way, Henry IV is a victim of his own rebellion. By overthrowing Richard, Henry set the precedent for rebelling against the English monarch whenever the people feel "sick" of him--something that would have been nearly inconceivable before Richard's time. Now, Henry IV must suffer the same fate as his predecessor, it would seem: be overthrown by an angry, unruly people.

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Act 2, Scene 2 Quotes

Prince Hal: Before God, I am exceeding weary.



Poins: Is't come to that? I had thought weariness durst not 
have attached one of so high blood.

Prince Hal: Faith, it does me; though it discolours the 
complexion of my greatness to acknowledge it. Doth 
it not show vilely in me to desire small beer? (1-5)

Related Characters: Prince Hal/King Henry V (speaker), Ned Poins (speaker)
Page Number: 2.2.1-6
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Prince Hal makes a simple admission; he's feeling tired. His associate, Poins, is surprised to hear a prince admit to weakness of any kind, and Hal realizes that Poins has a point. Hal realizes that he needs to do a better job of pretending to be strong and majestic. His days of drinking in taverns are drawing to a close. (Now he only desires "small," or barely-alcoholic, beer.)

Hal's admission in this scene proves that he's smart enough to learn from his mistakes. Hal has been drinking in taverns for years, but now the stakes have changed: in a time of civil unrest, Hal needs to step up his game and be a model of composure and leadership. It's Poins' innocent observation that reinforces this crucial point for the young prince.

Act 3, Scene 1 Quotes

…O partial sleep, give thy repose
To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude
And, in the calmest and most stillest night,
With all appliances and means to boot
Deny it to a king? Then, happy low, lie down.
Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. (26-31)

Related Characters: King Henry IV (speaker)
Page Number: 3.1.26-31
Explanation and Analysis:

In this famous speech, Henry IV finds himself unable to enjoy his life as a king. He has unlimited power over his subjects, and yet he lives in constant fear of being deposed by a jealous rival. Henry IV concludes that being a king isn't much of a gift at all--while he's wide awake late at night, even the lowliest commoners in England get to enjoy their sleep.

Henry IV's speech is interesting in that it echoes a speech given by Richard II in Shakespeare's earlier play. Previously, Henry was a rebel, overthrowing Richard--now he's come to the same fate as Richard: he must spend the rest of his life anxiously defending his position. One important aspect of this is that Henry can't enjoy the "game" of politics--he considers it an heavy duty to have to defend his throne from enemies. In this respect, Henry IV will differ greatly from his son, Henry V, who savors every political battle he fights.

Then you perceive the body of our kingdom,
How foul it is, what rank diseases grow
And with what danger near the heart of it. (38-40)

Related Characters: King Henry IV (speaker)
Related Symbols: Sickness
Page Number: 3.1.38-40
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Henry IV approaches his loyal followers, Warwick and Surrey, and tells them that England has become "diseased." England, Henry suggests, has a great "cancer"--a mass of rebels that is rapidly growing, sapping the country of life.

Henry's speech has another implication as well. In some ways, Henry himself is to blame for England's present "disease." By overthrowing Richard II, Henry has set a dangerous precedent for rebellion and insubordination--by sloppily overthrowing the king and failing to control his own people, Henry IV has brought about his own misery, and contributed to the country's sickness. It's up to Prince Hal to restore the kingdom's health.

Act 4, Scene 1 Quotes

…we are all diseased,
And with our surfeiting and wanton hours
Have brought ourselves into a burning fever,
And we must bleed for it; of which disease
Our late king, Richard, being infected, died.
But, my most noble Lord of Westmoreland,
I take not on me here as a physician,
Nor do I as an enemy to peace
Troop in the throngs of military men;
But rather show awhile like fearful war,
To diet rank minds sick of happiness,
And purge the obstructions which begin to stop
Our very veins of life. (54-66)

Related Characters: The Archbishop of York (speaker), Earl of Westmoreland
Related Symbols: Sickness
Page Number: 4.1.57-69
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Archbishop of York shows himself to be a cunning rhetorician and a great manipulator of other people. York has been asked why he has allowed himself to become involved with a "base insurrection" against Henry IV. York phrases his answer in scientific, medical terms: he says that England as a whole is diseased, and needs to be dispassionately "bled" (a reference to the common medical practice of removing "excess" blood from the sick). In short, York argues that Henry IV's reign is bad for England, and York himself is just a conservative, returning society to its old ways.

Even though it's pretty obvious that York is a radical for rebelling against the king, York skillfully presents himself as the guardian of the "old order." Much like Falstaff and Hal, York is able to "spin" any question to his advantage.

Construe the times to their necessities,
And you shall say indeed, it is the time,
And not the king, that doth you injuries. (105-107)

Related Characters: Earl of Westmoreland (speaker), King Henry IV
Page Number: 4.1.109-111
Explanation and Analysis:

Here the Earl of Westmoreland argues with Lord Mowbray over whether or not a rebellion against Henry IV is really necessary. Westmoreland argues that Mowbray is just eager to fight--he has no real problem with Henry IV, at least not a problem that needs to be settled with outright war.

Westmorland's emphasis on "the times" suggests that Mowbray doesn't have a just reason for rebelling against Henri IV at all--he just thinks he can spin the situation to his advantage and gain some land and wealth for himself. Mowbray, Westmoreland argues, is an opportunist pretending to be a moralist.

I pawned thee none:
I promised you redress of these same grievances
Whereof you did complain; which, by mine honour,
I will perform with a most Christian care.
But for you, rebels, look to taste the due
Meet for rebellion and such acts as yours. (342-346)

Related Characters: Prince John of Lancaster (speaker), The Archbishop of York, Mowbray, Hastings
Page Number: 4.1.369-374
Explanation and Analysis:

Here we're introduced to Prince John of Lancaster as he interacts with the rebels York, Mowbray, and Hastings. Lancaster tricks the rebels into meeting with him as friends--then, when the rebels are all assembled, John breaks his word and has them arrested. Appalled, the rebels ask Lancaster how he could be so dishonest to them. Lancaster simply replies that the rebels are already being dishonest, and opposing God's will--therefore, Lancaster has a duty to bring the rebels to justice by any means necessary.

Ironically, then, Lancaster comes across as the corrupt, dishonest one in this scene, whereas the rebels, in spite of their opposition to Henry IV, come off as morally indignant: they can't believe that Lancaster would go for such a "dirty trick." At the same time, this act of dishonesty potentially saves thousands of lives (the nameless soldiers who would have died had civil war broken out again), so it arguably is a more moral action on the Prince's part than obeying the traditional rules of honor.

Act 4, Scene 3 Quotes

…Lo, where it sits,
Which God shall guard; and put the whole world’s 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. (43-47)

Related Characters: Prince Hal/King Henry V (speaker), King Henry IV
Page Number: 4.3.189-195
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Prince Hal thinks he becomes the rightful king of England by accepting the crown from his father, the dying Henry IV. (He assumes that his father has just died, but really Henry IV is just asleep.) As Hal puts the crown on his head, he muses on the role of the king, and decides to take up the duty of his new role. Hal will guard his monarchy with skill and cleverness, and one day he'll pass on the crown to his own child, just as Henry IV has passed it on to him.

While this is part of a somewhat comic, ridiculous turn of events, it's important to notice what Prince Hal is doing in his premature acceptance speech: he's creating a legacy out of nothing. Henry IV's claim to the throne of England was constantly being disputed during his lifetime: he had to fight off rivals almost constantly. But now that Henry IV is (presumably) dead, Hal resolves to create what Henry IV himself never had: a stable royal lineage. Even if Henry IV's claim to the monarchy was disputed, Hal's claim is stronger, simply because his father was the king (whether justly or not). By the same token, Hal knows that his own son's claim to the throne will be even stronger than his own, since at that point the family's claim to the throne will occupy three separate generations. In short, Hal recognizes the importance of lineage in defending his right to rule.

Thou hast stol'n that which after some few hours
Were thine without offense, and at my death
Thou hast seal'd up my expectation. (101-103)

Related Characters: King Henry IV (speaker), Prince Hal/King Henry V
Page Number: 4.3.255-257
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Hal--who has just taken the crown from his father, whom he assumed was dead--learns that his father is still very much alive, and has been listening to everything Hal just said. Hal has made a long speech about power and control, without ever expressing much affection for his father. Henry IV is appalled that Hal could be so insensitive to his own family, and scolds Hal for "stealing" the crown when he could have waited a couple hours to get it legitimately. Henry IV's worst fears are confirmed: Hal really is a greedy, irresponsible brat.

It's been suggested that even up to this point in the play, Hal was an irresponsible brat, just as Henry IV says. It's not until this moment that Hal sees the light: Hal finally begins to recognize the gravity of his challenge as a monarch. He must defend the throne from civil war, honoring his father's memory. (There are also critics who've argued that Hal is leagues ahead of Henry IV, and already has a sophisticated plan for maintaining his power.)

Shakespeare also uses this rather silly scene to undercut the solemnity of kingship and the passing of the crown. While a dying king passing his rule to his son should be a serious, grand affair, here it's marred by this embarrassing mix-up. Thus the play shows that even among monarchs, family relations and human misunderstandings are just as messy and sometimes ridiculous as with everyone else.

Act 5, Scene 2 Quotes

So shall I live to speak my father’s words:
“Happy am I, that have a man so bold,
That dares do justice on my proper son;
And not less happy, having such a son,
That would deliver up his greatness so
Into the hands of justice.” (106-111)

Related Characters: Prince Hal/King Henry V (speaker), King Henry IV, The Lord Chief Justice
Page Number: 5.2.108-113
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, King Henry V surprises everyone by praising the Chief Justice--the very man who frequently punished Henry when Henry was only the prince, not the king. The Justice claims that he was only honoring the rules of law when he punished Henry. Henry is very impressed with the Justice's explanation, and plans to reward the Justice with a powerful position in court.

Why doesn't Henry enact revenge on the Chief Justice? One reason is that he's still playing his part, drawing out the surprise of how responsible and impartial he has suddenly become. Another is that the Chief Justice represents the force of law. Henry V doesn't need any domestic disturbances right now--his position as the king of England is so unstable that he could be overthrown at any time. In order to cement his status as the rightful king of England, Henry makes it known that he is a just monarch and an agent of law and order. In this way, Henry encourages his subjects to think of him as the most "natural" and legitimate king possible: to be against Henry is to be against law itself.

…believe me, I beseech you;
My father is gone wild into his grave,
For in his tomb lie my affections;
And with his spirit sadly I survive,
To mock the expectation of the world,
To frustrate prophecies and to raze out
Rotten opinion, who hath writ me down
After my seeming. (122-129)

Related Characters: Prince Hal/King Henry V (speaker), King Henry IV
Page Number: 5.2.123-130
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Henry V skillfully convinces his subjects to accept his authority as the new king. Henry acknowledges that as a young man he was irresponsible and drunken. But now, Henry insists, he's "buried" his wild oats, along with the body of his own father,  Henry IV.

Henry's speech is a skillful piece of rhetoric, because it simultaneously distances him from his father and reinforces his status as the rightful heir to his father's throne. By associating his old behavior with Henry IV (i.e., the image of "burying"), Henry makes it clear that he's a different man than his father--and therefore the people who hated Henry IV shouldn't automatically hate him. And Henry's speech also confirms that he has had a plan all along: just as he claimed in Part I of the play, Henry was being irresponsible as a young man because he wanted to be able to surprise people with the sudden reversal in his behavior. In short, Henry V begins his reign by establishing himself as a just, legitimate, and unique monarch--and the fact that he establishes all this with one speech proves that he's a master politician as well.

Act 5, Scene 5 Quotes

I know thee not, old man: fall to thy prayers;

How ill white hairs become a fool and jester!

I have long dream'd of such a kind of man,

So surfeit-swell'd, so old and so profane;

But, being awaked, I do despise my dream.

Make less thy body hence, and more thy grace;

Leave gormandizing; know the grave doth gape

For thee thrice wider than for other men.

Reply not to me with a fool-born jest. (43-52)

Related Characters: Prince Hal/King Henry V (speaker), Sir John Falstaff
Page Number: 5.5.47-55
Explanation and Analysis:

In this most famous scene in the play, Henry V crosses paths with his old friend, Falstaff, whom he used to love getting drunk with, playing tricks on, and talking to. Now that Henry V is a powerful king, he can't risk being seen with his old friend, and here Henry is trying to send the message that he's a just, reasonable monarch; i.e., not the kind of person who would hang out with an old alcoholic like Falstaff, or give favors to his incompetent friends. And so Henry cruelly ignores and insults Falstaff, claiming not to know his old friend at all, but only to have "dreamed" of him once.

Henry V's behavior is both the right move and an incredibly cruel act. Falstaff, for all his faults, was the most lovable (and, traditionally, the most popular) character in the play. So when Henry ignores Falstaff, we can't help but think that he's sold a part of his soul in exchange for the crown. We miss the "old Henry"--the fun-loving teenager who used to get into mischief with Falstaff every night. Henry has gained the throne, and is acting as a just monarch who won't dole out unfair favors to his friends (like Falstaff was expecting), but in the process he's lost something crucial and human.