Henry IV Part 2

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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.
Time Theme Icon

In exploring disease and the right to the throne, Henry IV Part 2 also explores the theme of time through the aging body and the aging memory’s interpretations of history. Aside from being sick, King Henry IV is simply old. He complains frequently about his weary agedness and about the way the years have worn on him, rendering his boisterous, ambitious youth unrecognizable to his current self. Falstaff likewise struggles with his aging human body. Already middle-aged and aging even faster due to gluttony and a drinking habit, Falstaff is continually called out for being old. If Henry IV Part 1 featured Falstaff as a carefree, young spirit who could frolic in spite of his white hair, Henry IV Part 2 presents him as a tired man, falling into decay and scrambling pathetically to keep up with his own reckless lifestyle. The Chief Justice ridicules Falstaff for trying to act younger than he is and insists that the old man’s body betrays him. “Do you set down your name in the scroll of youth, that are written down old with all the characters of age? Have you not a moist eye? a dry hand? a yellow cheek? a white beard? a decreasing leg? an increasing belly?” the judge asks Falstaff. Spurning his once-beloved friend once he’s become King Henry V, Prince Hal, too, expresses disgust at the disharmony between Falstaff’s age and behavior: “I know thee not, old man,” the prince sneers, “How ill white hairs become a fool and jester!”

Meanwhile, other characters explore time by tracking human memory and noting people’s shifting attitudes towards the past. As the Archbishop of York notes reflecting on the fickle likes and dislikes of the English populations: “Past and to come seems best; things present worst.” Later, Warwick tries to shake King Henry IV of his grim fixation on magical prophecies by insisting that prophecy is no oracular power but simply an insightful reading of history and an educated guess about the future. “There is a history in all men’s lives,” he explains, “figuring the natures of the times deceased; The which observed, a man may prophesy, with a near aim, of the main chance of things as yet not come to life, who in their seeds and weak beginning lie intreasured. Such things become the hatch and brood of time.”

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Time Quotes in Henry IV Part 2

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

Do you set down your name in the scroll of youth, that are written down old with all the characters of age? Have you not a moist eye? a dry hand? a yellow cheek? a white beard? a decreasing leg? an increasing belly? is not your voice broken? your wind short? your chin double? your wit single? and every part about you blasted with antiquity? and will you yet call yourself young? Fie, fie, fie, Sir John! (155-160)

Related Characters: The Lord Chief Justice (speaker), Sir John Falstaff
Related Symbols: Sickness
Page Number: 1.2.181-189
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Falstaff--now an elderly, feeble man--tries to convince the Chief Justice, a local authority, that he's really young and healthy. In a bullying, aggressive tone, the Justice tells Falstaff that he's clearly old, fat, and weak.

It's important to note that the Justice's descriptions of Falstaff's body convey a sense of withering and shriveling up. In the past, Falstaff "inflated" himself with language and rhetoric--and yet his body itself seems to be getting smaller (except for his belly) as it approaches death. There's something heroic about Falstaff's attempts to deny his own weakness: he's like Don Quixote, using imagination (and delusion) to transcend his old age. And yet at the end of the day, Falstaff is delusional: he refuses to accept the cold, hard facts of his time and sickness.


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A man
 can no more separate age and covetousness than a'
can part young limbs and lechery: but the gout 
galls the one, and the pox pinches the other; and 
so both the degrees prevent my curses. (198-200)

Related Characters: Sir John Falstaff (speaker)
Related Symbols: Sickness
Page Number: 1.2.234-238
Explanation and Analysis:

Falstaff here continues the discussion of his own disease and his decaying body. Falstaff makes the point that he has suffered from every disease because he's lived a long, successful life: as a young man, he was lustful, and therefore he has venereal disease now. As an old man, he's been greedy and gluttonous, resulting in gout. In short, Falstaff's diseases "tell a story"--he's had a rich life, full of sin but also adventure.

Falstaff's monologue shows his attempts to use language and humor to transcend his own weaknesses. Despite the pain he's probably experiencing, Falstaff finds ways to joke about his problems. For all his amoral, selfish nature, these roguish denials and rhetorical tricks make Falstaff remain (usually) a sympathetic character.

Act 2, Scene 4 Quotes

Is it not strange that desire should so many years outlive performance? (234)

Related Characters: Ned Poins (speaker)
Page Number: 2.4.265-266
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Hal and Poins, up to their old mischief, disguise themselves as waiters and watch as the elderly Falstaff flirts with Doll Tearsheet, his friend. Poins is bemused--Falstaff is obviously attracted to Doll, and yet he's clearly too old to "perform" with her.

The passage is a good example of how Shakespeare sneaks some pretty bawdy jokes into his play--Poins is making a sex-joke, essentially saying that Fastaff is too old to have sex with Doll. But there's also serious side to Poins's observation: Falstaff's reach often exceeds his grasp, and even after his body begins to decay he continues to speak boldly, live a life of pleasure and excess, etc. Falstaff's refusal to play the part of the sick old man could be interpreted as delusional, heroic, or something in between.

Act 3, Scene 1 Quotes

Rumour doth double, like the voice and echo,
The numbers of the fear’d...
…Upon my soul, my lord,
The powers that you already have sent forth
Shall bring this prize in very easily. (99-103)

Related Characters: Earl of Warwick (speaker), King Henry IV, Rumor
Page Number: 3.1.100-104
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Earl of Warwick tries to pacify his monarch by telling Henry IV that he will be able to maintain his crown. Henry IV has assembled a powerful force, which will be able to defeat whatever rebels are left very easily. Note that Warwick alludes to the power of Rumor (reflecting the Prologue to the play): instead of controlling the public's perception of him, Henry IV has allowed himself to be controlled by public rumors about the size and scope of the rebellion.

In all, Warwick's monologue exposes some of the weaknesses in Henry IV's monarchy. Most basically of all, though, the very fact that Warwick has to comfort Henry shows how weak Henry has become. Instead of acting as a model of composure and confidence, Henry has exposed his fears to his closest advisers, allowing more rumors to "trickle down" to the public.

Act 3, Scene 2 Quotes

Lord, Lord, how subject we old men are to this vice of lying! (263)

Related Characters: Sir John Falstaff (speaker), Justice Shallow, Justice Silence
Page Number: 3.2.313-314
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Falstaff criticizes two old friends of his, Shallow and Silence, for lying about their pasts. While Shallow and Silence claimed to have once been passionate lovers and great adventurers, Falstaff knows better--back in the day, they were just shy, boring people. Falstaff bemoans old men's tendency to lie about their own experiences, exaggerating and distorting the truth to make themselves appear better than they really are.

It's important to keep in mind that Falstaff himself is the biggest liar of all: we've seen him claim to have defeated an entire army of men all by himself. (In other words, it takes a liar to spot a liar.) Falstaff seems to remain blissfully unaware of his own deceptions--he's lying to himself, as well as to other people.

Act 4, Scene 1 Quotes

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.

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.