Picking up where Henry IV, Part One left off after the Battle of Shrewsbury, Henry IV, Part Two is the story of England's King Henry IV during his final months of life, his reconciliation with his wayward heir, and his eventual death.
Melchiori offers a fresh approach to the text of The Second Part of King Henry IV, which he sees as an unplanned sequel to the First Part, itself a 'remake' of an old, non-Shakespearean play. The Second Part deliberately exploits the popular success of Sir John Falstaff, introduced in Part One; the resulting rich humour gives a comic dimension to the play which makes it a unique blend of history, morality play and comedy. Among modern editions of the play this is the one most firmly based on the quarto. It presents an eminently actable text, by showing how Shakespeare's own choices are superior for practical purposes to suggested emendations, and by keeping interference in the original stage directions to a minimum, in order to respect, as Shakespeare did, the players' freedom. This updated edition includes a new introductory section by Adam Hansen describing recent stage, film and critical interpretations.
Shakespeare's actors did not receive a copy of the entire script but instead worked from "cue-scripts" or "part scripts" which contained only the lines and cues for a single character. The Renaissance Acting Editions provide cue-scripts for those who wish to experiment with the early modern acting process. Each play in the series consists of a set of cue-scripts and an unabridged prompt-script in modern font edited and prepared from William Shakespeare's First Folio of 1623. A "platt" (a.k.a. a "plot," a running list of entrances, exits, and major stage business) and instructions for assembling a cue-script roll are also included. These editions are not direct transcriptions of the First Folio texts. Original spelling, punctuation, and verse lineation have been retained throughout, but minimal revision has been done (e.g., correction of missing entrances and exits, restoration of simultaneous dialogue, etc.) to make the scripts more user-friendly.
The play picks up where Henry IV, Part One left off. Its focus is on Prince Hal's journey toward kingship, and his ultimate rejection of Falstaff. However, unlike Part One, Hal's and Falstaff's stories are almost entirely separate, as the two characters meet only twice and very briefly. Much of the play focuses on Henry IV's age and his closeness to death. Falstaff is still drinking and engaging in petty criminality in the London underworld. Falstaff appears, followed by a new character, a young page whom Prince Hal has assigned him as a joke. Falstaff enquires what the doctor has said about the analysis of his urine, and the page cryptically informs him that the urine is healthier than the patient. Falstaff delivers one of his most characteristic lines: "I am not only witty in myself, but the cause that wit is in other men." Falstaff promises to outfit the page in "vile apparel" (ragged clothing). He then complains of his insolvency, blaming it on "consumption of the purse." They go off, Falstaff vowing to find a wife "in the stews"