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The Second Part of King Henry IV
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  • 19 b/w illus.
  • Page extent: 284 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.586 kg


 (ISBN-13: 9780521869263)

The Second Part of King Henry IV
Cambridge University Press
9780521869263 - The Second Part of King Henry IV - Edited by Giorgio Melchiori


The First Part of King Henry Ⅳ ran to no fewer than six editions between 1598 and its inclusion in the Shakespeare Folio of 1623, a sure token of its constant appeal on the stage. The Second Part, however, was never reprinted in the 23 years following its first publication in 1600. The fact is rather puzzling since there is no doubt about the extraordinary popularity of Falstaff, who dominates it from beginning to end, to a larger extent than either the First Part – where the combined forces of Prince Hal and Hotspur could steal the show – or even The Merry Wives of Windsor, where he had to compete with a number of other comic humours. Perhaps its more limited appeal to the readers of plays was due to its being Falstaff’s play rather than the History promised by the title. When it was revived at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in 1720, the adapter (supposed to have been the late Thomas Betterton) presented it as The Sequel of Henry the Fourth, with the Humours of Sir John Falstaffe, and Justice Shallow, and dignified the fifth act by ‘completing’ it with extracts from the first two acts of Henry Ⅴ, up to the arrest of Cambridge, Scroop and Grey, ending with Henry’s triumphant claim ‘For I will be – No King of England, if not King of France.’1

The Second Part is merely a ‘sequel’, and Richard David is justified in saying that it ‘has pot-boiler written all over it’.2 In fact it bears all the marks of the time-honoured technique, still practised nowadays especially by the film industry, for concocting a sequel: the introduction of a host of new characters to support the central figure responsible for the success of the original play, the parallelism in structure with the ‘parent’ production, and even the explicit promise at the end of further instalments: ‘our humble author will continue the story with Sir John in it . . .’3 There is no doubt about the casual nature of the play, born and bred as a commercial product to exploit the humours of Sir John Falstaff – but its richness and strength reside precisely in this casualness. They give the play a metadramatic quality, forcing a new approach to the job of playwriting, and making it a reconsideration of the nature of the dramatic event.

Part Two is first and foremost an exploration of the ways in which a play comes to be conceived, a re-elaboration from different angles of pre-used theatrical materials. As such, it affords an extraordinary plurality of readings: a Morality version of the subject matter of Part One;1 a psychodrama on the father–son relationship; a comedy of humours; a country as opposed to a city comedy; a series of variations on the theme of time; an enquiry into the nature of policy. All these readings are perfectly legitimate and by no means mutually exclusive. The play acquires in this way an exceptional density and pregnancy of meaning, so that L. C. Knights could rightly speak of its different tone from the earlier plays, and single it out as ‘markedly a transitional play’ that ‘looks back to the Sonnets and the earlier history plays, and . . . forward to the great tragedies’.2 Its originality must be assessed within the context of the other histories, and more precisely of what has been called, perhaps deceptively, the Henriad or second tetralogy,3 from Richard Ⅱ to Henry Ⅴ, as well as of the ‘Falstaff plays’, including The Merry Wives.

Publication and date

While the First Part had been entered in the Stationers’ Register on 25 February 1598 and published as The History of Henry the Fourth, the entry to the booksellers Andrew Wise and William Aspley for Part Two on 23 August 1600 reads:

Entred for their copies vnder the hands of the wardens Two bookes. the one called Muche a Doo about nothing. Thother the second parte of the history of kinge Henry the iiiith with the humours of Sir IOHN FFALLSTAFF: Wrytten by master Shakespere.

Publication followed shortly afterwards, as the title page of the quarto edition makes clear:

THE Second part of Henrie the fourth, continuing to his death, and coronation of Henrie the fift. With the humours of sir Iohn Fal-staffe, and swaggering Pistoll. As it hath been sundrie times publikely acted by the right honourable, the Lord Chamberlaine his servants. Written by William Shakespeare. LONDON Printed by V. S. for Andrew Wise, and William Aspley.

The peculiarities of this printing are discussed in detail in the Textual Analysis but one or two points relevant to the dating of the play must be noted now. There is general agreement that the copy for the printer was Shakespeare’s own foul papers (the original manuscript which was handed over to the company book-keeper who would prepare from it the prompt-book for use in performance), so that it reflects as fully as possible the author’s original intentions. But accidents happened in the course of printing, the most obvious being the omission from the first issue of the quarto (known as qa) of a whole scene – 3.1, the night musings of the king – which was promptly restored in the second issue of the same (qb). Besides, eight more passages of some length, present in the 1623 Folio, are not in the quarto. Though it has been recently suggested that they may be later additions,1 the confused state of the text surrounding some of them in the quarto shows that they had been marked for deletion – theatrical expediency, possibly not unconnected with political caution, discouraged their transfer from the foul papers to the prompt-book which was being prepared for the early performances of the play. The title page assures us that these had taken place before 1600, while the reference in Ben Jonson’s play Every Man out of his Humour (1599) to the character of Justice Silence2 is evidence that Part Two was well known to London audiences before that date. On the other hand, the fact that Part One was registered and published, as we saw, in 1598 as a play complete in itself, with no indication of a possible sequel, suggests that by then Part Two was as yet unperformed if not unwritten.

It can be safely assumed, therefore, that Part Two appeared on the stage after March 1598 but before 1599, and its composition must be dated late 1597/early 1598. The fairly unanimous agreement over this – in the whole Shakespeare canon perhaps only Henry Ⅴ can be dated more precisely – is far from solving the problem of the relationship of Part Two to the other ‘Falstaff plays’. On the contrary, the problem is rendered more complex by several other signals coming from the quarto text itself – not only the already noted omissions and partial restorations, but the presence in it of a greater number of what have been called by Kristian Smidt ‘unconformities’3 than in any other Shakespearean history.


Henry IV Part Two can be placed in its proper historical and theatrical context, the plurality of readings it offers can be accounted for, and the richness of its texture can be fully appreciated, only if satisfactory answers can be found to the problems posed by the original quarto text, only a few of which the Folio edition of 1623 has endeavoured to iron out. Here is a list of the major ones:

1. The omission of Act 3, Scene i from the first issue of the quarto may well be a case of inadvertency on the printer’s part: if the scene was on a separate manuscript leaf, the printer may have overlooked the mark in the foul papers at the end of 2.4 requiring its insertion at that point. But it has been observed that the repetition of ‘come’ in the Hostess’s last speech in 2.4 and in Shallow’s opening speech in

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1 Title page of the 1600 quarto, from the copy at Trinity College, Cambridge
3.2 suggests that 2.4 and 3.2 had been originally conceived as consecutive,1 in which case the insertion of 3.1 would be an afterthought. The scene is irrelevant to the development of the action: we know already of the king’s illness from 1.2 and 2.2, and the only new piece of information we gather here is the news of Glendower’s death. But on the other hand the scene, identifying the country’s sickness with the king’s, is absolutely central to the theatrical and ideological structure of the play as a whole. Now, granting that 3.1 was introduced at that point of the play as an afterthought, was the scene newly written for the purpose, or was it a scene, which at first had been considered expendable, salvaged from an earlier version of the play?

2. The ‘goodly dwelling’ of Justice Shallow is located in Gloucestershire in 4.1.431 and 475 (as in The Merry Wives of Windsor 1.1.5 f), with confirmation from allusions in 5.1 and 5.3. But the enrolment scene in which the Justice makes his first appearance (3.2) suggests somewhere on the Great North Road, a much more logical situation since Falstaff is pressing soldiers on his way from London to York, and a detour through Gloucestershire2 is at least as absurd as the notion that ‘a Justice of Peace and Coram in the County of Gloucester’ should have a manor and deer park at Windsor (Wiv. 1.1.111–12). The inconsistencies open up a double problem: one connected with the stages of composition of Part Two and the other with the date of Merry Wives, assigned by many to the spring of 1597,3 before our play.

3. The presence in the play of two characters with practically the same name: Bardolph, an ‘irregular humorist’ already figuring as one of Falstaff’s followers in Part One, and the ‘new’ historical character of Lord Bardolph out of Holinshed’s Chronicles. The question is: if the two Parts were conceived from the beginning as a single play in ten acts, why should the author, when forced by circumstances to change the names originally assigned to the prince’s companions, replace that of Sir John Russell (or Rossill) with Bardolph,4 if he already expected to introduce the historical Lord Bardolph in the Second Part?

4. The presence in the quarto of the speech heading Old. at 1.2.96, and of ‘Sir Iohn Russel’ in the entrance stage direction at 2.2. These are obvious fossils of the original version of the Henry Ⅳ play(s), in which, as it appears from several signs in Part One, Falstaff’s name was Sir John Oldcastle, and Bardolph and Peto were Rossill (a nickname for Russell) and Harvey respectively. Two explanations have been offered for their presence also in Part Two: (a) the name changes were forced on Shakespeare when he was already busy writing Part Two and had reached the second act; he went over his foul papers correcting the names, but missed these two out;1 (b) the name changes had already taken place, but the author was still thinking in terms of the old designations, and he reverted to them by an oversight in these two instances.2 Neither explanation is fully satisfactory. There must be a third that takes a wider view of the origin and development of the play, and it suggests itself when the last of the major unconformities is examined.

5. The question of Sir John Oldcastle. He is actually mentioned in the Epilogue to Part Two, in what has been taken as an apology for the use of the name in the original version of the play:

our humble author will continue the story with Sir John in it, and make you merry with fair Katherine of France, where, for anything I know, Falstaff shall die of a sweat, unless already a be killed with your hard opinions; for Oldcastle died martyr, and this is not the man.

(Epilogue 21–5)
This part of the Epilogue has been recognised as a later addition to the original one, which was limited to the first thirteen lines, and the protests that prompted it are seen in the Prologue to the Admiral’s Men play The First Part of Sir John Oldcastle, which claims that Sir John ‘is no pamperd glutton . . . / Nor aged Councellor to youthfull sinne, / But one, whose vertue shone aboue the rest’.3 From Henslowe’s Diary the date of completion and performance of Oldcastle can be fixed with certainty in November 1599. So the addition to the Epilogue of Part Two could have been written only after that date. But by then Henry V had already been performed at the new Globe playhouse, and the promise to show Falstaff in it, made in the same breath with the ‘apology’ for Oldcastle, was not kept. Either the apology is not motivated by the new Admiral’s Men’s play, or it is not an apology.

A number of other inconsistencies could be pointed out, such as the mention of the prince having been committed to prison for striking the Lord Chief Justice (1.2.42–3), an episode never mentioned in Part One though much emphasised in the sources of the plays; the transformation of the Hostess from a ‘most sweet wench’ and ‘an honest man’s wife’ in Part One (1.2.40 and 3.3.119; the prince is gracious enough to enquire ‘How doth thy husband? (3.3.92–3), and Falstaff enjoins her to ‘love thy husband’ (3.3.171)) into the superannuated ‘poor lone woman’ of Part Two, who has developed a genius for equivocal ‘Quicklyisms’ and is not above favouring Falstaff’s intimacy with her younger friend Doll Tearsheet – not to mention her further metamorphosis into Doctor Caius’s housekeeper in Merry Wives, while from Henry V we learn that she has married Pistol, the ‘fustian rascal’ that she wanted ‘thrust downstairs’ in Part Two. And surely the Falstaff of Part Two is a much older man than the Falstaff of Part One.

The sources and The Famous Victories

A reappraisal of the materials on which Shakespeare based his Henriad is an indispensable premise to any attempt at solving these contradictions. The main sources of Part Two obviously coincide with those of Part One, and largely with those of Richard II,, discussed by Herbert Weil and Andrew Gurr respectively in their editions of those plays.1 A distinction must be made between those works that were used to construct and support the main story line – books that one imagines as constantly at the author’s elbow for reference during composition – those in which he simply dipped for information on particular episodes, and finally those that he happened to have read at some time or other and stored in his memory, to provide occasional hints, suggestions or turns of phrase. Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland, in the posthumous 1587 edition enlarged by the antiquarian Abraham Fleming and by Grafton to include new material from Stow and other historians and further extracts from Hall, undoubtedly belongs to the first category: most of the historical scenes in the play echo Holinshed at times verbatim, apart from the manipulations and transpositions usual in the construction of dramatic plots. Holinshed may also have suggested some new dramatic inventions such as the introduction of Rumour as the presenter.2 The 1592 edition of John Stow’s Annales of England may have been consulted, too, especially for the report of the king’s advice to Prince Hal and of the Lord Chief Justice’s firmness with the prince who had threatened him in the place of judgement – an episode that may have made the dramatist look also into Stow’s source, The Boke named the Gouernour (1531) by Sir Thomas Elyot.

Shakespeare certainly knew also the recently published poem of Samuel Daniel, The first fowre bookes of the ciuile wars between the two houses of Lancaster and Yorke (1595), which versified much of the historians’ subject matter, presenting it in a form more suitable for dramatic speech.1 Two other works at least can be pointed out in the third category: as J. W. Lever2 has shown, Shakespeare remembered the character of the Braggart in John Eliot’s Ortho-epia Gallica (1593) when devising the language of Pistol, while the Hostess’s peculiar interjections are strictly modelled on those reported of Lady More in Sir Thomas More’s biography written before 1557 by Nicholas Harpsfield,3 a forbidden book circulating in manuscript in the houses of Roman Catholic recusants, such as those in which, according to E. A. J. Honigmann, Shakespeare had spent part of his ‘lost years’.4

As for the stories of the ‘wild prince’, they are to be found mainly in the much amplified English version (1513) of Tito Livio’s Latin Vita Henrici Quinti (c. 1437), but it would be idle to speculate on the possibility that Shakespeare had access to a work that remained in manuscript till 1911.5 Its contents, already reported in Stow’s Chronicles of England (1580) and partly in Holinshed, are the main source of another dramatic work which stands in a peculiar relationship to Shakespeare’s.

The famous Victories of Henry the fifth: Containing the Honourable Battell of Agin-court: As it was plaide by the Queenes Maiesties Players was printed by Thomas Creede only in 1598,6 though it had been entered in the Stationers’ Register four years earlier. As is well known, Creede’s quarto is an extremely poorly-put-together memorial report of an old play, possibly in two parts, which had enjoyed wide popularity as, among other things, a vehicle for the famous clown Richard Tarlton, who died in 1588.7 By 1594 the Queen’s Men, in a phase of rapid decline, were selling off their plays in partial compensation for their losses. It looks as if no decent text of Famous Victories was readily available at the time of the entry in the Stationers’ Register, and they were induced to hand in a wretched summary reconstruction only in 1598, to cash in on the current success of the Shakespearean Henry plays that the Chamberlain’s Men had started staging at the time. Though there is no real evidence of the fact, the text we have falls so neatly into two halves, one concerned with Prince Hal’s youthful misbehaviour and reformation, and the other with his exploits as a wise warrior and sovereign, that the likelihood that the original play was in two parts is very strong.1

What interests us is to establish the special relationship between Shakespeare’s three Henry plays and Famous Victories, normally regarded as one of their main sources. Surely at the time of writing Part One, and possibly Part Two, Shakespeare could not have known Creede’s unprinted quarto. But he or some of his fellow actors must surely have seen the original version of the play (or plays) at some earlier time, and they may even have had access to the full text of Famous Victories in prompt-book or some other form. The relationship between the Henriad and Creede’s text of Famous Victories is, on the face of it, non-existent, or rather vicarious. What counts is the relationship between Shakespeare’s plays and the lost original of which Creede’s quarto is no more than a distorted and reduced reflection. Bad as it is, it must all the same convey a fair idea of the general conception, dramatic structure and individual characterisation of the original. So it affords something more than mere speculation, and the relationship must be seen in the light of current theatrical practice.

The Henriad as remake

A fairly common practice in the theatre business was what could be called, borrowing a term from the present-day film industry, the remake. When a play (nowadays a film) proves successful, a rival company sets up after some years not a new production of the same, but a complete reworking of it with a new script as well as a different cast and possibly a new slant to the story.2 A remake has the advantage of offering a chance to ‘improve’ the original not so much on the formal level as on the ideological one. The new script updates the original by taking into account the audience response to new attitudes in the social or, as the case may be, political and religious fields. This becomes the more important at times when such response is controlled by massive censorial interventions. It is known that the 1590s were exactly such a time: the Master of the Revels, after a period of remarkable tolerance, had started watching much more closely than in previous years what was going to be performed on the public stage.3 It was a time, therefore, particularly suited to the remaking of plays that offered a historical perspective which did not conform to the new Tudor orthodoxy.

Apart from these considerations, the evidence of such plays as Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida and King Lear shows that by the beginning of the seventeenth century Shakespeare was an expert at remakes of old plays for the Chamberlain’s/King’s Men. But his career as a remaker must have begun earlier, and the popular chronicle plays of the 1580s and 1590s were surely the most suitable material for remakes that would readjust their political focus in accordance with the stricter rulings of the Master of the Revels. The original – probably double – play of Famous Victories successfully acted in the 1580s by the Queen’s Men was an obvious choice for remaking by the Chamberlain’s Men, especially after their production in 1595 of Richard Ⅱ, which had so markedly readjusted the historical focus of the earlier Woodstock.1 The subject matter of the two halves of the old play lent itself naturally to a new treatment in two separate history plays, one, Henry Ⅳ, mainly concerned with the youthful exploits and reformation of Prince Hal at the death of his father, and the other, Henry V, with the ‘famous victories’ of the new sovereign. The history planned by the Chamberlain’s Men for 1596 – a logical continuation of the 1595 Richard II – was a remake of the original first part of Famous Victories under the title Henry IV, presumably to be followed in the next theatrical season by Henry V as a remake of the second part of the earlier play.

Though 1596 is generally recognised as the date of composition of the original Shakespearean Henry IV, there is considerable difference of opinion on whether this was a one-play version of what are now the two parts, or just a version of Part One.2 It is, however, universally accepted that in this version the fat knight accompanying the young prince was not called Falstaff but Sir John Oldcastle, a name found in an equivalent role in Famous Victories, and that two of his companions (collectively designated ‘knights’ in the old play) had been named by Shakespeare Harvey and Rossill instead of Peto and Bardolph.3 It is also agreed that the name changes in the final version were occasioned by the protest of the Brooke family, direct descendants of the historical Sir John Oldcastle, who had been celebrated at great length by John Foxe in his Acts and Monuments as a Protestant protomartyr.4 The protest would have carried particular weight when in August 1596 William Brooke, Lord Cobham, took over from Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon, the patron of Shakespeare’s company who had just died, the office of Lord Chamberlain, which gave him control over public entertainments.1 Though Lord Cobham himself died shortly after in March 1597 and the new Lord Hunsdon became Lord Chamberlain, those seven months in office must have been enough to enforce the elimination of Oldcastle’s name from Shakespeare’s play.

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