Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 (Vol. 57)
Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2
For further information on the critical and stage history of Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, see SC, Volumes 1, 14, 39, and 49.
Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, the second and third plays in Shakespeare's second historical tetralogy, cover the end of Richard II's reign through the beginning of Henry V's reign. Critics have often noted that other characters in the play, most notably the king's son Prince Hal, Sir John Falstaff, and the headstrong rebel Hotspur, overshadow the importance of King Henry IV. This has led many scholars to theorize that it is not so much the king's reign as it is the education of Prince Hal that is the focus of both the plays. In this regard, many comparisons have been drawn between Hal and Hotspur, comparing the fitness of each as the potential ruler of England. Also of interest to critics has been the nature of Hal's relationship with both his father and Falstaff, as well as the reformation of Hal and the rejection of Falstaff. In addition to the study of characters, more recent analyses of the plays have focused on the unity of the plays, and whether or not they present a balanced whole.
While both parts of Henry IV are separate and independent plays, and in Shakespeare's time were performed as such, the question of the aesthetic unity of both plays as a whole has been a topic of abiding interest among scholars studying Shakespeare's history plays. Discussing this issue in his 1972 essay, Louis I. Middleman suggests that while a notation at the beginning of the plays suggests a disunity of conception that is hard to ignore, both parts of Henry IV ultimately present a balanced whole. According to Middleman, this unity is achieved through Hal's emergence as a complete character, learning from the superabundant spirit of Hotspur and the exuberant spirit of Falstaff. In contrast, in an essay comparing both parts of Henry IV, John Berryman (1970) takes issue with critics who see the two plays as a whole. M. C. Bradbrook (1965) also examines the question of unity and continuity between the two parts of Henry IV, suggesting that Shakespeare uses Part I to create and distinguish each of the main characters, while in Part II the role taking becomes more subtle. Bradbrook suggests that this evolution of character between the two parts of Henry IV displays Shakespeare's maturity as a playwright, allowing him to explore the emergence of the concept of secular sovereignty versus traditional judgments of right and wrong.
Prince Hal’s character has also been an area of critical interest, particularly his transformation from one self to another. Many critics have debated the realism of his reformation; however, Matthew H. Wikander (1992) notes that Hal's earliest speeches prepare the audience for his reformation at the end of the play. Wikander contends that in a political context, this change is absolutely necessary in order to prove his ability to inherit the throne of England. Paul A. Gottschalk (1974) agrees when he notes that the tavern scene in Henry IV, Part I, as well as Hal's first soliloquy, predicts the impending change in his character later in the play. In addition to Hal, one of the most significant characters in these plays is Sir John Falstaff. Widely acclaimed as one of Shakespeare's most enduring and beloved characters, Falstaff provides a foil and comic relief to the seriousness embodied in Hotspur, serving as both companion and mentor to the young Prince as he prepares for the assumption of his rightful place as King of England. While much discussion of Falstaff's character has focused on his relationship with and ultimate denouncement by Prince Hal, more recent criticism has begun focusing on the character of Falstaff as a significant dramatic device. Barbara Everett (1990) explores the origin and development of Falstaff's character in Shakespeare's history plays, with an emphasis on the political significance of his appearance in Henry IV.
In addition to analyses of character and unity in Henry IV, the treatment of the reformation and redemption of Prince Hal and the rejection of Falstaff also have been featured prominently in many critical discussions of the play. Many studies have noted that in contrast to earlier critical interpretations of Hal's redemption and Falstaff's rejection, Falstaff and Hal conspire from the very beginning to build towards the rejection scene. This is so because the future king needs a public occasion, almost a ritual exorcism, to help display his reformation. Noting the sequential nature of both plays, Jonathan Crewe (1990) proposes that Hal's reformation is ultimately an ongoing process that begins in Henry IV, Part I and continues through Henry V, reflecting Shakespeare's preoccupation with issues of legitimate change and succession.
Criticism: Overviews And General Studies
SOURCE: “King Henry IV,” in Muriel Bradbrook on Shakespeare, The Harvester Press, 1984, pp. 72-83.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1965, Bradbrook offers an overview of Henry IV, Parts I and II,contending that they are political plays that address contemporary political issues.]
There was once a summer school at the other Stratford where, in two successive hours, a first speaker said that anyone who doubted the unity of the great continuous ten-act play was disqualified to understand Shakespeare; while a second said that anyone who thought 2 Henry IV more than a feeble ‘encore’ must be illiterate. The link that I would see is that of adaptability, the imaginative ability to create a part and to play it. In Part 1, this playful, heroic, or sometimes merely crafty capacity distinguishes each of the main characters. In Part 2, the role-taking (to use familiar jargon) is subtle, Machiavellian and by no means subjected to plain ethical judgments of right and wrong. In dismissing Falstaff, Henry V appears both kingly and treacherous—because his two roles can no longer be played by the same man; the King cannot be true to the reveller of Eastcheap. In the play as a whole, the width of reference and ambiguity of response shows Shakespeare's full maturity. ‘The solution to the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of this problem’, said the philosopher...
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SOURCE: “The Henry IV Plays,” in Henry the Fourth Parts I and II: Critical Essays, edited by David Bevington, Garland Publishing, 1986, 387-422.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1984, Watson proposes that the Henry IV plays, in addition to being morality plays, also allow Shakespeare to present an analysis of ambition in the private and public arenas.]
At the end of Richard II, Shakespeare's ambitious figures become versions of primal criminals such as Oedipus and Cronus, whose myths associate father/son rivalry with political rebellion. The Henry IV plays use this association to study the evolution of filial identity, the individual's imperative and dangerous growth toward sovereignty. Here, even more elaborately than in The Tempest, Shakespeare offers a sort of morality play about an individual's moral and psychological development; but while it may be helpful to make that allegory explicit in a systematic, Freudian way, it is crucial to remember that the playwright uses it as a merely subliminal resonance to his analysis of ambition. Shakespeare exploits his deterministic power over his play-world to simulate a divinely determined world in which ambition is limited by the constitution of the individual as well as the universe. The psychoanalytic allegory which seems to arise naturally from the narrative events is one more way in which Shakespeare makes...
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SOURCE: “Shakespeare's Historical Imagination,” in Renaissance Studies, Vol. 11, No. 1, March, 1997, pp. 27-40.
[In the following essay, Dean compares Shakespeare's treatment of historical fact and politics in his history plays, focusing on Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2.]
If there is one view about Shakespeare which can be said to be shared by most of the critics of the last ten years, it is that he is—and not just in the history plays—a political writer. But in this, it is argued, he has no choice: all literature is political, and all criticism, in consequence, ideological. A glance at the editor's introduction to the 1992 ‘New Casebook’ on Shakespeare's History Plays: ‘Richard II’ to ‘Henry IV’, aimed at an undergraduate readership, reveals how embedded such assumptions have become: in New Historicism, we read, ‘literature can be seen to enact a type of political discourse’, criticism being a ‘verbal and structural investigation of a range of rhetorical strategies’ aimed at laying bare ‘the conditions of cultural, ideological and political power’. Even this, however, has been felt to be insufficiently engagé by Cultural Materialism in its various forms, especially feminism, in which ‘a politics of culture operates in more or less direct relationship with a committed politics of social and economic action’. At the same time, thanks to the...
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Criticism: Character Studies
SOURCE: “Hal and the ‘Play Extempore’ in I Henry IV,” in Henry the Fourth Parts I and II: Critical Essays, edited by David Bevington, Garland Publishing, 1986, 337-48.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1974, Gottschalk presents an analysis of Prince Hal's character by examining the tavern scene in Henry IV, Part I, noting that this scene is crucial to Hal's development as a hero.]
The great tavern scene of I Henry IV (II.iv) is the longest of the play and the most elaborate, ranging over five hundred lines from the gulling of Francis and the attempted showing-up of Falstaff to the Sheriff's sudden entry and Hal's imminent departure for court. Understandably, the scene has attracted a number of critical studies relating its parts to one another or to the play as a whole,1 and certainly its richness and complexity warrant any attempt to clarify the aesthetic unity that lies beneath. Yet for all this complexity, the scene progresses smoothly enough, looking back toward Gadshill in its first half and forward to the royal palace in the second, back toward Hal's disgrace and forward to his redemption. This shift coincides with what, in view of the impending confrontation of Hal with his father, is clearly the crisis of the scene: the staging of the “play extempore,” in which first Falstaff and then Hal assumes the role of King Henry lecturing his...
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SOURCE: “The Fatness of Falstaff: Shakespeare and Character,” in Proceedings of the British Academy, Volume 76, 1990, pp. 109-28.
[In the following essay, Everett explores the origin and development of Falstaff's character in Shakespeare's history plays, with an emphasis on the political significance of his appearance in Henry IV.]
One day early in the 1590s a clown came on to a London stage, holding a piece of string. At the end of the piece of string there was a dog. It’s hard not to think that some in this first audience, realizing what an extraordinary thing was happening, put down their oranges and concentrated.
The dog, possibly the first on the Elizabethan stage, I want to leave where it is for a moment. My main subject in this lecture isn’t Launce and his dog (for this is, of course, the first entry of the clown in The Two Gentlemen of Verona): but the much more complicated character who, charged by the Lord Chief Justice with having led astray the Prince of Wales, answers: ‘The yong Prince hath misled me. I am the Fellow with the great belly, and he my Dogge’. No one now quite follows this joke, which may be an airy reference (to distract attention) to the Man in the Moon. What is more interesting than Falstaff's ancient joke is his capacity to make us listen to him while he tells it. We concentrate.
Falstaff can get away with this debate as...
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SOURCE: “Uneasy Lies: Language and History in Shakespeare's Lancastrian Tetralogy,” in Henry the Fourth Parts I and II: Critical Essays, edited by David Bevington, Garland Publishing, 1986, 359-85.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1984, Macdonald traces the development and use of language in Shakespeare's history plays, focusing on Henry IV, Parts I and II,and examines the linguistic conventions that sustain and govern the vision of kingship as portrayed in these plays.]
There has always been uncertainty about what we call Shakespeare's “histories.” The genre (if it is a genre) seems inherently unstable under critical scrutiny, always threatening to become something else, to slide over into other generic modes about which there is firmer agreement, to become simply tragedy (Richard II) or comedy (1 Henry IV), or dramatic satire (2 Henry IV). Yet, with the possible exception of early work like The Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare seems never to have been willing to accept the traditional genres quite as he found them, and the evidence of impurity, even in the lighthearted romantic comedies, is well known. We will never find in the Shakespearean canon the kind of generic purity that a more strictly classical temperament would consider indispensable.
Yet something does distinguish Shakespeare's histories, particularly the mature work...
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Criticism: Reformation, Redemption, And The Rejection Of Falstaff
SOURCE: “Casting off the Old Man: History and St. Paul in Henry IV,” in Henry the Fourth Parts I and II: Critical Essays, edited by David Bevington, Garland Publishing, 1986, 315-36.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1970, Palmer points to several instances in the Henry IV plays that anticipate Prince Hal's reformation at the end of Part II, drawing parallels between the words of the apostle St. Paul and those of the Prince.]
Biblical quotations abound in Shakespeare's two Henry IV plays, and most of them are made by Falstaff, whose allusions, as Richmond Noble says, “are the aptest in the whole of the plays.”1 They are also, of course, singularly profane in Falstaff's mouth, and his “damnable interation” of Scripture, we may suspect, is a relic of his former identity as Sir John Oldcastle, the name of Prince Hal's riotous companion in that execrable play, The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth. It seems that after borrowing the name of his fat knight from the older play, Shakespeare subsequently rechristened him as Falstaff out of deference to the family feelings of Oldcastle's Elizabethan descendant, Lord Cobham.2 For the historical Oldcastle, as the Epilogue in Part Two tells us, “died a martyr, and this is not the man.” He was in fact a Lollard burned at the stake for his faith during...
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SOURCE: “Shakespeare's Comic Sense as It Strikes Us Today: Falstaff and the Protestant Ethic,” in Henry the Fourth Parts I and II: Critical Essays, edited by David Bevington, Garland Publishing, 1986, 349-58.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1978, Hunter theorizes that the rejection of Falstaff in the Henry IVplays dramatizes the victory of the Protestant ethic, presenting the evolution of Prince Hal as a triumph of the principles represented by this moral code.]
If there are such things as antibodies (and I am told that there are), then let there be such things as antiembodiments and let Falstaff be one. Let him also be an embodiment (there is plenty of room), for Falstaff embodies a large part of my subject, Shakespeare's comic sense. Simultaneously he antiembodies the Protestant ethic. What he is, it is not. What it is, he is not. Did Shakespeare's comic sense serve the body politic by generating Falstaff in an attempt to immunize comparatively Merrie England against those foreign organisms, the Puritan Saints? If so, the attempt failed, and Shakespeare knew it would. The Henriad, I will maintain but not demonstrate, dramatizes, in the rejection of Falstaff, the victory of the Protestant ethic, presenting that social triumph as a psychological event, the decision of Henry the Fifth to labor in his vocation, to do his duty in that royal station to which it pleased God to call...
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SOURCE: “Reforming Prince Hal: The Sovereign Inheritor in 2 Henry IV,” in Renaissance Drama, Vol. 21, 1990, pp. 225-42.
[In the following essay, Crewe disputes critical thinking that denies substantive reformation in Prince Hal's character. Instead, Crewe proposes, the subject of reform is continuously revisited in both parts of Henry IV, making it difficult to define successful reformation in the political context of the plays.]
The “matter of Hal's redemption,” as A. R. Humphreys, the Arden editor of 2 Henry IV, calls it, may now seem too stale or tainted for further consideration.1 It has certainly been discussed at length, and to go on talking about it now is to risk the charge of reviving the ideological discourse of the centered, sovereign, masculine subject. Resisting this possibility is in fact one imperative of a developing critique in Shakespeare studies, the stakes of which are declared to be high.2 This risk aside, the notion of Hal's reform may still seem question-begging. The most influential current arguments deny that there is any substantive reform of Prince Hal's character. These are the arguments, associated mainly with Stephen Greenblatt, which insist on Hal's role-playing, and hence on the theatricality of his madcap character and of the metamorphosis he effects in 1 Henry IV.3
Instead of confronting...
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SOURCE: “The Hybrid Reformations of Shakespeare's Second Henriad,” in Comparative Drama, Vol. 32, No. 1, Spring, 1998, pp. 176-206.
[In the following essay, Hunt offers an account of the coexisting Catholic and Protestant elements characterized in Falstaff, King Henry IV, and Prince Hal, arguing that this mixture of traits does not impede any of these characters' attempts to reform themselves.]
Granted the late-medieval, early fifteenth-century settings of Shakespeare's 1 and 2 Henry IV and Henry V, theater audiences are not surprised by the large number of references in these plays to Catholic practices and beliefs.1 What has proved problematic for commentators is the coexistence of Catholic elements with explicitly Protestant traits in Shakespeare's characterizations of Falstaff, Henry IV, and Prince Hal/Henry V. In what follows, I argue that different forms of this mixture either impede or undermine these characters' attempts during the Second Henriad to reform themselves ethically and spiritually, at least until a noteworthy blend of Catholic and Protestant traits enables King Henry V in the aftermath of Agincourt to achieve a relatively successful transformation of character. Many plays of Shakespeare are syncretic in matters of religion: Othello, for example, reflects a mixture of Protestant predestinarian and Catholic voluntaristic theologies.2...
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SOURCE: “Shakespeare's Poor Relation: 2 Henry IV,” in Berryman's Shakespeare, edited by John Haffenden, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999, pp. 335-39.
[In the following unfinished essay, originally composed in 1970, Berryman presents a comparison between the two parts of Henry IV, stressing that he does not agree with those who see the two plays as a whole.]
Producers, critics, and mere readers have not been kind to Part II, Henry IV. In thirty-five years of playgoing I have seen it performed only once. The single quarto of 1600 was never reprinted, so far as we know, and one may doubt whether one in fifty readers of Part I go on to Part II. As for critics, they have mostly considered the two plays together, with very little said about the second. But it happens that in recent years half a dozen of them have bestirred themselves on its behalf, some on the unity of the giant double play considered as a whole, some on the unity of Part II taken alone as a sequel to the immensely successful Part I. It forms no part of my present purpose to canvas these views, though of course I shall refer to them now and again. My purpose is to account for the relative inferiority of Part II and then to make some remarks in mitigation of that argument: that is, to try to say why spectators and readers who do push on to it find themselves disappointed, in spite of...
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SOURCE: “Henry IV, Part I: The Two Faces of Revolt,” in In Honor of Austin Wright, Carnegie-Mellon University, 1972, pp. 63-68.
[In the following essay, Middleman discusses the apparent disunity of conception in Henry IV, Part I, noting that the action focuses equally on the political rebellion confronting Henry IV and the private struggle that Prince Hal contends with throughout the play.]
Looking at the first part of Henry IV, we are struck by an apparent disunity of conception. The title in the quartos suggests a division between the history and the comedy: “The Historie of Henrie the Fourth; With the battell at Shrewsburie, betweene the King and Lord Henry Percy, surnamed Henry Hotspur of the North. With the humorous conceits of Sir John Falstalffe.” While it is true that Falstaff, that “huge hill of flesh,” will in production clearly be the heaviest thing on stage and could, were Hal or Hotspur inadequate, carry away the show, Shakespeare's text proves to be a wonderfully balanced whole. The drama is structured around a series of contrasts and correspondences between high life and low, responsibility and self-indulgence, moderation and intemperateness, and, most important and inclusive, between seriousness and jest.
Tillyard has remarked (Shakespeare's History Plays, p. 301) that Prince Hal represents a kind of Aristotelian mean...
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Abrams, Richard. “Rumor's Reign in 2 Henry IV: The Scope of a Personification.” English Literary Renaissance 16, No. 3 (Autumn 1986): 467-95.
Expounds on the role of rumor and hearsay in the two Henry IV plays.
Barish, Jonas A. “The Turning Away of Prince Hal.” Shakespeare Studies 1 (1965): pp. 9-17.
Analyzes the rejection of Falstaff.
Bennett, Robert B. “The Golden Age in the Cycles of History: Analogous Visions of Shakespeare and Chekhov.” Comparative Literature Studies 28, No. 2 (Spring 1991): 156-77.
Compares the supper scene in Justice Shallow's orchard in Henry IV, Part II and Chekhov's Cherry Orchard, characterizing both scenes as similar in their innovative use of the tradition of the Golden Age.
Burelbach, Frederick M. “Name-Calling as Power Play in Shakespeare's 1 Henry IV.” Literary Onomastics Studies 16 (1989): 17-20.
Analyzes the impact of name-calling in Henry IV, Part I, labeling it as a form of authorship and as an instrument that maintains social norms.
Findlay, Heather. “Renaissance Pederasty and Pedagogy: The ‘Case’ of Shakespeare's Falstaff.” The Yale Journal of Criticism: Interpretation in the Humanities 3, No. 1 (Fall 1989):...
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