Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 (Vol. 69)
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, 49, and 57.
Likely written between 1596 and 1598, Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 form the central portion of Shakespeare's second historical tetralogy, covering the period from the end of Richard II's reign to the beginning of Henry V's. While the title of these dramas makes reference to the historical English monarch King Henry IV, scholars generally acknowledge that the other major characters in the plays, most notably the king's son Prince Hal, Sir John Falstaff, and the headstrong rebel Hotspur, overshadow the importance of the title figure. Indeed, the education of Prince Hal as the future sovereign of England, rather than an examination of his father's reign, is typically viewed as the focus of the dramas. Demonstrating this view, Gareth Lloyd Evans (see Further Reading) sees Prince Hal as the center of the works, and comments on the interplay of comic, tragic, and historical elements in both parts of the plays. While the two parts of Henry IV are thought to have been composed consecutively, and are frequently performed as such or studied in tandem by critics, several scholars have hastened to observe sharp differences in the works. Fredson Bowers (1970) has called Henry IV, Part 1 “Shakespeare's most perfect English history play,” while its sequel is typically considered a less successful example of dramatic artistry. Continuing his focus on Henry IV, Part 1, Bowers identifies the fundamental thematic and structural conflict in the drama as one between central monarchical authority, dramatically personified by Prince Hal, and a waning English aristocratic and feudal order, as embodied in Hotspur. Highlighting the second drama, Cambridge editor Giorgio Melchiori (1989) observes the less structured quality of Henry IV, Part 2 in comparison with the former work, noting that it loosely combines the generic elements of a medieval morality play, a classical comedy of humors, a satirical city versus country drama, and other disparate elements.
Discussion of the major characters of Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 during the latter half of the twentieth century has typically concentrated on the central figures of Prince Hal and Sir John Falstaff. To Walter E. Meyers (1980), Shakespeare's Hal is a dynamic and complex individual, who asserts a consistent and evolving personality through both parts of Henry IV and in their sequel, Henry V. Jonas A. Barish (see Further Reading) highlights Hal's process of stripping away a portion of his human sympathy in order to prepare himself for the throne of England. Barish notes that this course is dramatically realized in Hal's rejection of his former mentor and friend Falstaff, a comic personification of folly and intemperance. A popular favorite among audiences, the obese tavern knight Falstaff also appeals to critics, including Arthur Colby Sprague (see Further Reading), who defends Sir John against accusations of cowardice. Studying Falstaff from a different perspective, Heather Findlay (1989) suggests that Shakespeare drew the character from numerous classical types that feature homoerotic overtones, including the pederast, the classical pedagogue, and the mythical figure of Ganymede. In addition to Hal and Falstaff, the two remaining principal figures in the dramas, King Henry IV and Hotspur, continue to elicit critical interest. In regard to the former, Jo Ann Davis (1976) sees Henry as a generally unsympathetic figure. A voice of satire in Richard II, Davis argues, Henry's role is inverted in the Henry IV plays as he becomes the object of derision. Presenting a psychoanalytic estimation of Hal's rival, Marvin B. Krims (1994) discusses Hotspur's extreme intolerance for so-called “feminine” principles and traits—including inconstancy, submissiveness, and compassion—in others as well as in himself.
By the end of the twentieth century, the standard practice among Shakespearean directors has been to stage or film the two parts of Henry IV in consecutive performance, usually with an emphasis on Hal and his development from a self-indulgent prince to an emergent king. Such is the case in David Giles's 1993 BBC television production of the Henriad—which includes the final play of Shakespeare's tetralogy, Henry V. In his review of the series, Ace G. Pilkington observes that Giles's sustained focus on Hal as he undergoes the transformation into King Henry V helps lend a substantial unity to the production. In contrast, critic Ben Brantley found a lack of cohesion in Ron Daniels's 1993 staging of Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2. Brantley contends that by choosing to set his play anachronistically amid something resembling the American Civil War, Daniels created a greater disjunction between two potentially disparate works and added a flawed didactic strain. Joel Henning's assessment of Barbara Gaines's 1999 staging of the dramas at the Shakespeare Repertory Theater in Chicago suggests an entirely different result in which excellent acting, design, and direction combined to produce a satisfying whole. Russell Jackson (2001) records another successful production, performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon in 2000. Acknowledging its “somber” tone, Jackson nevertheless praises the principal individual performances—notably Desmond Barrit's thoughtful, yet witty Falstaff and William Houston's deep and “unnerving” Prince Hal—as well the effectiveness of the ensemble cast.
Recent thematic appraisals of Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 have tended to reflect an unsettled view of these dramas and their uneasy relationship to one another. John W. Blanpied (1983) contrasts the two parts of Henry IV, finding an “organic unity” in Part 1 that does not exist in Part 2. Blanpied observes that Henry IV, Part 2 “is a play about thwarted effort,” contending that it consistently mocks and parodies Part 1. Using evidence of classical allusion, particularly references to the Roman god of war, Clayton G. Mackenzie (1995) maintains that Henry IV, Part 1 fails to produce a glorious and heroic protagonist in either Hal or Hotspur, but rather elicits a sense of pessimism in regard to the bloody conflict between Englishmen. Kiernan Ryan (1995) presents an ideological assessment of Henry IV as a work that subverts social hierarchy. Finally, Robert L. Reid elucidates his understanding of Shakespeare's Henriad in terms of the psychodynamics of “humors”—an antique theory in which a preponderance of certain naturally occurring substances in the body was thought to influence one's psychological temperament. According to this scheme, Reid interprets King Henry IV as melancholic, Hotspur as choleric, Falstaff as phlegmatic, and Prince Hal—later Henry V—as sanguine.
Criticism: Overviews And General Studies
SOURCE: Bowers, Fredson. “Theme and Structure in King Henry IV, Part I.” In The Drama of the Renaissance: Essays for Leicester Bradner, edited by Elmer M. Blistein, pp. 42-68. Providence, R.I.: Brown University Press, 1970.
[In the following essay, Bowers details the thematic structure of Henry IV, Part 1, noting that a central concern of the play is the triumph of the centralized royal power over the feudal system—concepts dramatically personified in the figures of Hal and Hotspur, respectively.]
The popular history play of Elizabeth's reign was likely to be a chronicle history. The name is applied not just because the history in the play was taken from the chronicles, but because it was dramatized in the chronicle manner. History is not an Elizabethan literary form. Some few examples of relatively coherent history exist, as in Sir Thomas More's account of Richard III or Bacon's of Henry VII, but these are exceptional. A coherent history is written from a point of view; it concerns itself as much with the why of an action as with its how. It delves into causes and carefully traces their effects. It looks to men and to the influence of their characters on action. It relates the event to the whole. It sets the details of its narrative in proportion against one another so that motivation and causality are apparent. In short, true historical writing shapes events to a...
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SOURCE: Melchiori, Giorgio. Introduction to The Second Part of King Henry IV, edited by Giorgio Melchiori, pp. 1-52. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
[In the following excerpt, Melchiori identifies a number of structural components in Henry IV, Part 2, including qualities of the morality play, comedy of humors, city/country play, and psychodrama, as well as the thematic intermingling of time and disease.]
THE MORALITY STRUCTURE
The opening of a play with an Induction is a rare occurrence in Shakespeare's work. We must assume that the first stage direction of the quarto, Enter Rumour painted full of tongues, is directly derived from Shakespeare's own foul papers. He meant that Rumour—the only allegorical figure appearing in any of his plays, apart from Time in The Winter's Tale—should wear the traditional costume of Fame or Report in sixteenth-century pageants, masques or interludes: a cloak or herald's coat all painted over with tongues (in the case of Fame, with eyes and ears also). The coat, incidentally, could be removed in no time at all, so that the actor impersonating Rumour could reappear a moment later on the stage as Lord Bardolph. But the really striking feature, in this case, is Shakespeare's deliberate choice, to open his sequel to the history of Henry IV, of a figure that would immediately remind the audience of the popular...
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Criticism: Character Studies
SOURCE: Davis, Jo Ann. “Henry IV: From Satirist to Satiric Butt.” In Aeolian Harps: Essays in Literature in Honor of Maurice Browning Cramer, edited by Donna G. Fricke and Douglas C. Fricke, pp. 81-93. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Press, 1976.
[In the following essay, Davis studies Henry Bolingbroke as an unsympathetic object of satire in Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2.]
“For now a time is come to mock at form”
2 Henry IV, IV.v.118
The changing role of Henry Bolingbroke provides a vehicle for describing the logical development of form in the second tetralogy. The play sequence moves from the tragedy of Richard II, where Henry is a satirist, to the Henry IV plays which are structured for maximum exposure of Henry as object of satire primarily by means of parody and caricature. In fact, it is Henry's failure as a satirist that produces the multiple plots of Henry IV Parts 1 and 2. If the tetralogy is viewed from this formal perspective, Falstaff and his world exist as a corollary to Henry's becoming a satiric butt. The scene is thus set for both the expulsion of the objects of the satire and the return to an ordered ideal society first described by Gaunt in Richard II and finally epitomized in the new King Henry V.1
Henry Bolingbroke's dramatic status in the plays has anomolous features. For one...
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SOURCE: Meyers, Walter E. “Hal: The Mirror of All Christian Kings.” In A Fair Day in the Affections: Literary Essays in Honor of Robert B. White, Jr., edited by Jack D. Durant and M. Thomas Hester, pp. 67-77. Raleigh, N.C.: The Winston Press, 1980.
[In the following essay, Meyers contends that Shakespeare's Hal is a developing, subtle, and complex character who assumes many roles in the Henriad.]
The first problem is what to call him—Hal, Harry, Henry? And the question of his names echoes about the reality of this somehow puzzling character. No critic denies that in discussing Hamlet, say, we face a mystery, but with Hal, the debate continues whether this character, on whom Shakespeare lavished so much attention through three plays, is better understood by reference to Machiavelli or to Cecil B. de Mille. Is Hal a poster hero, a George Washington, with Shakespeare prefiguring Parson Weems, or is he more complicated, a Richard III playing Hamlet's part? Hal is indeed a mirror, one in which each critic is likely to see reflected his own conception of a king.
Those critics who praise Hal furnish a lesson: we find that it is hard to admire both the character of Hal and the dramatic skill of Shakespeare. There seems to be an inverse relationship between admiration for Hal as a man and for Henry V as a drama. Let D. A. Stauffer serve as an example of Hal's party: “For...
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SOURCE: Findlay, Heather. “Renaissance Pederasty and Pedagogy: The ‘Case’ of Shakespeare's Falstaff.” Yale Journal of Criticism 3, no. 1 (fall 1989): 229-38.
[In the following essay, Findlay evaluates the figure of Falstaff with reference to classical models and contemporary theory regarding economic exchange, pedagogy, and homoeroticism.]
Although I hope to inspire a little healthy suspicion about the nature of Sir John Falstaff's tastes when it comes to pleasures of the flesh, this paper will not argue that if one reads between enough lines in Shakespeare's Henriad, or beyond enough layers of heterosexist commentary on his character, the jolly old knight will reveal himself as a sodomite. Although there are several obviously homosexual characters in Renaissance drama, Falstaff is not one of them. Falstaff is the “case study” for this paper rather than, for example, Christopher Marlowe's homosexual Edward II, because Shakespeare uses Falstaff as a figure for several sexual questions which became especially pertinent for his period and which form the object of inquiry for this paper. Shakespeare signals these problems by constituting Falstaff's character within a series of classical Greek paradigms, all of which recall homosexuality and/or a pedagogical relationship between men. This essay argues that the classical imagery which surrounds Falstaff is a symptom of a set of historical...
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SOURCE: Krims, Marvin B. “Hotspur's Antifeminine Prejudice in Shakespeare's 1 Henry IV.” Literature and Psychology 4, nos. 1-2 (1994): 118-32.
[In the following essay, Krims offers a psychoanalytic interpretation of Hotspur, examining his extreme intolerance for so-called feminine principles and traits—including inconstancy, submissiveness, and compassion—in others and in himself.]
In creating the Hotspur of 1 Henry IV, Shakespeare retained the impetuous and courageous quality of the historic Sir Henry Percy.1 However, the “phallocentric” attitudes the fictive Hotspur displays are entirely of the author's creation.2 Although these phallocentric attitudes may in part reflect the cultural bias of Early Modern England and perhaps Shakespeare's own bias, it is the purpose of this paper to show that Hotspur's words also reveal the unconscious conflicts underlying his phallocentricity. By disclosing these unconscious structures in the subtext, Shakespeare undermines Hotspur's phallocentricity even as he represents it on the surface of the text.
Hotspur reveals his attitude toward women when his wife, Kate, first appears (II, iii, l.1-35). She suspects that he has been neglecting her because he is preoccupied with insurrection and she wants to restore their loving relationship. As she approaches him now, he is fuming over the defection of a...
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Criticism: Production Reviews
SOURCE: Pilkington, Ace G. “The BBC's Henriad.” Literature/Film Quarterly 21, no. 1 (1993): 25-32.
[In the following review of David Giles's production of the Henriad for BBC television, Pilkington notes the strong focus on Hal in the series, which served as a unifying force in the plays and featured Hal's development from prince to king.]
David Giles did not know when he directed the BBC Richard II that he would also be the director for all of the Second Tetralogy and what might readily be styled the Henriad.1 However, by the time Giles started into 1 Henry IV, Cedric Messina, producer for the first two years of the series, had committed himself, and Giles was looking forward to a sequence of three plays. With Messina's support, he determined to shoot the plays as a unity. For example, 1 Henry IV begins with a flashback to Richard's death, and in 2 Henry IV “Before the play opens we see, in flashback, King Richard II handing the Crown to Bolingbroke,” then “Bolingbroke (now King Henry IV) at his prayers,” and finally, “Prince Hal in mortal combat with Hotspur on Shrewsbury field” (BBC 2H4 29). As a result, we are able to watch the development of Bolingbroke, Falstaff, and Hal from play to play. Our Henry V has also been our Hal and has had to come to terms with the shift on film. As John Wilders, literary advisor to the BBC...
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SOURCE: Brantley, Ben. “Civil War Henry IV with a Punk for a Prince.” New York Times Current Events Edition (23 December 1993): C7, C10.
[In the following review of Ron Daniels's 1993 back-to-back staging of Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, Brantley examines the director's anachronistic American Civil War setting and comments on the overall lack of cohesion in the dramas.]
Talk about generation gaps. In Ron Daniels's lively but erratic staging of both parts of Shakespeare's Henry IV at the American Repertory Theater, the King and his wayward heir, Hal, appear to be separated by about 130 years.
The rebellious Prince is here portrayed as a platinum-haired punk who resembles the English rock star Billy Idol; his father, looking like a mustachioed general from a Matthew Brady daguerreotype, clearly belongs to the era of America's Civil War. Arduously stretching the liberties afforded by post-modernist theories of production, Mr. Daniels has created a wildly anachronistic, culturally mixed salad in which different elements of Shakespeare's epic political portrait are accorded theatrical analogues from wholly disparate historical moments.
The result, given visual life by John Conklin's time-traveling, slightly ragged scenic shorthand, is less disjunctive than one might expect. But the plays also have the didactic aspect of something prepared by a...
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SOURCE: Henning, Joel. Review of Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2.” Wall Street Journal (11 March 1999): A20.
[In the following review of Barbara Gaines's 1999 staging of Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 at the Chicago's Shakespeare Repertory Theater, Henning praises the outstanding performances of nearly all the cast members, and applauds the dramaturgical effects employed by Gaines and her lighting, music, and costume designers.]
Part 1 of Shakespeare's Henry IV is arguably his best and most theatrical play, which makes it one of the very best plays we have in our language. Part 2, when it must stand alone, isn't as good; it's darker and less heroic, but it's even funnier and offers another hugely entertaining helping of that gigantic character, Sir John Falstaff. Both parts are on offer by the Shakespeare Repertory Theater through May 2 and—if you are ever tempted to travel for an epic theater experience—this is a chance to do so and get full value.
Not only Falstaff, but Prince Hal, Hotspur and all the other great ones are brought to vivid life in this matched set of splendid productions. Barbara Gaines gets her actors to go way beyond merely reaching for Royal Shakespeare Company locutions. Instead, they step into the nature of these characters. Greg Vinkler is the best of a very good lot. His Falstaff fills the theater. Falstaff is, of course, a hugely fat man speaking...
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SOURCE: Jackson, Russell. Review of Henry IV, Part 2.” Shakespeare Quarterly 52, no. 1 (spring 2001): 107-23.
[In the following excerpted review of the 2000 Shakespeare season at Stratford-upon-Avon, Jackson describes the relatively “somber” mood of Michael Attenborough's Henry IV, the production's thematic emphasis on fathers and sons, and several strong performances, especially Desmond Barrit's witty but reticent Falstaff and William Houston's enigmatic Prince Henry.]
The two parts of Henry IV were presented with sparing use of symbolism. The overall effect was somber. The first play began with a tolling bell and chanting, as Bolingbroke kneeled at the front of the stage. He uttered as if in prayer his impassioned declaration of intent to lead an army to the Holy Land, while the as-yet-unidentified figures of Blunt and Westmoreland stood upstage, priestlike in their long-skirted gowns. After the news of dissent and potential rebellion and the king's resolve to meet the threat head-on, the scene ended with Henry standing in front of the throne at the back of the platform. Before he began to move, Falstaff's head emerged through a hole in the stage at his feet, as though erupting into the world of politics, war, and conscience. Hal crawled from underneath the throne, and the golden sheet draped over it was whisked upward, transforming the palace into the tavern. This...
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SOURCE: Blanpied, John W. “Henry IV, Part 2: ‘Unfathered Heirs and Loathly Births of Nature.’” In Modern Critical Interpretations: William Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 2, edited by Harold Bloom, pp. 85-103. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1983, Blanpied contrasts the two parts of Henry IV, finding an “organic unity” in Part I that doesn't exist in Part II.]
Open your ears, for which of you will stop The vent of hearing when loud Rumor speaks?
So Rumor opens 2 Henry IV, implying that the audience (“my household”), even in consenting to hear the play, thereby consents as well to aid him in his business of spreading “continual slanders,” “false reports.” Like Richard III in his opening monologue, he engages the audience on the premise that the play itself is an act of deception, and as in Richard III this premise eventually fulfills itself upon its maker. What we are party to is a process of confusions—false promises, forfeited claims, betrayals, and “strained passions”—for which Rumor asserts responsibility: “who but only I, / Make fearful musters and prepared defense / … And no such matter?” And indeed he sets the play in motion precisely as a mischievous playwright: “The posts come tiring on, / And not a man of them brings other news / Than they have learned...
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SOURCE: Mackenzie, Clayton G. “The Third Face of the Elizabethan Mars: The Fallacy of Heroism in 1 Henry IV.” Neohelicon 22, no. 2 (1995): 185-203.
[In the following essay, Mackenzie examines the mythological allusions in Henry IV, Part 1, and finds that the play lacks a truly heroic protagonist and presents a vision of England as both “tragic and unheroic.”]
The apparent paucity of significant mythological allusion in 1 Henry IV is puzzling. There is, as James Hoyle has shown, a profusion of emblematic imagery, but such imagery is dominantly proverbial in character.1 Danse macabre, Paradise and Fall, and Neptune themes, which are all powerfully evoked in the first play of the Lancastrian tetralogy, Richard II, are here absent or, at most, greatly diminished in prominence.2 The differences between the two works in this regard may be instructive and it is possible to conjecture that Shakespeare sought different mythological objectives in 1 Henry IV. While Richard II may reveal complex schemes of mythological imagery, it conspicuously lacks a myth hero—largely because the historical source materials used by the dramatist made such a presentation untenable. Richard was styled as weak and ineffective, though righteous; Bolingbroke as strong and ambitious, but a usurper. It was not the stuff of heroism and Shakespeare's treatment of the...
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SOURCE: Ryan, Kiernan. “The Future of History in Henry IV.” In Henry IV, Parts One and Two, edited by Nigel Wood, pp. 92-125. Buckingham: Open University Press, 1995.
[In the following excerpt, Ryan analyzes Henry IV in terms of Frederic Jameson's Marxist theory of literature, finding that Shakespeare's plays demystify the hierarchical assumptions and teleological confusions associated with historical drama even as they portray standard ideologies.]
As history plays engaged in dramatizing the fate of Crown and nation across a period two centuries before the time of Shakespeare and his audience, 1 and 2 Henry IV pose fundamental questions for the literary theory and critical practice of the present. What is the relationship between the reality of history and its creative representation, between the world of the past and the work's account of it? What is the political role of the work in its own world: to shore up or shake the foundations of power? Can the literature of the past only speak of the past, or has it secrets to reveal to the present and appointments to keep with the future?
No attempt to answer these questions in recent years has been more ambitious or compelling than Fredric Jameson's The Political Unconscious (1981). Although the subtitle, Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act, and the devotion of...
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SOURCE: Reid, Robert L. “Humoral Psychology in Shakespeare's Henriad.” Comparative Drama 4, no. 4 (winter 1996-97): 471-502.
[In the following essay, Reid maintains that the four principal characters of Henry IV, Part 1 depict the varied and relational psychological temperaments associated with the classical, Galenic system of “humors.” Based on this system, Reid interprets King Henry IV as melancholic, Hotspur as choleric, Falstaff as phlegmatic, and Hal as sanguine.]
A literary survey of Galenic usages between 1350 and 1700 confirms Shakespeare's and Jonson's dominion as deliberate humoralists, especially in the plays of 1597-1606: Chaucer uses “humor” 8 times, Lyly 23, Spenser 22, Shakespeare 141, Jonson 236, Donne 9, and Milton 5. Contrary to popular opinion, however, the locus classicus of humoral psychology is not the voguish humor-comedy of Chapman (1597) or Jonson (1598-99), but Shakespeare's epic Henriad, especially Part 1 (1597). We need not review (with C. R. Baskerville, Jürgen Schäfer, and James A. Riddell) the rising tide of satiric pseudo-humors between 1580 and 1630. Lyly's preening Euphuisms, Nashe's caustic satire, Jonson's fabulous grotesques, while accreting new meanings to “humor,” do not treat genuine Galenism but pseudo-tempers: whimsical quirks, obsessions, nonsensical affectations. Only Shakespeare fully exploits humoralism's...
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Barish, Jonas A. “The Turning Away of Prince Hal.” In Twentieth Century Interpretations of Henry IV, Part One: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by R. J. Dorius, pp. 83-88. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1970.
Maintains that Hal prepares himself to be a ruler in Henry IV “by scrapping part of his humanity,” which is represented by his uncompassionate rejection of the comic folly and excess of Falstaff.
Bevington, David. Introduction to The Oxford Shakespeare: Henry IV, Part I, edited by David Bevington, pp. 1-110. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987.
Surveys the historical sources, structure, stage history, major themes, and characters of Henry IV, Part 1.
Bisset, Norman. “The Historical Pattern from Richard II to Henry V: Shakespeare's Analysis of Kingship.” In En Torno a Shakespeare: Homenaje a T. J. B. Spencer, edited by Manuel Angel Conejero, pp. 209-39. Valencia: Instituto Shakespeare, Universidad de Valencia, 1980.
Interprets Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 in conjunction with Richard II and Henry V, contending that these historical dramas demonstrate a unified examination of the theme of kingship.
Davis, Hugh H. “‘Shakespeare, He's in the Alley’: My Own Private Idaho and Shakespeare in the...
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