Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 (Vol. 80)
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, 57, and 69.
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 considered the primary focus of these dramas. Some critics contend that the two parts of Henry IV represent a unified whole meant to be interpreted and performed as part of a historical, dramatic, or thematic sequence, while others believe that Part 2 was not necessarily conceived of or composed as a sequential work, but is merely a spin-off that was written after the success of Part 1. David Bevington (1987) finds fault with each of these positions and claims that the most persuasive arguments “allow for separate performance of the two plays, for a degree of uncertainty about Shakespeare's overall plan as he wrote, and for the idea that the second play deliberately varies the focus of interest and the characterization.” The relationship between Falstaff and Prince Hal is another area of intense scholarly interest. Nigel Wood (1995) notes that since the play's beginning critics have tried to make sense of “Falstaff's attractiveness and Hal's obduracy in rejecting him.”
Critical discussion of the major characters in Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 has largely concentrated on the figures of Prince Hal and Sir John Falstaff, especially on their unique dramatic relationship. Ricardo J. Quinones (1972) argues that time is a central element in Hal's conversion from wayward prince to king of England, and notes that his character is the center of the multiple plot structure that exists in Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2. For Quinones, the prince represents a stable time continuum in the dramas—a vision of endurance and peaceful succession. Elliot Krieger (1979) presents a moral reading of Hal, emphasizing fundamental differences between the cunning Prince Hal and the loutish Falstaff. Whereas Falstaff is circumscribed within the boundaries of his own ego, Krieger contends, Hal's expansive consciousness allows him to master his environment and use all available resources—including Falstaff—for his own political benefit. Marshall Grossman (1999) questions precisely what Hal is doing with Falstaff and the rest of the petty criminals at the Boar's Head Tavern in the Henry IV plays, and finds an answer by examining Hal's ambivalent search for his own identity. Turning solely to Falstaff, Edith Kern (1984) traces the origins of this character to the archetypal trickster figure in its theatrical incarnation as a lovable scoundrel. With roots in myth and the Italian commedia dell'arte, this roguish character seems to derive limitless pleasure from hatching plots and playing practical jokes. Kern contends that Falstaff's lengthy career of mischief and amusing transgression abruptly ceases at the point when he discovers a need to ask his companions for compassion and forgiveness, a point which signals his rapidly approaching demise.
The standard practice among modern Shakespearean directors has been to stage the two parts of Henry IV in consecutive performance with a stable central cast and an emphasis on Hal and his development from a self-indulgent prince to an emergent king. Only rarely are the two dramas staged out of “context,” unlike Richard II and Henry V—the first and last plays of the historical sequence—which are sometimes allowed to stand alone. In 2000, reviewer Patrick Carnegy attended the plays as performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Swan Theatre in Stratford. Separated by a period of three months, the first and second parts of this staging of the Henry IV sequence were directed by Michael Attenborough, who highlighted the encroaching gloom of Part 2 in the first installment. Carnegy contends that both performances were well-acted, particularly so by Desmond Barrit as Falstaff. According to the reviewer's assessment, the masterfully realized and very real figure of Barrit's Falstaff provided a needed humorous commentary on the doings of William Houston's less sympathetic Prince Hal. Carnegy likewise appreciates David Troughton's King Henry IV, and notes that rather than lurking in the background of the play that bears his name, this character stepped up to become its emotional center. Reviewing Part 1 of the same production, Stephen Wall comments on the inappropriateness of the Swan's small theatrical space to a drama filled with expansive characters. Nevertheless, Wall praises Attenborough's directorial work, as well as Barrit's refined and sincere Falstaff. In 2001, the production traveled to London's Barbican Theatre, where both plays were attended by Heather Neill. Neill admires Attenborough's careful rendering of a balance between Falstaff and Hal; like Carnegy, she also welcomes David Troughton's majestic and emotive King Henry IV. Also reviewing Attenborough's production, Derek Peat (2002) comments not on the performance overall but on a key moment of Henry IV, Part 1 in which Hal throws a bottle of sack at Falstaff. Peat observes that Attenborough's decision to let Hal simply throw the bottle to the floor was a missed opportunity and demonstrated a contemporary propensity to weaken the comic potential of Falstaff in performance.
Contemporary critics of Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 have tended to analyze historical—and to a lesser degree socio-economic—concepts present in the dramas. Shakespeare's position as historiographer appeals to Charles R. Forker (1984), who views the dramatist's second historical tetralogy as a thematically cohesive sequence. According to Forker, Shakespeare's concern with historical cause and effect are imperative to a complete understanding of the Henry IV plays, and indeed to all of his historical dramas. While acknowledging Shakespeare's historical didacticism, Forker emphasizes his tendency to mold and reconstruct history, arguing that Shakespeare combined a classical view of historical cycles with a Christian conception of salvation as the ultimate end of human history. By superimposing these perspectives, Forker concludes, Shakespeare crafted a complex, tragicomic, intertextual, and vital theory of human progress through historical time that is played out in Henry IV and beyond. Derek Cohen (2002) likewise takes an inclusive, historical view of Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, and assesses the lingering concerns with usurpation, murder, and legitimacy that are carried over from Richard II. Cohen examines the turbulent process of nation-building that survives both the murder and usurpation of Richard II and the pervasive moral uncertainty of the Henry IV plays. Cohen notes that Part 1 is a drama of manifest destiny focused on Hal and his desire for greatness, but that by Part 2 such personal aspects of Hal's role begin to give way to a drama of ideas concerned with the moral and intellectual difficulties of reformulating national history into a cohesive whole. This process continues until Hal's personal dominance begins to reassert itself as part of a commonwealth ideology—the new basis of English national history that looks forward to the action of Henry V. Lastly, turning to the economic subtexts of Henry IV, Part 1, Jesse Lander (2002) reads the play in terms of a thematic crisis of value in which a collapse of monetary stability signals a debasement of sovereign power and an erosion of political legitimacy.
Criticism: Overviews And General Studies
SOURCE: Bevington, David. Introduction to The Oxford Shakespeare: Henry IV, Part I, edited by David Bevington, pp. 1-110. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.
[In the following excerpt, Bevington discusses the structural unity and major themes of Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, and considers the dramas' exposition of identity, honor, cowardice, father-son relations, and princely education.]
THE QUESTION OF STRUCTURAL UNITY
The debate over [E. M. W.] Tillyard's insistence on Elizabethan world-order as the key to Shakespeare's history plays has interesting ramifications, not only for characterization—e.g. is Falstaff a Vice tempter or a free spirit?—but also for structure. Are 1 and 2 Henry IV a unified whole, and integrally part of the larger structure of the Henriad, or is each play a separate theatrical event? Tillyard's argument … impels him towards the unitary view, towards seeing the rejection of Falstaff and the emergence of Henry V as the necessary conclusion to a story of political conflict whose ultimate concern is the welfare of the state. Similarly, Dover Wilson, though he sees Henry V and especially Merry Wives as quite separate creations, argues for a close tie between 1 and 2 Henry IV. He concedes that the plays were performed separately, but his argument about Falstaff's relationship to Hal depends on the idea of a...
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SOURCE: Wood, Nigel. Introduction to Henry IV, Parts One and Two, edited by Nigel Wood, pp. 1-34. Buckingham: Open University Press, 1995.
[In the following excerpt, Wood surveys critical estimations of Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 and examines the relationship between Prince Hal and Falstaff.]
FALSTAFF AND HISTORICAL ORDER
The critical history of the Henry IV plays follows one consistent course: the resolution to make sense of Falstaff's attractiveness and Hal's obduracy in rejecting him. In Barbara Hodgdon's The End Crowns All it becomes clear that the most pressing problem posed for directors is that of whether Falstaff is damned the first time we meet him (see Hodgdon 1991: 152-61). The early stage history of the plays is so unequal, with Part 1 a stock favourite and Part 2 grudgingly billed as a sequel, as in Thomas Betterton's adaptation for Drury Lane in 1720. Even then, it was the comic Falstaff that sold the play, as Betterton omitted most of the historical scenes in the first three acts (the only exception being I.iii), and added to the prominence given to Pistol. It was not until David Garrick's influence (1758-70) that Part 2 achieved the kind of sonority accorded Part 1, and that was largely on the back of a sumptuous coronation scene. These are, however, isolated novelties. Due to Thomas Killigrew's astute management of the King's Company mainly at...
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Criticism: Character Studies
SOURCE: Quinones, Ricardo J. “The Growth of Hal.” In William Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1, edited by Harold Bloom, pp. 71-95. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1972, Quinones traces the development of Hal's character.]
The shadow of Richard II hangs over the waywardness of Hal in 1 Henry IV. The young prince is threatened with the same historical isolation and discontinuity. In their critical confrontation, his father the King accuses him of straying “quite from the light of all thy ancestors.” His place on the council has been “rudely lost” to his younger brother. “The hope and expectation of thy time / Is ruined.” He then startles his son's self-possession by declaring that Percy is more like his true heir, and that he (Hal) is more like Richard.
[Percy] hath more worldly interest to the state Than thou, the shadow of succession.
To be sure, the scope of Hal's conversion can be exaggerated. As we insisted [elsewhere] with Petrarch and Montaigne, before one can be reformed there must be some prior inclination to reformation: something convertible must inhere before conversion. And Hal's first soliloquy where he shows some of his father's calculation and vows to redeem his time, can be taken to show that the ground was ready. Yet there is a difference between...
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SOURCE: Krieger, Elliot. “‘To Demand the Time of Day’: Prince Hal.” In William Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1, edited by Harold Bloom, pp. 101-08. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1979, Krieger analyzes Hal's political instincts and moral ambivalence in Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, particularly as these qualities are demonstrated in his relationship to Falstaff.]
From his first moment on stage Hal disputes Falstaff's need, even his right, to know the time:
Now, Hal, what time of day is it, lad?
What a devil hast thou to do with the time of day? unless hours were cups of sack, and minutes capons, and clocks the tongues of bawds, and dials the signs of leaping-houses, and the blessed sun himself a fair hot wench in flame-color'd taffata; I see no reason why thou shouldst be so superfluous to demand the time of day.
Hal responds more vehemently than the contents of Falstaff's request demand, indicating, as Roy Battenhouse has pointed out, that Falstaff has raised both a question and an issue. Falstaff's question about the time of day seems to encroach upon Hal's territory; Hal frightens Falstaff off as he might a poacher or a trespasser—the prince needs to maintain a boundary and a difference between himself and...
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SOURCE: Kern, Edith. “Falstaff—A Trickster Figure.” Upstart Crow 5 (fall 1984): 135-42.
[In the following essay, Kern compares Falstaff with the archetypal trickster figure.]
Carl Jung defined the trickster figure as a “‘psychologem’, an archetypal psychic structure of extreme antiquity …, a faithful reflection of an absolutely undifferentiated human consciousness, corresponding to a psyche that hardly left the animal level.”1 He did so in a commentary, made upon request, to a study of the North-American Trickster by the anthropologist, Paul Radin. Radin had discovered this figure “in clearly recognizable form among the simplest aboriginal tribes and among the complex (xxiii).” But he also recognized its analogues in the literatures of ancient Greece, China, Japan, and the Semitic world, adding that “many of the Trickster's traits are perpetuated in the figure of the medieval jester and have survived up to the present day in the Punch-and-Judy plays and in the clown (xxiii).” The American-Indian Trickster, forever shifting his countenance from animal to human, even male to female, appears in the tales retold by Radin as both stupid and clever, rebelliously immoral or simply amoral, primitive as well as shrewd. He plays outrageous tricks on all those he encounters and is outwitted as often as he boasts of outwitting others, until, at the end of his life, he becomes aware...
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SOURCE: Grossman, Marshall. “Recovering the Terror of Trifles.” Shakespeare Studies 27 (1999): 51-64.
[In the following essay, Grossman points to Hal's ambivalent search for his own identity as the wayward prince's primary characteristic.]
I know you all, and will a while uphold The unyoked humor of your idleness.
Whatever it is Hal is doing in his doings with Falstaff, Peto, Bardolph, and Poins in the early scenes of 1 Henry IV, his first soliloquy reassures the audience or himself that he will do it only for “a while.” Harry Berger reminds us that this “a while”—the lapse of time between the “now” of act 1 scene 2 of 1 Henry IV and, say, the end of 2 Henry IV, when the debt Hal never promised comes due—is mediated by a representation that is both performative and textual (Making Trifles of Terrors, 244-45). During and through his verbal performance, the Hal we see or read is at every moment complicated by his and our continual textual and historical reference to Henry V—whose presence is felt sometimes as the Prince imagines him in anticipation, sometimes as anticipated but unrealized by the Prince. At times, the shadow of the King he will become appears without the apparent complicity of the Prince—proleptically, in the mode of “history in the future tense,” as Auden characterized the Aeneid.
Insofar as the...
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Criticism: Production Reviews
SOURCE: Carnegy, Patrick. Review of Henry IV, Part 1. Spectator 284, no. 8960 (29 April 2000): 43-4.
[In the following review of Michael Attenborough's 2000 production of Henry IV, Part 1 at The Swan Theatre in Stratford, Carnegy comments on the shift from a modern-dress Richard II to this more traditional staging and highlights the roles of Hotspur, Bolingbroke, Prince Hal, and Falstaff.]
Getting the RSC's history-plays marathon off to such a compelling start with a modernist Richard II was never going to make life easy for the seven productions that are to follow. The overall strategy, as Adrian Noble half-jokingly declares, is ‘post-modernist’, meaning that although there'll be continuities in casting the styles of staging will differ.
Thus many of those who played at The Other Place in Steven Pimlott's modern-dress Richard II now find themselves in vaguely antique costume at The Swan in a more traditional production of Henry IV Part I by Michael Attenborough. It's as though the cast of Dad's Army were to turn up to film the next episode only to find not khaki fatigues but suits of armour laid out in their dressing-rooms.
It's scarcely surprising that Adam Levy's Hotspur who'd introduced himself in Richard II as an SAS toughie should have problems in growing the role to its climax while inhabiting chain...
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SOURCE: Wall, Stephen. Review of Henry IV, Part 1. Times Literary Supplement, no. 5068 (5 May 2000): 19.
[In the following review of a 2000 staging of Henry IV, Part 1 at The Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, Wall notes that this intimate venue lent itself more to the subtleties of Desmond Barrit's Falstaff than to the volubility of David Troughton's Henry IV or Adam Levy's energetic Hotspur.]
What sort of stage do Shakespeare's Histories need? When the RSC moved into the Barbican in 1982, Trevor Nunn directed Henry IV as an elaborate demonstration of the new theatre's physical possibilities, with three-storey structures like Dickensian warrens giving way to deep open space for the battle scenes. Of the four history plays offered at Stratford this summer, only Henry V is to be given in the main house, Richard II and both parts of Henry IV being diverted to its smaller-scale venues. Michael Attenborough's new production of the first part of Henry IV (Part Two follows in June) needs to convince us that its allocation to the congenial but limited Swan brings legitimate rewards and isn't just a matter of logistical convenience.
David Troughton delivers Henry's opening state-of-the-nation speech with the clarity and force that has made him a Stratford stalwart, but he also sets too loud an example; the acoustics of the Swan don't need such...
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SOURCE: Carnegy, Patrick. Review of Henry IV, Part 2. Spectator 285, no. 8971 (15 July 2000): 42-3.
[In the following review of a 2000 production of Henry IV, Part 2 directed by Michael Attenborough, Carnegy praises Desmond Barrit's immensely comic Falstaff and David Troughton's emotional King Henry.]
The themes of a coldly-strong king blighted by guilt and rebellion, and of a dissolute prince growing into his destiny, are of course a recapitulation of those in Part 1, but their development sounds a deeper, darker note [in Michael Attenborough's production of Henry IV Part 2]. Attenborough and his strong cast have the perfect measure of the trajectory from darkness into the dawn of a new beginning.
Inseparable from it is the comic spirit incarnate in Desmond Barrit's Falstaff. With support from Arthur Cox as Bardolph, Benjamin Whitrow as Shallow and Peter Copley as Silence, Plump Jack's adventures in Eastcheap and Gloucestershire are irresistibly hilarious. There's a masterful ease about Barrit's Falstaff. When the Prince makes a rather too carefully studied farewell to Falstaff (and his wild oats), Barrit quite rightly burlesques his gravitas. It could also be taken as a salutary warning lest William Houston, whose Hal sports the melancholic ardour of a Hamlet, make too sanctimonious a Henry V in August. But no question that there's powerful pathos in the...
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SOURCE: Neill, Heather. Review of Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2. Times Educational Supplement, no. 4420 (16 March 2001): 24.
[In the following review of Michael Attenborough's Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 with the Royal Shakespeare Company at London's Barbican Theatre, Neill lauds the balanced, believable performances rendered by actors in the roles of Falstaff, Hal, and Henry IV.]
How nastily manipulative should Falstaff be and how much a forgivable—even lovable—old reprobate? Is Hal cynically calculating or a king-in-waiting whose loyalties are divided between his usurping father, King Henry IV, and his surrogate father, the dissolute Falstaff?
Michael Attenborough's production of Parts 1 and 2 finds the balance superbly, allowing massy Desmond Barrit to be good company as the fat knight but not glossing over his immorality, his cheating, his carelessness about the suffering and death of soldiers and recruits.
Hal, meanwhile, is genuinely fond of Falstaff, to whom he needs to escape before the responsibilities of state become onerous, but he is not deceiving him: kingly authority is already visible in the prince's playfulness.
William Houston has managed to make Hal a rounded, believable character whose qualities will fit him for kingship—something that the RSC's history sequence, This England, allows him to prove in Edward Hall's...
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SOURCE: Peat, Derek. “Falstaff Gets the Sack.” Shakespeare Quarterly 53, no. 3 (2002): 379-83.
[In the following essay, Peat considers contemporary stage interpretations of Act V, scene iii of Henry IV, Part 1 in which Hal is to throw a bottle of sack at Falstaff, arguing that postwar productions have tended to dispose of this action and in so doing have diminished Falstaff's overall comic potential.]
Toward the end of 1 Henry IV, the actor playing Hal is required to throw a bottle in anger at Falstaff. The stage direction “[He throws the bottle at him.] Exit” (5.3.56 s.d.) looks benign enough on the page, but throwing any object always poses staging problems and these multiply on an open stage.1 As well as being problematic, the moment is also significant: how the bottle-throwing is played can change the balance of the scene, redefine the relationship between Falstaff and Hal, and perhaps even alter the effect of the play as a whole. This essay explores the possibilities of the scene through examination of two contrary staging solutions, arguing that one reflects several Royal Shakespeare Company traditions in relation to 1 Henry IV which appear to diminish Falstaff's comic role, while the other maintains it.
The bottle-throwing occurs during the battle at Shrewsbury. The scene begins with a single combat...
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SOURCE: Forker, Charles R. “The Idea of Time in Shakespeare's Second Historical Tetralogy.” Upstart Crow 5 (fall 1984): 20-34.
[In the following essay, Forker examines how Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 and the remaining plays of Shakespeare's second historical tetralogy promote a cyclical, providential, ironic, and tragicomic view of time's progress.]
For the Methode of a Poet historical is not such, as of an Historiographer. For an Historiographer discourseth of affayres orderly as they were donne, accounting as well the times as the actions, but a Poet thrusteth into the middest, euen where it most concerneth him, and there recoursing to the thinges forepaste, and diuining of thinges to come, maketh a pleasing Analysis of all.
—Edmund Spenser's letter to Sir Walter Raleigh, prefixed to The Faerie Queene
That eight of the ten Shakespearean histories are arranged into tetralogies—two sequences of four plays each—suggests an important point about the form of the history play as opposed to the form of the other major genres, comedy and tragedy—namely, that the history play (almost by the nature of its subject) is an open as opposed to a closed form.1 History is a continuum, and any historical drama must, in an important sense, commence in medias res. Of...
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SOURCE: Cohen, Derek. “History and the Nation in Richard II and Henry IV.” Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 42, no. 2 (spring 2002): 293-315.
[In the following essay, Cohen assesses the perception of history in the Henry IV plays, emphasizing a turbulent process of nation-building that survives both the murder and usurpation of Richard II and the pervasive moral uncertainty of Henry IV, Part 2.]
The past, in the figure of the murdered King Richard, haunts the protagonists of the Henry IV plays. The relation between the Richard they remember or merely imagine and the Richard of Richard II is fraught with emotional, moral, and ideological consequences. Richard's post-mortem power turns out to be greater than that he possessed alive and figures significantly in the various constructions of the English nation of these histories. His murder is the transforming fact and detail of Henry's monarchy, and it looms over and transfigures the events of Henry's reign. All crucial events refer to it. Richard, in death, becomes the focal point of action, the site of conflict, and the means by which the present and future are made coherent. Richard himself is a curious presence, represented in the plays in which he figures in strangely ambivalent ways. Richard searches for a defining royal essence in his character, and for some of those who observe him it...
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SOURCE: Lander, Jesse M. “‘Crack'd Crowns’ and Counterfeit Sovereigns: The Crisis of Value in 1 Henry IV.” Shakespeare Studies 30 (2002): 137-61.
[In the following essay, Lander presents an economic reading of Henry IV, Part 1 as the dramatic representation of a crisis of value in which monetary concerns exert their influence on monarchical authority and legitimacy.]
Money has the advantage of presenting me immediately the lurid face of the social relation of value; it shows me value right away as exchange, commanded and organized for exploitation … money has only one face, that of the boss.
A pervasive atmosphere of venality has often been noted in 1 Henry IV. The denizens of Eastcheap are not exceptional in their focus on pecuniary matters: the play opens with a dispute between the King and Hotspur over the payment of ransom that soon blossoms into rebellion. King Henry, as Hotspur reminds Blunt, “Knows at what time to promise, when to pay” (4.3.53), and Prince Hal uses the same language when he plans to “pay the debt I never promised” (1.2.204).1 Worcester argues that the king's strict accounting makes reconciliation an impossibility: “The King will always think him in our debt … Till he hath found a time to pay us home” (1.3.280-83). This language does more...
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Berger, Jr., Harry. “The Prince's Dog: Falstaff and the Perils of Speech-Prefixity.” Shakespeare Quarterly 49, no. 1 (spring 1998): 40-73.
Close analysis of Falstaff's language, motivation, and behavior in Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 that explains his subversive status and complicity in his rejection by Hal.
Bevington, David, ed. Henry the Fourth Parts I and II: Critical Essays. New York: Garland Publishing, 1986, 457 p.
Collection of major critical essays on Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 from the mid-eighteenth to the late twentieth centuries.
Bloom, Harold. William Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 2, edited by Harold Bloom, New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987, 165 p.
Comprised of ten scholarly essays on Henry IV, Part 2 from the second half of the twentieth century, with particular attention focused on Falstaff and such topics as comedy, role-playing, and the subversion of authority.
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.
Details the thematic structure of Henry IV, Part 1 as it involves a clash between central authority and feudal...
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