Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 (Vol. 90)
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, 69, and 80.
Shakespearean scholars speculate that Henry IV, Part 1 was written in late 1596 or early 1597, and first performed shortly thereafter; Henry IV, Part 2 was perhaps written in late 1597 or early 1598 and sometimes staged in tandem with Part 1. Shakespeare drew upon a number of English history texts while composing these dramas. Two of the most notable sources are Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1577) and Samuel Daniel's epic poem The Civile Wars between the two houses of Lancaster and York (1595). In addition, some critics maintain that the anonymous play, The Famous Victories of Henry V (c. 1594), inspired the low-comedy scenes between Prince Hal and Falstaff. Late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century scholars have often focused on the historical and cultural resonances of Falstaff's character; the dynamics of Prince Hal's ambiguous moral values and his Machiavellian political ambition; and Shakespeare's shrewd commentary on prevailing ethical, religious, and sociopolitical attitudes in Elizabethan England.
Many modern critics have asserted that the character of Falstaff can be interpreted as Shakespeare's derisive satire of ambiguous moral and ethical values current in late fifteenth-century England. Beyond endorsing the opinion that the fat knight is a caricature of the medieval Protestant martyr, Sir John Oldcastle, who was revered by contemporary Puritans, Grace Tiffany (1998) maintains that Shakespeare intended to dramatize Falstaff as a “carnivalesque” Puritan who is a sophist, who agitates from the fringes of society, and who has a subversive, anti-establishment attitude toward religious and political hierarchies. For Tiffany, while Falstaff is theatrically amusing, the Henry IV plays conclude “with the clear suggestion that Falstaffian influence, whatever its attractions, is politically and morally dangerous, and will be rejected by a sane commonwealth.” Similarly, David Scott Kastan (1998) examines the circumstances surrounding Oldcastle's martyrdom and recounts the controversy during Shakespeare's time that led to the removal of Oldcastle's name from Henry IV, Part 1. But Kastan takes exception to the editorial decision to restore Oldcastle's name to the modern Oxford text of the play, arguing that while second-hand Elizabethan and Jacobean reports of theatrical performances substantiate the name change, the fact that Shakespeare made the change should be considered a valid textual revision of the play. Tom McAlindon (2001) affirms his support for literary scholars who maintain that Falstaff is a clever parody of both Oldcastle and contemporary Puritans. Further, McAlindon contends that rather than merely settling for a one-dimensional lampoon of Puritan behavior, Shakespeare invented a new satirical model that transformed “a Puritan butt into an exceptionally appealing character with a quicksilver mind and tongue.” Surveying Falstaff's disingenuous recitation of biblical scripture in Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, Matthew Fike (see Further Reading) assesses the fat knight in relation to Jesus's parable of Dives and Lazarus. According to Fike, Falstaff is a dynamic character who possesses the negative, gluttonous characteristics of Dives and his brothers, but who also becomes a contrite Lazarus-figure when he is banished by Hal.
From the perspective of many modern theatrical reviewers, Henry IV, Parts 1and 2 have achieved an iconic status. For example, Michael Billington (2001) hails the dramas as “the twin summits of Shakespeare's genius.” Refusing to be intimidated by lofty expectations, modern directors have endeavored to leave their own mark on these plays. In 2000 David Attenborough staged both Henry IV plays as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company's ambitious program to present the entire cycle of Shakespeare's eight history plays in chronological order from Richard II to Richard III. Critics praised Attenborough's productions for their intelligent and skillful treatment of the political, social, and familial themes in the two history plays. While acknowledging that the entire cast was generally superb, reviewers particularly extolled Desmond Barrit's portrayal of Falstaff. Ultimately, commentators were gratified at the thought-provoking theatrical experience orchestrated by Attenborough. Billington concluded that “the overwhelming feeling at the end of the day is of Shakespeare's genius in encompassing all of England in two plays and of Attenborough's success in probing his restless moral intelligence.” Reviewers were markedly less satisfied with Richard Maxwell's 2003 staging of Henry IV, Part 1 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York, as part of the Next Wave Festival. Generally regarded as a gifted experimental director, Maxwell endeavored to apply his avant-garde theatrical techniques to the play. His chief innovation was to minimize theatrical affectation on the part of the actors and to emphasize instead a clear, uninflected delivery of the text. Critics asserted that while the director's unorthodox technique had illuminated several modern plays in the past, this was wholly unsuccessful when applied to Shakespeare. Indeed, Ben Brantley concluded that despite the high concept, Maxwell's production was “relentlessly, numbingly flat.”
Analyzing the late Elizabethan age as a period of intense cultural turmoil, Tiffany maintains that Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 represent Shakespeare's ironic commentary on the religious and sociopolitical rhetoric propagated by contemporary Puritans. According to Tiffany, Elizabethan playgoers would have detected in Falstaff many of the destabilizing aspects of Puritanism and in Prince Hal an ambivalent Puritan attitude toward monarchic authority as a role the king must play. Considering the plays from a socioeconomic perspective, Nina Levine (2000) demonstrates that Shakespeare adroitly employed the concept of credit and mercantile exchange in Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 as a metaphor for the legitimacy of the Lancastrian dynasty's claim to the English throne. For Levine, Shakespeare's commercial perspective of royal political discourse—a mode of speech that involves “promises and payments” to maintain power—parallels the everyday financial dealings of Elizabethan playgoers who relied on credit and mercantile exchange to maintain a complex community of shared fiscal obligation. Some modern commentators have focused on the structural design of the Henry IV plays in an effort to shed new light on Shakespeare's view of the legitimacy of the Lancastrian dynasty in general and Prince Hal's moral and political values in particular. In his 2002 study, Mark Taylor considers Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 within the context of the second tetralogy (which includes Richard II and Henry V in addition to these two plays), detailing how key scenes thematically imitate, echo, and foreshadow other scenes within the epic drama cycle. Defining these scenes as instances of “proleptic imitation,” Taylor demonstrates how each sequence reinforces the inevitability of Prince Hal's reformation and the tragedy of Falstaff's rejection. David Ruiter (2003) traces the structural and thematic implications of the cyclical tradition of feasting and fasting in the Henry IV plays. In his analysis of Part 2 in particular, Ruiter demonstrates that Prince Hal shrewdly manipulates the progression from disorderly festivity—which the critic characterizes as “the Feast of Falstaff”—to hierarchical order in an effort to maximize his political capital as the prodigal son who reforms himself to become king.
Criticism: Overviews And General Studies
SOURCE: Tiffany, Grace. “Puritanism in Comic History: Exposing Royalty in the Henry Plays.” Shakespeare Studies 26 (1998): 256-87.
[In the following essay, Tiffany maintains that Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 represent Shakespeare's ironic commentary on the religious and sociopolitical rhetoric propagated by contemporary Puritans. According to the critic, Elizabethan playgoers would have detected in Falstaff many of the egalitarian aspects of Puritanism and in Prince Hal a Puritan view of monarchic authority as a kind of theatrical performance.]
Since the publication of Jonas Barish's seminal The Anti-theatrical Prejudice in 1981, it has become a truism in Renaissance studies that English Puritans despised English theater.1 However, though it is undeniable that many Puritan moralists condemned the “chappel of Satan,” as Anthony Munday called the London playhouse,2 the relationship of many “precise” Protestants, or Puritans, to late-sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century theatrical entertainment was complex and ambivalent. Although Puritan ministers like John Rainholds opposed all theater, branding “all stage-players generally with infamie,”3 others were more tolerant. As both Paul White and David Bevington have shown, many early radical Protestants and first- and second-generation Puritans, such as John Bale and Munday, fought hard not to...
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SOURCE: Taylor, Mark. “Henry IV and Proleptic Mimesis.” In Shakespeare's Imitations, pp. 66-106. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2002.
[In the following essay, Taylor considers Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 within the context of the entire second tetralogy (which includes Richard II and Henry V), detailing how key scenes thematically imitate, echo, and foreshadow other episodes within the epic drama. He also calls attention to correspondences between the second tetralogy and the epic poems of Homer and Virgil.]
The primary subject of this chapter is two scenes from the first part of Henry IV: act 2, scene 4, in the Eastcheap tavern, where Prince Hal and Falstaff dramatically anticipate the prince's interview with King Henry the following day, and act 3, scene 2, at court, the interview itself, fateful, long-awaited, between the estranged father and son. My concern will be with each of the scenes as both a foreshadowing and an imitation after the fact of the other; that 2.4 may foreshadow 3.2 and that 3.2 may imitate 2.4 is obvious, but since 2.4 becomes essentially different after one has read 3.2, the corollary is true, also: that the later scene foreshadows the earlier one, and the earlier one imitates the later. I regard as axiomatic Harry Berger's claim that “the later terms [that is, elements of whatever sort within Shakespeare's second tetralogy of...
(The entire section is 20015 words.)
Criticism: Character Studies
SOURCE: Council, Norman. “Prince Hal: Mirror of Success.” Shakespeare Studies 7 (1974): 125-46.
[In the following essay, Council examines how Prince Hal, Falstaff, and Hotspur each respond to the code of honor documented in various Renaissance texts. The critic asserts that while Hotspur rigidly adheres to the code and Falstaff flatly rejects it, Hal remains aloof from its requirements but manipulates and exploits it to achieve political success.]
The idea that Shakespeare arranges the three principals of 1 Henry IV in a quasi-Aristotelian paradigm of the theme of honor has been so often iterated and has so dominated the teaching of the play that it has become a virtual truism. Hotspur, the argument goes, represents the excess, Falstaff the defect, and Hal the virtuous mean of the honorable man.1 This has been an appealing idea, I suspect, partly because it is a convenient scheme and partly because if it were valid it would help to demonstrate either that Shakespeare had read his Aristotle or that the humanist revival had made the Aristotelian ethic so commonplace as to be dramatically useful. Unfortunately, this reading of the play does not bear scrutiny.
The difficulty is that Falstaff's and Hotspur's behavior in no way resembles any of the definitions of defective and excessive desire for honor which a wide variety of late sixteenth-century books on honor...
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SOURCE: Kastan, David Scott. “‘Killed with Hard Opinions’: Oldcastle, Falstaff, and the Reformed Text of 1 Henry IV.” In Textual Formations and Reformations, edited by Laurie E. Maguire and Thomas L. Berger, pp. 211-27. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1998.
[In the following essay, Kastan discusses the circumstances surrounding the martyrdom of Sir John Oldcastle, the historical inspiration for Shakespeare's Falstaff, and recounts the controversy that led to the removal of Oldcastle's name from Henry IV, Part 1. The critic takes exception to the editorial decision to restore Oldcastle's name to the Oxford text of the play, arguing that while second-hand Elizabethan and Jacobean reports of theatrical performances substantiate the name change, the fact that Shakespeare made the change should be considered a valid textual revision of the play.]
The struggle for the text is the text.
No doubt, as has long been recognized, Shakespeare did not originally intend Hal's fat tavern companion to be named “Falstaff.” As early as the 1630s, Richard James had noted that
in Shakespeares first shewe of Harrie ye fift, ye person with which he vndertook to playe a buffone was not Falstaffe, but Sr Jhon Oldcastle, and that offence beinge...
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SOURCE: McAlindon, Tom. “Perfect Answers: Religious Inquisition, Falstaffian Wit.” Shakespeare Survey 54 (2001): 100-07.
[In the following essay, McAlindon agrees with literary scholars who maintain that Falstaff is a parody of both Sir John Oldcastle and contemporary Puritans. The critic also contends that in addition to creating a humorous caricature of Puritanism in the fat knight, Shakespeare ingeniously transformed “a Puritan butt into an exceptionally appealing character with a quicksilver mind and tongue.”]
Few would now deny that in Henry IV the character of Falstaff constitutes a deliberate and audacious caricature of a Protestant hero, the fourteenth-century champion of Wycliffe's doctrines, Sir John Oldcastle, the first Lord Cobham, ‘Lollardus Lollardorum’.1 Shakespeare's wicked joke, as Ernst Honigmann has called it,2 gave offence in his own time not only to Cobham's distinguished titular descendants but also to earnest Protestants such as John Speed (1611), Richard James (c. 1625), and Thomas Fuller (1655),3 to the authors of the anti-Catholic response play, The first part of the true and honorable historie, the life of Sir John Oldcastle, the Good Lord Cobham (1599), and no doubt to many playgoers of like persuasion. Defying the hagiographic efforts of John Bale and John Foxe, Shakespeare in effect...
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Criticism: Production Reviews
SOURCE: Macaulay, Alastair. “Human Life at Its Richest.” Financial Times (3 July 2000): 13.
[In the following review, Macaulay provides a generally favorable assessment of Michael Attenborough's Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) rendering of Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, particularly focusing on what he regards as the fine performances of the ensemble cast.]
Shakespeare's best? Any theatre-goer's opinion will keep changing on this; but I am one of those whose vote—both while in the theatre and on reflection—goes most often for the two parts of Henry IV. Here his sense of human life is at its richest, and his mastery of multiple plots most telling. High life and low life, fathers and sons, chivalry and villainy, reality and illusion, life and death, tragedy and comedy, wit and seriousness: all the antitheses that underpin Shakespeare's thought here play off each other to superlative effect. And, even though Part One has the richer comedy and the more enthralling multiple variations on the father-and-son theme, it is Part Two that is the yet greater and more original play.
In Part Two Shakespeare keeps ringing the changes on the themes of mortality, corruption, disease. A father (Northumberland) mourns the son (Hotspur) he has outlived; the father (King Henry) believes that his son cannot even wait for his death before usurping his crown; old men (Justices Shallow...
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SOURCE: Billington, Michael. “May the Fourth Be with You.” Guardian (24 February 2001): 4.
[In the following review, Billington praises Michael Attenborough's Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) staging of Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 for capturing the moral ambiguity inherent in Shakespeare's English epic.]
It is widely accepted now that Henry IV Parts One and Two are the twin summits of Shakespeare's genius. Even if Michael Attenborough's production, in its move from Stratford's Swan to London's Barbican, seems visually austere—nothing much scenically except a raked, dun-coloured stage and an overhanging screen—it is tremendous where it truly matters: in conveying the endless moral ambivalence of Shakespeare's characters.
Take Falstaff. Poets and critics who don't go to the theatre much tend to sanctify the character: Swinburne wrote of his “moral elevation” and Auden compared him to Christ. But Desmond Barrit, far more than at Stratford, brings out superbly his mix of anarchic wit and monstrous cruelty. Barrit's Falstaff is excellent company in an Eastcheap tavern. But he never lets you forget that Falstaff is also a profiteer who recruits 150 ragamuffins, contemptuously dismisses them as “food for powder” and casually informs us that all but three have died in battle. And how can one get sentimental about a Falstaff who, in Part Two, fleeces Justice...
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SOURCE: Brantley, Ben. “Shakespeare's Prince Hal, Told without Emotion.” New York Times (2 October 2003): E5.
[In the following review, Brantley censures Richard Maxwell's Next Wave Festival production of Henry IV, Part 1, asserting that its intentional avant-garde affectlessness rendered the play “relentlessly, numbingly flat” and exposed the amateurishness of the cast.]
Falstaff's belly is, as usual, certifiably round, though worn lower on the midriff than usual, suggesting a woman in the last weeks of pregnancy. Everything else in Richard Maxwell's interpretation of Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part One—the opening production in this year's Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music—is relentlessly, numbingly flat.
There are, first of all, the wanly painted backdrops, which bring to mind a King Arthur coloring book and unscroll above a very provisional-looking rectangular stage of raw wood. Then there are the performers, who are only marginally closer to three dimensions.
Dressed in tatty medieval-style clothes that might have been acquired at a costume-rental closing sale, they stand limply, arms pasted to their sides, like thin-cut paper dolls waiting to be blown into movement. When they speak, the words (still Shakespeare's, not Mr. Maxwell's) have all the flesh and blood of printer's ink. Music, emotion and evidence of individual...
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SOURCE: Levine, Nina. “Extending Credit in the Henry IV Plays.” Shakespeare Quarterly 51, no. 4 (2000): 403-31.
[In the following essay, Levine discusses how Shakespeare employed the concept of credit and mercantile exchange in the Henry IV plays as a metaphor for the Lancastrian dynasty's claim to the English throne. The critic also explores how this perspective of royal political discourse—a mode of speech that involves “promises and payments” to maintain power—parallels the everyday financial dealings of Elizabethan playgoers, who relied on credit and mercantile exchange to maintain a complex community held together by commerce.]
Credit terms are habitual among the Lancastrians, associated with both the king, who, as Hotspur puts it, “Knows at what time to promise, when to pay,” and the prince, who cryptically assures the audience at the start of 1 Henry IV that he will eventually “pay the debt I never promised” (4.3.53; 1.2.209).1 Reading credit as a metaphor for Lancastrian problems with royal legitimacy, most discussions of economics in 1 and 2 Henry IV understand the terms within a moral and political framework reminiscent more of Tillyardian orthodoxy than of current historicist and materialist heterodoxies. In contrast to recent work on carnival festivity, focused on the tavern's “second world” of freedom and abundance,...
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SOURCE: Ruiter, David. “‘The Unquiet Time’ of 2 Henry IV: Festivity and Order in Flux.” In Shakespeare's Festive History: Feasting, Festivity, Fasting and Lent in the Second Henriad, pp. 103-41. Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate, 2003.
[In the following essay, Ruiter demonstrates how in Henry IV, Part 2 Prince Hal shrewdly manipulates the progression from feasting and festivity to the restoration of political order in an effort to maximize his political capital as the prodigal son who alters his behavior in order to become king.]
In 1 Henry IV, Hal creates a socio-political event which I have called the Feast of Falstaff. The prince is able to do so largely because his audience, both within and outside of the play, was familiar with a calendar that included feast days and, as participants in actual festive events, they would have recognized allusions to feasts and festivals within the plays.1 In addition, as Leah Marcus has shown, the public, at least during the English Renaissance, would have understood the government funding of festive events; in fact, they may have even had a growing understanding of the politics behind the well-organized and well-attended holiday events (1-23). Within the context of 2 Henry IV, both the public knowledge of and participation in the Feast of Falstaff grows; at the same time, the feast begins to dwindle in political benefit for...
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Barker, Roberta. “Tragical-Comical-Historical Hotspur.” Shakespeare Quarterly 54, no. 3 (2003): 288-306.
Reevaluates the character of Hotspur, arguing that while modern productions of Henry IV, Part 1 generally portray him as either a comic foil to Prince Hal or a feudal holdover, playgoers in earlier centuries would have seen him as a more complete character, who moves “from tragic to comic to historical modes in order to accommodate shifting theatrical conditions and shifting constructions of heroism.”
Fike, Matthew. “Dives and Lazarus in The Henriad.” Renascence 55, no. 4 (summer 2003): 279-91.
Assesses Jesus's parable of Dives and Lazarus in relation to Falstaff, asserting that the fat knight is a dynamic character who possesses the negative, gluttonous characteristics of Dives and his brothers, but who also becomes a contrite Lazarus-figure when he is banished by Hal.
Hodgdon, Barbara, ed. The First Part of King Henry the Fourth: Texts and Contexts. Boston: Bedford Books, 1997, 419 p.
Provides the text of Henry IV, Part 1, along with extracts from early modern narratives, eyewitness accounts of performances, maps, and woodcut prints, in an effort to elucidate the cultural milieu that shaped Shakespeare's writing of the play.
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