Historical Background

Henry IV, Part I was most probably written in late 1596 or early 1597, and it is agreed by scholars of Shakespeare that the play was first performed not long after it was written. On February 25, 1598, it was entered in the Stationers’ Register without the designation “Part I,” and a quarto text of the play surfaced in 1598. In the Palladis Tamia: Wit’s Treasury by Francis Meres, Henry IV appears in the list of Shakespeare’s tragedies, and it is presumed that this reference is to “Part I.”

The earliest known quarto text of the play survives only as a four-leaf fragment, and five later editions dated 1598, 1604, 1608, 1613, and 1622 have survived intact. Altogether, six quarto editions, which is an unusually large number for an Elizabethan play, are known to exist. The 1613 quarto appears to have served as a source for the Folio version of 1623. The earliest complete quarto of 1598, together with the earlier fragment, remains the most authoritative text for Henry IV, Part I.

Shakespeare drew the historical plot of Henry IV, Parts I and II from several accounts of English history that were written during the Elizabethan period. These histories provided many details from which he could carefully select what he needed for his plays. The primary source is Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (2nd ed. 1586-1587). In addition, Shakespeare used Samuel Daniel’s narrative poem The...

(The entire section is 610 words.)