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The literary history of the First Part of Henry IV is a history of success. The first (Quarto) edition of the play appeared in 1598, with the following title: The History of Henry the Fourth; | with the battell at Shrewsburie, | betweene the King and Lordi Henry Percy, surnamed | Henrie Hotspur of the North. With the humorous conceits of Sir | John Falstalffe. | At London. | Printed by P. S. for Andrew Wise. . . . 1598. As the title indicates, this was only the First Part of the play; the Second Part issued from the house of the same publisher two years later. In 1599 a second edition of the First Part of Henry IV appeared, which, according to the title-page, had been “newly corrected by William Shakespeare.” Three more Quarto editions were produced before the author's death (dated 1604, 1608, 1613) - a sufficient indication of the popularity of the play with the reading public of Shakespeare's time. Of his other plays only Richard III reached a fifth edition by 1616.

The success of the play, which was largely due to the Falstaff scenes, is revealed in other ways. If tradition tell true, The Merry Wives of Windsor owes its creation to Queen Elizabeth's delight in Falstaff, and to her desire to see him in love. There is, further, a reference to Falstaff in the speech of Macilente which brings to a conclusion Ben Jonson's Every Man out of his Humour, 1599 :

"Marry, I will not ... beg a plaudite for God's sake; but if you, out of the bounty of your good-liking will bestow it, why, you may in time make lean Macilente as fat as Sir John Falstaff.

But the most striking illustration of the popularity of the famous knight is that furnished by the frontispiece to Kirkman's The Wits, or Sport upon Sport, a collection of farces and drolls, published in 1673. The engraving represents the stage of the Red Bull Playhouse, on which appear such conventionally comic characters as the Simpleton, the Changeling, and the French Dancing-master; among these is seen Sir John Falstaff accepting a cup of sack from the hands of Dame Quickly. But this popularity was not won without the intrusion of a note of dissent. In the original version of the play, as delivered by the author to the actors, Falstaff bore the name of Sir John Oldcastle, the famous Lollard who suffered martyrdom under Henry V. The character of Oldcastle had after his death been travestied by the orthodox party in the church until, in spite of subsequent Protestant opposition, he assumed the form of a roysterer and profligate, the corrupter of Henry V during his youth. He appears in this light in the old play, The Famous Victories of Henry V, whence Shakespeare drew several hints for his own work, among others the name and a faint outline of the character of the Lollard knight. The fact that the Elizabethan public readily identified Shakespeare's knight with the Lollard martyr aroused the resentment of Henry Brooke, Lord Cobham, who claimed descent from Oldcastle. By making his grievances known at court, he forced Shakespeare to substitute the name of Falstaff for that of Oldcastle in the first Quarto editions of both parts. To destroy effectually the idea that Falstaff was to be identified with the Lollard knight, Shakespeare makes a very definite statement in the Epilogue to 2 Henry IV:

“If you be not too much cloyed with fat meat, our humble author will continue the story, with Sir John in it... where for anything I know Falstaff shall die of a sweat, unless already a' be killed with your hard opinions; for Oldcastle died a martyr, and this is not the man.

Yet even this did not satisfy those who had taken offence at the name of Oldcastle. Attention was drawn to the real character of Sir John Oldcastle, and two plays, entitled respectively The First Part of the Life and Death of Sir John Oldcastle, and The Second Part of Sir John Oldcastle with his Martyrdom, were published in 1600. According to Henslowe, both plays were the joint work of Munday, Wilson, Drayton, and Hathaway. How far these plays were intended to be an antidote to Shakespeare's Henry IV may be judged from the following verses of the Prologue:

It is no pampered glutton we present,
Nor aged counsellor to youthful sin,
But one whose virtue shone above the rest."

Traces of the earlier name of Falstaff are to be found in both parts of Henry IV, over and above the definite statement (already quoted)

from the Epilogue. Thus in 1 Henry IV, i. 2, the Prince addresses Falstaff as “my old lad of the castle,” while in 2 Henry IV, i. 2. 137, Old is by an oversight prefixed to Falstaff's speech in the first Quarto edition. Twenty years after the appearance of the first Quarto of Henry IV, we find that the name Oldcastle still clung to the person of Shakespeare's knight. In Nathaniel Field's Amenu for Ladies (1618) the author asks:

Did you never see
The Play where the fat knight, hight Oldcastle,
Did tell you truly what this honour was?

In substituting the name Falstaff for that of Oldcastle, Shakespeare probably had in mind the historic Sir John Fastolfe, a gentleman of Norfolk, a distinguished soldier in the French wars of Henry V, and at one time owner of the Boar's Head Tavern, Eastcheap. He is an actual character in 1 Henry VI, and is banished by the king on the charge of Talbot, for cowardly flight at the battle of Patay. As a matter of fact Fastolfe was no more a coward than Oldcastle was a profligate, and Holinshed himself makes it clear that the charge of cowardice was subsequently withdrawn, and Fastolfe restored to his former place of honor. Accordingly Shakespeare's use of the name Falstaff met with censure just as that of Oldcastle had done, and as late as 1662, Fuller in his Worthies calls attention to the injustice done by the dramatist to the memory of a valiant


“The stage hath been overbold with a great warrior's memory, making him a thrasonical puff, and emblem of mock-valour. Now as I am glad that Sir John Oldcastle is put out, so I am sorry that Sir John Fastolfe is put in, to relieve his memory in this base service, to be the anvil for every dull wit to strike upon. Nor is our comedian excusable, by some alteration of his name writing him Sir John Falstafe; ... few do heed the inconsiderable difference of spelling of their name."

It need scarcely be added that, in the creation of the character of Falstaff, Shakespeare had no satiric purpose in view, and that in calling him first Oldcastle and then Falstaff, he had no wish to heap derision upon the historic bearers of those names. He took the first name, as we have seen, from The Famous Victories, and when objections were raised to it, recalled that of Sir John Fastolfe and the ignominious position in which that knight appeared in 1 Henry VI. It may seem strange that Shakespeare did not choose a purely fictitious name for his knight when he found that objections were raised to the name of Oldcastle. The reason for his unwillingness to do this may perhaps be found in the fact that, as he was writing a historical play, he wished all the characters that were to take part in the serious plot — and Falstaff, it must be remembered, is one of these — to have some historic standing.

There is not much to say with regard to the relation of the various Quarto editions of the play to one another, and of their relation to the Folio editions of 1623 and 1632. The second, third, fourth, and fifth editions all profess on their title-pages to be “newly corrected by William Shakespeare,” but are, on the whole, inferior to Q 1. The Cambridge editors state that the First Folio “seems to have been printed from a partially corrected copy of the Fifth Quarto,” and add that “in many places the readings coincide with those of the earlier Quartos, which were probably consulted by the corrector.” The present edition follows in the main the text of the Cambridge editors; on the very few occasions on which another reading has been taken, an indication to that effect is given in the Notes.


It is generally agreed that the composition of 1 Henry IV falls within the years 1596–1597. It must have been finished by February, 1598, for on the 25th of that month it was entered on the Stationers' Register under the title of “The Historye of Henry the iüith,” while the fact that Oldcastle was the name originally borne by Falstaff in the Second Part as well as in the First Part indicates that this Second Part must have been written before the appearance of the first Quarto edition of the First Part (1598), in which the knight appears under the name of Falstaff. The close connection between the two Parts suggests that they were written in direct succession, while slight allusions in 1 Henry IV to events which happened in the year 1596 give us a time limitation in the other direction. The evidence furnished by metrical tests also points to the years 1596-1597 as the date of composition.

The play was well received on the Elizabethan stage. Apparently it was also popular with Elizabeth's successor; it was acted before James in 1613 under the title of “Hotspur.” larity was maintained after the Restoration. Pepys saw it acted


Its popu

1 Fleay: Chronicle of the English Drama.

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