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may perhaps also point to 1596-7 as the original date of composition: the Shirleys were knighted by the Queen in 1597.
(ii) The earliest reference to the play occurs in Meres' Palladis Tamia, 1598; while Ben Jonson ends his Every Man Out of His Humour with the words, "You may in time make lean Macilente as fat as Sir John Falstaff.” In the Pilgrimage to Parnassus, acted at St. John's College, Cambridge, Christmas, 1598, there are what seem to be obvious reminiscences of the tapster's “Anon, Anon, Sir." 1 The point is of special interest in view of Mr. H. P. Stokes' suggestion that 1 Henry IV was itself originally a Christmas play of the previous year, 1597.
(iii) General considerations of style corroborate these pieces of external evidence; its subtle characterization, "its reckless ease and full creative power,” its commingling of the serious and the comic, its free use of verse and prose, make the play “a splendid and varied historic tragi-comedy” rather than a mere "history,”_"historic in its personages and its spirit, yet blending the high heroic poetry of chivalry with the most original inventions of broad humor” (Verplanck). Henry IV bears, in fact, the same
, relationship to Richard III, King John, and Richard II that The Merchant of Venice does to such early comedies as Love's Labor's Lost, The Two Gentlemen, Comedy of Errors, etc. The simple plots of the earlier histories gave place to the more complex Henry IV, much in the same way as the simple love-comedies were succeeded by the polymythic method of The Merchant of Venice. As far as the introduction of prose is concerned, the case of the present play is specially remarkable; 2 the earlier historical pieces, following the example of Marlowe's Edward II, contained practically no prose at all. Similarly, in his avoidance of rhyme as a trick of dramatic rhetoric, Shake
1 Cp. “I shall no sooner open this pint pot but the word like a knave-tapster will cry ‘Anon, Anon, Sir,'” etc.
2 1,464 lines of prose occur in 1 Henry IV, and 1,860 lines in 2 Henry IV, out of a total 3,170 and 3,437 lines respectively.
speare shows, in Henry IV, that he has learned to differentiate between his lyrical and dramatic gifts. His earlier work in the department of history was indeed largely experimental, and bore many marks of Shakespeare's apprentice hand; none of these previous efforts produced a typically Shakespearean drama ; in Henry IV Shakespeare, as it were, discovered himself.
The Second Part of Henry IV, “at once the supplement and epilogue of the first part, and the preparation for the ensuing dramatic history of Henry V,” may with certainty be dated 1598–9. Ben Jonson's Every Man Out of his Humour, acted in 1599, contains an early allusion to Justice Silence. It was probably not written, as has been maintained on insufficient ground, before the Stationers' entry of 1 Henry IV in 1598, the title-page of the first Quarto of Part I, as well as the entry, imply that no second part was then in existence. “Christmas, 1598” may perhaps be the actual date of its first production.
THE SOURCES OF THE PLOT
The materials of both parts of Henry IV were derived from (1) Hall's and Holinshed's Chronicles, and (II) from the old play of The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, which was acted before 1588, and of which editions appeared in 1594 and 1597 (Hazlitt, Shakespeare Library, Pt. II, i, 323).
(1) On the whole, Shakespeare has followed history closely in this play; among the most striking deviations is, perhaps, Shakespeare's intentional change in making Hotspur and the Prince of the same age, in order to heighten the contrast between them. The characters of Glendower, Northumberland, Mowbray, the Archbishop, and Prince John, as well as that of Hotspur, have all undergone slight changes at Shakespeare's hands. Noteworthy errors (due to the original Chronicles), are:-(i) calling the Earl of 1 Savi. What's he, gentle Mons. Brisk? Not that gentleman? Fasi. No, lady; this is a kinsman to Justice Silence.
Fife son to the beaten Douglas--an error due to the
omission of a comma in Holinshed; (ii) confounding the Edward Mortimer, prisoner, and afterwards son-in-law of Glendower, and second son of the first Earl of March, with his nephew the Earl of March, entitled to the throne by legitimate succession, at this time a child in close keeping at Windsor Castle. Hence, in one place, Lady Percy is correctly styled Mortimer's sister, in another she is referred to as his aunt (Lloyd, Critical Essays, p. 228; Courtenay's Commentaries on the Historical Plays, I, pp. 75-159).
(II) The old Chronicle of The Famous Victories certainly provided Shakespeare with substantial hints for the comic element of his play,—"Ned, Gadshill, the old tavern in Eastcheap, the hostess, the recognition of Sir John Oldcastle, or at least his horse, down even to the “race of ginger,' that was to be delivered as far as Charing Cross, meet our eyes as we turn over the pages,” but, in the words of the same critic, “never before did genius ever transmute so base a caput mortuum into ore so precious.
Sir John Oldcastle, one of the Prince's wild companions in the old play, appears to have been the original of the character subsequently called Sir John Falstaff. A trace of the old name is still to be found in 1 Henry IV, where the Prince addresses the knight as “my old lad of the castle" (1, ii, 47): in 2 Henry IV (Quarto 1), the prefix “Old." is found before one of Falstaff's speeches. The fact that "Falstaff” was substituted for "Oldcastle" throughout the plays perhaps explains the metrical imperfections of such a line as “Away, good Ned, Falstaff sweats to death” (II, ii, 115). In the final Epilogue the change is still further emphasized. The tradition, however, remained, and in the Prologue to the play of Sir John Oldcastle (printed in 1600, with Shakespeare's name on the title-page of some copies) direct reference is made to the
degradation the Lollard martyr had suffered at the hands of the dramatist :
“It is no pampered glutton we present,
Let fair truth be graced,
As late as 1618, Nathaniel Field, in his Amends for Ladies, referred to “the fat Knight, hight Oldcastle," and not to Falstaff, as he who “truly told what honor was.” This single passage, in Mr. Halliwell's opinion, would alone render it highly probable that some of the theaters in acting Henry IV retained the name after the author had altered it to that of Falstaff. (Hence it is inferring too much to argue from the prefix "old.” in a single passage, 2 Henry IV, I, ii, 137, that the Second Part of the play was written previously to the date of entry of the First Part in February, 1598.)
There is in this case abundance of evidence to confirm the ancient tradition handed down to us by Rowe, that “this part of Falstaff is said to have been written originally under the name of Oldcastle; some of that family being then remaining, the Queen was pleased to command him to alter it.” Many Protestant writers protested against the degradation of the famous Lollard. “It is easily known,' " wrote Fuller in his Worthies of England (ed. 1811, ii, p. 131-2), "out of what purse this black penny came; the Papists railing on him for a heretic, and therefore he must also be a coward, though indeed he was a man of arms, every inch of him, and as valiant as any in his age.” 1
“Now," continued old Fuller, “as I am glad that Sir John Oldcastle is put out, so I am sorry that Sir John Fastolfe is put in.
Nor is our comedian excus1 Cp. Tennyson's Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham, with its noble vindication of the martyr's character:
"Faint-hearted? tut! faint-stomached ! faint as I am,
able by some alteration of his name;
few do heed the inconsiderable difference in spelling of their name. Falstaff seems indeed to owe something more than his mere name to the famous Sir John Fastolf (c. 1378– 1459), the degradation of whose character comes out so strongly in 1 Henry VI (III, ii, 104–9; iv, 19–47), "where Fastolf (spelt Falstaff) is portrayed as a contemptible craven in the presence of Joan of Arc's forces; and as publicly stripped of his garter by Talbot.”
Perhaps Fastolf's reputed sympathy with Lollardism may, as Mr. Gairdner suggests, have encouraged Shakespeare to bestow his name on a character bearing the appellation of an acknowledged Lollard like Oldcastle. Both characters suffered at the hands of their enemies; but the historical Sir John Fastolf, even as the historical Sir John Oldcastle, found many enthusiasts ready to defend his memory.
“To avouch him by many arguments valiant is to maintain that the sun is bright," wrote Fuller in the noteworthy passage already quoted, “though the stage hath been overbold with his memory, making him a thrasonical puff, and emblem of mock valor." (The Character of Sir John Falstaff, by T. 0. Halliwell, 1541; Gairdner and Spedding's Studies, pp. 54–77, On the Historical Elements in Shakespeare's Falstaff; vide "Sir John Fastolf” in Dictionary of National Biography, by Sidney Lee, etc.)
DURATION OF ACTION
(1) The time of 1 Henry IV, as analyzed by Mr. P. A. Daniel, covers ten "historic" days, with three extra Falstaffian days, and intervals. Total dramatic time, three
, 1 “The magnificent knight, Sir John Fastolf, bequeathed estates to Magdalen College, Oxford, part of which were appropriated to buy liveries for some of the senior scholars; but the benefactions in time yielding no more than a penny a week to the scholars who received the liveries, they were called, by way of contempt, Falstaff's buckrammen" (Warton).