Page images

the Shakespeare Society. There are additions and corrections in the hand of Sir Edward Dering, the antiquary, who died in 1644.

The authoritative text of the play is Q 1. Every subsequent Quarto seems to have been printed from its immediate predecessor, errors accumulating with each new edition. F, in the case of this play, has no independent authority. Its editors apparently based their text on a copy of Q 5 partly corrected from earlier Quartos. Perhaps the copy from which they printed had been expurgated for performance at Court. Certainly the expurgation of the F text of this play has been exceptionally thorough, profane expressions being rigorously suppressed or altered, sometimes at the expense of sense or metre, in compliance with the provisions of the Act to Restrain the Abuses of Players, 3 Jacobi, cap. xxi. It seems unlikely that the editors of the Folio had access to copies of Qq 1-4. Had these been available the editors would presumably have consulted them; whereas F follows Q 5 in errors easy of correction by reference to the earlier Quartos.


The consensus of critical opinion assigns the composition of the play to the year 1596-7.

(i) The entry in the Stationers' Register to Andrew Wyse on 25 February, 1598, of "a booke intituled The historye of HENRY the IIIJth with his battaile of Shrewsburye against HENRY HOTTSPURRE of the Northe with the conceipted mirthe of Sir JOHN FFALSTOFF," fixes the latest possible date of composition. The first publication of the play was, as we have seen, in the same year.

(ii) The earliest contemporary reference to the play by name is in the famous list of Shakespeare's plays given in Francis Meres's Palladis Tamia, 1598. In the same work, Meres refers to "these declining and corrupt times, when there is nothing but rogery in villanous man,"—an echo of Falstaff's misanthropic view, induced directly by the discovery of lime in his sack, that "there is nothing but roguery to be found in villanous man" (II. iv. 124, 125).

The final words of Jonson's Every Man out of His Humour (first performed 1599) contain an obvious reference: "you may in time make lean Macilente as fat as sir John Falstaff". And in the Pilgrimage to Parnassus acted in St. John's College, Cambridge, at Christmas, 1598, occur the words: "I shall no sooner open this pint pot but the word like a knave-tapster will cry Anon, Anon, Sir,””—a reminiscence, it has been suggested, of II. iv. of this play, where Francis cries, in answer to Poins, " Anon, anon, sir."

[ocr errors]

(iii) Two passages in the play suggest reminiscence of speeches in Ben Jonson's Every Man in His Humour, which was produced in 1598.1 The obligation, however, may have been Jonson's.

(iv) (a) The composition of the play has been assigned to 1596-7 on the evidence of supposed references in the play to contemporaneous events. The opening lines, in Chalmers's view, "plainly allude" to the Spanish expedition of 1596. (b) The Carrier's speech in II. i. 12, 13, " Poor fellow, never joyed since the price of oats rose," has been connected with the Proclamation for the Dearth of Corn, etc., which was published in 1596. (c) And, again, it has been suggested that the word "valiant in

[ocr errors]

the spirits

Of valiant Shirley, Stafford, Blunt, are in my arms:

may have been interpolated, at the expense of the metre, as a compliment to the Shirleys, one of whom is said to have been knighted in 1597. (See note on V. iv. 41.) If so, it would appear that the play had been written before Shirley was knighted, that is, not later than 1597. But evidence of this kind has little value.

(v) Perhaps the most decisive evidence that the play was not newly composed at the date of its entry in the Stationers' Register, February 25, 1598, is the fact that the name Sir John Falstaff (" Sir John ffalstoff,” p. ix ante) appears in the entry. It seems certain that our Falstaff was originally designated Oldcastle. The real Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham, the famous Lollard who suffered martyrdom in 1418, continued to be maligned after his death by the anti-Lollard party. A travesty of his character was placed upon the stage

1 See the notes on III. i. 177-179, and 111. ii. 27.

about 1588 in The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth. Shakespeare adopted the name in Henry IV. This gave offence to the Cobham family, and Shakespeare had to find another name for his knight. Nevertheless, traces of the original name are to be found in the text of Henry IV. In the Epilogue to the Second Part of Henry IV. occurs a disavowal of any intention to malign the real Sir John Oldcastle. Speaking of "hard opinions" of Falstaff, Shakespeare says: "Oldcastle died a martyr, and this is not the man". In the First Part of Henry IV. I. ii. 43, the Prince's words, "As the honey of Hybla, my old lad of the castle," would have more point if the name of the knight were Oldcastle. II. ii. 105, the line

Away, good Ned. Falstaff sweats to death,


though not necessarily unmetrical, becomes regular if “ Oldcastle" be substituted for "Falstaff". Unfortunately there is no other instance in the First Part of Henry IV. of the name "Falstaff" in verse context. In the Second Part it occurs four times in verse, but the substitution had probably taken place before the date of the composition of this play. True, in the 1600 Quarto of the Second Part, Old. is prefixed to one of Falstaff's speeches; but, as Professor Dowden points out, the name Oldcastle was long remembered and may in this instance have been in the mind of the compositor whose copy no doubt read Fal. Or it may be that the familiar name Oldcastle found its way into MS. copies of 2 Henry IV. A reference to Falstaff as Oldcastle has been pointed out in The Meeting of Gallants at an Ordinarie, or the Walks in Powles (1604), where Shuttlecock says, "Now Signiors how like you mine Host? did I not tell you he was a madde round knave, and a merrie one too: and if you chaunce to talke of fatte Sir John Old-castle, he wil tell you, he was his great Grandfather." So in Field's Amends for Ladies (1618), IV. iii., where there is a distinct reference to V. i. 127-141 of this play :

Did you never see

The Play where the fat Knight, hight Old-castle,

Did tell you truly what his honor was?

And Randolph in Hey for Honesty, IV. i., confusing Falstaff with his rich-faced lieutenant Bardolph (III. iii. 77), refers to

"the rich rubies and incomparable carbuncles of sir John Oldcastles nose." Finally Richard James,1 in his Dedication to The Legend and Defence of Sir Jhon Oldcastle (c. 1625), and Fuller, in his Church History2 (1655) and in his Worthies (1662), state definitely that the name Falstaff had been substituted for that of Oldcastle.

Still another item of evidence cited to prove that "Falstaff" was originally "Oldcastle" is Shallow's statement that Falstaff, when a boy, was page to Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk (2 Henry IV. III. ii. 28, 29). The historical Sir John Oldcastle, it is said, "was in his youth Sir Thomas Mowbray's page". Dr. Aldis Wright, however, has shown that the only authority for this statement is John Weever (Mirror of Martyrs, 1601), and that Weever's authority was apparently the speech of Shallow just referred to.

Taking it then as established that "Oldcastle" was the name in the play as first acted, and considering how long it persisted in the memories of playgoers, we may assume that some time, at least many months, had elapsed between the first production of the play and its registration on February 25, 1598, by which date the name Falstaff had been adopted.


I. Holinshed, Chronicles.-As an historical play the First Part of Henry IV. cannot be dissociated from Richard II., the Second Part of Henry IV. and Henry V. The thread of history laid down at the end of Richard II. is taken up again at the beginning of Henry IV. In fact, the first speech in 1 Henry IV. serves at once as an introduction to the play and as a link with its forerunner. As in Richard II., Shakespeare based the historical part of Henry IV. chiefly on Holinshed's Chronicles, 1578-87. On the whole Shakespeare adheres to the facts of history, but he does not scruple, where necessary, to diverge from his authorities and to subordinate history to dramatic effect.

In Richard II. Bolingbroke is full of youthful vigour, buoyant and energetic, whereas in Henry IV. he is represented

1 See C. M. Ingleby, Shakespeare's Centurie of Prayse, 1874.
2 See passages quoted on pp. xxiii and xxv post.

[ocr errors]

as a man kingly in his bearing and actions, yet bowed beneath a weight of cares. For this sudden transformation of King Henry there is perhaps some justification to be found in Holinshed, who dwells upon the troubles of the early years of the reign. In conclusion Holinshed says:

"Oh what a suspected state therefore is that of a king

holding his regiment with the hatred of his people, the hart grudgings of his courtiers, and the peremtorie practises of both togither? Could he confidentlie compose or setle himselfe to sleepe for feare of strangling? Durst he boldly eat and drinke without dread of poisoning? Might he aduenture to shew himselfe in great meetings or solemne assemblies without mistrust of mischeefe against his person intended? What pleasure or what felicitie could he take in his princelie pompe, which he knew by manifest and fearfull experience, to be enuied and maligned to the verie death?" (Holinshed, Chronicles, ed. 1808, iii. 18, 19).

Holinshed does not make it clear what time elapsed between the death of Richard II. and the events with which the First Part of Henry IV. opens, but a little investigation discovers that he assigns an interval of two and a half years, from January, 1400, to June, 1402. Shakespeare reduces the interval to twelve months. That Shakespeare, however, intended to draw the King in 1 Henry IV. as a man well past middle life is evident. The whole play conveys this impression, and in V. i. 13 the King speaks of himself as being too old for service in the field. Yet, as a matter of fact, Henry IV. was born in 1366, and was thus only in his thirties at the date of the Battle of Shrewsbury. Hotspur, who is a young man in the play (see p. xvi post), was in reality more than two years older than the King.

The history of the Percys' revolt as related by Holinshed is given at length at the end of this Introduction (pp. xxxv ff.), and the notes illustrate the connection between the play and the Chronicles; but here it will be convenient to notice some instances in which Shakespeare diverges from his source, or is misled by his authority into historical errors.

(i) There is no warrant in Holinshed for the introduction of several characters whom Shakespeare has introduced into the historical action of the play. Prince John of Lancaster, who

« PreviousContinue »