Henry IV, Part 1

Henry IV, Part 1

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Henry IV, Part 1 is a history play by William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

, believed to have been written no later than 1597. It is the second play in Shakespeare's tetralogy
Tetralogy
A tetralogy is a compound work that is made up of four distinct works, just as a trilogy is made up of three works....

 dealing with the successive reigns of Richard II
Richard II of England
Richard II was King of England, a member of the House of Plantagenet and the last of its main-line kings. He ruled from 1377 until he was deposed in 1399. Richard was a son of Edward, the Black Prince, and was born during the reign of his grandfather, Edward III...

, Henry IV
Henry IV of England
Henry IV was King of England and Lord of Ireland . He was the ninth King of England of the House of Plantagenet and also asserted his grandfather's claim to the title King of France. He was born at Bolingbroke Castle in Lincolnshire, hence his other name, Henry Bolingbroke...

 (two plays), and Henry V
Henry V of England
Henry V was King of England from 1413 until his death at the age of 35 in 1422. He was the second monarch belonging to the House of Lancaster....

. Henry IV, Part 1 depicts a span of history that begins with Hotspur's battle at Homildon
Battle of Humbleton Hill
The Battle of Humbleton Hill was a conflict between the English and Scottish armies on September 14, 1402 in Northumberland, England. The battle was recounted in Shakespeare’s Henry IV...

 against the Douglas late in 1402 and ends with the defeat of the rebels at Shrewsbury
Battle of Shrewsbury
The Battle of Shrewsbury was a battle fought on 21 July 1403, waged between an army led by the Lancastrian King, Henry IV, and a rebel army led by Henry "Hotspur" Percy from Northumberland....

 in the middle of 1403. From the start it has been an extremely popular play both with the public and the critics.

Sources


Shakespeare's primary source for Henry IV, Part 1, as for most of his chronicle histories, was the second edition (1587) of Raphael Holinshed
Raphael Holinshed
Raphael Holinshed was an English chronicler, whose work, commonly known as Holinshed's Chronicles, was one of the major sources used by William Shakespeare for a number of his plays....

's Chronicles, which in turn drew on Edward Hall
Edward Hall
Edward Hall , English chronicler and lawyer, was born about the end of the 15th century, being a son of John Hall of Northall, Shropshire....

's The Union of the Two Illustrious Families of Lancaster and York. Scholars have also assumed that Shakespeare was familiar with Samuel Daniel
Samuel Daniel
Samuel Daniel was an English poet and historian.-Early life:Daniel was born near Taunton in Somerset, the son of a music-master. He was the brother of lutenist and composer John Danyel. Their sister Rosa was Edmund Spenser's model for Rosalind in his The Shepherd's Calendar; she eventually married...

's poem on the civil wars.

Date and text



1 Henry IV was almost certainly in performance by 1597, given the wealth of allusions and references to the Falstaff character. The earliest recorded performance occurred on the afternoon of 6 March 1600, when the play was acted at court
Royal court
Royal court, as distinguished from a court of law, may refer to:* The Royal Court , Timbaland's production company*Court , the household and entourage of a monarch or other ruler, the princely court...

 before the Flemish
Southern Netherlands
Southern Netherlands were a part of the Low Countries controlled by Spain , Austria and annexed by France...

 Ambassador. Other court performances followed in 1612 and 1625.

The play was entered into the Register of the Stationers Company
Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers
The Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers is one of the Livery Companies of the City of London. The Stationers' Company was founded in 1403; it received a Royal Charter in 1557...

 on 25 Feb. 1598, and first printed in quarto
Book size
The size of a book is generally measured by the height against the width of a leaf, or sometimes the height and width of its cover. A series of terms is commonly used by libraries and publishers for the general sizes of modern books, ranging from "folio" , to "quarto" and "octavo"...

 later that year by stationer Andrew Wise
Andrew Wise
Andrew Wise , or Wyse or Wythes, was a London publisher of the Elizabethan era who issued first editions of five Shakespearean plays...

. The play was Shakespeare's most popular printed text: new editions appeared in 1599, 1604, 1608, 1613, 1622, 1632, 1639 and 1692.

The Dering Manuscript


The Dering Manuscript, the earliest extant manuscript
Manuscript
A manuscript or handwrite is written information that has been manually created by someone or some people, such as a hand-written letter, as opposed to being printed or reproduced some other way...

 text of any Shakespearean play, provides a single-play version of both Part 1 and Part 2 of Henry IV. The consensus of Shakespeare scholars is that the Dering MS. represents a redaction prepared around 1613, perhaps for family or amateur theatrics, by Edward Dering (1598–1644), of Surrenden Manor, Pluckley
Pluckley
Pluckley is a village and civil parish in the Ashford District of Kent, United Kingdom. It is located close to the North Downs, and is approximately 5 miles west of Ashford...

, Kent, where the manuscript was discovered. A few dissenters have argued that the Dering MS. may indicate that Shakespeare's Henry IV was originally a single play, which the poet later expanded into two parts to capitalise on the popularity of the Sir John Falstaff character. The Dering MS. is part of the collection of the Folger Shakespeare Library
Folger Shakespeare Library
The Folger Shakespeare Library is an independent research library on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., in the United States. It has the world's largest collection of the printed works of William Shakespeare, and is a primary repository for rare materials from the early modern period...

 in Washington D.C.

List of characters


  • King Henry the Fourth of England. The character is based on the historical King Henry IV of England
    Henry IV of England
    Henry IV was King of England and Lord of Ireland . He was the ninth King of England of the House of Plantagenet and also asserted his grandfather's claim to the title King of France. He was born at Bolingbroke Castle in Lincolnshire, hence his other name, Henry Bolingbroke...

    . He is also known in the play as "Bullingbrook" or "Bolingbroke" after his place of birth in Bolingbroke, Lincolnshire
    Bolingbroke, Lincolnshire
    Bolingbroke, now called Old Bolingbroke, is a village near Spilsby in Lincolnshire, England. The village of New Bolingbroke lies to the south-west.The Prime Meridian passes to the west of Old Bolingbroke.-Bolingbroke Castle:...

    . He is also called "Lancaster" by Glendower, because he was Duke of Lancaster
    Duke of Lancaster
    There were several Dukes of Lancaster in the 14th and early 15th Centuries. See also Duchy of Lancaster.There were three creations of the Dukedom of Lancaster....

     before becoming king.
  • Prince Henry, eldest son of Henry IV. The character is based on the future Henry V of England
    Henry V of England
    Henry V was King of England from 1413 until his death at the age of 35 in 1422. He was the second monarch belonging to the House of Lancaster....

    . He is nicknamed "Hal" or "Harry", and is sometimes called "Harry Monmouth
    Monmouth
    Monmouth is a town in southeast Wales and traditional county town of the historic county of Monmouthshire. It is situated close to the border with England, where the River Monnow meets the River Wye with bridges over both....

    " after his birthplace.
  • The Earl of Worcester
    Earl of Worcester
    Earl of Worcester is a title that has been created five times in the Peerage of England. The first creation came in 1138 in favour of the Norman noble Waleran de Beaumont. He was the son of Robert de Beaumont, 1st Earl of Leicester, by Elizabeth of Vermandois, and the twin brother of Robert de...

     is based on Thomas Percy, 1st Earl of Worcester
    Thomas Percy, 1st Earl of Worcester
    Thomas Percy, 1st Earl of Worcester, KG was an English medieval nobleman best known for taking part in the rebellion with his nephew Henry Percy, known as 'Harry Hotspur', and brother Northumberland .-Lineage:...

    . The leader of the rebel cause against the King, he is sly, treacherous and self-centered willing to sacrifice anything, including his nephew, if it means victory.
  • Lord John of Lancaster is a small role. The character, based on John, Duke of Bedford, is represented in the play as the King's second son, although he was actually the third. He is called "John" by Hal but has "Lancaster" for a speech heading (confusingly, since Glendower uses this name for his father).
  • The Earl of Westmorland is based on Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland
    Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland
    Sir Ralph de Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland, 4th Baron Neville de Raby, Lord of Richmond, Earl Marshal, KG, PC , was an English nobleman of the House of Neville...

    .
  • Sir Walter Blunt
    Walter Blount (soldier)
    Sir Walter Blount , was a soldier and supporter of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. He later supported John's son and heir Henry Bolingbroke in his bid to become king Henry IV and in later battles against his enemies...

    .
  • The Earl of Northumberland is based on Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland
    Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland
    Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland, 4th Baron Percy, titular King of Mann, KG, Lord Marshal was the son of Henry de Percy, 3rd Baron Percy and a descendent of Henry III of England. His mother was Mary of Lancaster, daughter of Henry, 3rd Earl of Lancaster, son of Edmund, Earl of Leicester and...

    .
  • Hotspur is the nickname of Henry Percy, Northumberland's son
  • Kate, Lady Percy, is Hotspur's wife
  • Edmund Mortimer
    Edmund Mortimer
    -Members of the Marcher family of Mortimer:*Edmund Mortimer, 2nd Baron Wigmore*Edmund Mortimer, 3rd Earl of March, and his second son*Edmund Mortimer, son of the 3rd Earl*Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March...

    , called Earl of March
    Earl of March
    The title The Earl of March has been created several times in the Peerage of Scotland and the Peerage of England. The title derived from the "marches" or boundaries between England and either Wales or Scotland , and was held by several great feudal families which owned lands in those border...

  • Lady Mortimer
  • Owen Glendower
    Owain Glyndwr
    Owain Glyndŵr , or Owain Glyn Dŵr, anglicised by William Shakespeare as Owen Glendower , was a Welsh ruler and the last native Welshman to hold the title Prince of Wales...

    , leader of the Welsh, and Lady Mortimer's father
  • The Earl of Douglas is based on Archibald Douglas, 4th Earl of Douglas
  • Sir Richard Vernon
  • Richard Scroop, Archbishop of York
    Archbishop of York
    The Archbishop of York is a high-ranking cleric in the Church of England, second only to the Archbishop of Canterbury. He is the diocesan bishop of the Diocese of York and metropolitan of the Province of York, which covers the northern portion of England as well as the Isle of Man...

  • Sir Michael, a member of the Archbishop's household
  • Sir John Falstaff is a cowardly fat knight who befriends Prince Hal. He is a fictional character, but was originally called "Oldcastle" and distantly based on Sir John Oldcastle
    Sir John Oldcastle
    Sir John Oldcastle is an Elizabethan play about John Oldcastle, a controversial 14th-15th century rebel and Lollard who was seen by some of Shakespeare's contemporaries as a proto-Protestant martyr.-Publication:...

    . King's Men
    King's Men (playing company)
    The King's Men was the company of actors to which William Shakespeare belonged through most of his career. Formerly known as The Lord Chamberlain's Men during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, it became The King's Men in 1603 when King James ascended the throne and became the company's patron.The...

     actors who played the part of Falstaff included John Heminges
    John Heminges
    John Heminges was an English Renaissance actor. Most noted now as one of the editors of William Shakespeare's 1623 First Folio, Heminges served in his time as an actor and financial manager for the King's Men.-Life:Heminges was born in Droitwich Spa, Worcestershire in 1556...

    , John Lowin
    John Lowin
    John Lowin was an English actor born in the St Giles-without-Cripplegate, London, the son of a tanner. Like Robert Armin, he was apprenticed to a goldsmith. While he is not recorded as a free citizen of this company, he did perform as a goldsmith, Leofstane, in a 1611 city pageant written by...

    , and Charles Hart
    Charles Hart (17th-century actor)
    Charles Hart was a prominent British Restoration actor.A Charles Hart was christened on 11 December 1625, in the parish of St. Giles Cripplegate, in London. It is not absolutely certain that this was the actor, though the name was not common at the time...

    .
  • Edward "Ned" Poins, a companion of Prince Hal
  • Bardolph, a companion of Prince Hal
  • Peto, a companion of Prince Hal
  • Mistress Quickly, hostess of a tavern where Hal and his friends congregate
  • Francis, a drawer at the tavern
  • Vintner
  • Gadshill
  • Carriers, Chamberlain, Ostler, Travellers, Sheriff, Messengers, Servant, Lords, Soldiers

Synopsis


Henry Bolingbroke – now King Henry IV
Henry IV of England
Henry IV was King of England and Lord of Ireland . He was the ninth King of England of the House of Plantagenet and also asserted his grandfather's claim to the title King of France. He was born at Bolingbroke Castle in Lincolnshire, hence his other name, Henry Bolingbroke...

 – is having an unquiet reign. His personal disquiet at the means whereby he gained the crown – by deposing
Deposition (politics)
Deposition by political means concerns the removal of a politician or monarch. It may be done by coup, impeachment, invasion or forced abdication...

 Richard II
Richard II of England
Richard II was King of England, a member of the House of Plantagenet and the last of its main-line kings. He ruled from 1377 until he was deposed in 1399. Richard was a son of Edward, the Black Prince, and was born during the reign of his grandfather, Edward III...

 – would be solved by a journey or crusade to the Holy Land
Holy Land
The Holy Land is a term which in Judaism refers to the Kingdom of Israel as defined in the Tanakh. For Jews, the Land's identifiction of being Holy is defined in Judaism by its differentiation from other lands by virtue of the practice of Judaism often possible only in the Land of Israel...

 to fight Muslims, but broils on his borders with Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 and Wales
Wales
Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It has a population of three million, and a total area of 20,779 km²...

 prevent that. Moreover, his guilt causes him to mistreat the Earls Northumberland and Worcester, heads of the Percy family, and Edmund Mortimer, the Earl of March
Earl of March
The title The Earl of March has been created several times in the Peerage of Scotland and the Peerage of England. The title derived from the "marches" or boundaries between England and either Wales or Scotland , and was held by several great feudal families which owned lands in those border...

. The first two helped him to his throne, and the third claims to have been proclaimed by Richard, the former king, as his rightful heir.

Adding to King Henry's troubles is the behaviour of his son and heir, the Prince of Wales
Prince of Wales
Prince of Wales is a title traditionally granted to the heir apparent to the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the 15 other independent Commonwealth realms...

. Hal (the future Henry V
Henry V of England
Henry V was King of England from 1413 until his death at the age of 35 in 1422. He was the second monarch belonging to the House of Lancaster....

) has forsaken the Royal Court to waste his time in tavern
Tavern
A tavern is a place of business where people gather to drink alcoholic beverages and be served food, and in some cases, where travelers receive lodging....

s with low companions. This makes him an object of scorn to the nobles and calls into question his royal worthiness. Hal's chief friend and foil in living the low life is Sir John Falstaff. Fat, old, drunk, and corrupt as he is, he has a charisma
Charisma
The term charisma has two senses: 1) compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others, 2) a divinely conferred power or talent. For some theological usages the term is rendered charism, with a meaning the same as sense 2...

 and a zest for life that captivates the Prince, born into a world of hypocritical pieties and mortal seriousness.

The play has three groups of characters that interact slightly at first, and then come together in the Battle of Shrewsbury
Battle of Shrewsbury
The Battle of Shrewsbury was a battle fought on 21 July 1403, waged between an army led by the Lancastrian King, Henry IV, and a rebel army led by Henry "Hotspur" Percy from Northumberland....

, where the success of the rebellion will be decided. First there is King Henry himself and his immediate council. He is the engine of the play, but usually in the background. Next there is the group of rebels, energetically embodied in Harry Percy – Hotspur – and including his father (Northumberland) and led by his uncle Thomas Percy
Thomas Percy, 1st Earl of Worcester
Thomas Percy, 1st Earl of Worcester, KG was an English medieval nobleman best known for taking part in the rebellion with his nephew Henry Percy, known as 'Harry Hotspur', and brother Northumberland .-Lineage:...

 (Worcester). The Scottish Earl of Douglas, Edmund Mortimer and the Welshman Owen Glendower also join. Finally, at the center of the play are the young Prince Hal and his companions Falstaff, Poins, Bardolph, and Peto. Streetwise and pound-foolish, these rogues manage to paint over this grim history in the colours of comedy.

As the play opens, the king is angry with Hotspur for refusing him most of the prisoners taken in a recent action against the Scots at Holmedon (see the Battle of Humbleton Hill
Battle of Humbleton Hill
The Battle of Humbleton Hill was a conflict between the English and Scottish armies on September 14, 1402 in Northumberland, England. The battle was recounted in Shakespeare’s Henry IV...

). Hotspur, for his part, would have the king ransom Edmund Mortimer (his wife's brother) from Owen Glendower, the Welshman who holds him. Henry refuses, berates Mortimer's loyalty, and treats the Percys with threats and rudeness. Stung and alarmed by Henry's dangerous and peremptory way with them, they proceed to make common cause with the Welsh and Scots, intending to depose "this ingrate and cankered Bolingbroke." By Act II, rebellion is brewing.

As Henry Bolingbroke is mishandling the affairs of state, his son Hal is joking, drinking, and whoring with Falstaff and his associates. He likes Falstaff but makes no pretense at being like him. He enjoys insulting his dissolute friend and makes sport of him by joining in Poins’s plot to disguise themselves and rob and terrify Falstaff and three friends of loot they glean from a highway robbery, purely for the fun of watching Falstaff lie about it later, after which Hal returns the stolen money. Rather early in the play, in fact, Hal informs us that his riotous time will soon come to a close, and he will reassume his rightful high place in affairs by showing himself worthy to his father and others through some (unspecified) noble exploits. Hal believes that this sudden change of manner will amount to a greater reward and acknowledgment of prince-ship, and in turn "earn" him respect from the members of the court.

The revolt of Mortimer and the Percys very quickly gives him his chance to do just that. The high and the low come together when the Prince makes up with his father and is given a high command. He orders Falstaff (who is, after all, a knight
Knight
A knight was a member of a class of lower nobility in the High Middle Ages.By the Late Middle Ages, the rank had become associated with the ideals of chivalry, a code of conduct for the perfect courtly Christian warrior....

) to procure a group of footsoldiers and proceed to the battle site at Shrewsbury. The easy life is over for now.

Shrewsbury (see Battle of Shrewsbury
Battle of Shrewsbury
The Battle of Shrewsbury was a battle fought on 21 July 1403, waged between an army led by the Lancastrian King, Henry IV, and a rebel army led by Henry "Hotspur" Percy from Northumberland....

) is crucial. If the rebels even achieve a standoff their cause gains greatly, as they have other powers awaiting under Northumberland, Glendower, Mortimer, and the Bishop of York. Henry needs a decisive victory here. He outnumbers the rebels, but Hotspur, with the wild hope of despair, leads his troops into battle. The day wears on, the issue still in doubt, the king harried by the wild Scot Douglas, when Prince Hal and Hotspur, the two Harrys that cannot share one land, meet. Finally they will fight – for glory, for their lives, and for the kingdom. No longer a tavern brawler but a warrior, the future king prevails, ultimately killing Hotspur in single combat.

On the way to this climax, we are treated to Falstaff, who has "misused the King's press damnably", not only by taking money from able-bodied men who wished to evade service but by keeping the wages of the poor souls he brought instead who were killed in battle ("food for powder, food for powder"). Now on his own Falstaff is attacked by the Douglas during Hal's battle with Hotspur, but plays possum and is presumed dead. After Hal leaves Hotspur's body on the field, Falstaff revives in a mock miracle. Seeing he is alone, he stabs Hotspur's corpse in the thigh and claims credit for the kill. Though incredulous of this report, Hal allows Sir John his disreputable tricks.

The play ends at Shrewsbury, after the battle. The death of Hotspur has taken the heart out of the rebels, and the king's forces prevail. Henry is pleased with the outcome, not least because it gives him a chance to execute Thomas Percy, the Earl of Worcester, one of his chief enemies (though previously one of his greatest friends). Meanwhile Hal shows off his kingly mercy in praise of valor; having taken the valiant Douglas prisoner, Hal orders his enemy released without ransom. But the war goes on: now the king's forces must deal with the Archbishop of York, who has joined with Northumberland, and with the forces of Mortimer and Glendower. This unsettled ending sets the stage for Henry IV, Part 2
Henry IV, Part 2
Henry IV, Part 2 is a history play by William Shakespeare, believed written between 1596 and 1599. It is the third part of a tetralogy, preceded by Richard II and Henry IV, Part 1 and succeeded by Henry V.-Sources:...

.

Themes and interpretations


At its first publication in 1597 or 1598 the play was titled The History of Henrie the Fourth and its title page advertised only the presence of Henry Percy and the comic Sir John Falstaff
Falstaff
Sir John Falstaff is a fictional character who appears in three plays by William Shakespeare. In the two Henry IV plays, he is a companion to Prince Hal, the future King Henry V. A fat, vain, boastful, and cowardly knight, Falstaff leads the apparently wayward Prince Hal into trouble, and is...

; Prince Hal was not mentioned. Indeed, throughout most of the play's performance history, Hal was staged as a secondary figure, and the stars of the stage, beginning with James Quin
James Quin
James Quin was an English actor of Irish descent.Quin was born in London. He was educated at Dublin, and probably spent a short time at Trinity College....

 and David Garrick
David Garrick
David Garrick was an English actor, playwright, theatre manager and producer who influenced nearly all aspects of theatrical practice throughout the 18th century and was a pupil and friend of Dr Samuel Johnson...

 often preferred to play Hotspur. It was only in the twentieth century that readers and performers began to see the central interest as the coming-of-age of Hal, who is now seen as the starring role.

In the "coming-of-age" interpretation, Hal's acquaintance with Falstaff and the tavern lowlife humanises him and provides him with a more complete view of Elizabethan era
Elizabethan era
The Elizabethan era was the epoch in English history of Queen Elizabeth I's reign . Historians often depict it as the golden age in English history...

 life. At the outset, Prince Hal seems to pale in comparison with the fiery Henry Percy, the young noble lord
Lord
Lord is a title with various meanings. It can denote a prince or a feudal superior . The title today is mostly used in connection with the peerage of the United Kingdom or its predecessor countries, although some users of the title do not themselves hold peerages, and use it 'by courtesy'...

 of the North (whom Shakespeare portrays considerably younger than he was in history in order to provide a foil
Foil (literature)
In fiction, a foil is a character who contrasts with another character in order to highlight particular qualities of another character....

 for Hal). Many readers interpret the history as a tale of Prince Hal growing up, evolving into King Henry V
Henry V of England
Henry V was King of England from 1413 until his death at the age of 35 in 1422. He was the second monarch belonging to the House of Lancaster....

, perhaps the most heroic of all of Shakespeare's characters, in what is a tale of the prodigal son adapted to the politics of medieval England.

Other readers have, however, looked at Hal more critically; Hal can appear as a budding Machiavel
Niccolò Machiavelli
Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli was an Italian historian, philosopher, humanist, and writer based in Florence during the Renaissance. He is one of the main founders of modern political science. He was a diplomat, political philosopher, playwright, and a civil servant of the Florentine Republic...

. In this reading, there is no "ideal king": the gradual rejection of Falstaff is a rejection of Hal's humanity in favour of cold realpolitik
Realpolitik
Realpolitik refers to politics or diplomacy based primarily on power and on practical and material factors and considerations, rather than ideological notions or moralistic or ethical premises...

.

Oldcastle controversy


Henry IV, Part 1 caused controversy on its first performances in 1597, because the comic character now known as "Falstaff
Falstaff
Sir John Falstaff is a fictional character who appears in three plays by William Shakespeare. In the two Henry IV plays, he is a companion to Prince Hal, the future King Henry V. A fat, vain, boastful, and cowardly knight, Falstaff leads the apparently wayward Prince Hal into trouble, and is...

" was originally named "Oldcastle" and was based on John Oldcastle
John Oldcastle
Sir John Oldcastle , English Lollard leader, was son of Sir Richard Oldcastle of Almeley in northwest Herefordshire and grandson of another Sir John Oldcastle....

, a famous Protestant martyr
Martyr
A martyr is somebody who suffers persecution and death for refusing to renounce, or accept, a belief or cause, usually religious.-Meaning:...

 with powerful living descendants in England.

Although the character is called Falstaff in all surviving texts of the play, there is abundant external and internal evidence that he was originally called Oldcastle. The change of names is mentioned in seventeenth-century works by Richard James ("Epistle to Sir Harry Bourchier", c. 1625) and Thomas Fuller
Thomas Fuller
Thomas Fuller was an English churchman and historian. He is now remembered for his writings, particularly his Worthies of England, published after his death...

 (Worthies of England, 1662). It is also indicated in details in the early texts of Shakespeare's plays. In the quarto text of Henry IV, Part 2
Henry IV, Part 2
Henry IV, Part 2 is a history play by William Shakespeare, believed written between 1596 and 1599. It is the third part of a tetralogy, preceded by Richard II and Henry IV, Part 1 and succeeded by Henry V.-Sources:...

(1600), one of Falstaff's speech prefixes in Act I, Scene ii is mistakenly left uncorrected, "Old." instead of "Falst." In III, ii, 25-6 of the same play, Falstaff is said to have been a "page to Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk"—which was true of the historical Oldcastle. In Henry IV, Part 1, I,ii,42, Prince Hal calls Falstaff "my old lad of the castle." Iambic pentameter
Iambic pentameter
Iambic pentameter is a commonly used metrical line in traditional verse and verse drama. The term describes the particular rhythm that the words establish in that line. That rhythm is measured in small groups of syllables; these small groups of syllables are called "feet"...

 verse lines in both parts are irregular when using the name "Falstaff", but correct with "Oldcastle". Finally, there is the blatant disclaimer at the close of Henry IV, Part 2 that discriminates between the two figures: "for Oldcastle died [a] martyr, and this is not the man" (Epilogue, 29–32).

There is even a hint that Falstaff was originally Oldcastle in The Merry Wives of Windsor
The Merry Wives of Windsor
The Merry Wives of Windsor is a comedy by William Shakespeare, first published in 1602, though believed to have been written prior to 1597. It features the fat knight Sir John Falstaff, and is Shakespeare's only play to deal exclusively with contemporary Elizabethan era English middle class life...

too. When the First Folio
First Folio
Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. is the 1623 published collection of William Shakespeare's plays. Modern scholars commonly refer to it as the First Folio....

 and quarto texts of that play are compared, it appears that the joke in V,v,85–90 is that Oldcastle/Falstaff incriminates himself by calling out the first letter of his name, "O, O, O!," when his fingertips are singed with candles—which of course works for "Oldcastle" but not "Falstaff." There is also the "castle" reference in IV,v,6 of the same play.

The name change and the Epilogue disclaimer were required, it is generally thought, because of political pressure: the historical Oldcastle was not only a Protestant martyr, but a nobleman with powerful living descendants in Elizabethan England. These were the Lords Cobham: William Brooke, 10th Baron Cobham
William Brooke, 10th Baron Cobham
William Brooke, 10th Baron Cobham was Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, and a Member of Parliament for Hythe. Although he was viewed by some as a religious radical during the Somerset protectorate, he entertained Elizabeth at Cobham Hall in 1559, signalling his acceptance of the moderate regime.His...

 (died 6 March 1597), was Warden of the Cinque Ports (1558–97), Knight of the Order of the Garter
Order of the Garter
The Most Noble Order of the Garter, founded in 1348, is the highest order of chivalry, or knighthood, existing in England. The order is dedicated to the image and arms of St...

 (1584), and member of the Privy Council (1586–97); his son Henry Brooke, 11th Baron Cobham
Henry Brooke, 11th Baron Cobham
Henry Brooke, 11th Baron Cobham was an English peer who was implicated in the Main Plot against the rule of James I of England.- Life :...

, was granted the paternal post of Warden of the Cinque Ports upon his father's death, and made a Knight
Knight
A knight was a member of a class of lower nobility in the High Middle Ages.By the Late Middle Ages, the rank had become associated with the ideals of chivalry, a code of conduct for the perfect courtly Christian warrior....

 of the Order of the Garter
Order of the Garter
The Most Noble Order of the Garter, founded in 1348, is the highest order of chivalry, or knighthood, existing in England. The order is dedicated to the image and arms of St...

 in 1599. Even more so, Frances Brooke, the 10th Baron's wife and 11th Baron's mother, was a close personal favourite of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I.

The elder Lord Cobham even had a strong negative impact upon the lives of Shakespeare and his contemporaries in the theatre. The company of actors formed by Shakespeare, Richard Burbage
Richard Burbage
Richard Burbage was an English actor and theatre owner. He was the younger brother of Cuthbert Burbage. They were both actors in drama....

, Will Kempe
William Kempe
William Kempe , also spelt Kemp, was an English actor and dancer specializing in comic roles and best known for having been one of the original players in early dramas by William Shakespeare...

 and the others in 1594 enjoyed the patronage of Henry Carey, first Lord Hunsdon, then serving as Lord Chamberlain
Lord Chamberlain
The Lord Chamberlain or Lord Chamberlain of the Household is one of the chief officers of the Royal Household in the United Kingdom and is to be distinguished from the Lord Great Chamberlain, one of the Great Officers of State....

; they were, famously, the Lord Chamberlain's Men
Lord Chamberlain's Men
The Lord Chamberlain's Men was a playing company for whom Shakespeare worked for most of his career. Formed at the end of a period of flux in the theatrical world of London, it had become, by 1603, one of the two leading companies of the city and was subsequently patronised by James I.It was...

. When Carey died on 22 July 1596, the post of Lord Chamberlain was given to William Brooke, Lord Cobham, who definitely was not a friend to the players, and who withdrew what official protection they had enjoyed. The players were left to the mercies of the local officials of the City of London
City of London
The City of London is a small area within Greater London, England. It is the historic core of London around which the modern conurbation grew and has held city status since time immemorial. The City’s boundaries have remained almost unchanged since the Middle Ages, and it is now only a tiny part of...

, who had long wanted to drive the companies of actors out of the City. Thomas Nashe
Thomas Nashe
Thomas Nashe was an English Elizabethan pamphleteer, playwright, poet and satirist. He was the son of the minister William Nashe and his wife Margaret .-Early life:...

, in a contemporary letter, complained that the actors were "piteously persecuted by the Lord Mayor and the aldermen" during this period. Fortunately, for the players and for English literature, this interval did not last; when Cobham died less than a year later, the post of Lord Chamberlain went to Henry Carey's son George, second Lord Hunsdon, and the actors regained their previous patronage.

The name was changed to "Falstaff", based on Sir John Fastolf
John Fastolf
Sir John Fastolf KG was an English knight during the Hundred Years War, who has enjoyed a more lasting reputation as in some part being the prototype of Shakespeare's Sir John Falstaff...

, an historical person with a reputation for cowardice at the Battle of Patay
Battle of Patay
The Battle of Patay was the culminating engagement of the Loire Campaign of the Hundred Years' War between the French and English in north-central France. It was a decisive victory for the French and turned the tide of the war. This victory was to the French what Agincourt was to the English...

, and whom Shakespeare had previously represented in Henry VI, Part 1
Henry VI, part 1
Henry VI, Part 1 or The First Part of Henry the Sixt is a history play by William Shakespeare, and possibly Thomas Nashe, believed to have been written in 1591, and set during the lifetime of King Henry VI of England...

. Fastolf had died without descendants, making him safe for a playwright's use.

Shortly afterward, a team of playwrights wrote a two-part play entitled Sir John Oldcastle
Sir John Oldcastle
Sir John Oldcastle is an Elizabethan play about John Oldcastle, a controversial 14th-15th century rebel and Lollard who was seen by some of Shakespeare's contemporaries as a proto-Protestant martyr.-Publication:...

, which presents an heroic dramatisation of Oldcastle's life and was published in 1600.

In 1986, the Oxford Shakespeare edition of Shakespeare's works rendered the character's name as Oldcastle, rather than Falstaff, in Henry IV, Part 1, as a consequence of the editors' aim to present the plays as they would have appeared during their original performances. No other published editions have followed suit.

Adaptations


Orson Welles
Orson Welles
George Orson Welles , best known as Orson Welles, was an American film director, actor, theatre director, screenwriter, and producer, who worked extensively in film, theatre, television and radio...

' Chimes at Midnight
Chimes at Midnight
Chimes at Midnight, also known as Falstaff and Campanadas a medianoche , is a 1965 film directed by and starring Orson Welles. Focused on William Shakespeare's recurring character Sir John Falstaff, the film stars Welles himself as Falstaff, Keith Baxter plays Prince Hal , and John Gielgud plays...

(1965) compiles the two Henry IV plays into a single, condensed storyline, while adding a handful of scenes from Henry V
Henry V (play)
Henry V is a history play by William Shakespeare, believed to be written in approximately 1599. Its full titles are The Cronicle History of Henry the Fifth and The Life of Henry the Fifth...

and dialogue from Richard II
Richard II (play)
King Richard the Second is a history play by William Shakespeare believed to be written in approximately 1595. It is based on the life of King Richard II of England and is the first part of a tetralogy, referred to by some scholars as the Henriad, followed by three plays concerning Richard's...

and The Merry Wives of Windsor
The Merry Wives of Windsor
The Merry Wives of Windsor is a comedy by William Shakespeare, first published in 1602, though believed to have been written prior to 1597. It features the fat knight Sir John Falstaff, and is Shakespeare's only play to deal exclusively with contemporary Elizabethan era English middle class life...

. The film stars Welles himself as Falstaff, John Gielgud
John Gielgud
Sir Arthur John Gielgud, OM, CH was an English actor, director, and producer. A descendant of the renowned Terry acting family, he achieved early international acclaim for his youthful, emotionally expressive Hamlet which broke box office records on Broadway in 1937...

 as King Henry, Keith Baxter
Keith Baxter (actor)
Keith Baxter is a Welsh theatre, film and television actor.- Early years & RADA :Born in Newport, Wales in 1933. Baxter was educated at Newport High School and Barry Grammar School, Baxter studied at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, during which period he shared a flat with classmate Alan...

 as Hal, Margaret Rutherford
Margaret Rutherford
Dame Margaret Taylor Rutherford DBE was an English character actress, who first came to prominence following World War II in the film adaptations of Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit, and Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest...

 as Mistress Quickly and Norman Rodway
Norman Rodway
-Early life:Rodway was born in Dublin to English parents, Frank and Lillian Rodway. He studied classics, graduating at Trinity College. He worked as an accountant, teacher, and university lecturer before acting.-Career:...

 as Hotspur.

Adapted scenes in flashback
Flashback (narrative)
Flashback is an interjected scene that takes the narrative back in time from the current point the story has reached. Flashbacks are often used to recount events that happened before the story’s primary sequence of events or to fill in crucial backstory...

 from Henry IV are included in the 1989 film version of Henry V
Henry V (1989 film)
Henry V is a 1989 film directed by Kenneth Branagh, based on William Shakespeare's play The Life of Henry the Fifth about the famous English king. Branagh stars in the title role, and wrote the screenplay. The film was highly acclaimed on its release....

(1989) with Robbie Coltrane
Robbie Coltrane
Robbie Coltrane, OBE is a Scottish actor, comedian and author. He is known both for his role as Dr...

 portraying Sir John Falstaff and Kenneth Branagh
Kenneth Branagh
Kenneth Charles Branagh is an actor and film director from Northern Ireland. He is best known for directing and starring in several film adaptations of William Shakespeare's plays including Henry V , Much Ado About Nothing , Hamlet Kenneth Charles Branagh is an actor and film director from...

 playing the young Prince Hal.

Gus Van Sant
Gus Van Sant
Gus Green Van Sant, Jr. is an American director, screenwriter, painter, photographer, musician, and author. He is a two time nominee of the Academy Award for Best Director for his 1997 film Good Will Hunting and his 2008 film Milk, both of which were also nominated for Best Picture, and won the...

's 1991 film My Own Private Idaho
My Own Private Idaho
My Own Private Idaho is a 1991 independent drama film written and directed by Gus Van Sant, loosely based on Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1, Henry IV, Part 2, and Henry V, and starring River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves...

is loosely based on Part 1 of Henry IV.

The one-man hip-hop musical Clay
Clay (musical)
Clay is a 2008 Hip-hop musical loosely based on Shakespeare's Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2 and Falstaff written and performed by Matt Sax. The first performance was at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.-Synopsis:...

is loosely based on Henry IV.

External links