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HENRY IV. PART FIRST.
INTRODUCTION, AND NOTES EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL.
FOR USE IN SCHOOLS AND FAMILIES.
REV. HENRY N. HUDSON, LL.D.
PUBLISHED BY GINN & COMPANY.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1880, by
HENRY N. HUDSON, in the office of the Librarian ci Congress, at Washington,
GINN & HEATH:
History of the Play.
OHNSON rightly observes that the First and Second
drama, the whole being arranged as two only because too long to be one. For this cause it seems best to regard them as one in what follows, and so dispose of them both together. The writing of them must be placed at least as early as 1597, when the author was thirty-three years old. The First Part was registered at the Stationers' for publication in February, 1598, and was published in the course of that year. There were also four other quarto issues of the play before the folio edition of 1623. The Second Part was first published in 1600, and there is not known to have been any other edition of it till it reappeared along with the First Part in the folio. It is pretty certain, however, for reasons to be stated presently, that the Second Part was written before the entry of the First Part at the Stationers' in 1598.
It is beyond question that the original name of Sir John Falstaff was Sir John Oldcastle ; and a curious relic of that naming survives in Act i. scene 2, where the Prince calls Falstaff « my old lad of the castle.” And we have several other strong proofs of the fact; as in the Epilogue to the Second Part: “For any thing I know, Falstaff shall die of a sweat, unless already he be killed with your hard
opinions ; for Oldcastle died a martyr, and this is not the man.” Also, in Amends for Ladies, a play by Nathaniel Field, printed in 1618: “Did you never see the play where the fat Knight, hight Oldcastle, did tell you truly what. this honour was ?” which clearly alludes to Falstaff's soliloquy about honour in the First Part, Act v. Yet the change of name must have been made before the play was entered in the Stationers' books, as that entry mentions “the conceited mirth of Sir John Falstaff.” And we have one small but pretty decisive mark inferring the Second Part to have been written before that change was made : in the quarto edition of this part, Act i. scene 2, one of Falstaff's speeches has the prefix Old; the change in that instance being probably left unmarked in the printer's copy. All which shows that both Parts were originally written long enough before February, 1598, for the author to see cause for changing the name.
“Sir John Oldcastle, the good Lord Cobham,” was much distinguished as a Wickliffite martyr, and his name held in high reverence by the Protestants in Shakespeare's time. And the purpose of the change in question probably was to rescue his memory from the profanations of the stage. Thus much seems hinted in the forcited passage from the Epilogue, and is further approved by what Fuller says in his Church History: “Stage-poets have themselves been very bold with, and others very merry at, the memory of Sir John Oldcastle, whom they have fancied a boon companion, jovial royster, and a coward to boot. The best is, Sir John Falstaff hath relieved the memory of Sir John Old. castle, and is substituted buffoon in his place.”
Another motive for the change may have been the better to distinguish Shakespeare's play from The Famous Victo
ries of Henry the Fifth ; a play which had been on the stage some years, and wherein Sir John
Oldcastle was among the names of the Dramatis Persona, as were also Ned and Gadshill. There is no telling with any certainty when or by whom The Famous Victories was written. It is known to have been on the boards as early as 1588, because one of the parts was acted by Tarleton, the celebrated comedian, who died that year. And Nash, in his Pierce Penniless, 1592, thus alludes to it: “What a glorious thing it is to have Henry the Fifth represented on the stage, leading the French King prisoner, and forcing him and the Dauphin to swear fealty,” It was also entered at the Stationers' in 1594; and a play called Harry the Fifth, probably the same, was performed in 1595; and not less than three editions of it were printed. All which tells strongly for its success and popularity. The action of the play extends over the whole time occupied by Shakespeare's King Henry the Fourth and King Henry the Fifth. The Poet can hardly be said to have built upon it or borrowed from it at all, any further than taking the above-mentioned
The play is indeed a most wretched and worthless performance; being altogether a mass of stupid vulgarity; at once vapid and vile ; without the least touch of wit in the comic parts, or of poetry in the tragic; the verse being such only to the eye; Sir John Oldcastle being a dull, lowminded profligate, uninformed with the slightest felicity of thought or humour; the Prince, an irredeemable compound of ruffian, blackguard, and hypocrite ; and their companions, the fitting seconds of such principals : so that to have drawn upon it for any portion or element of Shakespeare's King Henry the Fourth were much the same as extracting sunbeams from cucumbers.”