Internet Shakespeare Editions

Author: Rosemary Gaby
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Henry IV, Part 1: Critical Reception


1Falstaff, Henry IV, Part One and early responses

Henry IV, Part One has always been a controversial play, with much of that controversy focussed on the character that embodies contradictoriness, Sir John Falstaff. Because Falstaff--like most of the play's characters--also appears in Henry IV, Part Two, early criticism usually discusses Henry IV as if the two parts are one play. It is, in fact, impossible to describe the critical history of Henry IV, Part One without reference to Part Two and debate about the relationship between the two plays has occupied many critics (see for example Jenkins 1956, Yachnin 1991, and Pugliatti 1996). To complicate matters, a significant proportion of twentieth-century criticism discusses Part One within the context of Shakespeare's other history plays, particularly those of the second tetralogy: Richard II, Henry IV Parts One and Two, and Henry V; or what has been dubbed the "Henriad": Henry IV Parts One and Two, and Henry V. Of necessity much of the following discussion will refer to Henry IV, Part One alongside these other plays.

2One of the first printed critiques of Henry IV, Part One could be said to be another play: The First Part of the True and Honorable Historie, of the life of Sir John Old-Castle, the Good Lord Cobham. It was written by a group of playwrights for a rival company to Shakespeare's, the Admiral's Men, although, strangely, one of its quarto printings from 1600 states that it was "Written by William Shakespeare." Sir John Old-Castle was designed as a corrective to Shakespeare's portrait of Prince Hal's companion in the Henry IV plays. Sir John Falstaff was originally named Sir John Oldcastle, and the name was changed, purportedly because it had offended Oldcastle's descendants and those who thought of Oldcastle as a protestant martyr (see Performance History). The prologue to Sir John Old-Castle asserts:

3It is no pampered glutton we present,
Nor agèd counsellor to youthful sins;
But one whose virtues shone above the rest,
A valiant martyr and a virtuous peer (Prol. 6-9)

4A similar corrective is presented in John Weever's poem The Mirror of Martyrs (1601) in which the ghost of Sir John Oldcastle narrates the story of his valorous life.

5Shakespeare's gluttonous and less-than-valiant knight clearly did not please all of his contemporaries and the character has generated polarised critical responses ever since. In effect, though, both The Mirror of Martyrs and Sir John Old-Castle were critiquing Shakespeare's historiography not his characterisation, and these concerns were fuelled by the enormous and ongoing popularity of Henry IV, Part One. Many surviving comments on the play from the seventeenth century attest to its drawing power. A commendatory verse by Leonard Digges, published with a 1640 edition of Shakespeare's poems, compares Shakespeare with fellow playwright, Ben Jonson, and asserts that, while Jonson's comic characters might not always cover costs, "let but Falstaff come, Hal, Poins, the rest you scarce shall have a roome / All is so pester'd" (Vickers 1.28). One of the first commentators on Shakespeare's characterization, John Dryden, used Falstaff as an example of a character that was successfully composed of complementary qualities: "Falstaff is a Lyar, and a Coward, a Glutton, and a Buffon, because all these qualities may agree in the same man" (Vickers 1.258), and Gerald Langbaine, writing in 1691, noted that Falstaff "never fail'd of universal applause" (Vickers 1.420).

6A consciousness of a possible down-side to Falstaff's popularity first appeared in responses to the two parts of Henry IV during the early eighteenth century. In 1709 Shakespeare's first editor, Nicholas Rowe, anticipated the direction of much future criticism when he wrote:

7Falstaff is allow'd by every body to be a Masterpiece. . . . If there be any Fault in the Draught he has made of this lewd old Fellow, it is that tho' he has made him a Thief, Lying, Cowardly, Vain-glorious, and in short every way Vicious, yet he has given him so much Wit as to make him almost too agreeable; and I don't know whether some People have not, in remembrance of the Diversion he had formerly afforded 'em, been sorry to see his Friend Hal use him so scurvily when he comes to the Crown in the End of the Second Part of Henry IV (Vickers 2.195).

8During the latter half of the eighteenth century, however, Shakespeare's prestige was riding so high that most responses to his works and characters consisted primarily of fulsome praise and the idea of any fault in Shakespeare's design largely disappeared. Commentators stressed the moral lesson that Falstaff embodied in spite of his seductive charm. Samuel Johnson greatly admired the two Henry IV plays, stating that "perhaps no authour has ever in two plays afforded so much delight" (Vickers 5.124). He describes Falstaff as "a thief and a glutton, a coward and a boaster, always ready to cheat the weak, and prey upon the poor" and as at once "obsequious and malignant." Johnson admits the appeal of Falstaff's gaiety and wit and that he is not stained with "enormous or sanguinary crimes," but sees him as representing a moral to be drawn from the play that "no man is more dangerous than he that with a will to corrupt hath the power to please" (Vickers 5.124-25).

9In a similar vein, Elizabeth Montagu's "Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespeare," published in 1769, positions Falstaff as the felicitous means through which Shakespeare protects the reputation of Prince Hal. Montagu suggests that "it was a delicate affair to expose the follies of Henry V before a people proud of his victories . . . . How happily therefore was the character of Falstaff introduced, whose wit and festivity in some measure excuse the Prince for admitting him into his familiarity" (Vickers 5.332). Falstaff's vices and defects make him "as contemptible as entertaining" (Vickers 5.333) and the fact that the Prince, "seems always diverted rather than seduced by Falstaff" (Vickers 5.332) means that the knight poses no real threat to either the Prince or the audience.

10A more provocative reading of Falstaff's character was posited by Maurice Morgann in 1777. Morgann's ostensible aim was to refute the assumption that Falstaff was a coward: an idea which, according to at least one anonymous contributor to Walker's Hibernian Magazine, was "a much disputed point" at the time (Vickers 6:135). Morgann's essay on Falstaff is a milestone in literary criticism, reflecting both the consolidation of Shakespeare's reputation as a writer of genius and Morgann's own determination to subject Shakespeare's characterisation to serious extended scrutiny. Morgann examines several Falstaff scenes and references to him in both parts of Henry IV and argues that, while there are appearances of cowardice in Falstaff's portrayal, this is not the overall feeling we get of Falstaff's character. He tentatively suggests that "the real character of Falstaff may be different from his apparent one; and, possibly, this difference between reality and appearance, whilst it accounts at once for our liking and our censure, may be the true point of humour in the character" (15).

11Much of Morgann's essay talks about Falstaff as if he were a real human being with a life beyond the plays in which he appears. He stresses Falstaff's upbringing and reputation as a soldier and a knight, and he interprets his behaviour at the battle of Shrewsbury as belonging to "a kind of military free thinker" and a man of "common sense" with "too much wit for a hero" (103). Morgann's lengthy analysis of the Gadshill robbery argues that Poins's comment in 1.2--"and for the third, if he fight longer than he sees reason, I'll forswear arms" (TLN286)--sets Falstaff apart from his companions. He also claims that, although Falstaff is derided by the Prince and Poins for running away roaring, the stage direction--"Falstaff after a blow or two runs away too" (TLN840)--again distinguishes Falstaff from the others. Morgann invites us to suppose that "Falstaff was a man of Natural courage, though in all respects unprincipled; but that he was surprised, in one single instance, into an act of real terror" (139).

12Morgann's view of Falstaff was not without its critics (Samuel Johnson facetiously suggested he should next try to prove Iago a good man), but it did stimulate much further debate. Richard Stack, for example, admired Morgann's "dexterity in support of a paradox" (Vickers 6: 470) but in a refutation from 1788 pointed out that Falstaff has many faults that we forgive because "he entertains, surprises and charms" us, so there is little point trying to acquit him of cowardice: "defence is a thing of too serious a nature for Falstaff, he laughs at all vindication" (479). Stack's insight was shrewdly developed by William Empson a century and a half later: "The whole joke of the great rogue is that you can't see through him, any more than the Prince could" (135-36).

13Accounting for Falstaff in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries

Eighteenth-century responses to the two parts of Henry IV initiated debate about the figure of Falstaff that continued into the nineteenth century and beyond. As late as 1927, critics like E.E. Stoll were still constructing detailed refutations of Morgann's essay. In 1817 William Hazlitt claimed that Falstaff was one of the greatest comic characters ever invented, stressing his "exaggeration of his own vices," (354) his "masterly presence of mind" and the indulgence he elicits as both an actor and as someone whose age "gives a melancholy retrospective tinge to the character" (355). Like Nicholas Rowe, Hazlitt felt that "we could never forgive the Prince's treatment of Falstaff" and that "whatever terror the French in those days might have of Henry V., yet, to the readers of poetry at present, Falstaff is the better man of the two" (356). Bernard Shaw, writing at the end of the nineteenth century held a similar view, seeing Hal as "consciously and deliberately treacherous" in Henry IV, Part One, and Falstaff as "the most human person in the play" (albeit "a besotted and disgusting old wretch") (119).

14Concern about the Prince's treatment of Falstaff reached a climax in A.C. Bradley's essay, "The Rejection of Falstaff," first published in 1902. Bradley notes that the Prince's rejection of Falstaff in Part Two is consistent with his characterization in Part One, and that the moment is well prepared for, but, he argues, it is troubling nevertheless because the rejection scene elicits a kind of resentment towards Henry that could not have been Shakespeare's intention. Bradley describes Falstaff as "the humorist of genius" who "makes himself out more ludicrous than he is, in order that he and others may laugh" (68). He finds that Falstaff's lies about the men in Buckram and killing Hotspur are, like so many of his statements, symptomatic of his refusal to take anything seriously, and he develops Morgann's evidence that Falstaff is not a coward. Bradley assumes that Shakespeare meant to steadily weaken Falstaff's appeal but failed: "In the Falstaff scenes [Shakespeare] overshot his mark. He created so extraordinary a being, and fixed him so firmly on his intellectual throne, that when he sought to dethrone him he could not" (66).

15Bradley's notion of Falstaff as a larger-than-life character, who somehow transcends his context and the author's plans for him, has informed much subsequent criticism. Even towards the end of the twentieth century Harold Bloom could talk about Falstaff as, along with Hamlet, "the invention of the human, the inauguration of personality as we have come to recognize it" (4) and as "a character deeper than life, a wit unmatched by anyone merely real whom we will ever know" (15). Early twentieth-century critics did, however, develop commentary on the character in new directions, both by seeking to situate Falstaff within the context of older theatrical and literary traditions, and by asking how Shakespeare's fat knight contributed to the plays' depictions of history and politics.

16John Dover Wilson's 1943 book, The Fortunes of Falstaff, links the two Henry IV plays--described as "this great twin-play" (1)--to Medieval morality plays and the shorter moral interludes of the Tudor court. Wilson notes the various theatrical antecedents assigned to Falstaff by Hal, including "the Devil of the miracle play, the Vice of the morality, and the Riot of the interlude" and argues that Falstaff "inherits by reversion the function and attributes of the Lord of Misrule, the Fool, the Buffoon, and the Jester . . . In short, the Falstaff-Hal plot embodies a composite myth which had been centuries in the making " (20). Wilson's argument that the play itself is a kind of morality fable which presents Hal's prodigal reformation and the rejection of Falstaff as something to be admired prompted some disagreement from critics wanting to stress Shakespeare's dramatic ambiguity (notably William Empson in his 1953 article, "Falstaff and Mr Dover Wilson"), but it also fed into a stream of myth-focussed interpretations of the play. These include J.I.M. Stewart's suggestion that Falstaff's association with images of oxen, brawn and meat provides a symbolic link to festival sacrifice--animals sacrificed to ensure new fertility--and this in turn is why we accept his eventual rejection in the theatre (131-32).

17Probably the most well-known discussion of festive elements in the Henry IV plays is by C.L. Barber in Shakespeare's Festive Comedy (1959). Barber develops Stewart's idea of Falstaff as a kind of ritual comic scapegoat, whose sacrifice deflects bad luck away from the Prince. Barber relates the comic elements of the plays to traditions of saturnalia, with Falstaff as the figure of Misrule. Like Wilson, Barber places Prince Hal at the centre of Henry IV, Part One, as a prodigal figure surrounded by tempters, but he argues that Shakespeare complicates this by shifting emphasis onto the issue of whether Hal "will be noble or degenerate, whether his holiday will become his everyday" (195). For Barber that holiday is clearly limited by Hal and by history:

18The Falstaff comedy, far from being forced into an alien environment of historical drama, is begotten by that environment, giving and taking meaning as it grows. . . . Shakespeare dramatizes not only holiday but also the need for holiday and the need to limit holiday. (192)

19Barber's focus on festive traditions has influenced much subsequent work on Shakespeare's history plays, with varied responses to the question of how festivity and order are pitted or balanced against each other in the plays and which of them the audience is invited to applaud. Later critics have further developed the idea of festival with reference to Mikhail Bakhtin and the idea of the "carnivalesque" developed in his 1965 book Rabelais and his World. Bakhtin coined the term the "grotesque body" to describe how in comedy we focus on the earthier aspects of the human body. Comedy makes us laugh by reminding us that everybody farts and belches, even the king. In Bakhtin's vision, comedy is all about cutting people down to size, dissolving and confusing distinctions and embracing chaos. In this way literary texts can change the way we think about the world, contesting accepted ideas about what is normal, and challenging power structures that seek to justify one group's authority over another.

20Bakhtin's ideas have proved particularly apposite for the Falstaff plays. Michael Bristol pointed out in 1985 that "the Battle of Carnival and Lent is an explicit structuring device in the two parts of Henry IV" (204) and this approach has been developed further in studies like Graham Holderness's Shakespeare Recycled: The Making of Historical Drama (1992), Jonathan Hall's Anxious Pleasures: Shakespearean Comedy and the Nation-State (1995), and David Ruiter's Shakespeare's Festive History (2003). Psychoanalytic criticism has also drawn on Barber and Bakhtin to discuss Falstaff, as for example in Valerie Traub's Desire and Anxiety: Circulations of Sexuality in Shakespearean Drama (1992), where the relationship between the grotesque body and the female reproductive body comes to the fore. Hugh Grady's article, "Falstaff: Subjectivity between the Carnival and the Aesthetic," reflects the direction of much recent criticism by reading Falstaff as an early modern experiment in a new kind of subjectivity that draws on recognizable literary types, but playfully resists being pinned down to any fixed identity. Grady notes how Falstaff creates fictions about himself, drawing on and inverting the language of the puritans. He sees Falstaff as posing questions about the limits of carnival:

21When Hal remarks "If all the year were playing holidays . . . " he is not only rationalizing his own sowing of wild oats, but also enunciating the problem that Sir John lives: what are the limits of a carnival wrenched out of its setting in the cycle of the year's months and seasons and set up as an end in itself in a society of constant moral and cultural disintegration and reconfiguration, such as is constituted by modernity? (620).

22Questions of history and providence

While several Falstaff-focussed discussions meld the two parts of Henry IV into one, critics seeking to elucidate Shakespeare's broader interpretation of historical events often discuss Part One in the context of the whole sweep of Shakespeare's history plays. This kind of approach can be traced back to Herman Ulrici's Shakespeare's Dramatic Art published in its English translation in 1846. Ulrici relates Henry IV, Part One to Richard II as well as the plays that followed it, claiming that "'Richard the Second' is the first part of the grand five-act historical drama which closes with 'Richard the Third'" (368). Ulrici's discussion of Henry IV, Part One begins with a comparison of the way Shakespeare represents the reigns of Richard and Henry, and suggests that in telling the story of Henry's reign Shakespeare's interest is in what happened when a King with "inward capacity to rule," but no outward right, took control (369). Ulrici acknowledges previous critical debates about the character of Falstaff, but argues that the main point of the comic scenes is "to parody the hollow pathos of political history, and to tear from it its state robes and parade, in order to exhibit it in its true shape" (374). In Ulrici's account, what matters is the way Falstaff parodies the declining chivalry of the day and travesties characters like Hotspur, Northumberland, and Glendower. In fact Ulrici anticipated much twentieth century criticism by pointing to the Gadshill episode as comparable to the folly and worthlessness of the civil war and noting the way Falstaff's character parallels Henry IV: "his inexhaustible talent of misrepresentation, and the appearance of virtue which he so skilfully assumes, are a fine satire on the king" (376).

23This focus on contrasting political portraits within the wider context of Shakespeare's history-play tetralogies also informed what was arguably the most influential twentieth-century study of Shakespearean histories, E.M.W. Tillyard's Shakespeare's History Plays (1944). Writing in the wake of World War II, Tillyard noted that the "sense of security created in nineteenth century England by the predominance of the British navy induced men to rate that very security too cheaply and to exalt the instinct of rebellion above its legitimate station" (291). He saw his own age as more in tune with the Elizabethans, and hence able to appreciate Shakespeare's underlying support for order in the Henry IV plays. Whereas Ulrici stresses Falstaff's parodical functions, Tillyard agrees with John Dover Wilson that we should take Falstaff, as the Elizabethans did, as a figure who must inevitably be cast out.

24In subsequent decades Tillyard's work was frequently criticized for its insistence on Shakespeare's adherence to "the thought-idiom of his age," and the idea that the history tetralogies enact the working out of the "Tudor myth": that by deposing Richard II, Henry Bolingbroke established a long period of political instability which would only be resolved by the divinely-sanctioned intervention of Henry Tudor. Tillyard does, however, stress the great variety of the Henry IV plays, and his study contains many valuable local insights into Henry IV, Part One. The main thrust of Tillyard's interpretation is that through Prince Hal Shakespeare defines the perfect ruler, but that behind this the Henry IV plays still illustrate the working out of the curse that began with the usurpation of Richard and will continue "beyond the partial insurrections of the present to the Wars of the Roses" (295).

25Tillyard's work alerted Shakespeare scholars to the political dimension of Shakespeare's history plays and contributed to a critical tendency to treat them as a distinctive genre, more vitally concerned with Elizabethan politics and the fate of the nation than the tragedies. Indeed Lily B. Campbell took this kind of approach quite literally in 1947 by arguing for specific striking parallels between events in the Henry IV plays and rebellion during Elizabeth's own reign (231). The idea that Shakespeare uncritically replicated an orthodox version of the Tudor myth was soon challenged, however, by critics who saw Shakespeare as a more creative and independent thinker than Tillyard's view implied. Derek Traversi followed Tillyard's project of tracing a historical pattern through Shakespeare's histories, but noted "a very real risk that erudition, in relating these plays to their period, may end by obscuring their true individuality" (1). According to Traversi Shakespeare's true originality appears "when the political is reinforced by a personal interest" (52). His 1957 study focuses on the particular characteristics of the Lancastrian family developed in Henry IV, Part One and the way these inform their style of kingship. Traversi argues that "behind Shakespeare's acceptance of a traditional story lies the sense, which grows as the action develops, that success in politics implies a moral loss, the sacrifice of more attractive qualities in the distinctively personal order" (58). Similarly, in another key study of the English history play first published in 1957, Irving Ribner claims that while there could be no doubt that Shakespeare accepted the Tudor myth, "too great a concentration upon these traditional ideas . . . and too great an attempt to see Shakespeare's History plays entirely in the light of them, has tended to obscure other elements in the plays" (154). In Ribner's view Shakespeare's main concern in the second tetralogy was with "the type of man who should succeed Elizabeth. His chief political purpose in these plays was to delineate various royal types and to indicate the qualities of the perfect English king" (157).

26Various critics writing in the 1960s and 1970s debated Tillyard's view that the Tudor myth and a providential view of English history were widely accepted in Shakespeare's England. Henry Kelly put forward the argument that Shakespeare dramatizes opposing viewpoints through the voices of his characters:

27Shakespeare has once again distributed the moral and providential judgments of the sources according to their political components; in this play, the Lancastrians speak from the viewpoint of the Lancaster myth, and their opponents voice the anti-Lancastrian objections assimilated into the York myth (306).

28Robert Ornstein pointed to the dangers of generalizing about shared beliefs and attitudes in Elizabethan England--a time, after all, of religious and political turmoil--and John Wilders sought to shift attention to Shakespeare's characterisation as the key to understanding his depiction of historical causation:

29The causes of national unity or division, of prosperity or decline are, in Shakespeare's view, to be found not, as some of the fifteenth-century chroniclers had believed, in the providential power of God, nor, as we are now included to think, in social and economic conditions, but in the temperaments of national leaders and their reactions towards one another (2).

30Most recent critics have accepted the idea that Elizabethan thinking about the past encompassed many diverse viewpoints and political agendas and it has been frequently asserted that Shakespeare's plays reflect readings of history no less complex and contradictory than our own (see, for example, Holderness, Potter and Turner 1988). Phyllis Rackin describes Renaissance ideas about history as developing in two main directions: one explained historical events in terms of providence, the other in the more pragmatic terms of Machiavellian power politics (6-7). The providential view of historical causation would explain Henry IV's troubles as divine retribution for the act of usurping the throne from the rightful king, Richard II (Henry, himself, worries that this might be the case). The pragmatic view would explain events as the result of human rather than divine will, with an emphasis upon the personal conflicts and tactical errors that create political instability (43-6). Rackin argues that the conflict between these two early modern interpretations of history is an integral part of Shakespeare's staged history. Both interpretations are made available to us, as they were to their first audiences, provoking ongoing debate and dramatic tension.

31Late twentieth and early twenty-first century responses

Over the closing decades of the twentieth century approaches to Henry IV, Part One and its fellow history plays proliferated, taking many different directions. The decision taken by the editors of the 1986 Oxford Complete Works to restore the name of Oldcastle to the character of Falstaff led to much subsequent writing about the editorial decision and prompted ongoing research into the historical context of the Oldcastle controversy. Meanwhile, theoretically-informed readings have approached the history plays from feminist, Marxist, psychoanalytic, post-colonial, queer-theory and performance-oriented perspectives to name a few. Critics influenced by New Historicism and cultural materialism have found the history plays particularly useful for exploring questions about the representation of power on the early modern stage. Stephen Greenblatt's essay, "Invisible Bullets," first published in Shakespearean Negotiations in 1988, inspired much further work focussing on questions about subversion and containment in the histories. For Greenblatt, the Henry plays "confirm the Machiavellian hypothesis that princely power originates in force and fraud even as they draw their audience toward an acceptance of that power" (65). Pointing to the fact that Prince Hal's characteristic activity in Henry IV, Part One is theatrical improvisation, Greenblatt argues that Shakespeare tantalizes us with the possibility of escape from theatricality and improvisational power but in the end denies it, with the play "'redeeming' itself in the end by betraying our hopes, and earning with this betrayal our slightly anxious admiration" (47).

32Critics have developed some stimulating--albeit sometimes knotty--arguments to contest Greenblatt's vision of containment in the history plays. Kiernan Ryan, for example, points to the persistent confusions of identity in the Henry plays, such as when Hal identifies with Francis, or Falstaff impersonates the king, and argues that they achieve a "razing of hierarchy" and a recognition of "majesty as a rehearsed production" (108-110). For Ryan, "far from enclosing the spectator in an Elizabethan perception of late medieval England, the Henry IV plays create a prospective climate of understanding, which invalidates the hierarchical terms in which the problems of the protagonist are posed and solved, even as it concedes the factual force and historical triumph of subjugation" (121). David Scott Kastan highlights the contradictions, diversity and liminality of the Elizabethan theatre as factors which preclude it from becoming a vehicle for the reproduction of royal authority (135). For Kastan, "Falstaff's lack of decency and discretion is the sign of the play's resistance to the totalizations of power, massive evidence of the heterogeneity that will not be made one" (136).

33Female characters in Henry IV, Part One have fewer lines than in any of Shakespeare's English history plays (Howard and Rackin 23), so it is not surprising that the play has received relatively scant attention from feminist criticism. Even so, feminist and gender-based readings of the play have revealed interesting dimensions of the text. Jean Howard and Phyllis Rackin's study, Engendering a Nation: A Feminist Account of Shakespeare's English Histories, is a pioneering work in this regard, exploring some of the ways in which masculine authority is set against the subversive feminized spaces of Wales and the tavern. According to Howard and Rackin, Westmorland's reference to the atrocities committed by Welsh women on English corpses in 1.1 introduces an unspeakable threat of castration which "returns and proliferates throughout the play" (169). Lady Mortimer, Kate, and the effeminacy of Falstaff are all figured as emasculating threats to masculine action.

34The representation of the Welsh in Henry IV, Part One has been an ongoing theme in recent accounts of the play (notably Highley 1990, Lloyd 2002, and Hopkins 2004 and 2005), so, too, the play's many references to Protestant and Catholic beliefs and practices (including Hunt 1998, Tiffany 1998, and Caldwell 2007). These approaches reflect a general interest in Shakespeare's representation of various categories of difference--including regional, religious, and gendered--and in the way the history plays engage with notions of nationhood and patriotism.

35Performance histories have added an extra dimension to our understanding of the potential political resonance of the play. Scott McMillan's study of twentieth-century history cycles demonstrates the extent to which twentieth-century British theatre institutions had become "accustomed to taking the Henrys as curtain-raisers for occasions of wealth and power" (86), and Robert Shaughnessy's Representing Shakespeare: England, History and the RSC explores the ideological contexts of key RSC productions. It is now also common for critics to use performance history materials to illuminate specific moments in the text, as in Barbara Hodgdon's analysis of the ending of Henry IV, Part One in The End Crowns All: Closure and Contradiction in Shakespeare's History, and, more recently, in Robert Shaughnessy's consideration of the implications of Hal's "I do, I will" with reference to J. L. Austin's theory of the performative in language (2008).

36Over recent decades critics have continued to build on our appreciation of the formal properties of Henry IV, Part One: its balancing and contrasting of characters from different social worlds, its exploration of father-son relationships, its biblical references, its complex melding of images related to time, economic contracts, feasting and fasting, coins and counterfeiting and references to swearing and forswearing, and to verbal and physical combat. The sheer volume of critical work on the play testifies to its complexity and enduring popularity as a literary text, and helps to explain its resilience and mutability on stage.

37Works cited

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