Internet Shakespeare Editions

Author: James D. Mardock
Peer Reviewed

Henry V: Textual Introduction


1Two texts, two versions

Shakespeare's plays have been in a process of evolution since their composition, and no text of Henry V -- neither the earliest printed texts nor a modern edition -- can ever be considered to represent a moment of textual perfection. "Unfortunately," writes Andrew Gurr, one of the play's more recent editors, "with the technology of the printed book, editions have to pretend that there is such a moment. It is like using a single snapshot to represent a lifetime. The text exists like a freeze-frame from a moving picture, pretending fixity while in reality it offers only one moment in the process" (Gurr 1992, 64). Editors working with the medium of print have had to contend with this realization, and their solution, for the most part, has been to present the most perfect freeze-frame possible. For most of the twentieth century, following the rationale of the "New Bibliography" pioneered by W. W. Greg and R. B. McKerrow, editors considered the perfect textual moment in a play's evolution to be its conception in the author's mind before the chaos of errors crept in from scribal transmission, performance, and printing; the editor's goal was to approximate Shakespeare's first intentions. The Oxford Shakespeare project of the 1980s began to reposition the perfect moment later in the process, acknowledging that Shakespeare worked collaboratively with other players. The goal of the Oxford editors became the reproduction of the playing script of the first performance, the texts as read and heard in the playhouse during Shakespeare's lifetime. Despite this shift in focus, however, the reproduction of some perfect moment has remained the admittedly impossible goal for a modern edition, and an erasure of the idea of the plays as evolving texts has accompanied that goal.

2With the Internet Shakespeare Editions, we have scope to match our editorial assumptions and practices to the evolutionary process. The ISE strives toward the goal, not of a definitive, authoritative play text, but of the "postmodern edition" as defined by Leah Marcus: presenting plural texts that reject "totalizations of all kinds" (Marcus 128). It provides edited texts alongside facsimiles of the original printed documents and searchable diplomatic transcripts of those documents, available for comparison at a mouse click. We are in a position to present the reader with a more dynamic picture than a "freeze frame" of a play's development: a slide show at least, if not a film. To that end, this edition presents fully-annotated texts of both early printed versions of Henry V -- the version printed in the small quarto format in 1600 and the posthumously-published version that appeared in the First Folio of the plays in 1623 -- as authoritative texts of Shakespeare's play. What follows is a discussion of the relationship between the texts, and this edition's treatment of the peculiarities of each.

3An entry in the register of the London Stationers' Company, dated 4 August 1600, may provide the earliest surviving evidence of a text of Shakespeare's Henry V. The register item is a "staying entry" -- that is, a claim of ownership designed to prevent unauthorized publication -- for four plays, referred to as "As yow like yt," "Euery man in his Humor," "The co~medie of muche / A doo about nothinge," and "Henrie the ffift." (Greg, Stationers' Records 15). If the staying entry does refer to the play that we know as Shakespeare's Henry V, then it failed to prevent the play's publication: only ten days later, when another Stationers' Register entry transfers the copyright of Henry V to Thomas Pavier (who would publish two later texts of the play), the play is referred to as having been "formerlye printed" (Stationers' Records 16). Some version of a play about Henry V, probably Shakespeare's, had been printed in the intervening time, and may already have been in press when the staying entry was recorded.

4The staying entry, together with the fact that this first-printed text is roughly half the length of the more familiar version printed in the 1623 Folio, was seen until recently to lend it an air of inauthenticity, and the 1600 text has long been considered to be one of what A. W. Pollard called the "bad quartos" (Pollard 1909; See also Pollard and Wilson 1919), corrupt texts published without the permission of Shakespeare and his company and degraded by the publishers of the First Folio as "stolne and surreptitious copies." The Stationers' Register evidence need not be seen as an indication that the First Quarto was published illicitly, however. Indeed, since the Register often lists plays and other books by titles other than those that have become familiar to us today, this entry may not even refer to the play we know as Henry V. Peter Blayney and Lukas Erne have argued that it is just as likely to refer to Shakespeare's 2 Henry IV, which ends with the coronation of Henry V and was also in the possession of Shakespeare's playing company (Erne 103n.; see also Knutson). If it does refer to Henry V, the 4 August entry, rather than standing as a mark of inauthenticity upon the earlier text, likely represents the Lord Chamberlain's Men's knowledge of its printing, and an attempt to ensure that they were compensated for the use of their popular property (see Knowles 353-64).

5The 1600 version of the play was printed in the small, affordable quarto format, so named for the fact that a standard sheet of paper was folded into quarters and thus made into eight leaves of the book. Referred to by modern scholars simply as Q (or Q1, since two more quartos would be produced in 1602 and 1619), the First Quarto was produced by the printer Thomas Creede for the booksellers Thomas Millington and John Busby, under the title The Cronicle History of Henry the fift, With his battell fought at Agin Court in France. Togither with Auntient Pistoll. Its text is fairly well printed, but riddled with apparent errors, as well as many discrepant, but not necessarily erroneous readings that appear only in comparison with the Folio text. It consists of 1717 lines, printed entirely as verse.

6The version of Henry V printed in the First Folio (F) -- published by Isaac Jaggard and Edward Blount with the approval and help of Shakespeare's fellow actors -- is nearly twice as long at 3381 lines, and printed, like most of the plays in the Folio, as a combination of verse and prose. It appears as the fifth play in the "Histories," which are arranged in the Folio chronologically by subject. Printed on twenty-seven pages, or thirteen leaves plus the recto of a fourteenth, the play takes up two full "quires" of three bi-folded, nested sheets (quires h and i), as well as the first three pages of quire k. Although the Folio text of Henry V does contain a number of obvious errors, the type for the play appears to have been set comparatively competently; the majority of its pages (22) were set by the experienced compositor in Jaggard's printing house whom Charlton Hinman designated Compositor A, and the remaining five by the apprentice known as Compositor B, working alongside A (see Blayney xxxii-xxxvii).

7Grouped as it once was with the other "bad" quartos, Q Henry V was for many years bound to a rather derogatory narrative of piracy, unauthorized memorial reconstruction, and the hatchet surgery supposed to be attendant on and necessary for provincial touring. Although the stigma dies hard, this narrative was complicated or discarded for the most part after 1979 when Gary Taylor found in Q the signs of deliberate adaptation of an earlier text that served as the basis for F, rather than corruption. Taylor asserted in those essays that "Q represents an accurate text of a different version of the play" -- a "deliberately adapted version" (Three Studies 125) -- and made the case for redefining authority away from the author's first thoughts. But when he came to edit the play for Oxford in 1982, he considered Q primarily a historical document having little to do with Shakespearean authority, arguing that "the bulk of the readings in which it differs from F have no claim whatsoever on our attentions" (Taylor 1982, 23). My edition was carried out in the belief that if the variant text of Q reflects not corruption of an authoritative ideal text -- whether by pirates, players, or printers, whether from lack of skill or of scruples -- but rather deliberate adaptation, then whether it came from Shakespeare himself or not, such adaptation has given us two authoritative witnesses to the evolving text of the play.

8Since nearly every edition of the play is based upon the Folio text, readers of the Quarto version will find that it omits many of the scenes and speeches with which they are most familiar; among the most obvious are the omissions of all the Chorus's speeches and Henry's "Once more unto the breach" speech before Harfleur (3.1, TLN 1083-1117). The Quarto version opens not with two bishops plotting in private, but with the public council scene (1.2 in the Folio) that culminates in the gift of tennis balls. The squabble between Fluellen and the Irish captain (TLN 1183-1258) does not appear in Q, nor does the scene of the French preparing on the morning of Agincourt (4.2, TLN 2165-2236. The Quarto version's list of speaking roles is also smaller than F's. The work requiring two English bishops (Canterbury and Ely) in F is done by only one untitled bishop in Q. The Duke of Bedford is listed in entrance directions but given no lines, and the characters of Jamy, Macmorris, Westmorland, Erpingham, the English Herald, and the French Queen do not appear at all.

9Of the material appearing in F but omitted in Q, the six speeches of the Chorus are perhaps the most glaring. The Chorus is integral to the experience of the play for many readers and audiences. His role as intermediary between the history and the contemporary audience, constantly enjoining us to "entertain conjecture of a time" that both is and is not "Now" (TLN 1790) has been central to critical treatments of the play, and his apologies for the limits of stage representation has been no less central to our picture of Shakespearean dramaturgy. The references in the fifth chorus speech to current hopes for the return of the Earl of Essex from Ireland are the primary evidence on which the dating of the play's composition rests (see TLN 2880-81 n.). What, then, are we to make of the omission of the Chorus in Q? A Chorus-less Henry V is quite different in tone, which might suggest a revision designed to alter the play's political arguments, but the omission admits of other explanations. As Tiffany Stern has shown, prologues and epilogues were considered by Shakespeare and his contemporaries to be temporary features of plays, sometimes performed only once, at a play's opening, in order to appeal to a first-day audience that had the power to make or break a play's popularity and to vote with their applause for or against repeat performances (Stern, "Small-Beer Health" 172-73). The prologue's entreaty for the audience "Gently to hear, kindly to judge our play" (TLN 35) is an appeal typical of dramatic prologues, as "In your fair minds let this acceptance take" (TLN 3381) is the typical stuff of epilogues. The internal Choruses that precede each act add little if any information crucial to the understanding of the play: the introduction and naming of the traitors in 2.0 is repeated at the beginning of 2.2, and although readers familiar with F will surely miss the brilliance of the description of the camps in the night before Agincourt, the important information is all repeated by characters in the following scenes: the closeness of the camp; the French gambling for English prisoners; the weariness of the English soldiers, and Henry's attempts to cheer them. These speeches are clearly intended for a critically astute audience -- whose stomachs might be offended by a play (TLN 502) -- in a permanent playhouse (TLN 498), specifically a "Wooden O" (TLN 14) -- and if not for a specifically London-based audience, then one familiar enough with the environs to picture the city's geographical relation to Blackheath (TLN 2866). Thus the Folio's inclusion of the choric speeches, as Stern suggests (174), may well reflect its provenance as the script for Henry V's first performance, with the assumption that the speeches were disposable and would not be performed later, especially if the play was performed on tour in a variety of non-playhouse venues.

10The material appearing in only in Q is extremely limited. Unlike the first (so-called "bad") quarto of Hamlet, Q1 Henry V contains no full scenes that do not appear in Folio, though it does bear sole witness to several short speeches. Because of their brevity and relative lack of important content, these have sometimes been explained as interpolations by the actors; the majority of such brief speeches come from the more "comic" characters, which may indicate improvisation for laughs. In the Quarto version, for instance, Pistol admonishes his new wife at their leave-taking not with "Keep close, I thee command" (TLN 882-83), but with the bawdier "Keep fast thy buggle boe." At the siege of Harfleur in Q, Nym offers a sardonic comment on the justification for the death toll: "'Tis honor, and there's the humor of it" (TLN 1126.1), which may recall Falstaff's soliloquy on honor at the battle of Shrewsbury in 1 Henry IV. After the order to kill the French prisoners at Agincourt, Q has Pistol repeat his favorite pidgin-French threat, "Couple gorge" (TLN 2522.1), perhaps an indication that he cuts his captured French soldier's throat onstage. Only Q contains Pistol giving the fig to Flewellen a third time -- "the fig within thy bowels and thy dirty maw" (TLN 1507.1) -- and only Q records Flewellen's wonderfully dismissive response: "Captain Gower, cannot you hear it lighten and thunder?" (TLN 1507.3). The traditional editorial response to actorly interpolation and improvisation has been to denigrate it, perhaps internalizing Hamlet's complaint that clownish riffing is "villainous" (TLN 1891). But even if it were provable that these lines in Q record the additions of the players, such a provenance need not be seen as lacking authority; Shakespearean play texts evolved freely in the hands of the colleagues for whom he wrote them.

11The Quarto transposes the order of lines at several points, and even that of scenes. In some cases, such as the different order of lines in Henry's "Crispin's Day" speech, the differences between Q and F appear more or less inconsequential, but in other cases they produce markedly different effects. The Folio version of the play, for example, has two scenes (3.7 and 4.2) set among the French lords at Agincourt; the Quarto omits the latter, but transposes a version of its final couplet -- "Come, come away. / The sun is high and we outwear the day" (TLN 2235-36) -- to the end of the former scene, replacing a couplet that declares the time to be two in the morning. To T. W. Craik, this is a sign of faulty memorial reconstruction of the Quarto scene, since only thirty-seven Quarto lines earlier we are told that it is not yet morning (TLN 1706), and in the following scene it is still night in the English camp. Whoever was cobbling together the scene from memory, Craik argues, simply "found the wrong couplet easier to remember than the right one" (Craik 23). Perhaps, but the differences in the Quarto seem rather deliberate, and arguably more believable: it consistently omits the references to specific hours in the Folio version ("midnight" at TLN 1715, "two o'clock" at TLN 1786, "the third hour of drowsy morning" at TLN 1805) that draw attention to the artificiality of dramatic time compression more starkly than the Quarto's move from night to day. Ending the only pre-battle French scenes with the "come away" couplet artfully maintains the urgency of the longer version and dramatically increases the miraculousness of the battle by heightening the contrast between the French overconfidence and their shame: the next time we see these lords in the Quarto, they have already lost the battle.

12On the subject of French bluster before Agincourt: one of most striking differences between the Q and F texts is the identity of the boastful lord who composes a sonnet to his horse and becomes the butt of the constable's mockery (TLN 1624-1715). In the Quarto text, this character is the Duke of Bourbon, but in the Folio text, it is the dauphin himself. Historically, the dauphin did not fight at Agincourt, a fact that Shakespeare knew from both his chronicle and dramatic sources. Indeed, in Shakespeare's play, the French king forbids his son to accompany the army that confronts the English (see TLN 1444 n.). The Q version, in which the dauphin disappears after scene 8, is more historically accurate and internally consistent; Gary Taylor argues that it represents a later authorial revision, and his otherwise Folio-based edition accordingly replaces the dauphin with Bourbon. But the choice to bring the dauphin to Agincourt in F produces a satisfying dramatic balance, as the sender of the tennis balls gets the battlefield comeuppance that Henry seems to promise in 1.2 and Exeter in 2.4; to my knowledge, no modern production of the play has passed up the chance to give the dauphin his due by deleting him from Agincourt in the name of historical accuracy.

13These textual differences have been primarily discussed as evidence for the dating, priority, relationship, and relative authority of the 1600 and 1623 documents, and I will treat these issues below. First, however, I want to think about what they tell us about the plays as plays, or rather as two distinct records of Shakespeare's play as performed at different times and in different venues, producing two distinct groups of arguments about the historical events they represent.

14The Chorus speeches may not add much information, but they do add a tone; as discussed above, the Folio's most insistent declarations of the nobility of the English military enterprise are to be found in the Chorus's introductions to each act, but these idealizing representational lines are often at odds with the presentational picture of Henry and his war found in the subsequent scenes. Without the Chorus, the Quarto version of the play avoids these jarring juxtapositions. As Annabel Patterson has argued, although it lacks many of the most stridently pro-Henry lines, the Quarto's version of the play comes across as paradoxically more sympathetic to the king because it lacks the ironizing potential of this mismatch between celebratory remembrance and personated history ("Two Versions" 39).

15Similarly, the fact that the Quarto version begins with the bishop's justification for war without the additional opening scene in the Folio showing that justification in the cynical light of episcopal politics presents a less troublesome version of Henry's actions. The omission of Jamy and Macmorris may be due to casting difficulties or, as Taylor has suggested, to fears of the Scottish king's disapproval (Three Studies 85), but it also has the effect of omitting the internecine squabbles that plague the British officers in the Folio. In the Quarto text, Henry ends the scene with his soldiers with a joke, rather than with a soliloquized complaint about his subjects' ingratitude. The horrors of war that he promises to visit on Harfleur (TLN 1260-1302) are substantially lessened by the Quarto's shorter version of the scene; threats of rape and infanticide are notably missing, as are, at the scene's end, his confession of his army's sickness and his plans to retreat. Taylor sees these omissions as "deliberate and coherent. . . in the interests of simplifying the play into patriotism" (Three Studies 130).

16But Q1 Henry V hardly presents a simple or unambiguously patriotic portrait of its subject; many of the morally questionable aspects of Henry's character and actions appear in both versions. The anonymous Famous Victories, Shakespeare's source for the structural outline of Henry V, shows what a bluffly jingoistic dramatization of Henry's war he could have produced. It takes the siege of Harfleur offstage, entirely omits both the Southampton treason and the killing of the prisoners, and in avoiding all mention of the English retreat to Calais, gives the impression that the Agincourt campaign was nothing but one unstoppable march to victory. Indeed, the more patriotic productions of Shakespeare's play that have cut these more distressing elements might have taken the smoothed-over plot of Famous Victories as a model. The Quarto of Shakespeare's play, like the Folio, portrays a king who turns the responsibility for Harfleur's fate on French heads, a king whose security is threatened by treason, who picks fights with his soldiers while in disguise, and who, in his subjects' eyes, bears the responsibility for Falstaff's death. Shakespeare -- or any other agents involved in producing the Quarto version of his play -- could easily have removed the more questionable aspects of Henry's character with more strategic cutting, but they did not. Evidently the ambiguity of the portrait was seen as a central and desirable aspect of Shakespeare's dramatization of history.

17If it does not offer a markedly more positive view of Henry, Q does give a subtly different view of the English collectively; in the shorter play they present a more unified front, and not only because Q omits the scene of the squabbling captains. In the Folio version, Henry's rhetoric preserves a careful distinction between the nobility and the commons in his army. In the rallying speech before Harfleur, the king addresses the "noble English" (TLN 1100) separately from the "good yeomen" (TLN 1108) exhorting the former to "be copy now to men of grosser blood / And teach them how to war" (TLN 1107-8). Henry may say he sees the noble luster in the men's hearts, but in the same sentence he reminds them of their low-born baseness (TLN 1112-13). In both texts, the rhetoric of the "Crispin's day" speech conjures the equality of the field, claiming that anyone who fights at Agincourt, "be he ne'er so vile, / This day shall gentle his condition" (TLN 2305-6). After the battle, however, when the Folio text sees Henry listing the English dead, he specifically enumerates only the four slain noblemen and "None else of name" (TLN 2824), proving as stalwart in his preservation of class distinction as Montjoy, in his distress at the heaps of French casualties mixing vulgar and princely blood. All these instances are absent from the Quarto, with the result that the brotherhood Henry offers his men in that version of the play is never ironized or undercut.

18The strikingly different appearance of the two printed texts on the page furthers the more egalitarian sense of the Quarto. The Folio text firmly demarcates between prose and verse lines. With a few exceptions -- notably, Henry speaks in prose while disguised among the soldiers, and shifts from verse to prose during his artfully plainspoken wooing of the princess -- common folk in the Folio version of the play speak in prose and nobility in meter, reifying class structure in the rhythms of characters' speech. Thus Henry's band-of-brothers rhetoric is undercut by the fact that he is visually and aurally not of his underlings' ilk. The Quarto, on the other hand, is set as if every line were verse, with ragged right justification and consistent first-letter capitalization. Though much of the lineation is faulty and indeed speeches F prints as prose do not always become verse, exactly, there is a thoroughgoing attempt to make everyone's speeches look the same. Moreover, even aside from the speeches of Pistol, whose prose rhythms echo the bombast of Marlovian dramatic verse as a character trait, lines that appear as prose in the Folio approach the rhythm of the verse in which they are set in the Quarto. In the 1623 text, Williams's speech at TLN 1982-86 is not just printed as prose, but distinctly non-metrical:

Williams. But if the Cause be not good, the King him-
selfe hath a heauie Reckoning to make, when all those
Legges, and Armes, and Heads, chopt off in a Battaile,
shall ioyne together at the latter day, and cry all, Wee dy-
ed at such a place

The corresponding lines in the Quarto, while not strictly regular, seem adjusted toward the iambic:

But the king hath a heauy reckoning to make,
If his cause be not good: when all those soules
Whose bodies shall be slaughtered here,
Shall ioyne together at the latter day,
And say I dyed at such a place.

The setting of the Quarto entirely in verse may simply be the result of printing-house expedience, but in comparison with a more familiar version of the play that keeps its classes segregated by speech, it does have potential political implications. Alfred Hart found the universality of the apparent verse to be troubling -- "King, queen, cardinal, duchess, peer, soldier, lover, courtier, artisan, peasant, servant and child all speak alike" (104) -- and perhaps class bias fed into his reading of Q as "illiterate." But we might just as easily see it as an attempt in Q to render the English as the more unified community that the Folio's choruses promise, but that the Folio play does not quite deliver.

19The pattern is compounded by the two versions' different use of first-person pronouns. In both texts, King Henry's public speeches frequently use the royal "we" that links him as "Harry England" to the nation: "We are no tyrant," etc. In the Folio, he occasionally makes what seem like strategic shifts to "I" to clarify that he speaks for himself as a man. In Q, Henry rarely calls himself "I" in public, and his use of the "we" is not always as clearly marked as the royal pronoun. In the first lines of the Quarto play, for example, the king postpones the admission of the French ambassador "till we be resolved / Of some serious matters touching us and France." (Q TLN 149-51). The pronouns might refer to himself or to his council. In F the volitional verb and the specification of "our thoughts" make clear that Henry speaks only of himself: "We would be resolved, / Before we hear him, of some things of weight / That task our thoughts concerning us and France" (F TLN 149-51). Similarly ambiguous is Henry's "May we with right and conscience make this claim?" (Q TLN 243), a line where F's Henry uses "I." When responding to the dauphin's mock in F, Henry shifts mid-speech from a clearly royal plural to singular. In Q, the shift is rather from a royal to a collective we, with nine pronouns in twenty lines differing from the Folio; in the Quarto, the English claim France; the English are coming on to venge them as they may. When Montjoy announces himself with "You know me by my habit" (TLN 1563), the Folio Henry engages him in a man-to-man conversation: "Well then, I know thee. What shall I know of thee?" (F TLN 1564). The Quarto Henry, by using "we" instead, seems to force the French herald to include the troops as well, and later jeers that "We" -- not "I" -- "know thy quality" (Q TLN 1587). The pattern is not even confined to Henry; the Quarto version of Exeter also substitutes "we" for the Folio's "I" (TLN 1006). As a duke before a king, Exeter has no right to use the royal plural; his line in Quarto suggests that his embassage comes from the English as a whole. The textual differences in the Quarto play set up a thorough pattern of collectivizing the English endeavors.