Internet Shakespeare Editions

Author: Rosemary Gaby
Peer Reviewed

Henry IV, Part 1: Performance History

1Early performances

Controversial Beginnings

There is clear evidence of the early popularity of Henry IV, Part One, but the details of its first performances remain shrouded in mystery. It was produced at a time when the affairs of Shakespeare's company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, were particularly unsettled. By the mid-1590s Shakespeare and the Chamberlain's Men were becoming very successful and prosperous. Shakespeare bought his family a coat of arms in 1596 and the second largest house in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1597. In the winter of 1596-7 his company trumped their rivals, the Admiral's Men, by being given all the season's command performances at court. The famous Globe theatre was as yet unbuilt, however, and the company lacked a secure base. Their lease on "The Theatre" at Shoreditch expired on April 13th 1597, and, because of disputes with the puritan owner, they had little hope of renewal. Plans to move into the newly-converted indoor theatre in the inner-city precinct of Blackfriars had been scuttled by a petition against them from local residents in November 1596. To make matters worse, between July and October 1597, all the theatres in London were closed down by order of the Privy Council in response to the uproar over an allegedly seditious play, The Isle of Dogs by Ben Jonson and Thomas Nashe. Shakespeare's company was permitted to tour at this time, but its future direction was uncertain (Thomson 3-18).

2 Henry IV, Part One was first staged in the midst of these difficulties. It might have been put on at "The Theatre" before the company was evicted, or nearby at "The Curtain," another venue often used at this time. It would almost certainly have been played at court during the winter of 1597-8 (possibly even earlier) and it was probably in the company's repertoire when they went on tour in 1597. Like other plays of the period, Henry IV had to adapt to many different environments and conditions.

3What we do know about the play's early history is mostly associated with the fuss created by Shakespeare's original name for Falstaff, Sir John Oldcastle. Shakespeare took up the name from The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth where Oldcastle is one of the prince's roistering companions, but a relatively undeveloped minor character. The prince of The Famous Victories is much wilder than Shakespeare's Prince Hal, wholly committed to drinking, swearing, robbing, and wenching. In Henry IV these characteristics were transferred to Sir John.

4The vivid characterization of the fat knight apparently offended the descendants of the real Sir John Oldcastle and those who thought of the historical figure as a Protestant martyr, even though the historical Oldcastle had little in common with Shakespeare's comic creation. One particularly powerful descendant was Sir William Brooke, the seventh Lord Cobham. He was Lord Chamberlain from August 1596 until his death in March 1597 and in this capacity was responsible for Shakespeare's company and for the business of licensing plays. Cobham seems to have been a relatively unsympathetic patron. Known for his puritanical leanings, he was a resident of Blackfriars, responsible for preserving order in the district at the same time that the Lord Chamberlain's Men were looking to open their Blackfriars theatre (Gildersleeve 184). Some ill-feeling may well have been in the air in 1596 over the Blackfriars issue. We do not know whether Shakespeare intended any offence or what sort of pressure was exerted in response, but we do know that the name Oldcastle was changed to Falstaff (a name previously used in Henry VI) before the play was printed in 1598. Traces of the name Oldcastle can be found in the text of Henry IV, Part One and in Part Two, and at the end of Part Two the epilogue presents a disclaimer:

5. . . if you be not too much cloyed with fat meat, our humble author will continue the story with Sir John in it, and make you merry with fair Katherine of France; where, for anything 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. (Epilogue TLN 3344-3348)

6The disclaimer may have been needed to quench an on-going scandal: letters show that the plump eighth Lord Cobham, Henry Brooke, was now nicknamed "Falstaff." The Lord Chamberlain's Men were obviously wary of causing further offence. In The Merry Wives of Windsor, the name Brooke, assumed by a comically jealous character, was altered to "Broome." The names "Harvey" and "Russell" in Henry IV, Part One were also changed to "Peto" and "Bardolph" (spelt "Bardoll" in the 1598 quarto), presumably to avoid further offence to prominent families. Interestingly the Dowager Lady Russell was a leading campaigner against the proposed Blackfriars Theatre in November 1596 (Wells, Taylor, Jowett, and Montgomery 331). Despite all this controversy, however, no documents have as yet turned up to tell us exactly when, where or how Henry IV, Part One was presented to its first Elizabethan audience.

7The King's Men

In 1603 James VI of Scotland became James I of England and the Lord Chamberlain's Men became the King's Men. Shakespeare's company now enjoyed the prestige of royal patronage and continued to build upon its success. From 1608 it was able to draw audiences to the relative comfort of an indoor theatre, the Blackfriars, during the winter, as well as to the Globe during the summer months. Consistent records of performances in these venues are not available, but requests for performances of Henry IV at court attest to its continuing popularity within the company's repertoire.

8Falstaff contributed greatly to the play's success. When the play was commissioned for performance on New Year's Night in 1625, it was entitled The First Part of Sir John Falstaff. Such references reflect a common practice of nicknaming plays after their most popular or prominent character. In the case of Henry IV the records are complicated by the fact that Falstaff appears in more than one play, and the situation is made even more difficult by the existence of a rival play belonging to the Lord Admiral's Men, called Sir John Oldcastle, which portrayed Sir John as a hero. In the 1630s the King's Men were twice requested to perform a play entitled Oldcastle. It seems likely that this was Henry IV, Part One but the title represents several possibilities.

9That Henry IV was subject to substantial alteration early in its life is illustrated by the "Dering manuscript," a copy of the play in which parts one and two are combined into a single script of 3401 lines. The abridged text belonged to the library of Sir Edward Dering, and may have been performed in his home around 1623. After 1606 the play was also subjected to the censorship of a parliamentary act which banned the use on stage of profane oaths like "zounds" (an abbreviation of "by God's wounds") or "sblood" (God's blood). Considering Hotspur's preference for a "good mouth-filling oath" and Falstaff's habitual blasphemy, the change to milder oaths must have made the play seem much less gritty to contemporary audiences.

10Parliament's puritan antipathy towards all things theatrical was to have a more devastating impact when the English civil war broke out. In 1642 Parliament banned the performance of stage plays altogether. The theatres were closed and officially Henry IV, Part One was not performed again until the monarchy was restored and the theatres reopened in 1660. Theatrical activities continued underground during this period, of course, and it is a measure of Falstaff's popularity that some of his scenes from Henry IV were part of the underground repertoire. Favorite comic scenes from popular plays were staged as "drolls" by the actor Robert Cox and these were published in a collection called The Wits in 1662 after the laws were relaxed. The Falstaff piece, "The Bouncing Knight, or the Robbers Robbed," was placed first in the volume.

11The Restoration and eighteenth century

When the theatres reopened in 1660 Henry IV, Part One was an obvious choice for revival. It was performed very early on by a renegade group of actors at one of the old theatres, the Red Bull, Clerkenwell. This group became the King's Company under the leadership of Thomas Killigrew in August 1660. Killigrew managed to secure from the king one of only two patents to operate a London-based theatre company. He and the other patent-holder Sir William Davenant divided up the old repertoire between them. Killigrew seems to have been much less interested in Shakespeare's plays than Davenant, but along with Julius Caesar, Othello, The Merry Wives of Windsor and one or two other plays, he did retain Henry IV, Part One.

12 Henry IV was an important asset for the King's Company and was the play chosen to open their new theatre at the converted Gibbon's tennis court in Vere street on new year's eve 1660. Samuel Pepys, whose diaries provide an invaluable theatre-goer's perspective on the theatre of this time, was disappointed with this performance, possibly, he claims (like many modern film-goers), because he expected too much after having read the book. This did not stop him seeing the play another three times in 1661, 1667, and 1668. Later performances seem to have pleased him more; he particularly liked William Cartwright's delivery of Falstaff's "Honor" speech in November 1667.

13The most celebrated actor to appear in Henry IV before the end of the seventeenth century was Sir Thomas Betterton. He first played Hotspur, but later in his career took over the role of Falstaff. A letter dated Jan. 28, 1699-1700 claimed:

14The wits of all qualities have lately entertained themselves with a revived humour of Sir John Falstaff in Henry the Fourth, which has drawn all the town, more than any new play that has been produced of late; which shows that Shakespeare's wit will always last: and the critics allow that Mr. Betterton has hit the humour of Falstaff better than any that have aimed at it before (Salgado 65).

15This letter documents the beginning of the process whereby Shakespeare's plays came to be regarded as "classics" which "will always last." Betterton's skillful delivery of Falstaff's "humour" contributed enormously to the pre-eminence Shakespeare's plays achieved in the new century. His focus was very much upon the effective presentation of character, and it seems that this was the main concern of all subsequent eighteenth-century productions of the play. Audiences came to see a humorous Falstaff or a fiery Hotspur; the play became more a story about interesting individuals than the story of a nation.

16Pictures of eighteenth-century performances attest to this focus on personalities. There was little attempt at historical accuracy and characters mostly wore the fashions of the day. It seems odd now to contemplate a Hal or Hotspur in elaborate eighteenth-century wigs and buckled shoes, but this was all quite normal for the time. Falstaff, of course, was an exception, developing his own particular look. His high, floppy boots (useful for disguising thin legs), old-fashioned jerkin with points, feathered hat and big gloves became a trade-mark. It is an image which has resisted change through most of the play's history.

17The acting script of Henry IV suffered much less interference from seventeenth and eighteenth-century actor-managers than most other Shakespearean texts. Killigrew was less inclined to rewrite Shakespeare's plays than Davenant, and the first printed acting version of the play based on Betterton's Lincoln's Inn Fields production in 1700, presents a text which is probably quite close to that used on Shakespearean stages. As in nearly all acting scripts there are significant cuts, however, aimed at a more streamlined production. Strangely, for a period in which women were finally allowed to act, is was the female roles which suffered most. Kate's lines were heavily cut and Lady Mortimer disappeared altogether along with most of 3.1. Other cuts included all of the scene with the Archbishop of York (4.4) and many of the play's longer speeches (Odell 1:84). Betterton's version of the play seems to have set a precedent; later attempts to abridge the text followed similar lines.

18 Henry IV, Part One remained popular throughout the eighteenth century and also created some demand for Henry IV, Part Two (a substantially altered Part Two was first produced by Thomas Betterton around 1701). In both plays Falstaff was the major drawcard and a succession of actors stamped their mark upon the role, including the burly James Quin and the more "frolicsome, gay, and humorous" John Henderson (Salgado 177). As British theatre came to be more and more dominated by powerful actor-managers, however, Falstaff's popularity did not always work to the play's advantage. Henry IV, Part One could not provide a strong enough starring role for actor-managers unsuited to the part of Falstaff. The great actor-manager David Garrick staged it only once, playing Hotspur opposite James Quin's Falstaff in 1746. Apart from proving a humorously easy weight for Falstaff to lug off-stage in 5.4, his rendition did not meet with much acclaim. He did not have the physical presence of a great warrior, and clearly his "laced frock" and Ramellies wig did little to help overcome this deficiency.

19By the end of the eighteenth century Henry IV was also appearing on stages far from its London home. It was the first Shakespeare play performed in Australia, staged by a company drawn together by an ex-convict, Robert Sidaway, at "the Theatre," Sydney, on April the 8th, 1800. The play was performed for an audience consisting largely of military personnel and the players were solemnly instructed not to present "the slightest impropriety." Shakespeare's play was followed by a new dance called "The Drunken Swiss" and an afterpiece entitled "The Irish Widow," both of which must have given the company's leading lady, Mrs Parry, a bit more exposure than was to be had from the relatively small part of Lady Percy. Unfortunately there are no surviving reviews to report on how the production was received.

20Many reviewers of early nineteenth-century productions of Henry IV, Part One in England are critical of the performances they saw. Stephen Kemble, nicknamed "the big Kemble" to distinguish him from his more famous brothers, was able to play an obese Falstaff in 1802 without padding, but for one commentator at least "the effect was more painful than amusing." His older brother, John, delivered Hotspur's lines in 1817 with "almost torturing slowness" broken by occasional sudden changes of tempo for dramatic effect. William Macready (himself a notable Hotspur and Henry IV) had high hopes for Robert Elliston's last Falstaff in 1826, but had to conclude that "the character was left, as it has been since the days of Quin and Henderson, without an adequate representative" (Salgado 179-82).

21Perhaps the English critics were hard to please. The American actor, James Hackett who played Falstaff so many times that he became known in the United States as "Falstaff Hackett," was harshly reviewed for his London performances in 1833 and 1839. The expectations placed on any actor attempting Falstaff were obviously high. Francis Gentleman, the editor of Bell's acting editions of Shakespeare wrote of Henry IV, Part One in 1774:

22the play as it now stands, is free from superfluities, and possesses much strength of character and sentiment; yet we are sorry to say, that the want of ladies, and matter to interest female auditors, lies so heavy on it, that through an excellent Falstaff only, can it enjoy occasional life (Odell 2:41).

23His statement was prophetic: the occasional excellent Falstaff ensured the play's continuing presence on the nineteenth-century stage, but its masculine focus and unsettling mix of comic and serious moods tempered its appeal.

24Nineteenth-century pictorialism

25Since the Restoration period English actors had performed in front of increasingly elaborate scenery. In the eighteenth century, when Quin was playing Falstaff, it was possible for him to rest in the middle of the Shrewsbury battlefield, upon a crimson velvet armchair with gilt claw feet. By 1824, however, matters of costume and scenery were treated much more seriously. Charles Kemble's playbill for King Henry the Fourth at Covent Garden boasted that:

26. . . Every character will appear in the precise HABIT of the Period; the whole of the Dresses being executed from indisputable authorities, viz. Monumental Effigies, Painted Glass, &c (Odell 2:173).

27Charles Kemble was trying to emulate the success of his previous hit-historical revival, King John, but unfortunately all the painstaking research in the world could not redeem the mistake of casting himself in the role of Falstaff. A precedent had been established, however, for the staging of all Shakespearean drama, and histories in particular. From now on audiences expected historically appropriate costuming and elaborate battle scenes. Charles Kemble worried about details like the absurdity of sending Falstaff into battle without correct armor; subsequent productions paid serious attention to such things.

28As the vogue for Shakespearean pageantry took hold in the second half of the nineteenth century, Henry IV, Part One was staged less frequently than other, more ceremonial dramas. Plays like Henry V, King John, and Henry VIII offered more opportunities for spectacular staging, and more challenging scenic possibilities. Like David Garrick in the eighteenth century, the most respected late-nineteenth century actor-manager, Henry Irving, was reluctant to stage Henry IV, Part One. The play did have one important admirer, however: the indefatigable Samuel Phelps. In his 18 years as manager of Sadler's Well's theatre, Phelps mounted nearly all of Shakespeare's plays as well as reviving a number of forgotten plays by Shakespeare's contemporaries. He first played Falstaff in Henry IV, Part One in 1846. His portrayal was very well received and he went on to revive the role hundreds of times in his career.

29One particularly elaborate production in 1864 was staged to celebrate the tercentenary of Shakespeare's birth. Phelps had left Sadler's Wells by this time and had been enlisted by the managers of Drury Lane to help revive the fortunes of the grand old theatre. Henry IV, Part One with Phelps as Falstaff helped enormously. The scenery was particularly impressive. A pictorial replica of the representation of the battle of Shrewsbury was published in the Illustrated London News, accompanied by warm praise:

30The Shrewsbury battlefield was divided by a long ridge, and the numerous combatants, arrayed in bright armor, were concealed under its shelter, until, rising from their ambush, they filled the stage with their glittering figures, all in vivid action and stirring conflict. The brilliant effect ... roused the audience to repeated plaudits. The new scenery ... has been painted by Mr. Beverley, and the whole constitutes the most worthy dramatic effort of the time (Odell 2:361).

31The critics were also pleased to see Lady Mortimer and her song restored to the stage. The only scene still missing from the play was 4.4 at the palace of the Archbishop of York, a scene still usually cut today.

32At the end of the century another elaborate production was mounted by Herbert Beerbohm Tree at the Haymarket Theatre, in May 1896. George Bernard Shaw praised the singing of Marion Evan's Lady Mortimer, but of Tree's performance as Falstaff wrote: "Mr. Tree only wants one thing to make him an excellent Falstaff, and that is to get born over again as unlike himself as possible" (Wilson 119). In the same year, across the Atlantic, a picturesque production of Henry IV, Part One was staged at Palmer's Theatre, New York, with William F. Owen as Falstaff and Julia Marlowe Tabor as Prince Henry. This was not the first time that the play's lack of roles suitable for a leading lady had been overcome by cross-gender casting, but the strategy was not a great success. According to the New York Times:

33The actress carried herself so well through all the banter with Falstaff and the tavern scenes . . . that doubtless susceptible young ladies in the audience felt their hearts beating faster. When it came, though, to Hal's interview with his royal father, and his proclamation of his martial spirit, one felt like exclaiming with Hotspur: "But yet a woman." ("New Theatrical Bills").

34Henry IV, Part One is the kind of play that can showcase the talents of a whole company. It contains strong roles for several actors and encompasses a wide range of dramatic modes. Unsuited in many ways to the nineteenth-century actor-manager system, at the end of the century the play was in dire need of a fresh approach.

35Twentieth-century history "cycles"

The stage history of Henry IV, Part One from the Restoration period to the beginning of the twentieth century is dominated by famous Falstaffs, Hotspurs and elaborate scenery. Even while Beerbohm Tree was still mounting hugely extravagant productions, however, thinking about the staging of Shakespeare's plays was undergoing radical change. Research into Elizabethan performance conditions led to a recognition of the advantages of the simplicity of the Elizabethan stage in terms of immediacy and fluidity of action, and under the influence of men like William Poel and Harley Granville-Barker, it became possible to experiment with simpler staging and to offer fresh readings of the texts. One of the many new possibilities that emerged was the idea of grouping the history plays together; with the staging of history "cycles" instead of individual plays.

36The notion of reading and performing Henry IV, Part One in the context of Shakespeare's other history plays entails a radical shift in perspective. The two parts of Henry IV tell the story of Prince Hal's apprenticeship for the crown and lead on, in Henry V, to the culmination of all this in Hal's triumph as King against the French at Agincourt. Viewed in the context of these other plays Henry IV, Part One becomes more the story of Prince Hal than a play about Falstaff or Hotspur. In his study of Henry IV, Part One in the Shakespeare in Performance Series, Scott McMillin calls this the "one decisive change" to mark the stage history of the play. McMillin notes that although Hal's prominence is only apparent when the plays are viewed together, Shakespeare actually wrote more lines for the prince than for any other character (1-4).

37History cycles have taken many different forms. "Cycle" is borrowed from the medieval "Mystery" play cycles which staged biblical history from the Creation to the Last Judgment. The term implies some sort of circular movement, and perhaps when grouped together the plays do show how often historical struggles repeat themselves. In effect, however, the term is used to refer to the mounting of a number of history plays sequentially, so that audiences can view several related plays in a season, a week, or even a day. The first history cycles were staged in Weimar, Germany by Franz Dingelstedt in 1864. Dingelstedt presented a week-long feast of seven Shakespearean histories, as a celebration of Shakespeare's tercentenary (McMillin 3). His adaptation was revived in Vienna in April 1875. Another cycle of ten history plays was staged by Saladin Schmidt in Bochum, Germany, in 1927 (Kennedy 5).

38In England the concept was slower to arrive. It seems to have originated with one visionary business man, Charles Flower. Flower was the Stratford-upon-Avon brewer who founded the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford in the late 1870s. Impressed by reports of the Meiningen company in Germany, Flower's dream was to establish a permanent, subsidized ensemble company, which would no longer have to rely upon star-performances and box-office appeal. One significant part of this dream was the possibility of experimenting with the staging of little-known Shakespeare plays like the Henry VI trilogy and the mounting of a complete cycle of history plays (Beauman 32-33).

39Frank Benson started to experiment with history cycles at Stratford in the early 1900s, but the exercise caused little stir in its day. The practice of staging the two parts of Henry IV also commenced, firstly with Sir Barry Jackson's 1921 productions for the Birmingham Repertory Company, and then, less successfully with William Bridges-Adams's matinee and evening performances, staged to mark the opening of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford in 1932. It was not until 1951, however, that a Shakespeare company at Stratford had the resources to turn the history cycle into a truly impressive event. After the Second World War two successive artistic directors, Jackson and Anthony Quayle, had turned the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre into a prestigious venue. Stratford's major contribution to the 1951 Festival of Britain was a season of four history plays--Richard II, 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV, and Henry V--staged on a single permanent set with actors carrying through their roles from one play to the next. As T.C. Worsley pointed out, "only an organization such as Stratford has now become would be capable of presenting these four plays in this way" (Wilson and Worsley 31). Anthony Quayle had assembled a large, highly-skilled cast. He played Falstaff himself, Michael Redgrave played both Richard II and Hotspur, Harry Andrews was Henry IV, and Richard Burton--at the time a relatively unknown young Welsh actor--was cast as Hal.

40The project was heavily influenced by post-war theories about the connectedness of Shakespeare's history plays. Each play fed into the next, presenting the interwoven stories of Richard II's deposition and Prince Hal's gradual transformation into Henry V. Anthony Quayle wrote of the project:

41In approaching our tasks the producers--Michael Redgrave, John Kidd and myself, together with our designer Tanya Moiseiwitsch--never doubted but that the plays were written as one great tetralogy . . . . We well knew that each play was strong enough to stand on its own feet, and that economic necessity had for many years forced them to do so; but the more we studied the more we felt that this practice of presenting the plays singly had only resulted in their distortion, and that their full power and meaning only became apparent when treated as a whole (Wilson and Worsley vii).

42This approach had the effect of radically altering general perceptions of Shakespeare's history plays. The project elevated Shakespeare's status as a political writer because it argued the existence of an elaborately planned historical series, and it elevated the status of Prince Hal because he became the central hero of a rediscovered national epic.

43The casting was integral to the over-all conception of the tetralogy and created an important shift of emphasis in Henry IV, Part One. Although Redgrave as Hotspur and Quayle as Falstaff were the acknowledged stars, both were prepared to rein in their performances to allow Richard Burton's Hal to dominate the story. Redgrave's Hotspur was a rough, impetuous Northumbrian, attractive in many respects, but less thoughtful, modest, and ultimately less interesting than Hal. Quayle's Falstaff was also designed to be less attractive than was usual. He seemed less genial, less in tune with Hal, more grotesque and more self-conscious in his role as the prince's jester than before.

44Richard Burton was chosen for Hal because it was thought that he might just have the stage presence and personal magnetism needed to maintain interest in the character across three separate plays. In the event the choice paid off. Burton, an actor whose eyes had "the far-away look of a young man whose inner life may be much more important than his outer," (Wilson and Worsley 47) presented a new prince whose consciousness of his destiny informed every moment. From the beginning his prince was aloof, reserved and never fully part of the Eastcheap world. His "I know you all" speech at the end of 1.2 was delivered with serious intent, and an enduring stage tradition was established in the play-scene of 2.4 where Falstaff's plea "banish not him thy Harry's company--banish plump Jack, and banish all the world" was followed by a momentous pause, before Burton delivered "I do, I will" as a chilling rehearsal for Falstaff's rejection at the end of Part Two. The critics were impressed. Harold Hobson wrote: "Mr. Burton looked like a man who had had a private vision of the Holy Grail ... . Instead of a lighthearted rapscallion Mr. Burton offers a young knight keeping a long vigil in the cathedral of his own mind" and Ivor Brown agreed: "An excellent feature of this production is the emphasis on Prince Hal's sense of destiny. The madcap side of him, sometimes overstressed, is played down: Richard Burton's admirable performance is one of Every-inch-a-King-to-be" (Wilson and Worsley 69).

45The experience of performing history cycles unleashed a huge range of possibilities for Henry IV, Part One at a time when audiences might have suspected the play had nowhere new to go. Just six years before Quayle's production, John Burrell’s production for the Old Vic Company in London had appeared to set an enduring standard. Although presented by a particularly strong cast in repertory with Part Two, this production followed the traditional practice of casting its major stars, Ralph Richardson and Laurence Olivier as Falstaff and Hotspur respectively. By all accounts they completely dominated the play. Richardson's Falstaff was quick-witted, jovial and endearing and Olivier's Hotspur was a dashing hero in tights. Hotspur had frequently been played with a stammer. Olivier hit upon the inspired notion of stammering only on the letter "w," allowing him to end on the gloriously pathetic line: "and food for w —." Ironically this dramatic death was also the last gasp of a long stage tradition. Subsequent Hotspurs were caught up in a more complex story.

Shifting Interpretations

46Since 1951 Henry IV, Part One has been produced on its own and in combination with Part Two by companies all over the world. History cycles, however, require large casts and companies with the resources to commit to a long-term project, so most of these have originated in England. Some spectacular cycles have been staged outside Britain, and in translation, including Leopold Lindtberg's productions of the first and second tetralogies in Vienna in the early 1960s and Ariane Mnouchkine's Kabuki-inspired productions of Richard II and Henry IV, Part One for Théâtre du Soleil in Paris in the 1980s (Mnouchkine initially planned a cycle of six plays but the project was cut short in 1984 by the resignation of her Falstaff, Philippe Hottier). The most frequently discussed and well-documented cycles, nevertheless, have been from British institutions like the RSC and the BBC. The cycle-thinking of these companies has inevitably led to a strong focus on the story of Prince Hal, but there has been very little consistency in the way that story is told. In fact Henry IV is remarkable for the diversity of interpretations its history has attracted on stage and in film. Successive directors have been able to offer contradictory yet plausible re-readings of the politics and relationships explored within the story of the rebellious prince.

47After 1951 the next major history cycle at Stratford-upon-Avon was the 1964 RSC production directed by Peter Hall, John Barton, and Clifford Williams. Once again Henry IV, Part One was staged as part of a centennial celebration of Shakespeare's birth. This time, however, a distinctively grim vision of British history was on display. The year before, Shakespeare's neglected Henry VI plays and Richard III had been adapted into three plays by John Barton and mounted under the title The Wars of the Roses. In 1964 this highly acclaimed cycle was expanded to include Richard II, the two Henry IV plays, and Henry V. It was now possible to see all the history plays dealing with the period from Richard II through to Richard III in succession: a marathon which many people endured enthusiastically. For this production Henry IV, Part One had to fit into a pre-conceived world. A program note from Richard II stated:

48Behind immense variety, the themes and characters are continuously developed through the cycle. As Orestes was hunted in Greek drama, so Englishmen fight each other to expunge the curse pronounced upon the tragically weak Richard II (Addenbrooke 126).

49The influence of pattern-seeking scholars like E.M.W. Tillyard can be traced through comments like this. In this cycle Henry IV was seen not just in the context of events dramatized in Richard II and Henry V, but also as a preliminary to all the violence of the Wars of the Roses culminating in the horrors of Richard III.

50John Bury's set maintained through each play an image of a mechanistic world. The stage was dominated by two large triangle-based walls which could be rotated to disclose the steel walls of a council chamber, the grimy interior of a tavern or, for the Shrewsbury battle, a walled farm-yard with pig-trough. The oppressive and ever-present walls suggested that the human bodies on stage were subject to forces beyond their control: to what Peter Hall described as the "power-machine." What was cyclical in this production was the relentless struggle for power. In keeping with this vision Ian Holm played a relatively cold, manipulative Hal in Henry IV (interestingly he doubled as Richard III at the end of the series). His "rejection" of Falstaff in 2.4 was pitiless, his relationship with his obviously ailing father was always distant, and in his scenes with the crowd at Eastcheap a desire to control others as well as himself was never far from the surface. Hotspur, on the other hand, was a wild, energetic, cleaver-wielding Scot contributing to a "strong intended contrast between the life-loving characters (Falstaff, Hotspur, Shallow) and the emotionally dead world of politics and politicians" (Wharton 61).

51The 1964 Wars of the Roses production was a politically-sound move for the RSC. Described by Bernard Levin in the Daily Mail as "a landmark and a beacon in the post-war English theatre" (Beauman 271), the cycle rescued the RSC's finances at a difficult time and ushered in a highly successful period in the company's history. A decade later, in 1975, the RSC was in dire financial straits again, and again a history cycle helped it gain new prestige. This time, under the direction of Terry Hands, all the Falstaff plays were produced: the two parts of Henry IV, Henry V, and The Merry Wives of Windsor. Despite the Falstaff connection, this cycle did not revert to the old practice of making Henry IV, Part One a Falstaff play. The focus of this production was the idea of Hal's "two fathers" (Wharton 47). Brewster Mason played a likeable, gentlemanly Falstaff, in line with his revived interpretation of the part in The Merry Wives. His relatively restrained performance contrasted strongly with Emrys James's aggressive, moody, and possessive King Henry. As Prince Hal, Alan Howard played a young man with a lot of growing up to do, driven by an autocratic father to find some sanity and comfort in Eastcheap. His rejection of Falstaff was never inevitable in Part One; this was a troubled, but likeable prince poised between two very different worlds.

52The most innovative aspect of the Terry Hands history cycle was its emphasis on the theatrical dimension of the history plays. In response to a severely limited budget the production made a virtue of necessity by staging all the plays on a simple steeply-raked stage with theatre walls, machinery and lighting plainly visible. The series began, unusually, with Henry V, and used the chorus's apology for the inadequacies of the stage as a keynote for the whole series. The parallels between history and the stage were never far from view. In Henry IV, Part One this meant that the play's concern with role-playing was brought into sharp relief. A great deal of overlapping between scenes was introduced. Actors from one scene hung around on stage to watch the next, and props stayed in place to generate interesting symbolic connections. When Hal was distressed by his interview with his father, he could steady himself by reaching for a tankard from the previous tavern scene.

53Both the 1975 Henry IV, Part One and the RSC's next production, in 1982, have been criticized for being politically conservative. The 1982 production was directed by Trevor Nunn, and, along with Part Two, opened the company's first season at its new Barbican Theatre in London. Scott McMillin points out that "more than any other play, Henry IV, Part One is swung into position on occasions of dignity and ceremony in Stratford" and argues that this association with occasions of wealth and power has engendered a timid approach to the play and an emphasis on the psychology of Prince Hal at the expense of Falstaffian subversions (85-7). It is worth noting, of course, that Henry IV, Part One has been a "special occasion" play throughout its stage history, whether the focus has been psychological or not. Adrian Colman identifies its sense of a total England, its muted appeal to English patriotism, its mingling of the comical and the serious, its box-office appeal, and its potential as an ensemble piece as possible causes (52-53). It is a play which has long appealed to kings as well as commoners, always potentially celebratory as well as potentially subversive.

54Reviewers' interpretations of productions inevitably vary as much as productions do themselves. Nicholas Shrimpton described Henry IV at the Barbican in 1982 as an incoherent production in which "the detail was ragged" (Shrimpton, 153). Yet T. F. Wharton's account stresses the thoughtfulness of the Trevor Nunn production and particularly the subtlety of its approach to Prince Hal. According to Wharton, Gerard Murphy's young Hal was a creature of impulse rather than of calculation, Patrick Stewart's King Henry was quiet, distant and fastidious, and Timothy Dalton's moody Hotspur emerged as a parallel character to Hal: their rivalry springing more from similitude than anything else (Hugh Quarshie later took over the role from Dalton, embodying a passionate but dangerous presence on stage). Hal's real enemies in this production were Prince John and Westmorland. Their Machiavellian behaviour in Part Two made it plausible to assume that they were the ones responsible for poisoning the King's mind against his son in Part One, and Hal's uneasy association with Eastcheap was a deliberate rebellion against the sordid political world at court (Wharton 74-79).

55Perhaps the most influential late-twentieth century productions of the Henry IV plays were presented by the English Shakespeare Company between 1986 and 1989. Their history cycles toured extensively around the world, and footage from the plays can still be downloaded through YouTube. The ESC was founded by two former RSC members: director, Michael Bogdanov and actor, Michael Pennington. Like many other new companies which emerged in Britain at that time, it represented a reaction against the perceived restrictions of large-scale institutionalized Shakespeare in the 1980s, and a desire to get back to basics: to mount independent productions which could tour widely and adopt fresh approaches to the plays (a detailed first-hand account of the project is provided in The English Shakespeare Company: The Story of "The Wars of the Roses" 1986-1989 by Michael Bogdanov and Michael Pennington).

56The ESC opened with The Henrys in 1986 and added the earlier histories in 1987 to present a history cycle called The Wars of the Roses. Like its 1964 namesake, this production swung the emphasis back onto the politics of the story, only this time the "power machine" was less remote. The devastating consequences of the power struggles on stage were never far from view. This was a production which constantly made connections: connections between dysfunctional families and destructive political decisions, connections between theatre and the image-making of politics, connections between the world on stage and Thatcher's Britain after the Falklands War.

57The design of the production, its scenery, props, and costumes, emerged out of the rehearsal process. The scenery was, of necessity, portable and adaptable to any theatre, looking like makeshift scaffolding which could be (and was) cleared off stage in a moment. The costuming was eclectic, but generally logical. In Henry IV, Part One Prince Hal wore blue jeans and casual shirts and Gadshill sported a spectacular mohawk. The king and court, meanwhile, wore Victorian dress-coats. The soldiers at the battle of Shrewsbury carried muskets and fought in scarlet coats, while Falstaff dodged about in modern camouflage fatigues and Hal and Hotspur slogged it out in medieval chain-mail. As in pre-nineteenth century productions, costumes expressed something about the role instead of being tied down to a particular period.

58Bogdanov's production constantly defied audience expectations, but some of the most obvious skewing of the text of Henry IV, Part One occurred in the final scenes. Michael Pennington's cold-blooded Hal finished off Hotspur by stabbing him in the back after Hotspur had won the fight but chivalrously and rather foolishly refused to kill an unarmed man. Falstaff stole the corpse and brought it back in the final scene so that his claim to have killed Hotspur was made in front of the king. Hal was left alone and bitter at the end of this production, out-faced by Falstaff and forced to begin his image-building again in Part Two. This was a production without heroes, irreverent in many respects and often unsubtle, but it confronted its audiences with difficult questions about the plays and their relationship to our own world.

Henry IV on film and television

59The story of Henry IV, Part One on film and television is marked by even starker contrasts than its stage history. It has not appealed to mainstream Shakespeare film-makers as have its fellow histories, Henry V and Richard III. Instead, its most well-known screen realizations have been either very careful BBC productions for TV, or the quirky, off-beat films of Orson Wells and Gus Van Sant. All these screen versions of Henry IV, Part One are influenced by cycle-thinking in one way or another, but they present widely divergent readings of the text.

60In 1960, history cycles came to TV in the form of a fifteen-part series comprising Shakespeare's two tetralogies, under the title "An Age of Kings." In publicity for the series the producer Peter Dew emphasized its focus on people and faces as opposed to settings and effects. Some of those faces included Robert Hardy as Hal, and Sean Connery as Hotspur. In 1979 the BBC did Henry IV, Part One again, as part of a project to film the entire Shakespearean canon. This time the second tetralogy was directed as one series by David Giles and the first tetralogy came later as a separate entity. Henry IV, Part One begins with a flashback to the death of Richard II, and in Part Two the story continues with the same actors, sets and costumes. The production was again geared towards telling the story of the future Henry V, a hero who, whatever his faults, did become a great king.

61David Gwillim plays a fairly likeable Hal throughout the tetralogy. He speaks his "I know you all" speech as if the ideas within it are only just coming to him, and his least likeable moment, the scene with Francis the drawer, is cut. Nevertheless, at times this prince is hard to read. He shows little affection for Falstaff and has to think for a moment before hiding him from the sheriff. He seems to be sick of play-acting, disillusioned with his companions and keen to test his skills in the real world. Despite the overall heroic treatment of the story, Gwillim's reading of Prince Hal is subtly shaded.

62Hal's father, played by Jon Finch, is an interesting mixture of remoteness and guilt. His guilt manifests itself physically in his constant clasping and rubbing his hands. BBC research discovered that the historic King Henry had leprosy, so this hand "business" was introduced as a keynote to create a connection between his illness and his guilt about Richard's murder. His judgmental tone in 3.2 (brilliantly anticipated by Falstaff and Hal) is symbolically undercut by the hand washing that accompanies it: an effective idea, but marred by low-budget continuity problems (are those gloves meant to be on or off?).

63The highlight of the production is Antony Quayle's Falstaff: a more genial and more conventional Falstaff than his 1951 performance, but still capable of unsettling audience expectations with his soliloquies and asides delivered directly to the camera. Quayle's Falstaff shows that he is acutely conscious of Hal's waning affection, and he constantly performs in an attempt to regain it. The anxious edge to this Falstaff prepares us, however, even in Part One, for his rejection. Law and order will prevail.

64The series was made with the earnest intention of providing a performance record of the complete canon "for all time." It was also designed for sale to educational institutions, so the pressure was on to film the plays in a way that would appeal to educators: minimal cutting, BBC accents, no gimmicks, and nothing too controversial (Collick 52-57). The makers also had to contend with a very low budget. Despite some good performances by outstanding actors Henry IV, Part One remains a relatively bland event which fails to use the enormous resources of film in any imaginative way. Claustrophobic studio sets and unimpressive battle sequences sit uncomfortably beside a serious attempt at historic realism, and it is hard to escape the feeling that this standardized Shakespeare is rather stodgy fare.

65A vastly different project is Orson Welles's cult classic, Chimes at Midnight. The film has been written about extensively, and hailed by most as a flawed masterpiece (a selection of critiques is included along with Welles's script in Chimes at Midnight, Orson Welles, Director, eds. Bridget Gellert Lyons and Dorothy Remy). It is based on the two parts of Henry IV but also draws on Richard II, Henry V, and The Merry Wives of Windsor. Welles had experimented with the idea of conflating these plays since high school, staging Five Kings in Philadelphia, 1939, and Chimes at Midnight in Dublin, 1960. Chimes at Midnight, the film, is Shakespeare by stealth. It was filmed in Spain in 1964-5, while Welles's financial backers thought he was making Treasure Island. Welles himself played Falstaff in the film, and obviously identified strongly with the role. The film begins with some dialogue between Falstaff and Justice Shallow from Henry IV, Part Two. The two old men come inside to sit beside a fire and reminisce. At Falstaff's "We have heard the chimes at midnight, Master Robert Shallow" and Shallow's reply, "That we have, that we have ... " the scene fades out and the history begins. Shakespeare's history is thus framed by Falstaffian nostalgia and the story, shaped from Falstaff's perspective, becomes one of betrayal, the passing of time, and the imposition of a new world order. Orson Welles said of his interpretation: "the relationship between Falstaff and the Prince is not the simple, comic relationship that it is in Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part One, but always a preparation for the end" (Lyons 261). Chimes at Midnight was re-named Falstaff at one point in its history.

66The most significant thing about Welles's film is that it is great cinema. Despite severely limited resources, the black and white cinematography of Chimes At Midnight is a compelling visual representation of Shakespeare's text. The plays are ruthlessly cut and reshaped, with added voice-over narration by Ralph Richardson based on Holinshed's chronicles. Henry's first speech begins: "Shall our coffers, then, / Be emptied to redeem a traitor home?"; the film ends with Falstaff's funeral. Chimes At Midnight has often been criticized for the deficiencies of its soundtrack, but an increasingly common response to the film is to see it as presenting a Falstaffian challenge to the supremacy of the spoken word. Welles's often inaudible mutterings subvert the mellifluous Shakespearean verse of John Gielgud's Henry IV, just as the innovative camera work, composition and editing challenge the kind of word-centered approach advocated by Shakespeare purists.

67 Chimes At Midnight has been hugely influential. Its deeply disturbing battle sequences provided an impressive model for later Shakespeare film-makers, and many of the film's revisions of the text have cropped up in stage versions of the play. Perhaps the most obvious tribute to Welles, is Gus Van Sant's 1991 film, My Own Private Idaho. Arguably Van Sant owes more to Welles than Shakespeare in this very free updating of the story. The title is based on the refrain of a B-52s song, "You're living in your own private Idaho," and refers most closely to the River Phoenix character, Mike Waters (all the names are significant), whose narcoleptic seizures take him into a dangerously private landscape. The film's Hal-figure, Scott, played by Keanu Reeves, is a rent-boy who has been on the street for four years. He is one week away from inheriting his fortune on his 21st birthday and tells us: "When I turn 21 I want no more of this life." His father, Jack Favor, is the mayor of Portland, and prone to making unfavorable comparisons between Scott and his Northern cousin Bill Davis.

68Many of Welles's reworkings of Shakespeare are reworked by Van Sant. The search for Bob / Falstaff through a labyrinthine squat echoes a similar sequence in Chimes At Midnight. When Bob is found, snoring, Scott / Hal and Mike / Poins pick his pockets for drugs, before the pidgin-Shakespeare of:

69Bob: What time is it?

70Scott: What do you care? Why you wouldn't even look at a clock unless hours were lines of coke; dials looked like the signs of gay bars, or time itself was a fair hustler in black leather.

71In Chimes At Midnight Hal distracts the Sheriff from his search for Falstaff by jumping into bed with a tavern wench, at the same point in My Own Private Idaho Scott is found in bed with Mike. In both films Falstaff is ambiguously and pathetically in shot for the "I know you all speech."

72 My Own Private Idaho presents an obviously cold-blooded "prince." In this portrait of modern America the distinction between the world of the "court" and the "tavern" is a matter of money, not morality, and the junkies and hustlers Scott leaves behind are clearly the victims of the privileged world he rejoins. Van Sant disconnects Henry IV from British history, and adds a nineties twist to the prodigal son story. The underworld he depicts is squalid and precarious, but escape from that world entails a sell-out to the hypocrisies of normality. It has become a familiar theme in art-house cinema.

Into a new millenium

73The final decade of the twentieth, and the first decade of the twenty-first centuries proved a golden age for Shakespeare's English histories on stage, particularly in England, North America, and Australia. In England, Adrian Noble began his directorship of the RSC with a well-received and impressively designed production of both parts of Henry IV at Stratford in 1991. Peter Holland has labeled these "the triumphant histories," noting Noble's "exciting stage pictures," innovative use of vertical space, and creative use of visual devices that echoed and resonated across the two plays. The battle of Shrewsbury, for example, made striking use of the throne:

74. . . through the stage floor there came, rising further and further, a seething, writhing tableau, figures struggling in slow motion for the throne with a woman screaming silently at the horror of war to one side (Holland 106).

75Again, father-son relationships were central: Michael Billington's glowing review of the Barbican transfer describes Julian Glover's king as "a harsh head of state whose peremptoriness provokes the rebels and whose steadfast denial of emotion alienates his son," and Robert Stevenson's "deeply moving" Falstaff as "a solitary hedonist yearning for a son." Michael Maloney's Prince Hal yearned for affection too, but from a father who was unable to respond.

76The 1990s also saw several interesting productions of the Henry IV plays outside Britain. Ron Daniels directed both parts for the American Repertory Theatre in 1993 using images of the American civil war for the depiction of the court while setting the world of the tavern in the 1990s with a punk Prince Hal (Tropea 40). Barbara Gaines presented a more traditional staging of the two plays in 1999 for Chicago's Shakespeare Repertory that could be seen individually or in a single evening. The production was acclaimed for its strong lead performances (Gaines and the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre revisited the plays again in 2006 and presented them at the RSC's Swan theatre as part of the Complete Works season). In Australia, John Bell directed a conflated four-hour version of Henry IV Parts One and Two for the Bell Shakespeare Company in 1998 and followed this with a linked production of Henry V in 1999. Bell had performed in the play himself as Prince Hal in Richard Wherret's landmark, Breugel-inspired Henry IV in Sydney, 1978. His own production was set in contemporary Britain, reflecting Bell’s belief that "the historical references are so specific, it would have seemed folly to try and ‘Australianise’ it" (Bell 258-9). Instead the production created space for its audience to draw analogies with the late twentieth century through the invocation of an eclectic modern world. The cast wore grungy op-shop clothes, the music was aggressive heavy rock, and the focus of the set was a steep ramp flanked by wire-mesh fencing suggesting a bleak and dangerously out-of control society. Joel Edgerton’s Hal had to make his way through a Britain marked by division and inequality.

77The 2000s were ushered in by another RSC history play cycle, "This England," encompassing eight plays, but with varying venues, design concepts and directors. The two parts of Henry IV were directed by Michael Attenborough and staged at the Swan theatre in traditional costume, in sharp contrast to Richard II in modern dress at The Other Place. According to Russell Jackson, William Houston presented a "thrillingly unnerving" prince (120) and Desmond Barrit's Falstaff was "surprisingly gentle: quick-witted but never domineering" (118), nevertheless for many critics it was David Troughton's careworn king who impressed the most: the physical discomfort he endured from the crown spoke volumes about his uneasy head.

78Interestingly, many productions of Henry IV, Part One from the first decade of the twenty-first century reflected a return to the days when the figure of Falstaff dominated the play. Reviews of Scott Wentworth's 2001 Henriad production in Stratford Ontario single out Douglas Campbell's Falstaff as the highlight, and of course the casting of Kevin Kline as Falstaff for the first Broadway production of the twenty-first century at New York's Lincoln Center in 2003-4 sent a clear signal that he would the center of the show. As Diana E. Henderson has pointed out, the Lincoln Center production had several other recognizable cast members--including Ethan Hawke as Hotspur and Richard Easton as Henry IV--but it was Kline who featured in publicity and reviews (378). Directed by Jack O'Brien, and using an adaptation of the two parts of Henry IV by Dakin Matthews, the production has been described as "a conservative, boiled-down version of Shakespeare's history" which relegated the king and his heir to the background and served instead as "a generous vehicle for Kevin Kline and Ethan Hawke" (Magelssen 99).

79Other acclaimed Falstaffs of the decade included Michael Gambon in 2005 and Roger Allam in 2010. Both appeared in seasons of the two Henry IV plays; Gambon at London's National Theatre, directed by Nicholas Hytner, and Roger Allam at Shakespeare's Globe, directed by Dominic Dromgoole. Reviews of Gambon's performance were glowing. By all accounts he presented a complex Falstaff who was "mischievous, cowardly, garrulous, twinkly, sly, bibulous" (Evans 74), but also "money-grubbing, crude and deeply, darkly afraid of death" (Wolf). Gambon's star-power was balanced by strong performances from Matthew Macfadyen's prince and David Bradley's king however, and Hytner's direction drew attention to the wider implications of the history with evocative visual images of a war-devastated land (Tatspaugh 325). Roger Allam won the Olivier best actor award for his Falstaff in 2010. It was a richly comic performance for much of which he had the audience eating out of his hand (Smith 84), but it was also seen as a popularizing move which distorted the balance of the plays. Peter J. Smith wrote:

80In making Falstaff the productions' presiding deity, Dromgoole was putting Henry IV's eggs into a single comic basket. This is certainly a feasible option and, given the uniquely heterogeneous audience at the Globe, an understandable one. But it flattens the complexities of the plays and, in spite of the brilliance of Allam, there was a sense that much of their intricate political texture had been ironed out (Shurgot 83).

81At the RSC's Courtyard theatre in Stratford and later the Roundhouse in London, David Warner also presented a highly regarded Falstaff in 2007-2008 ("fit to rank with the finest--an unsmiling but fabulous, insouciant amuser" (de Jongh) and "a subtle but sly and heartbreaking Falstaff" (Gelber)). This performance, however, was part of a major history cycle which relied heavily on ensemble playing. The cycle was directed by Michael Boyd (with Richard Twyman responsible for Henry IV, Part 2). Boyd started with the Henry VI plays, first staged in 2006, then in 2007-2008 moved on to Shakespeare's "prequel." When all eight plays were finally running, 34 actors were playing about 264 parts (Hewison). The cycle was praised for the depth and strength of its acting, its stylized representations of an England at war, and its striking visual imagery. Some reviewers felt nevertheless that there was a downside to the cycle format: the individuality of a play like Henry IV, Part One tended to be subsumed by the overall concept of the cycle and its sense of the sweep of history. More than one review reported that it was hard to respond to the humor of Henry IV, Part One after the emotive demands of Richard II.

82This consequence of the history cycle format was even more evident with Benedict Andrews's highly compressed (eight plays over eight hours) adaptation of the English histories as "The War of the Roses Part 1 and Part 2" for the Sydney Theatre Company in 2009. The cycle was visually stunning and bookended by impressive performances by Cate Blanchett as Richard II and Pamela Rabe as Richard III, but the two parts of Henry IV got lost somewhere in the middle, reduced to the bare bones of Henry IV's guilt and regret and a mutually exploitative and seedy sexual relationship between Ewen Leslie's prince and John Gaden's Falstaff. In effect Shakespeare's play became a radically new text, contributing to a gruelling nightmare vision of the workings of power.

83The performance history of Henry IV, Part One provides graphic illustration of the multiple and often contradictory possibilities the play-script offers. Different voices have been privileged in different times and places. The play has been staged as both pro and anti-war, as celebrating the establishment of strong, effective central government and as showing the cynicism and heartlessness of a Machiavellian power machine. It has been presented as an affirmation of the importance of order in society and as a radical expression of anarchic impulses. In the face of such evidence it is absurd to posit any definitive, "correct" way of doing Henry IV, Part One. The text will defy us at every turn.

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