The naming of Falstaff, Bardolph and Peto

In 1986 the editors of the Oxford edition of Shakespeare’s Complete Works brought out the first printed version of Henry IV, Part 1 to use the names "Oldcastle," "Russell" and "Harvey" instead of "Falstaff," "Bardolph" and "Peto." This was a controversial move, but supported by strong arguments. If censorship intervened and forced Shakespeare to change the names he had first chosen, then, it was argued, it is the editor’s duty to honour his original intentions. In other instances of censorship, like the excision of Q0-1’s profanities in the Folio, editors restore the original forms without question. Why should the name, "Falstaff," be treated differently? "Oldcastle" was the name that the play’s first audience heard, and evidence suggests that this name lingered long in public memory. Its association with the historical Protestant martyr can be seen as part of the fabric of the play: a part that editors can now restore (Taylor 85-110).

The main objection to the restoration of these names is the fact that once the issue was settled Shakespeare continued to use the names "Falstaff," "Bardolph," and "Peto" in later plays. Whatever Shakespeare’s original intentions may have been regarding the names used in Henry IV, Part 1, one clear intention was to use the same names for the same figures in Henry IV, Part 1, Henry IV, Part 2, Henry V, and The Merry Wives of Windsor. Those who support the restoration remind us that Henry IV, Part 1 was first performed as a separate play and should be regarded as such, but it is also part of a wider story, in which characters gather associations, experiences and attributes which carry over from one play to another. As David Bevington argues in the 1987 single-volume Oxford edition of the play, changing the name "Falstaff" back to "Oldcastle" creates the very anomaly that Shakespeare and his early editors avoided. We know nothing about Shakespeare’s feelings with regard to the Oldcastle controversy: whether he changed his text willingly in response to adverse audience reaction or reluctantly in response to censorship. In the face of such uncertainty it seems logical to respect the decisions recorded in Q0, and retain the names Falstaff, Bardolph and Peto.