Internet Shakespeare Editions

Author: James D. Mardock
Peer Reviewed

Shakespeare and The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth

1The full title of this anonymous play, as it appears on the title page of the 1598 quarto, is The Famovs Victories of Henry the fifth: Containing the Honourable Battel of Agin-court. It was written some time before 1594 (when printer Thomas Creede entered it in the Stationers' Register), and if a 1613 anecdote about the famous clown Richard Tarlton performing the role of Derrick can be trusted, it was performed by the Queen's Men in the mid-1580s (Tarlton's Jests C2v ). Along with Holinshed's Chronicles, the play provided the source material for Shakespeare's Henry IV plays as well as for Henry V(Bullough 4.159 ).

Famous Victories, which may be the first professionally performed example of the English history play (McMillin and MacLean, 89),seems to have inspired the blending of comic and tragic modes that characterize Shakespeare's Henry plays, and it has many direct analogs to specific scenes, particularly the comic ones. Shakespeare's cowardly, thieving clowns, his treatment of Prince Hal's involvement in highway robbery and conflict with the chief justice, the tennis ball scene, the leave-taking of the common soldier, the capture of a French prisoner by an English coward, and the wooing of Catherine during treaty negotiations are all inspired by the earlier play. There are also important differences in tone and characterization; Famous Victories presents a version of the Agincourt campaign simpler both in its facts and its ethical justifications.

So similar in structure is Famous Victoriesto Shakespeare's plays that it has been argued that it is an early Shakespearean draft (see Pitcher). On stylistic grounds this seems unlikely, and it is more probable that Shakespeare used the play as rough outline for his histories. The title page of the play's second quarto, printed in 1617, makes the claim that it was "Acted by the Kinges Maiesties Seruants," so it is possible, as Andrew Gurr has argued, that Shakespeare's company had acquired the playbook and the right of performance in 1594 when it merged with the Queen's Men. Whether or not his company owned Famous Victories, though, Shakespeare would certainly have been familiar with a dramatized version of Henry V's life in the mid-1590s, as he was preparing to write Henry IV and Henry V.

The modernized selection below is the second half of the play, which corresponds roughly to the subject matter of Henry V. It is based on a facsimile of the Huntington Library copies of the play produced by the Malone Society. I have silently expanded and clarified speech prefixes and abbreviations, and emended obvious errors, as well as modernizing spelling and punctuation. I have preserved the line numbering of the 1598 quarto; Famous Victories, for the most part, does not scan as verse, but is printed as if it did.

5For a fully collated and annotated edition of Famous Victories, see the Queen's Men Editionsedition of the play for the Queen's Men's Editions.