Completely re-edited, the New Folger Library edition of Part 1 of Shakespeare's Henry IV is based on the best early printed version of the play. Illustrated.
The whole play is stolen from its kings and princes by Shakespeare's greatest comic creation, the "fat-kidneyed rascal" Sir John Falstaff, king of his own dominions--the taverns and brothels of London's Eastcheap district. The tavern scenes of the play are some of the most evocative accounts of 16th-century popular London life. They revolve around the comical but ultimately sinister relationship between Falstaff and his young apprentice Hal, who learns to "so offend to make offence a skill" as he learns the slippery ropes of realpolitik and kingship. The play is considered by many to be the liveliest and most profound of Shakespeare's History Plays, and remains one of its most popular examples. --Jerry Brotton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
this is one of shakespeare's best plays. the story of the rebellion is intriguing, and the adventures of hal and falstaff are laugh-out-loud hilarious. the culmination of the two stories in the final battle scene is wonderful. this is a fitting sequel to richard ii.
note that there are some historical inaccuracies and even outright inventions in this play. foremost is the character of falstaff who is pure invention (and genius). the story of hal's adventures stems from his reputation, enhanced by legend, as a playboy. falstaff was the perfect foil for a carousing prince. the biggest inaccuracy is hotspur's age. he was actually of the generation of henry iv, and not as young as he's depicted in the play. shakespeare made him younger to enhance, maybe even create, the rivalry with hal. there are other inaccuracies here, but better for the reader to consult 'shakespeare's kings', an excellent book by saccio that explains the history of the period and the discrepancies in the play.
As a matter of fact, it isn't unusual for Shakespeare's "histories" to be more interesting to the modern reader than either his comedies or his tragedies; they fit the modern style that doesn't insist that comedies must have everything work out well in the end, or that tragedies must be deadly serious with everyone dying at the end, as was the convention in Shakespeare's time. Thus, this book has a serious plot, real drama, and blood and destruction, yet still has many extremely funny scenes. And as Shakespearean plays go, it's a fairly easy read, although in places the footnotes are still neccessary. The only caveat I will make is that one needs to remember not to consider Shakespeare's histories particularly historical; they have about as much historical accuracy as the Disney version of Pocahontas. Treat them as excellent stories based (very) loosely on history, and you'll do fine.
It's a real shame that the language has changed so much since Shakespeare was writing that his plays are no longer accessable to the masses, because that's who Shakespeare was writing for. Granted, there is enough seriousness to satisfy the intelligensia, but there is generally enough action and bawdy humor to satisfy any connouiseur of modern hit movies, if only they could understand it, and this book is no exception. Unfortunately, once you change the language, it's no longer Shakespeare, until and unless the rewriter can be found who has as much genius for the modern language as Shakespeare had for his own. I don't think I'll hold my breath waiting.
Surprisingly, Hal, Prince of Wales, (later Henry V) was not even mentioned in this verbose title although many would consider him to be the central character. This play is clearly the dramatization of a struggle for a kingdom, but it is equally the story of Hal's wild and reckless youthful adventures with Falstaff and other disreputable companions.
Shakespeare did not write his plays about English kings in chronological order, but these plays do have a historical unity. It is helpful (but not essential) to read the tetralogy Richard II, Henry IV Part 1 and 2, and Henry V in chronological order. Whatever route you take, I highly recommend buying a companion copy of Peter Saccio's "Shakespeare's English Kings", an engaging look at how Shakespeare revised history to achieve dramatic effect.
A wide selection of Henry IV editions are available, including older editions in used bookstores. I am familiar with a few and have personal favorites:
The New Folger Library Shakespeare is my first choice among the inexpensive editions of Henry IV. "New" replaces the prior version in use for 35 years. It uses "facing page" format with scene summaries, explanations for rare and archaic words and expressions, and Elizabethan drawings located on the left page; the Henry IV text is on the right. I particularly liked the section on "Reading Shakespeare's Language in Henry IV" and Alexander Legget's literary analysis (save this until you have read the play).Read more ›