Historie of Henry the Fourth

'The Historie of Henry the Fourth', subsequently known as Henry IV, Part 1, was first performed in 1597. It introduced theatre audiences to the figure of Sir John Falstaff, who was to prove one of Shakespeare's most popular comic creations. He was originally named Sir John Oldcastle, but Lord Cobham - a descendant of the historical Oldcastle - took exception to his ancestor's portrayal, and by the time the play came to be printed the name Falstaff had been substituted.

The first edition of the play survives only in a single, eight page fragment. The second edition, confusingly known as the First Quarto (the first edition only coming to light after the scholarly designation of quarto editions had been settled), apparently reproduced the text of its predecessor. A further five quarto editions of the play were printed before the First Folio appeared in 1623. Another two were issued before 1640, confirming the play's popularity with a reading, as well as a theatre-going, public.

This is a copy of the Third Quarto of 1604. It is incomplete: the first quire of eight pages, signed A, is missing, and the play begins suddenly on sheet B1 midway through its second scene. An early owner has attempted a handwritten facsimile of the titlepage, but in so doing has misdated the edition to 1599. The correct date has been supplied at the end by the eighteenth century editor Lewis Theobald, to whom this copy once belonged.


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Further Study

This copy is in the National Library of Scotland, shelfmark NLS Bute.479. For the textual and publication history of the play, see Andrew Murphy, Shakespeare in Print (Cambridge, 2003) and Stanley Wells, Gary Taylor, John Jowett and William Montgomery, eds, William Shakespeare: A Textual Companion (Oxford, 1987).