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Shakespeare & Beyond

Fat rogue, pampered glutton: Two Falstaffian context clues

From Q0 of 1 Henry IV.
From Q0 of 1 Henry IV.

Picture it: It’s the 1860s. A bibliophile from way back, you started collecting books and manuscripts when you were a teenager and you co-founded the Shakespeare Society when you were just 20. You’ve had your troubles—a pesky accusation of theft, some difficulties with your father-in-law, a whole heap of financial worries—but you’ve never stopped collecting, and now you’re more into Shakespeare than ever. You crack open a 1567 copy of William Thomas’ Rules of the Italian Grammar, ready to settle in for a long night of…correcting someone’s early modern Italian, presumably…only to find something in the bindings. What could it be? Surely not proof of a heretofore undiscovered quarto of Shakespeare’s 1 Henry IV….?

And yet, that’s exactly what antiquarian and Shakespeare aficionado James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps once found—a fragment of four leaves from what we now think is the earliest printing of Shakespeare’s popular history. Known as “Q0” to differentiate it from “Q1” published later in the same year (1598), it is the quarto from which all copies of the play are thought to have followed. And boy, were there a lot of them. Written at a time when histories were all the rage, Shakespeare’s The history of Henrie the Fourth ; vvith the battell at Shrewsburie, betweene the King and Lord Henry Percy, surnamed Henry Hotspur of the north. VVith the humorous conceits of Sir Iohn Falstalffe was published in nine editions between 1598 and 1640, indicating that it was likely one of the best-selling plays of the early modern period. The fact that two of these editions (Q0 and Q1) were published in the same year is further evidence of its immense popularity.


One very important indicator that perhaps the 2 Henry IV inclusion of the character name Old. instead of Falst. was intentional can be found in the very language of the following text: “the disease of not listening, the maladie of not marking”. The author is sarcastically protesting his having to deviate from an accurate historical rendering in his play to please a Lord: “Very wel my lord, very wel, rather and’t please you”. This was possibly no accident when you put the two together. The speech from Falstaff right before this is also suggestive: “It hath it originall from much griefe, from study and perturbation”, as if to suggest that it is based on an historical record that is disturbing.

David Ewald — April 26, 2020