Anonymous. The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth. In Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, ed. Geoffrey Bullough, vol. 4, pp. 299–343. New York: Columbia University Press, 1975.
One of Shakespeare’s sources, this short play is a freewheeling popular treatment of the Prince Hal story that Shakespeare extends across three of his plays, 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV, and Henry V.
Berger, Harry, Jr. “What Did the King Know and When Did He Know It?” South Atlantic Quarterly 88 (1989): 811–62.
Berger argues that “speakers should be treated as the effects rather than the causes of their language and our interpretation.” He offers a close reading of King Henry’s speeches, a reading that emphasizes in the speeches “the pressure of the sinner’s discourse and the counterpressure of the victim/revenger’s discourse.”
Bradley, A. C. “The Rejection of Falstaff.” In Oxford Lectures on Poetry (1909). New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1959.
Bradley considers what an audience is meant to feel at the rejection of Falstaff. Arguing against critical attempts that find Falstaff triumphant or an audience gloating over Falstaff ’s “just deserts,” Bradley reads the event as an insurmountable catastrophe, in terms both of Falstaff ’s disappointment and of Hal’s conduct. Bradley concludes that an audience is at fault if it is surprised by Hal’s behavior.
Bristol, Michael D. Carnival and Theatre: Plebeian Culture and the Structure of Authority in Renaissance England. London: Methuen, 1985.
Bristol studies the nature and purpose of theater as a social institution, its allocation of authority, and its relation to the plebeian culture of the Renaissance. The burlesque resurrection of Falstaff—a figure of carnival and misrule—engages a persistent plebeian suspicion of authority, one that suspects that it might really be better to be a “live coward than a dead hero.”
Burckhardt, Sigurd. “ ‘Swoll’n with Some Other Grief ’: Shakespeare’s Prince Hal Trilogy.” In Shakespearean Meanings, pp. 144–205. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968.
Burckhardt pursues axes of symmetry in 1 Henry IV between rebellion and rule, “hot pride and slippery wit, sword-edged honor and fat-bellied self-indulgence.” But Burckhardt finds that the play constantly resists neat binaries; just when the play seems about to resolve itself neatly—as Hal stands between the apparent corpse of Falstaff and the corpse of Hotspur—the play reels away toward disorder at the moment of Falstaff ’s “resurrection.”
Campbell, Lily B. “The Unquiet Time of Henry IV.” In Shakespeare’s “Histories”: Mirrors of Elizabethan Policy, pp. 213–54. San Marino, Calif.: Huntington Library, 1947.
For Campbell, 1 Henry IV, in its historical context, is a play about rebellion, but it has become, for us, a play that is memorable mainly for Falstaff and his mockery of honor. Falstaff, with his comic deflation of honor and battlefield conduct, serves as an intruder into the histories, but one who undercuts the workings out of divine justice in the fate of the usurping king.
Greenblatt, Steven. “Invisible Bullets.” In Shakespearean Negotiations, pp. 21–65. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.
Greenblatt finds parallels between English incursions into the New World and Hal’s course through the taverns of Eastcheap. Like English attempts to subdue native inhabitants of the Americas, Hal cynically relies upon force and fraud to draw his audience toward acceptance of this power. While Shakespeare’s Henry plays may confirm this Machiavellian hypothesis about power, Greenblatt questions whether the position of the theater within the state allows drama to raise an alternative voice.
Kastan, David Scott. “ ‘The King Hath Many Marching in His Coats,’ or, What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?” In Shakespeare Left and Right, ed. Ivo Kamps, pp. 241–58. New York: Roudedge, 1991.
Kastan examines possible relations between the production of power in 1 Henry IV and in Queen Elizabeth I’s England, noting how both monarchs sponsored the ideology of a state unified under their rule. Kastan then goes on to observe how formalist criticism of the play has reproduced this ideology by seeking to unify the play by subordinating its so-called subplot (with Falstaff) while raising to the level of main plot the action featuring the king and, later, the prince—despite the play’s resistance to such formalist reading. Thus the play’s anarchic organization matches political rebellion, which was such a persistent concomitant to monarchial rule.
Kelly, Henry Ansgar. “1 Henry IV.” In Divine Providence in the England of Shakespeare’s Histories, pp. 214–22. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970.
Kelly proposes that if anyone in 1 Henry IV is presented as receiving divine support, it is Henry IV himself. Therefore, when Henry speaks the Mirror of Magistrates maxim, “Thus ever did rebellion find rebuke” (his career being the obvious exception), we are meant to believe that “right has triumphed, and perhaps also to see in it an implicit claim of divine aid.”
Mullaney, Steven. “The Rehearsal of Cultures.” In The Place of the Stage, pp. 60–87. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.
Tracing Hal’s progress through the Eastcheap underworld, Mullaney finds the prince playing at prodigality for the strategic purpose of translating his performance into a profession of power. Similarly, the Elizabethan preoccupation with learning strange tongues and collecting foreign artifacts betrays a culture reformulating itself, as Hal does, through a temporary suspension of cultural limits.
Nye, Robert. Falstaff. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1976.
This modern novel presents the memoirs of Sir John Falstaff. Nye’s Falstaff ’s charm is his complete absence of self-consciousness, but only the words of this Falstaff can do him justice: “As for sins and forgiveness of sins—I believe in them both. I’d be a fool if I didn’t believe in the former, and I’d be a damned fool if I didn’t believe in the latter.” Falstaff shares all his sins and commits a gross or two more in the telling.
Porter, Joseph. “1 Henry IV.” In The Drama of Speech Acts, pp. 52–88. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979.
Applying philosopher J. L. Austin’s idea of speech acts (acts performed in speech) to 1 Henry IV, Porter characterizes the language of the play as lively and active (whether aggressive or playful). Hal’s speech acts, in particular, are “directed, communicative, responsible, and consequential.” In Hal’s language lessons and widely varied manner of speech, Porter discovers a developing mastery of words that assumes greater importance in 2 Henry IV and Henry V.
Saccio, Peter. “Henry IV: The King Embattled.” In Shakespeare’s English Kings: History, Chronicle, and Drama, pp. 37–63. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.
Saccio recounts the reign of the historical Henry IV, commenting that Henry’s rule came to Shakespeare’s hand already possessed of dramatic shape, a shape with a “perceived pattern of historical cause and effect.” Although Shakespeare’s Henry is forever embattled, attributing all his troubles to his own usurpation of his cousin Richard’s crown, the historical Henry’s last five years of reign were free of domestic upheaval.
Tillyard, E. M. W. “The Second Tetralogy.” In Shakespeare’s History Plays (1944), pp. 234–314. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1964.
Tillyard views 1 Henry IV as part of an epic, a generic classification merited by the play’s successful marriage of themes of civil war and high politics to rhythms of local, ordinary life. The coherence of the play’s great variety is very different from that of the tragedies but not, for Tillyard, inferior.
Traub, Valerie. “Prince Hal’s Falstaff: Positioning Psychoanalysis and the Female Reproductive Body.” Shakespeare Quarterly 40 (1989): 456–74.
In a reading of drama through psychoanalysis and psychoanalysis through drama, Traub argues that Shakespeare’s drama and modern psychoanalytical theory share in a common estimation of the female reproductive body as a Bakhtinian “grotesque body.” Consequently, Shakespeare represses this figure in his narratives of psychic development, although, in 1 Henry IV, this “grotesque body” is figured in the person of Falstaff, who serves Hal as a sort of surrogate mother.
Van Sant, Gus. My Own Private Idaho. Columbia Tristar, 1991.
A modernized film adaptation of 1 and 2 Henry IV, relocated in the street culture of the contemporary Pacific Northwest. Keanu Reeves plays an updated Prince Hal as the rebel son of Portland’s wealthy mayor. He immerses himself in the city’s drug- and sex-ridden subculture and keeps company with prostitutes, thieves, and junkies. Chief among his fellow street wanderers are “Bob Pigeon,” a translated Falstaff, and a narcoleptic prostitute (River Phoenix) who is searching for a mother figure that Shakespeare’s play also lacks.
Welles, Orson. Falstaff: The Chimes at Midnight. Internacional Films Española, 1966.
A black-and-white film adaptation of 1 and 2 Henry IV with fragments of Richard II, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Henry V. Welles plays Falstaff and stages the story to emphasize and intensify the filial and paternal rivalries that ultimately lead to his character’s repudiation by Hal.