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Henry IV, Part 2 /

An Introduction to This Text: Henry IV, Part 2

By Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine
Editors of the Folger Shakespeare Library Editions

The play we call Henry IV, Part 2 was printed in two different versions in the first quarter of the seventeenth century. One of these is in quarto, the other in the 1623 Folio. In 1600 there appeared the quarto (or pocket-size book) titled The Second part of Henrie the fourth, continuing to his death, and coronation of Henrie the fift. With the humours of sir Iohn Falstaffe, and swaggering Pistoll. This quarto edition (Q) exists in two different states (Qa and Qb). The second state (Qb) has two more leaves (four more pages) than the first (Qa). These additional pages contain an entire scene, the first scene of what we now call the third act. In order to add this scene to Q, its printer was also obliged to reprint the text that immediately surrounds 3.1—the end of the last scene of Act 2 (over 50 lines) and the beginning of the second scene of Act 3 (over 100 lines): all in all, about 165 lines.

The second version of Henry IV, Part 2 appeared in the earliest collection of Shakespeare plays, now called the Shakespeare First Folio. In the Folio, this play is titled The Second Part of Henry the Fourth, Containing his Death: and the Coronation of King Henry the Fift (F). The small difference in title between Q and F belies major differences between the texts printed in each. Unlike Qa, all known states of F contain the first scene of the third act; because F, unlike Q, is divided into acts and scenes, this appears under the heading “Actus Tertius. Scena Prima” (“Third Act. First Scene”). F also contains eight passages (totaling about 170 lines) that are absent from Q, as well as more than sixty other shorter readings not in Q. At the same time F lacks about twenty-five lines and some seventy-five shorter readings that are found in Q. Furthermore, Q and F also differ from each other in their readings of over three hundred other words.

Most modern editions offer various combinations of the Q and F versions. But it is impossible in any edition to combine the whole of these two forms of the play because they often provide alternative readings that are mutually exclusive; for example, Q has Falstaff ask “do not the rebels need souldiers[?]” but F prints “want” for “need.” In such cases (and there are a great many such cases) editors must choose whether to be guided by Q or by F.

Twentieth-century editors have decided which readings to prefer according to their theories about the origins of the early printed texts. Most recent editors have preferred Q’s readings in the belief that it was printed directly from Shakespeare’s own manuscript. These editors also regard F as being, in some respects, textually dependent on Q because they think a scribe behind the F text may well have based his transcription on a copy of Q as well as on an independent manuscript. Some of these editors go so far as to deny F any authority at all, except for the eight passages unique to it. Others grant it considerable authority and adopt not only its eight unique passages but also most of its additions to Q and many of the individual readings it substitutes for Q words—all in the belief that F presents a Shakespearean revision of the Q text and that F derives ultimately from a manuscript of this revision that was used in the theater as the basis for production. There is no editorial consensus.

As today’s scholars reexamine the narratives about the origins of the printed texts, we discover that the evidence on which they are based is questionable, and we become more skeptical about ever identifying with any certainty how the play assumed the forms in which it was printed. In particular, the theory that the Q text originates in Shakespeare’s own manuscript before it was adapted for staging is disturbed by the strong possibility that omissions from Q reflect either actors’ abridgement or possibly, in some cases, censorship. The claim that F’s text derives ultimately from the theater is troubled not only by the restoration to F of what may, in fact, be theatrical cuts but also by censorship of the F text that is both incomplete according to the 1606 Act that governed the use of profanity onstage and inconsistent with the provisions of that Act. We do not believe that we can depend on traditional editorial accounts of the origins of Q and F.1

The present edition is based on a fresh examination of the early printed texts rather than upon any modern edition. It offers its readers the Q printing of Henry IV, Part 2.2 Our choice of Q does not rest on conjectures about its origin or about the origin of F. Rather, we prefer Q to F because of our knowledge that F was put into print under extremely difficult circumstances. We are nonetheless aware, from comparison of the lines common to Qa and Qb, that Q provides us with an imperfect text. Therefore we offer an edition of Q that prints such F readings and such emendations from previous editions as are, in the editors’ judgments, necessary to repair what may be errors and deficiencies in Q. For those lines that appear in both Qa and Qb, we base our edition on the first printing of the lines (Qa) because we know that Qa must have been based directly on the printer’s manuscript; Qb may have been printed from this manuscript but we cannot know that it was not printed from a copy of Qa.

Because we cannot know that scribal copying and difficulties in printing necessarily account for what is unique to the F text, we have also included in our edition almost all the words, lines, and passages that are unique to F. Of all the words that the printing of F adds to the version printed as Q (as opposed to words that the F printing substitutes for Q’s words), we have omitted only the following from our edited text: F’s repetition of “all” (2.1.75) and of “sir” at the end of 5.3.84; F’s addition of “a” before “man” in the Q phrase “what man of good temper” (2.1.82–83); and F’s extrametrical addition of “an” to 2.3.2.

In order to enable its readers to tell the difference between the Q and F versions, the present edition uses a variety of signals:

(1) All the words in this edition that are printed only in the F version appear in pointed brackets ( ).

(2) All lines that are found only in Q and not in F are printed in square brackets ([ ]).

(3) Sometimes neither Q nor F seems to offer a satisfactory reading, and it is necessary to print a word different from what is offered by either. Such words (called “emendations” by editors) are printed within superior half-brackets ( ).

Whenever we change the wording of Q or F or add anything to their stage directions, we mark the change. We want our readers to be immediately aware when we have intervened. (Only when we correct an obvious typographical error in Q or F is the correction not marked in our text.) Whenever we change Q’s or F’s wording or punctuation so as to change meaning, we list the change in the textual notes, even if all we have done is fix an obvious error. Those who wish to find F’s alternatives to Q readings will be able to find these also in the textual notes.

For the convenience of the reader, we have modernized the punctuation and the spelling of Q and F. Sometimes we go so far as to modernize certain old forms of words; for example, when a means “he,” we change it to he; we change mo to more, and ye to you. But it is not our practice in editing any of the plays to modernize words that sound distinctly different from modern forms. For example, when the early printed texts read sith or apricocks or porpentine, we have not modernized to since, apricots, porcupine. When the forms an, and, or and if appear instead of the modern form if, we have reduced and to an but have not changed any of these forms to their modern equivalent, if. We also modernize and, where necessary, correct passages in foreign languages, unless an error in the early printed text can be reasonably explained as a joke.

We regularize spellings of a number of the proper names, as is the usual practice in editions of the play. For example, Q sometimes uses the forms “Dowglas,” “Westmerland,” “Mourton,” “Peyto,” and “Falstalfe” but we consistently follow its spellings “Douglas,” “Westmoreland,” “Morton,” “Peto,” and “Falstaff.”

This edition differs from many earlier ones in its efforts to aid the reader in imagining the play as a performance rather than as a series of actual events. Thus stage directions are written with reference to the stage. For example, when the Archbishop says to Westmoreland, “Then take, my Lord of Westmoreland, this schedule” (4.1.177), editors often print a stage direction calling for the Archbishop-actor to hand the Westmoreland-actor a “schedule,” but onstage all the actors would actually exchange is a piece of paper, and so we add the direction “giving Westmoreland a paper.” Whenever it is reasonably certain, in our view, that a speech is accompanied by a particular action, we provide a stage direction describing the action. (Occasional exceptions to this rule occur when the action is so obvious that to add a stage direction would insult the reader). Stage directions for the entrance of a character in mid-scene are, with rare exceptions, placed so that they immediately precede the character’s participation in the scene, even though these entrances may appear somewhat earlier in the early printed texts. Whenever we move a stage direction, we record this change in the textual notes. Latin stage directions (e.g., Exeunt) are translated into English (e.g., They exit).

We expand the often severely abbreviated forms of names used as speech headings in early printed texts into the full names of the characters. We also regularize the speakers’ names in speech headings, using only a single designation for each character, even though the early printed texts sometimes use a variety of designations. Variations in the speech headings of the early printed texts are recorded in the textual notes.

In the present edition, as well, we mark with a dash any change of address within a speech, unless a stage direction intervenes. When the -ed ending of a word is to be pronounced, we mark it with an accent. Like editors for the past two centuries, we display metrically linked lines in the following way:

 I do not doubt you.
WESTMORELAND  I am glad of it.


However, when there are a number of short verse-lines that can be linked in more than one way, we do not, with rare exceptions, indent any of them.

  1. For further discussion of textual problems in Henry IV, Part 2, we invite you to read the section titled “Textual Problems in Henry IV, Part 2”.
  2. We have also consulted the computerized text of Q provided by the Text Archive of the Oxford University Computing Centre, to which we are grateful.