Skip to main content
Henry IV, Part 2 /

Textual Problems in Henry IV, Part 2

The Folio-only Passages: Cuts from the Quarto or Authorial Revisions in the Folio?

Since the early eighteenth century editors have discussed how the major differences between Q and F may have arisen. According to Alexander Pope, writing in the early 1720s, the eight F-only passages were added to the play by Shakespeare’s own revising hand. Samuel Johnson, writing in the 1760s, thought instead that the F-only passages had been cut from the Q text by actors abridging the play for performance. Although there has recently been an unpersuasive attempt to revive and modify Pope’s theory of Shakespearean revision, Johnson’s view has generally prevailed. Close attention to the contexts of the F-only passages indicates that their omission from Q always renders Q’s dialogue discontinuous. Such discontinuity strongly suggests that the F-only passages were once part of the Q text as well. Surviving dramatic manuscripts from Shakespeare’s time that show signs of their use in the theater are marked with cuts that resemble the omissions from Q in their quantity and in the discontinuity they produce in dialogue.

Yet some of those discontinuities are so jarring that scholars have speculated that these cuts may not have been made by actors but by a censor for the crown, perhaps on the occasion of Q’s publication. Take, for example, 1.1.207–29, 1.3.89–114, and 4.1.58–83. The topics of all three speeches, these scholars contend, may have caused anxiety among royal officials. The first argues for the power that churchmen may exert in sponsoring rebellion, the second deals with the fickleness of subjects’ loyalty, and the third is a justification of armed rebellion. However, the royal censors apparently allowed stage representations of successful rebellions against the crown in other plays. Thus, while it is clear that passages have been cut from Q, it is not clear who may have cut them or for what reason.

Censorship and Scribal Transmission of the Folio Text

It is certain that F has been subjected to a kind of censorship—not political censorship, but censorship of profanity and oaths. Yet uncertainty arises concerning who carried out this censorship. Editors have noted the many times that the various names of the deity—present in Q as “God,” “God’s light,” “the Lord,” “Jesus,” and “Jesu”—are expurgated from F, which in some cases offers substitutes (e.g., “heaven”) and in other cases does not. In trying to explain this expurgation, editors have pointed to a 1606 Act to Restrain Abuses of Players that forbade actors to use the names of God onstage. Its enforcement was the responsibility of the Master of the Revels, who censored acting companies’ manuscripts. Therefore editors have concluded from the expurgation of the names of God in F that it must derive ultimately from a manuscript kept in the theater.

This conclusion overlooks two facts about F. First, “God” has not completely disappeared from F. Still present are the Hostess’s reference to “God’s officers” (2.1.52), the Chief Justice’s prayer for Falstaff “the Lord lighten thee” (2.1.201), and the Hostess’s prayer for Prince Hal “the Lord preserve thy good Grace” (2.4.296). These references to “God” and “the Lord” are important differences between F and surviving dramatic manuscripts from the period after 1606 that contain signs of having passed through the hands of the Master of the Revels. Second, F sporadically censors such mild oaths from Q as “by my troth” or “i’ faith,” oaths that were not necessarily censored by the Master of the Revels before the 1620s. It would seem that some other agent may have censored F, and therefore F may be based on something other than a theatrical manuscript.

The person who censored F may have been a scribe, for we know that scribes sometimes did censor dramatic manuscripts according to their own lights; moreover, we have good reason to believe that a scribe was responsible for the manuscript that underlies F. Signs of scribal transcription are to be found in the style of the prose passages of F. Comparing F to Q, editors have observed the many times that F prints formal language instead of Q’s colloquial speech. Over and over, where Q prints “there’s,” F prints “there is”; where Q prints “Ile” (i.e., I’ll), F prints “I will”; where Q prints “ ’tis,” F prints “it is.” These are only a few of the many examples available. Close study of the Folio typesetters’ work on other plays (like the stylistically similar Henry IV, Part 1) indicates that they very seldom formalized language in this way. Such changes therefore must have their origin elsewhere than the printing shop.

If these minor stylistic changes were the only differences between Q and F, such scribal intervention would be of little importance, since these changes have no impact on the text’s meaning. However, discovery of a scribal hand in the F text raises the possibility that some significant differences between Q and F may be his responsibility too. Perhaps he was the one who fixed the grammar of King Henry’s accusation against Prince Hal. In Q the accusation reads “Thou hid’st a thousand daggers in thy thoughts, / Whom thou hast whetted on thy stony heart,” but in F “Which” has replaced “Whom” (4.3.260–61). Even though “Whom” is not incorrect in sixteenth-century usage, “which” would have been the more correct form in the early seventeenth century. Perhaps the scribe was also responsible for modifying Falstaff ’s colloquial phrasing in Q by adding to it a word (here printed in italics) in order to make the phrasing perfectly balanced: “To wake a wolf is as bad as to smell a fox” (1.2.158). Or perhaps the scribe transformed Shallow’s peculiar expression “I thank thee with my heart” as it reads in Q, into the more customary version printed in F: “I thank thee with all my heart” (5.1.58). In The Merry Wives of Windsor, the only other Shakespeare play in which he appears, Shallow is given (in the Folio version) the expression as printed in Q Henry IV, Part 2. Finally, the scribe may even have introduced into the F text entire half-lines in order to make its verse, as well as its language, more regular and more conventional. Some half-lines unique to F seem to do no more than complete a verse line. An example is the one printed here in italics: “But for you rebels, look to taste the due / Meet for rebellion and such acts as yours” (4.1.373–74). The discovery of a scribe in the F text thus calls into question many F readings that vary from Q. Nonetheless, it is impossible in the case of any specific reading to know that it originates with the scribe. Therefore F’s readings cannot simply be dismissed as merely scribal.

The Printing of the Quarto and the Folio

Not only may a scribe have intervened decisively in the F text, but printers also significantly affected both the Q and F texts. While printers make some difference in the case of every Shakespeare play (since none exists in manuscript), Henry IV, Part 2 offers editors the opportunity to observe that difference in more specific terms.

As far as Q is concerned, we have already called attention in the Introduction to This Text to its existence in two different states, Qa and Qb, which contain independently printed versions of the same 165 or so lines from the end of 2.4 and the beginning of 3.2. When Qa’s and Qb’s versions of these lines are minutely compared to each other letter for letter and punctuation mark for punctuation mark (through a process called collation), there turn out to be well over a hundred differences between Qa and Qb. No more than fifteen of these differences (all those listed in our Textual Notes) can possibly affect meaning; and only nine of these involve the form, the addition, the deletion, or the transposition of words. However, all fifteen differences must have been introduced by the printer; and although not all are serious, no fewer than a dozen must be classified as printer’s errors.

Occasionally, it is clear that Qa is right, as when it prints “Westminster” and Qb erroneously prints “Weminster”; similarly the reverse is sometimes true, as when Qb twice prints “do so” and Qa prints “do, so.” Peculiar circumstances surrounding the printing of the last reprinted page in Qb also cast doubt on some Qb variants from Qa. It is obvious that the printer was forced to waste a good deal of space on this page. Thus when we find scattered about here no fewer than four words that do not appear in Qa, we must be suspicious that the printer may have added these words in an attempt to fill up the page. But we cannot be certain that these four words are printer’s additions; it remains just possible that they derive from the printer’s manuscript and were left out in the printing of Qa. In most other cases, it is not at all clear which of Qa and Qb is right, even though one presumably reproduces what was in the printer’s manuscript and the other presumably does not. Twelve errors in a little over 300 lines of Q (150 lines in Qa and 150 in Qb) is an alarming number, testimony to the irreducible difference that it makes to put a text into print.

The typesetters of the F text of Henry IV, Part 2 appear to have worked under even more trying circumstances than those faced by their counterparts who printed Q. During the printing of the First Folio, both Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2 were set aside until plays immediately following them in the Folio had been set into type and printed. But the Folio printer evidently made a serious miscalculation when he counted the number of pages he should keep blank for the later printing of the two parts of Henry IV. His mistake made little difference to the Folio printing of Henry IV, Part 1, but it had a striking effect on Part 2. Some of the early pages of Henry IV, Part 2 are the most crowded ones in the entire First Folio. Such obvious last-minute adjustments make it hard to throw off the suspicion that the typesetter may sometimes also have altered the dialogue in order to make it fit the space he could give it. There are a number of words printed in the Q version of these pages’ dialogue that fail to appear in F, and a number of F readings are shortened versions of what appears in Q. For example, in F the Hostess says only “I warrant,” while in Q she says “I warrant you.” A few lines later the F expression “I pra’ye” takes the place of Q’s “I pray you.” Then only a few more lines further down the Folio page, the Hostess complains that she has “bin fub’d off, and fub’d-off ” by Falstaff, but in Q she says “fubd off ” three times, not twice. Finally, in F she identifies Bardolph as “that arrant Malmesey-Nose,” although Q has “that arrant malmsie-nose knaue.” These omissions and changes may be the typesetter’s.

The problem of setting F into type had changed when the workmen turned to the concluding scenes of Henry IV, Part 2 because the printer had by then added several more pages to those originally allotted to the play; indeed, as is evident from the lavish white space in the pages of the closing scenes, the printer had added an excess of pages, and the typesetter had to find ways to waste space. Now the possibility arises that the typesetter may have added words to the F text as one way to fill up an all too empty page. For example, in F one speaker issues the threat of “shee shall haue Whipping cheere enough,” and then observes that “There hath beene a man or two (lately) kill’d.” Neither “enough” nor “lately” is printed in the Q version of this speech. An editor cannot altogether dismiss the possibility that these words and a number of others—including even some F-only half-lines—may have been introduced into F by the typesetter; but an editor cannot confirm this possibility either. All in all, however, the severe difficulties besetting the typesetters of F, as well as the evidence of scribal interference in the transmission of the F text, make Q the text to be preferred.