Skip to main content
Henry V /

An Introduction to This Text: Henry V

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

The play we call The Life of Henry V was printed in two quite different versions in the first quarter of the seventeenth century.

The first version appeared in 1600 as The Cronicle History of Henry the fift, With his battell fought at Agin Court in France. Togither with Auntient Pistoll. As it hath bene sundry times playd by the Right honorable theLord Chamberlaine his seruants. This printing was a quarto or pocket-size book known today as “Q1.” Q1 differs extensively from the play familiar to modern readers: it is only about half as long; it omits whole scenes and all the choruses, and it prints some scenes in a different order. A striking difference is the fact that the Duke of Bourbon, rather than the Dauphin, appears in the scenes set at Agincourt. Twentieth-century textual critics and editors have usually dubbed Q1 a “bad quarto” but have, nonetheless, as will be noticed shortly, tried to make use of it in preparing editions of the play. Q1 was reprinted first in 1602 (as “Q2”), with no remarkable changes. Its second reprinting, in 1619 (as“Q3”), is unusual, first, because, as one of the so-called Pavier Quartos, Q3 is misdated 1608; and, second, because it contains a handful of departures from Q1 that seem beyond the skill of a typesetter to introduce. These new readings in Q3 anticipate what is printed in the Folio version of 1623 and have given rise to editorial conjecture that either during the typesetting of the Folio its printers consulted Q3 or that the printers of Q3 had access to a manuscript that in some respects resembled the one used to print the Folio. Neither explanation is convincing, and the source of the Q3 readings in question remains a mystery.

The second version of the play, the one in the Folio of 1623, is entitled simply The Life of Henry the Fift. It was printed from a manuscript containing a much fuller text of the play than the manuscript used for Q1.

Throughout the editorial tradition, editions of the play have been based on the Folio. In the latter half of the twentieth century, it has even been widely assumed that the Folio version is based directly on Shakespeare’s own manuscript. In contrast, Q1 has been said to reproduce an abridged version put together from memory by actors who had roles in the play as it was performed outside London. A few recent editors have become so convinced of the truth of such stories about Q1 as to depend on it for a record of what was acted. These editors, for example, not only incorporate into their editions as many lines unique to Q1 as can be managed, but also substitute Q1 variants in dialogue and stage directions for their Folio counterparts, replacing, for example, the Folio’s Dauphin with Q1’s Bourbon in the Agincourt scenes. Nevertheless, as today’s scholars reexamine the narratives about the origins of the printed texts, we discover that these narratives are based either on questionable evidence or sometimes on none at all, and we become more skeptical about ever identifying how the play assumed the forms in which it came to be printed.

The present edition is based upon a fresh examination of the early printed texts, rather than upon any modern edition.1 It offers its readers the Folio printing of Henry V. But it offers an edition of the Folio because it prints such editorial changes and such readings from other early printed versions as are, in the editors’ judgment, needed to repair what may be errors and deficiencies in the Folio. Except for occasional readings, this edition excludes Q1 from its text because Q1 is, for the most part, so widely different from the Folio. However, when there has been editorial agreement about incorporating a line from Q1 into the Folio version, this line (and an accompanying discussion) is printed in the commentary.

In this edition, whenever we change the wording of the Folio or add anything to its stage directions, we mark the change by enclosing it in superior half brackets ( ). We want our readers to be immediately aware when we have intervened. (Only when we correct an obvious typographical error in the Folio does the change not get marked.) Whenever we change the Folio’s wording or change its punctuation so that meaning is changed, we list the change in the textual notes, even if all we have done is fix an obvious error.

One major exception to this editorial policy is the French dialogue that is so extensive in Henry V, a feature that makes this play unique among plays attributed to Shakespeare. The quality of the French is very poor in the Folio (and a great deal worse in Q1). To mark every correction of this French would be to litter pages of the play with brackets, and so we have corrected it silently. The Folio’s French may be studied in the textual notes, which often include (in an appendix) whole speeches and even one whole scene. We have corrected the French of the characters who, in the play’s fiction, are native French speakers much more heavily than that of nonnative speakers, who appear to be given deliberately fractured French. However, without departing widely from the Folio, we have found it impossible to reduce to standard French even all the dialogue of the fictional native speakers. We therefore retain some of the mistakes in French that mark the Folio; these seem to indicate that no one involved in preparing this play, Shakespeare included, knew how to write French very well.

For the convenience of the reader, we have modernized the punctuation and the spelling of the Folio. 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 some 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 correct or regularize a large number of proper names, especially French ones, as is the usual practice in editions of the play. For example, the Folio’s spelling “Britaine” becomes “Brittany”; “Dolphin” becomes “Dauphin”; “Harflew” becomes “Harfleur,” and “Calis” “Calais”; there are many other comparable adjustments in the names.

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 fictional events. Thus stage directions are written with reference to the stage, except in cases where the stage directions of the Folio (which was and is a book designed to be read rather than acted) refer to the fictional circumstances of the play rather than to its staging. In those cases, we retain the Folio’s stage direction. For example, 3.3 opens in the Folio with the stage direction “Enter the King and all his Traine before the Gates.” In the fiction of the play, the “Gates” are the town gates of Harfleur, but these, almost certainly, would not have been replicated on the stage of Shakespeare’s time. Even though this Folio direction has no reference to the stage, we keep it, but we do not embellish it (as is done in many editions) by adding to it town walls with citizens standing on top of them.

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 characters in midscene are, with rare exceptions, placed so that they immediately precede the characters’ 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 text sometimes uses a variety of designations. Variations in the speech headings of the early printed texts are recorded in the textual notes.

In the present edition 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 last two centuries, we display metrically linked lines in the following way:

 This would drink deep.
BISHOP OF CANTERBURY  ’Twould drink the cup and all.


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. We have also consulted a computerized text of the First Folio provided by the Text Archive of the Oxford University Computing Centre, to which we are grateful.