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Henry VI, Part 1 /

An Introduction to This Text: Henry VI, Part 1

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

Henry VI, Part 1 was first printed in the 1623 collection of Shakespeare’s plays now known as the First Folio. The present edition is based directly upon that printing.1 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, usually 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.

Whenever we change the wording of the First 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 First Folio does the change not get marked.) Whenever we change the First Folio’s wording or its punctuation so that meaning changes, we list the change in the textual notes, even if all we have done is fix an obvious error.

We regularize spellings of a number of the proper names in the dialogue and stage directions, as is the usual practice in editions of the play. For example, the First Folio uses the forms “Reigneir,” “Reignard,” and “Reignier”; the forms “Burgonie,” “Burgundie,” and “Burgundy”; and the forms “Puzel” and “Pucell,” but our edition uses only the spellings “Reignier,” “Burgundy,” and “Pucelle.” (This last form is a modern French spelling of the word.) However, it is not our practice always to render names of French characters or places in modern French. Instead, to ease pronunciation in the play’s verse, we retain the First Folio’s anglicized spellings of the following names: “Alanson” for Alençon, “Callice” for Calais, “Dennis” for Denis, “Orleance” for Orléans, and “Roan” for Rouen.

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 novel or a series of actual events. Thus some stage directions are edited with reference to the stage. For example, in 2.4 a group of noblemen quarrel over a case at law and divide into two parties. They identify themselves as members of their parties by plucking and wearing roses of different colors. One party is led by Richard Plantagenet and wears the white rose. His chief follower is the Earl of Warwick. The opposing party is headed by the Duke of Somerset, whose principal supporter is the Earl of Suffolk; they wear the red rose. Once these parties have formed in this scene, thereafter in stage productions each time they enter their members square off against each other belligerently as they display the roses that signal their allegiances. To emphasize this stage presentation of factionalism in our edition, and to help the reader identify characters with their proper factions, we reorganize the First Folio’s entrance directions. The Folio opens 3.1 with the following stage direction: “Enter . . . Warwick, Somerset, Suffolk, Richard Plantagenet.” In our edition, this direction appears as “Enter . . . Richard Plantagenet and Warwick, with white roses; Somerset and Suffolk, with red roses.” Through this intervention we hope to help our readers stage the play in their own imaginations in a way that more closely approximates an experience in the theater.

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, setting the added direction in brackets to signal that it is not found in the Folio. (Occasional exceptions to this general 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 (with the exception of Richard Plantagenet, discussed below), even though the early printed texts sometimes use a variety of designations. Such variety is evident in connection with the character Beaufort, whose official name is Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester. Beaufort is almost always called Winchester in the First Folio, but he is called Cardinal in 5.4, his final scene. (The direction for his entrance is “Enter Cardinall,” and he speaks as “Car.”) We regularize his speech prefix in this scene to WINCHESTER because in all other cases in the play his prefix is “Win.,” “Winch.,” or “Winchest.” In making this change, we record it in the textual notes, as we do all regularizations of speech prefixes.

Because we accept the argument that Winchester’s status does not actually change in the last act, we do not change the speech prefixes of this character. However, we take a different approach when a character’s status does indeed alter in the course of the play, as is the case with Richard Plantagenet. This change of status occurs at 3.1.178–82, when Richard, up to that point known as Plantagenet, is created “princely Duke of York” by Henry VI. To indicate this transformation of status, as well as to indicate the name by which he is henceforth known, we change his speech prefix from PLANTAGENET to YORK.

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:

 A maid, they say.
BEDFORD  A maid? And be so martial?


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