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Henry VI, Part 2 /

An Introduction to This Text: Henry VI, Part 2

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

Henry VI, Part 2 was first printed, in a version far different from the one edited here, in 1594 as a quarto with the title The First part of the Contention betwixt the two famous Houses of Yorke and Lancaster, with the death of the good Duke Humphrey: And the banishment and death of the Duke of Suffolke, and the Tragicall end of the proud Cardinall of Winchester, with the notable Rebellion of Iacke Cade: and the Duke of Yorkes first claime vnto the Crowne. This quarto was reprinted in 1600 and again, with a half-dozen corrections that bring its text closer to the First Folio version, in 1619. In the 1623 collection of Shakespeare’s plays now known as the First Folio there appeared a much fuller and very different text, this one titled The second Part of Henry the Sixt, with the death of the Good Duke HVMFREY.



Explore the 1594 quarto of Henry VI, Part 2, in Miranda.

The relation between Folio and quarto texts of this play has been a matter of speculation and discussion for centuries. In the eighteenth century it came to be believed that the quarto was the non-Shakespearean source for the Folio play. Then, early in the twentieth century, the text printed in the quarto was properly recognized as being later than the text printed in the Folio, from which it was derived. However, the process of derivation remains a vexed question. Particular passages printed in the quarto—1.1.61–66; 2.1.74 SD, 127–66 SD; 2.3.60 SD–2.4.0 SD; 4.5.0 SD–4.6.6—reproduce the Folio text verbatim or nearly verbatim. Nevertheless, the closeness of the quarto to the Folio in these passages may not mean that the quarto manuscript reproduced the Folio manuscript most carefully here; instead, it may indicate that the Folio typesetters consulted the printed quarto for these passages, perhaps because they found the manuscript being used as printer’s copy deficient in these places. Some editors and critics have invoked the theory of memorial reconstruction to account for the quarto’s relationship to the Folio. However, The First part of the Contention does not differ from The second Part of Henry the Sixt in the same way that the 1602 quarto of The Merry Wives of Windsor does from the Folio text of that play—the quarto of Wives being the only one that seems in any substantial way a memorial reconstruction of its Folio counterpart. Thus memorial reconstruction seems irrelevant to the case of Henry VI, Part 2, where the nature of the quarto text remains an unresolved question.

The present edition is based directly on the First Folio text of 1623,1 and resorts to the quarto only for occasional readings when the sense of the Folio breaks down. 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 apparent 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 either 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 “Salisbury,” “Salsbury,” “Salsburie,” and “Salisburie,” but this edition uses only “Salisbury.” However, it is not our practice in this play to render all names of French characters or places in modern French. Instead, to accommodate metrical considerations in the play’s verse, we retain the First Folio’s anglicized spellings of, for example, “Alanson” for Alençon, “Orleance” for Orléans, and “Britaigne” for Brittany.

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 some stage directions are edited with reference to the stage. For example, in 2.4 of Henry VI, Part 1, the prequel to Henry VI, Part 2, 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, subsequently created the duke of York, and wears the white rose. His chief follower is Warwick. The opposing party is headed by the duke of Somerset, whose principal supporter is Suffolk; they wear the red rose. Once these parties have formed in this scene, thereafter in stage productions each time they enter in Henry VI, Parts 1, 2, or 3, 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, we reorganize the First Folio’s entrance directions in scenes where such factionalism is prominent so that members of each faction enter together wearing the rose appropriate to their faction. In 1.3 of Henry VI, Part 2, for example, when Suffolk enters at line 5 SD, we indicate that he is wearing the red rose, and, at line 103 SD we indicate that York and Warwick enter wearing the white rose and Somerset wearing the red. 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 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. Such variety is evident in connection with several characters. Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, is sometimes “Glo.” and sometimes “Hum.” in the Folio speech prefixes, but always “GLOUCESTER” in this edition. One of Jack Cade’s followers in the Act 4 rebellion is Dick the butcher, who sometimes in the Folio speaks as “But.” and sometimes as “Dicke.” but speaks only as “DICK” in our edited text.

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:

KING HENRY 
 Uncle, how now?
GLOUCESTER  Pardon me, gracious lord.

(1.1.56–57)

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.