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Henry VI, Part 3 /

An Introduction to This Text: Henry VI, Part 3

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

Henry VI, Part 3 was first printed, in a version far different from the one edited here, in 1595 as an octavo with the title The true Tragedie of Richard Duke of Yorke, and the death of good King Henrie the Sixt, with the whole contention betweene the two Houses Lancaster and Yorke, as it was sundrie times acted by the Right Honourable the Earle of Pembrooke his seruants. This octavo was reprinted as a quarto in 1600 and again, with 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 third Part of Henry the Sixt, with the death of the Duke of Yorke.

The relation between Folio and octavo 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 octavo was the non-Shakespearean source for the Folio play. Then, early in the twentieth century, the text printed in the octavo 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 in the octavo—4.2.1–18, 5.7—reproduce the Folio text verbatim or nearly verbatim. Nevertheless, the closeness of the octavo to the Folio in these passages may not mean that there the manuscript printer’s copy for the octavo reproduced the Folio’s text most carefully; instead it may indicate that the Folio typesetters consulted the printed octavo or, more likely, one of the derivative quartos for these passages, where perhaps the typesetters found their manuscript printer’s copy deficient. Some editors and critics have invoked the theory of memorial reconstruction to account for the octavo’s differences from the Folio. However, the octavo does not differ from the Folio in the same way that, say, the 1602 quarto of The Merry Wives of Windsor does from the Folio text of that play; the Wives quarto is the only one that seems to be in any substantial part a memorial reconstruction of its Folio counterpart. Thus memorial reconstruction seems irrelevant to the case of Henry VI, Part 3, which therefore remains unresolved. (For a different judgment on this problem, see Randall Martin’s “The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York and 3 Henry 6: Report and Revision,” summarized in “Further Reading.”)

The present edition is based directly on the First Folio text of 1623, and resorts to the octavo only for occasional readings when the sense of the Folio breaks down.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 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.

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. Twice in Henry VI, Part 3, characters refer to a molehill. Once Queen Margaret orders that the captured Duke of York be made to “stand upon this molehill here” (1.4.67), and once King Henry, watching a battle, decides “Here on this molehill will I sit me down” (2.5.14). Because the stage seldom aims for the realism of film, most productions will not feature a molehill. Yet, given the marvelous creativity found in the theater and the widely different venues in which Shakespeare is performed, we have sought to write stage directions for these moments that will not limit possible stagings. Thus we use in these directions the deliberately indefinite word prominence, meaning no more than an area raised above its surroundings: “They place York on a small prominence”; “He sits on a small prominence.”

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 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 “Mountague,” “Montague,” and “Mountacute” for the character that we invariably designate “Montague.” 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. Richard Plantagenet, duke of York is sometimes “Plant.” and sometimes “Yorke.” in the Folio speech prefixes, but always “YORK” in this edition. King Henry sometimes speaks as “Hen.” and sometimes as “King.” in the Folio, but speaks only as “KING HENRY” in our edited text. The exception to this rule occurs when a character in the play changes status so significantly that he or she is given a new name (as with LADY GREY, who becomes QUEEN ELIZABETH, and GEORGE, who becomes Duke of CLARENCE).

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:

 To who, my lord?
KING EDWARD  Why, Clarence, to myself.


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.