The Arden Shakespeare Third Series

Plays

Antony and Cleopatra (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Antony and Cleopatra rival Romeo and Juliet for the title of most famous lovers in Western drama. Shakespeare’s play, probably written around 1606-7 (though not appearing in print until the First Folio of 1623), reflects the popularity of the story in the early modern imagination. Shakespeare’s play is heavily indebted to Plutarch’s Parallel Lives of the Greeks and Romans, written in the first century AD, and translated into English by Sir Thomas North in 1579.

Marc Antony is one of three triumvirs ruling Rome following the assassination of Julius Caesar. Neglecting his political duties, he lingers in Egypt with Cleopatra, a queen who sees herself as a demigod, an embodied Isis. When unrest threatens Rome, Antony must leave Cleopatra in order to solidify his power against threats from Pompey and fellow triumvir Octavius Caesar. Despite marrying Octavia, the passive sister of Caesar, for the sake of peace, he soon longs for his ‘wrangling queen’ and returns to Egypt. The ensuing war between the lovers and Octavius Caesar engulfs the Roman world. The eponymous lovers are unable to reconcile their martial defeat and its consequent shame with their hyperbolic self-images, and commit two of the most memorable suicides in the Shakespearean canon.

From its earliest audiences, Antony and Cleopatra has received criticism. Post-Restoration critics knocked the play for the way it disregarded the classical unities of drama, which stated that a play should cover one idea, in one place, at one time. With its action historically spanning a decade, and its scenes ranging from Europe to Africa and back again, the play affronted those who desired a neater retelling of the famous love story. John Dryden took it upon himself to rewrite the tragedy in his play All for Love, first performed in 1677: covering only the last day of the lives of Antony and Cleopatra, the play reaches for a grander love affair, removed from the lust, jealousy and self-inflation of Shakespeare’s play. Scholarly criticism has dwelt upon the play’s use of opposites, the imagery of instability, and the performance of gender on the early modern stage (to which Cleopatra metatheatrically refers, when she fears boy actors will portray her ‘squeaking [. . .] i’th’posture of a whore’ [5.2.219-20].

The staging of the play has long been of special interest to critics and theatre-makers alike: the play calls for a sea-battle, and a colossal monument to Cleopatra up to which the dying Antony must be hoisted. Notable Antonys have included John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier and Patrick Stewart; notable Cleopatras Peggy Ashcroft, Vanessa Redgrave and Mark Rylance, in the 1999 all-male production at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London.

As You Like It (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In the Forest of Arden where the cross-dressed Rosalind meets her lover Orlando, folklore meets with classical ideals, the pastoral with ribaldry, and love poetry with parody and satire. As You Like It plays witty games with gender roles, and the nature of liberty and love.

As You Like It was probably written at the end of 1598, and perhaps first performed in 1599. This text is based on the Folio, where it was first printed.

Duke Fredrick has usurped his older brother Duke Senior and banished him to the Forest of Arden, where he lives with the faithful members of the court. He has left behind is his daughter Rosalind who is close friends with her cousin Celia, the daughter of Duke Fredrick. The changeable Fredrick banishes Rosalind from his court; Celia accompanies her into the forest, along with the clown Touchstone. Meanwhile Orlando, who Rosalind favours after seeing him wrestle, flees to the forest with his servant Adam after hearing his oldest brother Oliver plots to kill him.

Rosalind disguises herself as a young man called Ganymede, and Celia as ‘Aliena’, while Orlando joins the banished Duke and his men, who include the melancholy Jacques. In the guise of Ganymede, Rosalind meets Orlando and gives him lessons in wooing and women, pretending to be ‘Rosalind’ and receiving his mock-courtship. Secondary romance plots involve the rustic Silvius and Phoebe, and Audrey and Touchstone. When Oliver arrives in the forest too, Rosalind arranges several marriages and the dukedom is restored.

In her introduction to the current edition, Juliet Dusinberre writes ‘As You Like It, with its cross-dressed heroine, gender games and explorations of sexual ambivalence, its Forest of Arden and melancholy Jaques, speaks directly to the twenty-first century. Although the play is rooted in Elizabethan culture – literary, social, political, aesthetic – Shakespeare has placed a prophetic finger on the pulse of the future. Amongst the myths of classical pastoral and of the biblical Garden of Eden are a group of displaced persons fleeing family disruption and political corruption. In raising profound questions about the nature of liverty, renewal and regeneration posed by the new environment of the Forest, Shakespeare has created a comedy of extraordinary flexibility and depth.’

Coriolanus (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Coriolanus was first published in the First Folio of 1623; we have no recording of a first performance contemporary with Shakespeare. As a result, dating the play has proven to be a difficult task, with most modern critics placing the writing of the play in the second half of the 1610s.

Affording Coriolanus a genre is similarly tricky: it is ‘The Tragedy of Coriolanus’ in the First Folio, but it is deeply indebted to the sub-genre of ‘Roman plays’ that form a significant part of the Shakespearean oeuvre. As with Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare draws on Thomas North’s 1579 translation of Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans for both historical detail and literary tropes.

The exploration of the public voice and the body politic in Coriolanus is immediately displayed in the play’s opening, where Roman citizens are rising up against the mounting price of grain. (It has been argued that this is a contemporary reference to the Midland Revolt of 1607, where peasants in the Midlands of Britain rioted against the enclosure of common land.) Menenius, a wise old Roman generally respected by the people, recites a parable narrating the breakdown of the body when its individual parts are not in accord. For the body politic to function, the head (here, the General; in Shakespeare’s England, King James I) and the belly (the people) must support each other.

One of the play’s central explorations, that of the battle between public and private identity, and political and personal duty, is encapsulated in the figure of Coriolanus, much as it is in other Roman figures (e.g. Brutus in Julius Caesar and Mark Antony in Antony and Cleopatra). His identity is unfixed, and manipulated by the patricians and his ambitious mother, Volumnia.

Unlike other Shakespearean tragic heroes, Coriolanus only has one lengthy soliloquy, in which he laments the ‘dissension’ and ‘bitterest enmity’ to which ‘friends now fast sworn’ have turned. As his affinity shifts from Romans to Volscians, his own identity gets lost, until he cries at the end of Act IV that ‘only that name remains’ – the irony being that ‘Coriolanus’ is not the name he started off with at the beginning of the play (he was ‘Caius Martius’ until he was granted the toponym Coriolanus, after his defeat of the town of Corioles). He is murdered at the end of the play in a bloody attack perpetrated by conspirators, mirroring Caesar’s death in his eponymous Roman tragedy. The opacity of the play’s central figure has rendered theatrical and cinematic interpretations of Coriolanus manifold in the past century especially: Laurence Olivier (twice), Anthony Hopkins, Richard Burton, Ian McKellan and Ralph Fiennes have all portrayed the general.

Double Falsehood or the Distressed Lovers

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Double Falsehood, or The Distressed Lovers has long been the subject of scholarly and theatrical doubt. In 1728, Lewis Theobald, Shakespeare editor and struggling man of letters, published the play, claiming it to be his revision of a work ‘Written Originally by W. SHAKESPEARE’, of which he happened to be in the possession of three manuscript copies. Whilst many over the years have slammed this work as forgery (perhaps a play by James Shirley or Philip Massinger masquerading as Shakespeare), perhaps an attempt to jump on the bandwagon of the revivifying English theatre in the patriotic cultural politics of the eighteenth century, in the 1780s, Edmond Malone discovered records dating from the 1600s confirming a play by Shakespeare and his sometime collaborator, John Fletcher. This lost play, The History of Cardenio, performed by the King’s Men in 1613, and entered into the Stationer’s Register in 1652, has a plot and characterisation very close to Theobald’s revision. Any manuscripts Theobald may have had are thought to have perished in the fire that destroyed the Covent Garden Theatre Museum in 1808, and thus, the original play remains lost to a modern readership.

A story of passionate love and devastating betrayal, Double Falsehood follows the story of ‘Cardenio’, found in Cervantes’ Don Quixote (1605). At the hypothesised time of the play’s composition in the early 1610s, English literary culture was having a Cervantic ‘moment’, with Thomas Shelton translating the novel into English in 1607, publishing it in 1612. A Spanish play based on Cervantes’ work, Don Quixote de la Mancha (?1605-8) by Guillén de Castro, may also have been a direct source. In Theobald’s version, the libertine Henriquez has forced himself on the humble Violante, and abandoned her, leaving a heartless letter. He now sets about pursuing Leonora, who is engaged to his friend Julio. With the collusion of Leonora’s father Don Bernard, he forces her to the altar, having first lured Julio to court on a false errand. Warned by Leonora, Julio turns up in time to prevent the wedding and Leonora’s suicide. Julio is ejected from the house.

The grief-stricken Julio is living in a mountainous plateau. Violante is dressed as a shepherd and living nearby. Leonora has taken refuge in a nunnery in the same region; Henriquez is still pursuing her. Henriquez’s virtuous elder brother Roderick arrives in time to save Violante from being assaulted by the Master of the Flocks, who has seen through her transvestite disguise. Violante and Julio discover that they have both been wronged by Henriquez.

Roderick arranges for Leonora’s father, Julio’s father, Leonora and Violante to meet at a lodge. Violante, who is disguised as a page, confronts Henriquez with his cruel letter to her; she leaves and returns dressed as a woman, and Henriquez seems to fall in love with her anew. Leonora is reunited with Julio.

First produced at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1727, Double Falsehood has had no subsequent professional stage performance. Put on through the eighteenth century for private entertainment, in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries it has been reworked by scholars for private readings or university performances. Oxford general editor Gary Taylor attempted to work back and ‘undo’ Theobald’s emendations in order to recreate a work closer to the hypothesised Shakespeare and Fletcher original: first appearing at a private reading in New York in 2006, the play was staged as a public performance in Wellington, New Zealand, in 2009.

Hamlet (The First Folio, 1623, Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In the 400 years following its composition, Hamlet has become enshrined amongst the classic plays of Western literature. Written about by luminaries from Samuel Johnson to Sigmund Freud, from Voltaire to T.S. Eliot, the study of Hamlet has engrossed great minds since its inception.

Simultaneously, the role of Hamlet is considered both the pinnacle and the challenge of an actor’s career, as he strives to take his place amongst classic Hamlets of the past such as Richard Burbage, David Garrick, and Laurence Olivier. Hamlet continues to fascinate readers and audiences to this day, as each new generation discovers that, in the words of critic William Hazlitt, ‘it is we who are Hamlet’.

In the wake of his father’s death and his uncle’s ascension to the throne, Prince Hamlet has struggled with his grief, as well as his sense of outrage over his mother Gertrude’s quick remarriage to Hamlet’s uncle, the new king. When Hamlet’s father appears to him as a ghost to reveal that he was, in fact, murdered by Hamlet’s uncle, the prince sets himself on an ultimately tragic path towards vengeance.

William Shakespeare’s play emerged from the classical tradition of revenge tragedy, which enjoyed a particular popularity around the beginning of the seventeenth century, when the play was first written and performed. Its first performances were probably staged by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Shakespeare’s company at the time. Although it shares certain plot similarities with other revenge tragedies – a secret murder, a ghostly apparition, a bloody resolution – the ambiguities of Hamlet allow it to defy strict classification, enabling every actor, reader, or theatregoer to consider the play anew upon each new reading or viewing. The straightforward story of a son determined to avenge his father’s murder is complicated and enhanced by the many questions that arise throughout the play regarding unanswered plot points as well as philosophical conundrums.

Due to the survival of three early, distinct versions of the text of Hamlet, the process of editing Hamlet has required its editors to consider which of the texts – known as Quarto 1 (Q1), Quarto 2 (Q2), or Folio (F) – is truly ‘authoritative’. For the Arden Third Series edition of Hamlet, editors Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor chose to reject the traditions of elevating one text above the others or creating a composite text from all three versions. Instead, Arden offers clear, modernised versions of all three texts.

The text presented here is taken from the 1623 First Folio, a collection of thirty-six Shakespeare plays collated by John Heminges and Henry Condell (two actors from Shakespeare’s company, the King’s Men), where it appears as The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke. It is the longest play in the Folio, and, although 4% shorter than Q2, it contains 1,914 words not found in Q2. It has been argued that this version is from a copy prepared for performance, possibly by Shakespeare and fellow company members, as the play contains fuller and more systematic stage directions than Q1 and Q2. It has been posited that F is based partly on a copy of Q2 annotated in the playhouse or after performance, and thus is authoritative given its derivation from the authorial ‘foul papers’ theorised to be the basis of Q2. Character names and the placing of key soliloquies are on the whole consistent between Q2 and F, although F lacks Hamlet’s final soliloquy in Q2, ‘How all occasions do inform against me...’, in which he decides once and for all to ‘be bloody’.

Hamlet (The First Quarto, 1603, Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In the 400 years following its composition, Hamlet has become enshrined amongst the classic plays of Western literature. Written about by luminaries from Samuel Johnson to Sigmund Freud, from Voltaire to T.S. Eliot, the study of Hamlet has engrossed great minds since its inception.

Simultaneously, the role of Hamlet is considered both the pinnacle and the challenge of an actor’s career, as he strives to take his place amongst classic Hamlets of the past such as Richard Burbage, David Garrick, and Laurence Olivier. Hamlet continues to fascinate readers and audiences to this day, as each new generation discovers that, in the words of critic William Hazlitt, ‘it is we who are Hamlet’.

In the wake of his father’s death and his uncle’s ascension to the throne, Prince Hamlet has struggled with his grief, as well as his sense of outrage over his mother Gertrude’s quick remarriage to Hamlet’s uncle, the new king. When Hamlet’s father appears to him as a ghost to reveal that he was, in fact, murdered by Hamlet’s uncle, the prince sets himself on an ultimately tragic path towards vengeance.

William Shakespeare’s play emerged from the classical tradition of revenge tragedy, which enjoyed a particular popularity around the beginning of the seventeenth century, when the play was first written and performed. Its first performances were probably staged by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Shakespeare’s company at the time. Although it shares certain plot similarities with other revenge tragedies – a secret murder, a ghostly apparition, a bloody resolution – the ambiguities of Hamlet allow it to defy strict classification, enabling every actor, reader, or theatregoer to consider the play anew upon each new reading or viewing. The straightforward story of a son determined to avenge his father’s murder is complicated and enhanced by the many questions that arise throughout the play regarding unanswered plot points as well as philosophical conundrums.

Due to the survival of three early, distinct versions of the text of Hamlet, the process of editing Hamlet has required its editors to consider which of the texts – known as Quarto 1 (Q1), Quarto 2 (Q2), or Folio (F) – is truly ‘authoritative’. For the Arden Third Series edition of Hamlet, editors Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor chose to reject the traditions of elevating one text above the others or creating a composite text from all three versions. Instead, Arden offers clear, modernised versions of all three texts.

‘The Tragicall Historie of HAMLET Prince of Denmarke, printed in quarto version (Q1) in 1603, is often known as the ‘bad’ quarto due to its significant differences from both the Q2 and F texts, rendering it ‘artistically inferior’ in the eyes of some readers. The plot, though essentially the same as in the older versions, is much abridged – Q2 is 79% longer than Q1. Several characters names are reworked: ‘Gertred’, ‘Leartes’, ‘Ofelia’, ‘Rossencraft’, ‘Gilderstone’, ‘Voltemar’, ‘Cornelia’ and ‘Fortenbrasse’ are all recognisable alternate spellings of characters familiar from Q2, whilst Polonius and his man Reynaldo undergo a sea-change to become ‘Corambis’ and ‘Montano’ respectively. In addition, many iconic monologues, particularly ‘To be or not to be’, will seem odd, both in position and wording, to readers familiar with Q2 and F. Q1 also includes an important scene between Gertred and Horatio, absolving the queen from knowledge of her new husband’s guilt, that does not appear in either of the other versions of the texts. Since its discovery in 1823, many theories have been posited regarding Q1, with some readers suggesting that it is a ‘first draft’ of the play, others that it is a ‘memorial reconstruction’ compiled from players’ memories, and still others that it is a theatrical abridgement, Q2 and F both being too long to have comfortably appeared on the early Jacobean stage as ‘two hours’ traffic’ (though in recent years the duration of early modern performances has been disputed as anywhere between two hours and up to three and a quarter hours long). Q1’s unique stage directions have, since the quarto’s discovery, become standardised: despite only appearing in Q1, stage business such as Ophelia’s mad lute-playing and Hamlet and Laertes jumping into the grave have become iconic moments in the play.

Hamlet (The Second Quarto, 1604-05, Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In the 400 years following its composition, Hamlet has become enshrined amongst the classic plays of Western literature. Written about by luminaries from Samuel Johnson to Sigmund Freud, from Voltaire to T.S. Eliot, the study of Hamlet has engrossed great minds since its inception.

Simultaneously, the role of Hamlet is considered both the pinnacle and the challenge of an actor’s career, as he strives to take his place amongst classic Hamlets of the past such as Richard Burbage, David Garrick, and Laurence Olivier. Hamlet continues to fascinate readers and audiences to this day, as each new generation discovers that, in the words of critic William Hazlitt, ‘it is we who are Hamlet’.

In the wake of his father’s death and his uncle’s ascension to the throne, Prince Hamlet has struggled with his grief, as well as his sense of outrage over his mother Gertrude’s quick remarriage to Hamlet’s uncle, the new king. When Hamlet’s father appears to him as a ghost to reveal that he was, in fact, murdered by Hamlet’s uncle, the prince sets himself on an ultimately tragic path towards vengeance.

William Shakespeare’s play emerged from the classical tradition of revenge tragedy, which enjoyed a particular popularity around the beginning of the seventeenth century, when the play was first written and performed. Its first performances were probably staged by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Shakespeare’s company at the time. Although it shares certain plot similarities with other revenge tragedies – a secret murder, a ghostly apparition, a bloody resolution – the ambiguities of Hamlet allow it to defy strict classification, enabling every actor, reader, or theatregoer to consider the play anew upon each new reading or viewing. The straightforward story of a son determined to avenge his father’s murder is complicated and enhanced by the many questions that arise throughout the play regarding unanswered plot points as well as philosophical conundrums.

Due to the survival of three early, distinct versions of the text of Hamlet, the process of editing Hamlet has required its editors to consider which of the texts – known as Quarto 1 (Q1), Quarto 2 (Q2), or Folio (F) – is truly ‘authoritative’. For the Arden Third Series edition of Hamlet, editors Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor chose to reject the traditions of elevating one text above the others or creating a composite text from all three versions. Instead, Arden offers clear, modernised versions of all three texts.

The second quarto (Q2), the text presented here, was printed in 1604 as The Tragicall Historie of HAMLET, Prince of Denmarke. Despite being nicknamed the ‘second’ quarto, scholars have argued that it is probable that Q2 actually pre-dates Q1, as it is conjectured to be based on Shakespeare’s manuscript copy, his ‘foul papers’. The supposed proximity of Q2 to the authorial hand has therefore led this text frequently to be chosen as the authoritative version of Hamlet. As its titlepage makes no mention of performance (unlike Q1), it has been argued that this Hamlet was a version crafted by Shakespeare’s hand before the cuts required by performance were put into place: a play ‘for the closet, not for the stage’. At 28,628 words, ‘Newly imprinted and enlarged to almost as much againe as it was, according to the true and perfect Coppie’, it is the longest extant play in the canon. Although it resembles the Folio text, both contain a number of unique lines. Even so, this is the version of Hamlet most familiar to readers in terms of language and scene structure, particularly in relation to iconic monologues such as ‘To be or not to be’.

Julius Caesar (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Shakespeare’s dramatization of the assassination of Julius Caesar sees rhetoric give way to cruelty, revenge and war. The tragedy is a complex treatment of the conspiracy, prompting discussions about power, tyranny, rivalry, gender, religion, the Elizabethan understanding of the Roman world and the continued interpretation of character: is Caesar a hero or a tyrant? Is Brutus a patriot or a murderer?

In a fast-paced opening half, Caesar returns to Rome triumphant following victory over Pompey. The city turns out to hail him as a hero, but Cassius is alarmed by Caesar’s inflated popularity and power, and surreptitiously recruits senators who share his concerns. He persuades the conscientious Brutus to join the conspiracy, which quickly gathers momentum; on the Ides of March, Caesar is stabbed to death in the Senate by the conspirators.

The killing marks a turning point in the play, and the full introduction of a major new character – Mark Antony. At Caesar’s funeral, Brutus explains to the mob that he slew the ambitious Caesar for the good of Rome. But he is outdone when Antony speaks to them, the latter skilfully stirring up outrage and violence through a combination of powerful oratory and the reading of Caesar’s generous will. His words turn the crowd against the conspirators. Driven from the city, Brutus and Cassius go to war against Mark Antony and Caesar’s nephew Octavius, and are defeated at Philippi.

There are no extant quartos of Julius Caesar; our text comes out of the Folio of 1623. The date of composition is likely to be some time between September 1598 and September 1599, based on the play’s absence from the list of Shakespeare plays in Francis Mere’s Palladis Tamia, and a mention of it in Thomas Platter’s diary, recording that he saw the play at the Globe ‘at about two o’clock’ on the 21st September 1599. This composition date has led scholars to herald the play as the first great tragedy – one that paved the way for Shakespeare’s late Elizabethan and early Jacobean tragedies, including Hamlet, which is widely believed to have followed Julius Caesar chronologically. Indeed, there are several references to Caesar in the later play. Based largely on Amyot’s French and North’s English translations of Plutarch’s Lives (1559 and 1579 respectively), Julius Caesar is regarded as an unprecedented kind of political play – of fast action and compelling rhetoric – that pushed the boundaries of conventional dramatic verse and prose.

The play has had a rich and varied performance history, rarely falling out of vogue. Its politics have remained as relevant throughout the past century as they were on its first performance. It comes out of a period great political unease, to which Elizabeth’s treatment of her intimates and rivals, her own image of self-deification and lack of successor all contributed. Insurrection was in the air: a year and a half later, in 1601, the Earl of Essex would lead an unsuccessful rebellion against the ageing ruler.

The play was revived almost every year in the first half of the eighteenth century, and the opportunity for grand staging and large crowds was not lost to nineteenth-century theatre makers. In the twentieth century, the theme of tyrannical rule was ripe fruit for directors of the play. Orson Welles’s 1937 production, subtitled ‘Death of a Dictator’ was the first to cast the Emperor as a fascist ruler.

In the later twentieth century, political literary theory saw New Historicist and Cultural Materialist critics thinking on the staging of alternative political structures, and the representation and subversion of the people. Feminist criticism has looked into the Elizabethan conception of the Roman world as an ideology of maleness. Recent productions have included Greg Doran’s 2012 all-black ‘Pan-African’ Julius Caesar at the RSC, Stratford-upon-Avon, and Phyllida Lloyd’s 2013 all-female version at the Donmar Warehouse.

King Henry IV Part 1 (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

King Henry IV Part 1 is the second play in Shakespeare’s Henriad tetralogy, following on from King Richard II.

The play was first printed in the First Quarto of 1598 (Q1), as 'The History of Henrie the Fovrth; With the battell at Shrewsburie, betweene the King and Lord Henry Percy, surnamed Henrie Hotspur of the North. With the humorous conceits of Sir Iohn Falstalffe'. It seems that it was an extremely popular play as it was reissued in a second edition in the same year, a rare occurrence at the time. The Arden text is taken from Q1 and from Q0, the surviving fragment of the quarto from which Q1 appears to have been taken.

The action of the play is based on part of the king's reign, from 1402–3. Shakespeare used multiple historical sources in the writing of King Henry IV Part 1, in particular Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles (1587) and the cautionary The Mirror for Magistrates (1559).

As the play begins, Bolingbroke, now King Henry IV of England, is plagued by guilt at the usurpation and murder of his predecessor, Richard II, and troubled by disquiet from rebellious nobles from two of the highest families in the land, the Percys and the Mortimers.

The king's son, Prince Hal (the future Henry V), has acquired a new friend in the merry-making Sir John Falstaff, a lover of sack (a type of early modern sherry), who takes him round taverns and introduces him to low-lifes and madams. Hal insists he is living this lifestlye only temporarily, so that when he decides to become princely once again, members of the court will have more respect for him.

The opportunity arises when the revolt of the nobles comes to a head at the Battle of Shrewsbury. Hal comes head to head with his foil, Henry Percy (or 'Hotspur'), and eventually kills him in combat. Having been coerced onto the battlefield, Falstaff steals money from fallen men and plays dead when under attack, surviving the battle, but declaring that from then on he will live an honourable life. The play ends with the king commanding his sons and allies to ride towards York and Wales to prepare to fight further rebellious nobles.

As is common in Shakespeare's history plays, King Henry IV Part 1 deals extensively with the idea of kingship: how legitimate is Henry's reign, and is he a good king? Hal learns that he too must decide what kind of prince (and later, king) he wants to be: he rejects his friends in order to become the man that will one day defeat the French at Agincourt, the most glorious of English victories to the early modern mind. Honour, chivalry and courtesy are always brought into question in the play's medieval courtly world view.

Falstaff, the opposite of all that is 'honourable', has remained throughout the centuries one of Shakespeare's best-loved comedic creations. Likely first portrayed by the Lord Chamberlain's Men popular clownish actor, Will Kemp, rumour has it that Queen Elizabeth I was so delighted with the character that she 'commanded' Shakespeare to write a further play that saw Falstaff in love: The Merry Wives of Windsor.

King Henry V (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Henry V is the final play in Shakespeare’s second tetralogy. Having shaken off his less savoury companions at the end of Henry IV Part 2, Hal takes his place on the throne following his father’s death, proving himself a pious and sensible ruler, much to the court’s surprise. Following enquiries into his genealogical right to rule over France as well as England, and taunts from the French Dauphin about his youth in the form of tennis balls, Henry resolves to invade France. His old carousing companions, after hearing of the death of Sir John Falstaff, join Henry’s army, their quarrels forming the comic underbelly of the play. Following the English victory at the siege of Harfleur, the two armies prepare to confront one another at Agincourt. On the eve of battle, Henry disguises himself and goes into the camp, discussing with his soldiers the responsibilities of a king. The English win a spectacular victory, and the play ends with the promise of Henry’s marriage to the French Princess Katherine of Valois.

Shakespeare’s contemporary audience would have been familiar with the events at fifteenth-century Agincourt, following the anonymous play The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth (1594/8). At the time of performance of Shakespeare’s Henry V in 1599, the re-telling of the glorious English victory would have been ironically juxtaposed with contemporary attempts by the Earl of Essex to suppress rebellion in Ireland.

The first Quarto (Q1) was not published until 1600. This ‘Cronicle History’ is only half the length of the text printed in the First Folio of 1623 (F); it has been hypothesised that Q1 was the initial write-up of the play, and F the theatrical text pieced together after performance. We cannot be sure where the play was first performed: many have romanticized ‘this wooden O’ as the Globe theatre, newly built in 1599, but it is possible that it was originally performed at the Curtain theatre in Shoreditch, where Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, had been performing since 1596.

The critic William Hazlitt commented that the eponymous king is ‘a very amiable monster, a very splendid pageant’. These contradictions are characteristic of responses to the play itself: its treatment of warfare has been the topic of debate for almost as long as it has been in performance. Does the play speak of national pride and English glory, or of ironic disenchantment and authoritarian kingship? The divergence of twentieth-century screen versions has visualised this contrary nature: Laurence Olivier’s 1944 wartime film, intended as a morale boost for Allied troops before the D-Day landings in Normandy, France, creates a halcyon backdrop for ‘we few, we happy few, we band of brothers’, whereas Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 film portrays a starker and less sentimental picture of the potential horrors of war.

General Editors: Richard Proudfoot, Ann Thompson, David Scott Kastan and H.R. Woudhuysen

The Arden Shakespeare has long set the gold standard in annotated, scholarly editions of Shakespeare's plays. Each Arden edition in the Third Series offers a modernized text with comprehensive commentary notes glossing meanings, discussing staging issues and explaining literary allusions, together with a lengthy, illustrated introduction by a leading scholar exploring the play's critical, theatrical and historical contexts. The Arden editions thus offer readers an authoritative modernized text with on-screen pop up Commentary and textual notes to aid understanding, complemented by a comprehensive critical and contextual introduction.