King Henry IV, Part 1

King Henry IV, Part I

Henry IV, first printed in 1598, owes its fame and lasting attraction on the stage not to the royal title hero, whose usurped kingship occasions rebellions that burden his reign, but to the character of Sir John Falstaff, the merry, carousing and self-loving paunch (‘this huge hill of flesh’) to whose set of companions Harry, the crown prince, has become attached, much to the grief of his father, King Henry.

The drama is set in two different spheres: the courtly and political world of fealty and rebellion, the language of which is blank verse, and the carnivalesque ale-house world ruled by Falstaff, the language of which is colloquial, and often bawdy, prose. Prince Harry connects these domains: he is not just the high-ranking associate of a dubious band of likeable scoundrels but also, as the main antagonist of the heroic dare-devil ‘Hotspur’ Henry Percy, a political actor who finally wins the day and will, in a later play, emerge as Henry V.

The English text of the present edition was newly edited on the basis of the acknowledged copy texts, namely Q0 and Q1. Variant readings marking substantive differences of meaning are indicated in the textual notes.

The prose translation follows the English text as precisely as an unforced use of the German language permits, thus constituting a running commentary on the original. It is complemented by explanatory notes on various aspects of the text, comprising, for example, semantics, style, staging and sociocultural background. The range of commentaries is illustrated by the notes on Hotspur’s alleged stammer (p. 61 and V.2.91) and Falstaff’s ambiguous dictum the better part of valour is discretion (V.4.115-116).

The introduction presents a survey of the drama’s interpretation, from the earliest instances up to the most recent. It provides information on sources, date of composition, genre and its specific dramatic structure, textual history (including German translations) as well as an appraisal of representative productions.

The scene-by-scene commentary attempts to explain the functional characteristics of each individual scene, closely following the sequence of dramatic situations; it includes aspects of the dramatic language, the action, literary themes and the constellation of actors on the stage.

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