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Henry IV, Part One
ISBN 0553212931 / 9780553212938 / 0-553-21293-1
Publisher Bantam Classics
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Written between 1596 and 1597, Henry IV Part One represents Shakespeare's increasingly mature talent in staging the history of the early Tudor monarchy. Midway in the cycle of Shakespeare's History Plays, which begin with Richard II and ultimately culminate in his last play, Henry VIII, Henry IV Part One tells the story of the troubled reign of Henry IV following his deposition of Richard II. The historical action revolves around the attempt by Henry Percy (known as Hotspur) to overthrow Henry at the Battle of Shrewsbury. However, over half the play deals with the transformation of Henry's profligate son, Prince Hal (the future King Henry V), from tavern joker to national icon.
The whole play is stolen from its kings and princes by Shakespeare's greatest comic creation, the "fat-kidneyed rascal" Sir John Falstaff, king of his own dominions--the taverns and brothels of London's Eastcheap district. The tavern scenes of the play are some of the most evocative accounts of 16th-century popular London life. They revolve around the comical but ultimately sinister relationship between Falstaff and his young apprentice Hal, who learns to "so offend to make offence a skill" as he learns the slippery ropes of realpolitik and kingship. The play is considered by many to be the liveliest and most profound of Shakespeare's History Plays, and remains one of its most popular examples. --Jerry Brotton [via]