17b. The Famous Victories of Henry V


previously unpublished; © the estate of eric sams


(Numbers in bold refer to the Documents section and bibliographical citations refer to the Bibliography of The Real Shakespeare II, on-line edition)




     This early play (FV from now on) was written c. 1586, registered in May 1594 (197), published in 1598 (247) and republished in 1617 (479). Here are some background facts, including reasons for assigning it to Shakespeare.



(1) In 1586, the theatre was still in its infancy, and Shakespeare himself, in his early twenties, stood at the beginning of his stage career. FV, as any amateur (but few or no professionals) can instantly see, was deliberately designed to please Tudor groundlings, not the later literary élite; hence its general rejection by the latter.


(2) It was thought worth registering and publishing many years after its first performances; so it had proved popular in its day. Shakespeare began with popular plays (608).


(3) It was the first known English historical play; Shakespeare was the earliest known writer of such plays.


(4) Its first printer ('one of the best of his time', Halliday 2/1964, 120) was Thomas Creede, to whom its rights had been assigned in 1594; he also published, in that same year, the first Quarto of 2H6, known as Contentionand universally though mistakenly condemned as a 'memorial reconstruction'  (RS1 154-162). The same applies to his printings of Henry V (1600, 1602) and The Merry Wives of Windsor (1602). He also brought out the second edition of Romeo and Juliet in 1599 and, between 1602 and 1612, the second, third, fourth and fifth editions of Richard III (1602-12) in texts to which no one has yet objected. So at the material time he was a Shakespeare publisher.


(5) No doubt he had good reason for failing to issue FV in May 1594, when he acquired the rights. But by 1598 Shakespeare was a famous dramatist. Even so, the publication of FV in that year was surely not 'prompted by the appearance of Henry IV' (Humphreys 1966, xl). That assumption, far from being 'doubtless' (ibid.) is entirely groundless; and it is in the highest degree dubious for the very reason that instantly follows, namely that FV's appearance with Sir John Oldcastle among the Prince's rapscallions is odd at the very time when Henry IV Part II(ep. 32) was deliberately dissociating itself from any stigma on that unfortunate nobleman.


(6) The 1598 publication would be anonymous, and the play uncollected in the First Folio of 1623, first because the text was an example of juvenilia, by which Shakespeare (like many another great artist) would not wish to be remembered; in addition its action would in many respects anticipate other Henry V plays. The inference is that by 1594 he knew that FV would be reused for his later plays, and was hence disposable.


 (7) But how was he able to recycle that FV text so effectively and comprehensively, before it had been published? Because it had been, as its 1598 title-page says, 'plaide by the Queenes Maiesties players'; and Shakespeare in his youth had been not only a member of that acting company, but also its chief dramatist. Of course he would keep a copy of his own play, and send it in for printing in due course.


(8) He would naturally expect some payment for his work; he was an astute business man, and he became very rich rather early; so Academia should re-examine its oft-reiterated theory that Tudor plays were the sole property of the relevant theatre company.


(9) The intelligent and original American scholar E.B. Everitt, with such considerations in mind, reached the conclusion that FV represented an early Shakespeare play. He also inferred, again from sound evidence, that the actors of FV had included William Knell (whose widow Rebecca married Shakespeare's editor John Heminge early in 1588) and the celebrated clown Richard Tarleton; hence the application of those inferences to a letter said to be in Shakespeare's hand (1954, 173, 187, Plate IV) and the further ascription to him of Tarleton's News out of Purgatory. As Everitt also said (ibid. 176) 'a satisfactory exposition' of that work 'and its relationship to Shakespeare is so extensive that it must be developed independently of' his 1954 book. But alas he published no such development, and no doubt died a deeply disappointed man.


(10) As Duncan-Jones says (2001, 35), 'Shakespeare may have played alongside Tarleton as Dericke in The Famous Victories', and so indeed he may; further, that was a Queen's play and Shakespeare was a Queen's playwright.


(11) In 1961, the first-rate American scholar Seymour M. Pitcher, Professor of English Literature at the State University of New York, published a book about Shakespeare's authorship of FV, which is clearly, just as its dust-cover says, 'the considered product of many years of thought and study'. It was also, according to the same source, 'certain to arouse violent discussion among Shakespearean scholars'. In fact, it aroused little or none, like Everitt's book; instead, the profession applied its own indefeasible Principle of Infallible Opinion, which persists to this day. Thus both were comprehensively rubbished by Samuel Schoenbaum (1966, 142-3) who, with all possible respect to the American University that appointed him as 'Distinguished Professor of Shakespeare Studies' was never the 'great scholar' that his contemporaries or successors, (such as Duncan-Jones 2001, ix) liked to represent him; whereas Everitt and Pitcher actually were.


(12) However, even Homer nods; and though Pitcher had seen Everitt's book, he misrepresents it (1961, 7). It does not say that we should 'keep in mind the chance of [FV's] Shakespearean authorship'; it says (Everitt 1954, 171) that we should keep the play itself in mind because of its connections with Shakespeare, its probable ownership by the Queen's Players and its very early place in the English chronicle play'. Everitt himself, though he, like almost all his academic colleagues, remained unimpressed by the printed text of FV, does indeed attribute what he takes to be that play's original form to the young Shakespeare (Everitt 1954, 172, 173, 176).


(13) It was, admittedly, not always easy to fathom Everitt's true meaning; his knowledge was often too deep, and his inferences too surprising, to be expressed with total clarity. And Pitcher, unlike his critics, was modest to a fault. Thus he was well aware of The Annotator, by Keen and Lubbock (1961, frontispiece, Appendix B 231-250, 272) which ascribed to the young Shakespeare the 406 marginalia on a 1550 copy of Edward Hall'sLancaster and York; and he was sure that those notes supported his own thesis about the authorship of Famous Victories. So they do. But he remained unconvinced by the Lancashire connection, which is nowaways widely accepted; he too died long ago, like Everitt, without ever knowing that this thesis, including Shakespeare's cradle Catholicism, would one day become widely accepted and hence contribute its own quota of acceptable evidence.


(14) Indeed, Pitcher all but proves his ascription by pointing out (1961, 179) that the antiquarian and librarian Richard James, in a letter datable after 1621, says that 'in Shakespeare's first show of Harry the Fifth, the person with which he undertooke to play a buffoon was not Falstaff but Sir John Oldcastle' (Chambers 1930, ii, 243). When Pitcher first noticed this passage, he says (1961, 179) 'it appeared to me conclusive proof that that Shakespeare wrote The Famous Victories'. So it is, apart from what Pitcher himself calls 'uncertainties'.


(15) There are also 'uncertainties' in Nashe's 1592 account, in his Pierce Penniless, of a play in which Henry V was 'represented on the stage, leading the French king prisoner and forcing him and the Dolphin to swear fealty'. This was obviously FV, even though those sworn to fealty are in fact the Dolphin and the Duke of Burgundy, not the French king. Further, Nashe mentions it in the general context of plays by Shakespeare (RS1 74). (13), (14) and (15) together are surely very strong, even without Pitcher's extra evidence.


(16) Here is a selection of text and ideas which, most academics assume, Shakespeare stole from FV and used for his own personal prestige and profit. My examples are mainly drawn from earlier editions of FV such as Bullough 1963 or Corbin and Sedge 1991. I have also used the Arden edition of 1 Henry IV (Humphreys 1966).


     Now for the details. The opening scene of FV suggested 1H4 II.ii. Further, FV's Ned may be the origin of Shakespeare's Ned Poins; both are apparently Prince Henry's favourites. A thief in FV is called Gadshill (the name of a place near Rochester passed by pilgrims en route for Canterbury, 1H4 I.ii.122); Shakespeare gives him the same name (ibid. 125). In FV he has been employed as an informant to 'spy out our booties'; so also in 1H4I.ii.120f, where he has presumably told Ned Poins about the rich pilgrims and traders whose routes will take them past that outpost. Shakespeare also takes from FV the idea of stealing £1,000 of King Henry IV's money (1H4 II.iv.156, ibid. II.ii.51-3). In FV the robbers foregather at the 'old tauern in Eastcheap' where there is 'a pretty wench'; in 1H4 I.ii.38-9 Falstaff enquires 'and is not my hostess of the tauern' (also in Eastcheap) 'a most sweet wench?'. This tavern did not exist in Prince Henry's time (Corbin and Sedge 1991, 151), so FV shares this anachronism with 1&2H4. In FV, the thief Gadshill is accused of having 'beaten and robbed a poor carrier'; in 1H4II.i.32-45 a carrier suspects Gadshill of dark designs; in both plays a carrier mentions a 'race [root] of ginger' (1H4 II.i.26). Some of the FV characters have trade names, such as John Cobler; perhaps the same idea applied to the dead Robin Ostler, mourned by one of the carriers in 1H4 II.i.11. The FV thief is pursued 'by hue and cry'; so are Falstaff and his accomplices in 1H4 II.iv.500, where 'a hue and cry/hath followed certain men unto this house'. In FV, the office of Lord Chief Justice is promised by the prince 'so soon as I am king' to one of his scapegrace companions, who gleefully rejoins that he'll be the bravest one that ever was; in IH4 I.ii.60-5 Falstaff believes the prince 'when thou art king' will make him a judge, and gleefully adds that he'll be a brave one.

     In a pre-1588 performance of FV, as it was reported much later (Tarleton's Jests, 1638) William Knell (d. 1588) in his role as Henry the Fifth boxed the ears of the actor playing the Lord Chief Justice, who says 'I am content to take it at your hands'; cf. 2H4 I.ii.197, 'you took it like a sensible lord'. Again, FV offers a reversal of relevant roles in FV when Dericke the clown says to John Cobler 'thou shalt sit in the chair and I'll be the young prince'; cf. the similar device in 1H4 II.iv.381f, 'Do thou stand for my father' etc. In FV the young Prince discourses to Sir John Oldcastle about hanging and so forth, adding 'I tell you sirs when I am king we shall have no such things'; cf. Falstaff's enquiry to Prince Hal 'Shall there be gallows in England when thou art king?'. In FVthe prince says that his father is very sick, but 'the breath shall be no sooner out of his mouth but I will clap the crown on my head'; cf. 2H4 II.ii.39-40, 'it is not meet that I should be sad, now my father is sick'. Shakespeare's prince loves his father (2H4 II.ii.47-9); but so he does in FV (Sc. viii). In both plays there is a scene of brutal recruitment (FV x, 2H4 III.ii). In both plays the dying king laments the curse of a son who will destroy him with grief. Again, the FV father-son colloquy in Sc. vi no doubt suggested 1H4 III.ii and that in Sc. viii 2H4 IV.v. Here, 'a comparison shows many common details, not all by any means found in the chronicles, such as music soothing the king, the prince weeping, the lords calling the King after his doze and missing the crown, and particulars of the Prince's answer' (Humphreys 1966, xli). In FV, the prince is accused by his father of coveting the crown 'before the breath be out of my mouth'; in 2H4 (IV.v.99) the king again refers to the weak breath of a dying man. In both plays, the prince restores the crown and wishes that his father may long live to enjoy it; in both, the king confesses that it was gained and kept by devious and dubious means; in both, the prince vows to defend it to the death; and so on, including the prince's rejection of his former followers.

     In H5 the resemblances come even thicker and faster. In FV, in answer to the king's question 'what might the meaning thereof be?' the French ambassador seems rather reluctant to explain the scornful significance of his gift of tennis balls: 'a messenger...ought to keep close his message'; just so in H5 – 'or shall we sparingly show you far off/the Dauphin's meaning...?'. In FV the king has already awarded 'free liberty and license to speak', and now commands 'declare your message'; the later play expresses the same sentiment as 'with frank and with uncurbed plainness/tell us the Dauphin's mind'. The gift is received in almost the same words: FV has 'my lord prince Dolphin is very pleasant with me', cf. H5 I.ii.259, 'we are glad that the Dauphin is so pleasant with us'. The promised reciprocation in FV is 'instead of balls of leather we will toss him balls of brass and iron'; inH5 I.ii.281-2 'this mock of his hath turned his balls into gun-stones'. Before the battle of Agincourt, King Henry is told that 'there are many of your men sick and diseased' and that 'many of them die for want of victuals' (FV Sc. xix); so the king himself confesses in H5 III.vii.159 with a reference to his people's sickness. Both plays cite the defiant Henry as telling the herald that his only ransom will be his worthless dead body (FV Sc. xiv, H5 IV.iv.122-125). In both plays, Henry exhorts his troops 'for England cry Saint George' (FV xiv, H5 III.i.35). In both plays (FV xv, H5 IV.vii.83-4) the French herald seeks the English king's permission to bury the French dead.

     Both plays (FV ibid., H5 IV.viii.82f) specify the same implausibly high number (c. 10,000) of 'French...slain', including 'princes...and nobles bearing banners' and the same implausibly small number (some 'five and twenty') of ordinary English soldiers. In both, Henry asks the herald the name of the nearby castle; he is told that it is called Agincourt, and says that the field or battle should be so named, in perpetuity. The FV scene xvii between the clown Dericke and a Frenchman is paralleled by the encounter between Pistol and a Frenchman, H5 IV.iv; in both contexts the English comic characters speak of crowns and a sword. In FV (Sc. xix) Dericke describes his trick of thrusting a straw into his nose to make it bleed; cf. Falstaff's instruction to Peto and Bardolph 'to tickle our noses with spear-grass, to make them bleed' (1H4 II.iv.305-6). Both FV (Sc. xx) and H5 (V.ii.362-3) mention Henry's requirement of an oath of fealty from the French Lord of Burgundy. In both plays (FV Sc. xviii, H5V.ii.122) the king deprecates his skill in wooing, though it must have seemed impressively effective to his audience, especially in view of Kate's demurrers, respectively 'how should I love him that hath dealt so hardly with my father?' and 'is it possible dat I should love de enemy of France?' (H5 V.ii.175). As she then explains, again in both plays, she must first ask her father, who will (says Henry) certainly agree and who certainly does.

     Now, the world of Shakespeare studies seems to be divided into the 99.99% who passionately believe that he is to be congratulated on such plagiarism, in well over 30 examples, and those few brave souls who treat those facts as proof of his own authorship of FV. One reason for the former view is that modern commentators are constrained to steal from one another (as I have borrowed here and passim from my own predecessors) and thus come to accept that this is a proper way to proceed, especially if the result is a striking improvement on 'the old play' thus treated. Here the name of A. R. Humphreys again comes to mind. He is sure that IH4, for example, is a much better play than FV, so of course Shakespeare's thefts were perfectly justified. But on this assumption, anyone can steal anything, provided only that they make better use of it – an unusual defence of theft. One would like to know what that 'old play's' actual author, assumed to be someone other than Shakespeare, would have thought of such practices. It is further claimed, on no evidence, that such behaviour was entirely acceptable in Tudor times. But surely everyone then, as now, would know the difference between meum and tuum.

     Furthermore, Shakespeare had already been accused of plagiarism, by Robert Greene in 1592, and had indignantly denied any such charge. By 1598, Greene had died. But his friend and crony Thomas Nashe, another critic of Shakespeare, was very much alive; and he had certainly seen FV and would no doubt have noted that1H42H4 and H5 were all heavily dependent on its text and ideas. The same is true of other Tudor theatregoers, a populous, well-represented and highly articulate category. But there is no record of any adverse comment on any such score from any quarter at any time; and the obvious reason is that everyone then knew what is now forgotten, namely that FV was an early work by Shakespeare himself. Hence his justification for cribbing it, as one contribution to his well-known propensity for revision, rewriting and consequent improvement. Were it not so, he would have winced at almost every word of FV, the play that he certainly plundered; it is notable for its many mentions of thieving, filching, taking, stealing and so forth.

     While we are about it, let us also look at the myriad modern attempts to discredit and discard FV. The same Humphreys, already cited for his typical self-contradiction at (5) above, is famous for his frequently-quoted pronouncement (repeated, for example, by Corbin and Sedge 1991, 21) that FV has an 'almost imbecile nature in which not even Shakespeare, surely, could find inspiration'. This follows immediately upon a two-page itemisation of the actual inspiration that Shakepseare admittedly found in it, just in his 1H4. Consistency was never the strong point of Humphreys or his general Arden editor Richard Proudfoot; yet the former feels able to dismiss the Shakespearean attributions of E.M. Tillyard and E. B. Everitt as 'unproved speculation', heedless of the obvious fact that Humphreys himself is treating his own opinions as proof positive, heedless of the need for argument or evidence, in accordance with the hallowed Principle of Personal Infallibility, on which (alas) many Shakespearean specialists continue to rely.

     But what if they are just as wrong about the merits of FV as they have been, for the last century, about 'memorial reconstruction'? Here, as already reported, there are welcome developments. Even Corbin and Sedge acknowledge (ibid. 21) that the label 'bad' quarto may be 'as indicative of the prejudices and assumptions of scholars regarding the quality and social level of performance as of inherent deficiencies in the text in question'. That dictum, derived from Patterson 1988, is overtly applied to two advocates of FV as a 'memorial reconstruction' (Humphreys 1966 and Walter 1954, xxxiii); the same belief is shared by other devotees of that doctrine (such as Gary Taylor 1988) or even by its ostensible opponents (Maguire 1996, 292, 324). But at least Corbin and Maguire refer to others who over the last 400 years have had a good word to say for FV (Pitcher 1961, Bevington 1987); and they themselves sensibly add that a study of FV's text reveals very real virtues of dramatic structure and popular stage technique. No doubt they later asked themselves who, in the 1580s, was the playwright most advanced in those areas.

     The same question might be posed about other early plays. Instead, Academia is content to call Shakespeare a thief, even in the case of Edmund Ironside, which has been presented (Foster 1988) as a boring old 'grab-bag' of a play. Yet Shakespeare was so impressed by it that he kept on quoting it, like FV. Again, however, his own authorship will strike the layman as much the more likely alternative.

     Now let us consider the positive reasons for attributing FV to the young Shakespeare. The first task is to reject all talk of 'memorial reconstruction' as merely mythical; the second, to study Pitcher's edition 1961, without prejudice.

     Then consider what is said in my own edition of Edmund Ironside, another early play by Shakespeare (Sams 1985, 2/1986, 230-2, where part of the argument for that attribution is deployed and analysed in detail). A tabulation of the same wooing scenes in IronsideTitus Andronicus and 1 Henry VI shows the same train of thought not only running on the same lines but also traversing the same points and stopping at the same stations, with the manifest inference that all these excursions were planned and plotted by the same designing hand. The same applies, as there stated (ibid. 232-3), to analogous scenes from Shakespeare plays such as 3 Henry VIKing John and Pericles. It also applies to FV. There, the first reference is the designation 'sweet':Ironside 405, Titus IV.i.52 and 62, 1H6 V.iii.106 and 148. This is said six times by Henry of England to or of Katherine of France: 'sweet Kate' (four times) and 'a sweet wench' (twice). It is worth adding that 'sweet wench' in FV, like 'sweet girl' in Ironside, is no commonplace; the former expression occurs only thrice throughout the canon, though the epithet is found there nerly nine hundred times all told. Further, one use of 'sweet wench' appears in a play (namely 1H4 I.ii.40) universally agreed to contain phrases and ideas recycled from FV. Next, the sweet wench is told that by the proposed match she will become a queen (EI 411, 1H6 V.iii.111, TitusI.i.240); in FV King Henry tells Katherine's father, and herself, that he intends to make her Queen of England. She has already said that she is 'far unfit', which is the third required component, and appears here in the very same words as in Ironside 399. Fourthly, the girl is asked by her wooer whether the idea of being a queen pleases her; Ironside 436, Titus I.i.321, 1H6 V.iii.126. This card is of course more than somewhat forced; it was always acknowledged as a glorious thing to be a regular royal queen. In FV, Henry has no doubt of this elementary fact; nor has Katherine. And the idea of marriage with the king of England makes her proud, in that king's estimation, and indeed also in fact. But she still has to be asked: 'if she be willing', says Henry, 'and you (i.e. her father) therewith content' – the same word as in IH6, cited above. Fifthly, she explains that her father also has to be consulted: cf. 'what my father wills', Ironside 437, 'if my father please, I am content'. Hence Henry's FV enquiry, cited above. Katherine has already said that she could give her own answer, but must first know her father's will, in each instance anticipating the word or phrase found in a later play: 'what answer makes your grace?' (1H6 V.iii.150'), 'what my father wills' (EI 437). In FV, the king of France receives the proposal with enthusiasm: 'Daughter, let nothing stand betwixt the King of England and thee; agree to it'; cf. 1H6 ibid. 157, 'my daughter shall be Henry's'. In FV, again, a seal manual and a kiss are both mentioned as symbols of troth-plight and fealty – admittedly not in marriage, but both gestures surely signal the workings of the same mind. And with the FV mentions of the imminent wedding day ('the first Sunday of next month') and the necessary journey ('wilt thou go over to England') and the girl's clever response (no assurance, but no despair, again instantly evoking the idea of sweetness), the wooer's deprecation of wooing, and so forth, we are back on track, on the same lines.

     Next comes what Francis Meres says in 1598 (242). His Shakespeare work-list is highly prized. But he refers to a single tragedy of Henry the 4, as if he knew only one play of that name. If so, it was one that he had seen, not read, because Part II was not published until 1600. Now, a play about King Henry the Fourth, combining both parts, does in fact exist. It was never published; it is called the Dering MS, because it was found at the Surrenden (Kent) home of that family. It is now housed in the Folger Library, and various unsuccessful attempts have been made to persuade the profession to take some interest in it, and especially in its many variations from the known text of both plays. Its often unfamiliar text is set forth, and its vocabulary analysed, in the Louis Ule concordance (1987, I, 257-386). The principle of economy requires the inference that the usual late dating of this MS, and the attribution of the changes to one of the Dering family, with no evidence and for no ascertainable reason, are all mistakenly wide of the mark; but the profession has never shown much interest or competence in principles, evidence and reasons. But now hear the appraisal of the statistician Louis Ule (op. cit. xi) who finds that FV and the Dering MS show the extraordinarily high relative vocabulary overlap of 93.74%, even though FVranks the lowest (at 53.06%) of 83 Elizabethan texts ranked by vocabulary size while the Dering MS at 84.34% is very close to the average. He concludes that FV is an early juvenile effort by the author of the Dering MS – who is of course, on any interpretation of the known facts, Shakespeare himself. The unprecedented degree of vocabulary overlap may be thought to reflect the similarity of theme, but this view is soon dispelled by a comparative study of the two texts; these are plainly quite different plays. As the prince says in 1H4 I.ii.89, in reference to Proverbs, i 20, 24) 'wisdom cries out in the streets and no man regardeth it', despite FV's good title to be ranked as an early Shakespeare play, just as Everitt and Pitcher among others have said, despite the counter-cries of 'folly' and (no doubt even worse) 'eccentricity' from Samuel Schoenbaum (1966, 143), that convinced memorial reconstructionist (see e.g. Sams 1985, 2/1986, TLS Feb. 1993) who later became a Distinguished Professor of Renaissance Literature. But Seymour Pitcher and E.B. Everitt actually were distinguished professors, whose work should surely take precedence over the mere name-calling and detraction from which they have both suffered.

     It is worth adding that (as Pitcher points out) there is plentiful evidence of the alliteration and antithesis that are so characteristic of Shakespeare throughout his life. Add his typical bawdry ('for I delight as much in their [i.e. tavern-wenches'] tongues as in any part about them' (Sc. i), or 'why, are you so good at rooting?' (Sc. iv), which Corbin and Sedge gloss as, respectively, 'the Prince appears to anticipate the bawdy response of his companions; there may also be a hint here for the Shakespearean Hal's interest in low-life jargon' and 'with bawdy implications: see Partridge'. Again, the word-play on 'roots' is also typical of Shakespeare, and so are such jocular quibbles as 'I'll clap the law on your back' (Sc. x) with its implicit evocation of 'I'll clapperclaw [= thrash] you'. So is the Biblical reference to Job 3.3, when Prince Henry cries, in anguish of spirit, 'Curst be the day wherein I was born, and accursed by the hour wherein I was begotten'. So are the frequent references to the law, and the occasional chiasmus i.e. ideas in the grouping ABBA, as exemplified by 'a kingly resolution and the resolution of a king', Sc. xiv. So are the characteristic proverbs ('thou wilt eat me out of doors', Sc. iv), the allusions to country life and fare, complete with capital letters (e.g. Capon, Woodcocke). Indeed, the later Shakespeare seems to associate these two items of diet, whether in the same lines (Ado V.i.155,157), the same act (LLL IV.i.56, iii.80) or at least the same play  (Ham I.iii.115, III.ii.94, V.ii.306); perhaps the menu began early. Then there are plentiful examples of the noun-verb discord so common in Shakespeare, e.g. 'here comes the receivers'.

     What other early Elizabethan dramatist ever wrote thus? One answer to that question is 'the author of The Taming of A Shrew' (RS1 136-145). His character Sly is an opponent of imprisonment ('we'll have no sending to prison, that's flat'), like Prince Henry (when I am king we will have no such things [as prisons]'. He also writes 'as passeth', meaning 'which beggars description'; cf. FV Sc i.ii. Another answer is 'the author of Ironside', which contains many specific resemblances, such as the comment common to Prince Henry in FV and a more ordinary soldier in Ironside. The former says that even if his enemy had armour harder than brass he would pierce him to the heart (Sc. viii); the latter, that if he had steel side he would find 'Ironsides' and gore him (1541-2). Finally 'wrote' can be taken literally. Thus Ironside c. 1588 remained in manuscript, whereas the even earlier FV was eventually printed, though no until 1598; but both texts contain striking similarities of spelling within those two different formats. Taking only the first three letters of the alphabet, for example, to mitigate tedium, we see that both plays capitalise the words Alas, Angel, Arms, Army, Battle, Camp, Castle, Chamber, Cobbler, Conquerer, Countryman, Court, Curtleaxe; and Shakespeare famously tended to use a capital C for words beginning with that letter, because his small c was indistinct (Pollard 1923, 16). Again, the same small selection often contains the same actual unfamiliar spellings, as in adoe, adue (=adieu), approch, beleeue, cald (=called), carkasses, choller, cobler, commaund. Of course compositors must have made their own corrections and contributions, and Shakespeare's own orthography was widely variable (both points can be readily demonstrated from Pollard op. cit.); all the same, such correspondences call for comment. Further, the Corbin-Sedge edition treats the clearly printed 'summer' as a misreading of 'sumner', as if the FV text as supplied to the 1598 compositors contained the typically Shakespearean trick of carelessness in writing downstrokes, as noted in the holograph of More(Pollard 1923, 115-8) or Ironside (Sams 1985, 2/1986).

     Nor do the resemblances end there. Thus FV's stage devices, such as fixing the milieu in the mind of the audience by means of on-stage dialogue, have been much criticised, especially by those commentators to whom it seems never to have occurred that the aim of all early plays was to provide entertainment for simple people who were quite unaccustomed to that novel art-form – and that Shakespeare himself was once young, and hence attuned to his audiences. Hence, surely, such colloquies as ' but...whereabouts are we? about a mile off London' (FV Sc. i). Such simplifications have contributed to that text's scornful dismissal as 'almost imbecile'. But exactly the same device also appears in Ironside: 'but ...how far off are we from Southampton? Why, we are in the town'. We sense that Southampton is important to the playwright; so is Faversham in FV, presumably because that township lay on the itinerary of the Queen's Men in their first performance of that play. They also acted in Bath, which may well provide a date as well as a raison d'être for the last two Sonnets. Both plays are carried along on a continuous crackling carrier-wave of hilarity as well as topographical cross-reference. They exhibit many other parallels; thus comic characters in both refer to favourite foods such as 'beef and brewes', and undifferentiated characters are known by number, like receivers one and two in FV or pledges one and two, or soldiers one to four in IronsideFV also often reads like the earliest canonical plays: compare its 'nobly spoken, Harry', addressed to the Prince with 'that is spoken like a toward prince' (3H6 II.ii.66). Of course only tenuous connections with canonical Shakespeare can be expected on any hypothesis, and these are duly observable; thus, as Corbin and Sedge point out, the FV comment 'we would be loth to have anything ado' [=any trouble] looks forward to 'the unwillingness of the watch to confront disturbances' (Ado III.iii.24-55), while the Porter who cries 'what a rapping keep you at the king's court gate' is a plain prediction of the Porter in Mac II.iii. But such examples are predictably dwarfed by the many parallels already cited between FV and the canonical trilogy about Henry the Fifth.



[For the first draft of this chapter, see The Real Shakespeare II, Appendix 4.5]