10.1.4. Henry the Fourth


The Date of Henry the Fourth


There are fourteen passages in Shakespeare's Henry the Fourth where parallels can be drawn to six works by Thomas Nashe and Gabriel Harvey from September 1592 to April 1594. This leads to the question: who is responding to whom? Are the authors and rivals, Harvey and Nashe, responding to the playwright – or is it the playwright responding to the scattered scenes and pamphlets by Harvey and Nashe?

This question only supports a single, clear-cut answer.

Of great significance is the way in which Gabriel Harvey echoes Henry the Fourth. A quotation that is as artful as “some old Lads of the Castle” (no. 4) and an allusion that is as skilful as “Sir Bombarduccio” (no. 5) are only to be understood as echoes, and not as autonomous statements brought into play by the copyist. Just as telling is Nashe’s title “Gentle M. William, that learned writer Rhenish wine & Sugar” (no. 3), which is, in no uncertain terms, a response – no one, not even someone drawn to error, could conceive of the idea that Shakespeare might have subsequently commandeered this expression.

“Some old Lads of the Castle” points to Falstaff's original name “Sir John Oldcastle” and to the identical formulation in 1Henry IV; “Sir Bombarduccio” hints at “that huge bombard of sack”, as Prince Hal dishonourably labels his friend; “Gentle M. William, that learned writer Rhenish wine & Sugar” quite clearly alludes to the author who created “Sir John Sack & Sugar”.

Thomas Nashe’s parallel figure to Shakespeare’s praise of sack (“Do me right, / And dub me knight, / Samingo”) should also only be understood as an echo and not a previous event. In his lively, sharp-tongued play Summers Last Will and Testament (Oct 1592) Nashe recites the Bacchanalian praise of wine: “God Bacchus, do me right, / And dub me knight, Domingo” (see no 1). How could Shakespeare (four or five year later, as is claimed) have reacted to Nashe’s play, which was watched by a hand-picked audience at a one-off performance at the manner house of Archbishop Whitgift and first printed in 1600? - He could not have. With this quotation from Henry the Fourth, the young Thomas Nashe bows before the admired playwright, who in all likelihood appeared amongst Archbishop Whitgift's guests in Croydon.

The remaining parallels (which exclusively trace back to Nashe) testify to the spirited, continuing affect of Shakespeare's texts in the mind of one of most witty authors of the period – who, as we know, had personal access to the playwright Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.




SHALLOW. By the mass, you'll crack a quart together- ha! will you not, Master Bardolph?
BARDOLPH. Yea, sir, in a pottle-pot.
SHALLOW. By God's liggens, I thank thee. The knave will stick by thee, I can assure thee that. 'A will not out, 'a; 'tis true bred.
BARDOLPH. And I'll stick by him, sir.
SHALLOW. Why, there spoke a king. Lack nothing; be merry...

(SILENCE drinks a bumper to Falstaff)
FALSTAFF. Why, now you have done me right.
SILENCE. (Singing)
Do me right,
And dub me knight,
Samingo. [=Sir Mingo]

2Henry IV, V/3

VERTUMNUS: Bacchus, Bacchu, Bacchum, god Bacchus, god fatback,
Baron of double beer and bottle ale,
Come in and show thy nose that is nothing pale.
Back, back there, god barrel-belly may enter.
(Enter Bacchus riding upon an Ass trapped in Ivy... his companions ... come in singing.)
The song.
Mounsier Mingo for quaffing doth surpass,
In cup, in can, or glass.
God Bacchus, do me right,
And dub me knight, Domingo.

Nashe, Summers Last Will (Oct 1592)

Gentle M. William… It is not unknown to report what a famous pottle-pot patron you have been to old poets.

Nashe, Strange Newes (Jan 1593)


PRINCE. Before God, I am exceeding weary.
POINS. Is't come to that? I had thought weariness durst not have attach'd one of so high blood.
PRINCE. Faith, it does me; though it discolours the complexion of my greatness to acknowledge it. Doth it not show vilely in me to desire small beer?
POINS. Why, a prince should not be so loosely studied as to remember so weak a composition.
PRINCE. Belike then my appetite was not-princely got; for, by my troth, I do now remember the poor creature, small beer.

2Henry IV , II/2

FALSTAFF. There's never none of these demure boys come to any proof; for thin drink doth so over-cool their blood, and making many fish-meals, that they fall into a kind of male green-sickness; and then, when they marry, they get wenches.

2 Henry IV , IV/3

BACCHUS: Now on my honor, Sim Summer, thou art a bad member, a dunce, a mongrel, to discredit so worshipful an art after this order. Thou hast cursed me, and I will bless thee: Never cup of Nipitaty in London come near thy niggardly habitation. I beseech the gods of good fellowship, thou may'st fall into a consumption with drinking small beer. Every day may'st thou eat fish, and let it stick in the mid'st of thy maw, for want of a cup of wine to swim away in.

Nashe, Summers Last Will (Oct 1592)

I’ll be your daily Orator to pray that that pure sanguine complexion of yours may never be famished with pot-luck, that you may taste till your last gasp, and live to see the confusion of both your special enemies, Small beer and Grammar rules.

Nashe, Strange Newes (Jan 1593)


PRINCE. Good morrow, Ned.
POINS. Good morrow, sweet Hal. What says Monsieur Remorse? What says Sir John Sack and Sugar?

1Henry IV , I/2

BARDOLPH. Why, you are so fat, Sir John, that you must needs be out of all compass – out of all reasonable compass, Sir John.
FALSTAFF. Do thou amend thy face, and I’ll amend my life. Thou art our admiral, thou bearest the lantern in the poop – but ‘tis in the nose of thee. Thou art the Knight of the Burning Lamp.

1Henry IV , III/3

Gentle M. William, that learned writer Rhenish wine & Sugar, in the first book of his Comment upon Red-noses, hath this saying, Veterem ferendo iniuriam invitas novam [tolerate an old wrong and you may invite a new one] …

Nashe, Strange Newes (Jan 1593)



On Holy-rood Day the gallant Hotspur there,
Young Harry Percy, and brave Archibald,
That ever-valiant and approved Scot,
At Holmedon met,
Where they did spend a sad and bloody hour.

1Henry IV , I/1

FALSTAFF. By the Lord, thou say'st true, lad- and is not my hostess of the tavern a most sweet wench?
PRINCE. As the honey of Hybla, my old lad of the castle- and is not a buff jerkin a most sweet robe of durance?

1Henry IV , I/2

PRINCE. Pray God you have not murd'red some of them.
FALSTAFF. Nay, that's past praying for. I have pepper'd two of them. Two I am sure I have paid, two rogues in buckram suits. I tell thee what, Hal- if I tell thee a lie, spit in my face, call me horse. Thou knowest my old ward. Here I lay, and thus I bore my point. Four rogues in buckram let drive at me.

1Henry IV , II/4

POINS. I would think thee a most princely hypocrite.
PRINCE. It would be every man's thought; and thou art a blessed fellow to think as every man thinks. Never a man's thought in the world keeps the road-way better than thine. Every man would think me an hypocrite indeed. And what accites your most worshipful thought to think so?

2Henry IV , II/2

For whereas those that stand most on their honour have shut up their purses, and shift us off with Court holy-bread: and, on the other side, a number of hypocritical hotspurs that have GOD always in their mouths, will give nothing for God's sake: I have clapped up a handsome Supplication to the Devil, and sent it by a good-fellow that I know will deliver it.

O how my soul abhors these buckram giants, that, having an outward face of honour set upon them by flatterers and parasites, have their inward thoughts stuffed with straw and feathers, if they were narrowly sifted.

Nashe, Pierce Pennilesse (Sept 1592)

Other profess other faculties, they profess the art of railing: noble, reverend, or whatsoever, all peasants and clowns, gouty devils and buckram Giants, Midases and golden Asses, Cormorants and Drones, Dunces and hypocritical hot-spur’s.

Yet never child so delighted in his rattling baby as some old Lads of the Castle have sported themselves with their rapping bauble.

Harvey, Foure Letters (Dez 1592)


PRINCE. Thou art violently carried away from grace. There is a devil haunts thee in the likeness of an old fat man; a tun of man is thy companion. Why dost thou converse with that trunk of humours, that bolting hutch of beastliness, that swoll'n parcel of dropsies, that huge bombard of sack, that stuff'd cloakbag of guts, that roasted Manningtree ox with the pudding in his belly, that reverend vice, that grey iniquity, that father ruffian, that vanity in years? Wherein is he good, but to taste sack and drink it? wherein neat and cleanly, but to carve a capon and eat it? wherein cunning, but in craft? wherein crafty, but in villany? wherein villanous, but in all things? wherein worthy, but in nothing?
FALSTAFF. I would your Grace would take me with you. Whom means your Grace?

1Henry IV, II/4

Her old Comedy, newly entitled…
I knew a glorious and braving Knight,
That would be deemed a truculental [base] wight,
Of him I scrawled a doughty Comedy.
Sir Bombarduccio was his cruel name.

Harvey, Pierces Supererogation (Sept 1593)

Some few crumbs of my book he hath confuted; all the rest of his invention is nothing but an ox with a pudding in his belly, not fit for anything else save only to feast the dull ears of ironmongers, plowmen, carpenters and porters.

Nashe, Christs Teares, 2nd edition (Apr 1594)

so that the Devil is only a pestilent humour in a man, of pleasure, profit, or policy, that violently carries him away to vanity, villany, or monstrous hypocrisy.

Nashe, Pierce Pennilesse (Sept 1592)


PRINCE. What a devil hast thou to do with the time of the day? Unless hours were cups of sack, and minutes capons, and clocks the tongues of bawds, and dials the signs of leaping
houses, and the blessed sun himself a fair hot wench in flame-coloured taffeta, I see no reason why thou shouldst be so superfluous to demand the time of the day.

1Henry IV, I/2

WILL SUMMER. What cheer, what cheer, my hearts? Are you not thirsty with listening to this dry sport? What have we to do with scales and hour-glasses, except we were Bakers or Clock-keepers? I cannot tell how other men are addicted, but it is against my profession to use any scales but such as we play at with a bowl, or keep any hours but dinner or supper.

Nashe, Summers Last Will (Oct 1592)


GADSHILL. Give me thy hand. Thou shalt have a share in our purchase, as I and a true man.
CHAMBERLAIN. Nay, rather let me have it, as you are a false thief.
GADSHILL. Go to; 'homo' is a common name to all men. Bid the ostler bring my gelding out of the stable. Farewell, you muddy knave.

1Henry IV, II/1

Newgate, a common name for all prisons, as Homo is a common name for a man or a woman.

Nashe, Pierce Pennilesse (Sept 1592)


POINS. Come, shelter, shelter! I have remov'd Falstaff's horse, and he frets like a gumm'd velvet.
PRINCE. Stand close.
(Enter Falstaff.)
FALSTAFF. I am accurs'd to rob in that thief's company. The rascal hath removed my horse and tied him I know not where. If I travel but four foot by the squire further afoot, I shall break my wind. Well, I doubt not but to die a fair death for all this, if I scape hanging for killing that rogue.

1Henry IV , II/2

The Roman Censors, if they lighted upon a fat corpulent man, they straight took away his horse, and constrained him to go afoot: positively concluding his carcass was so puffed up with gluttony or idleness. If we had such horse-takers amongst us, and that surfeit-swollen Churls, who now ride on their foot-cloths, might be constrained to carry their flesh budgets from place to place on foot, the price of velvet and cloth would fall with their bellies, and the gentle craft (alias the red herring's kinsmen) get more and drink less.

Nashe, Pierce Pennilesse (Sept 1592)


FALSTAFF. So that skill in the weapon is nothing without sack, for that sets it a-work; and learning, a mere hoard of gold kept by a devil till sack commences it and sets it in act and use.

2 Henry IV , IV/3

BACCHUS. So, I tell thee, give a soldier wine before he goes to battle, it grinds out all gaps, it makes him forget all scars and wounds, and fight in the thickest of his enemies, as though he were but at foils among'st his fellows. Give a scholar wine, going to his book, or being about to invent, it sets a new point on his wit, it glazeth it, it scours it, it gives him acumen.

Nashe, Summers Last Will (Oct 1592)



The textual comparison made here allows for only one logical conclusion: Both parts of Henry the Fourth originated before summer 1592.

Therefore, as Alfred Pollard (1919) and John Dover Wilson (1945) correctly suggested, The Famous Victories of Henry the fifth…as it was plaied by the Queenes Maiesties Players (entered in the Stationers`Register on 14 May 1594) was not the source of Henry the Fourth. In a paragraph from The Origins and Development of Shakespeare’s Henry IV (The Library, 1945) Wilson says:

“As against the traditional view of this text Alfred Pollard and I threw out the suggestion that The Famous Victories was neither a source of Shakespeare`s Henry IV and Henry V nor the original Queen's company play about Prince Hal in which Tarleton [d. Sept 1588] acted, but a much abridged and debased version of two plays belonging to that company… That The Famous Victories is a ‘bad’ quarto there cannot now be any reasonable doubt… That is to say, it is a memorial reconstruction, by a touring troupe attached, as the title-page shows, to the Queen’s men, of a full-length play or plays, which that unhappy had been forced to sell during the disastrous plague years of 1592-94… The Famous Victories of Henry the fifth is probably the worst dramatic text that has survived from that period.”

John Dover Wilson postulates that the many precursory plays to the Queen's Men, namely a Henry the Fourth and a Henry the Fifth, were lost at some point during the plague. Evidence of both the old plays can be found in Tarlton’s jests (ed. 1611) and Nashe's Pierce Pennilesse (1592). Tarlton’s jests goes as follows:

At the Bull of Bishopsgate was a play of Henry the Fifth wherein the judge was to take a box on the ear; and because he was absent that should take the blow, Tarlton himself, ever forward to please, took upon him to play the same judge beside his part of the clown: and Knel, then playing Henry the Fifth, hit Tarlton a sound box indeed, which made the people laugh the more because it was he; but anon the judge goes in, and immediately Tarlton in his clown's cloathes comes out and asks the actors, ‘What news?’; ‘O’ saith one, ‘hadst thou been here thou shouldst have seen Prince Henry hit the judge a terrible box on the ear.’ ‘What, man,’ said Tarlton, ‘strike a judge?’ ‘It is true, yfaith,’ said the other. ‘No other like?’ said Tarlton, ‘and it could not but be terrible to the judge when the report so terrifies me that me thinks the blow remains still on my cheek, that it burns again.’ The people laughed at this mightily; and to this day I have heard it commended for rare; but no marvel, for he had many of these.

In Pierce Pennilesse Thomas Nashe makes a “Defense of Plays”, enthusiastically recalling Henry the Fifth.

The policy of Plays is very necessary, howsoever some shallow-brained censurers (not the deepest searchers into the secrets of government) mightily oppose them… I will defend it against any Cullion or clubfisted Usurer of them all, there is no immortality can be given a man on earth like unto Plays. What talk I to them of immortality, that are the only underminers of Honour, and do envy any man that is not sprung up by base Brokery like themselves? They care not if all the ancient houses were rooted out, so that, like the Burgomasters of the Low-Countries, they might share the government amongst them as States, and be quarter-masters of our Monarchy. All Arts to them are vanity, and if you tell them what a glorious thing it is to have Henry the Fifth represented on the Stage, leading the French King prisoner, and forcing both him and the Dauphin to swear fealty, Aye, but (will they say) what do we get by it?

Shakespeare editor John Dover Wilson continues his reflections:

“Of the authorship of the old Queen’s company plays little can usefully be said. In his recent book on Shakespeare’s History Plays [1944] Dr. Tillyard suggests that The Famous Victories ‘may well be an abridgment’ of early plays of Shakespeare himself (p. 169). This means, though Dr. Tillyard does not say so, that Shakespeare had written them for the Queen’s men before 1588. Believe as you list!”

Professor Wilson's disbelief is understandable if one thinks of William Shakspere from Stratford as having authored the Shakespearian body of work. Even for a professor, it seems far-fetched to allege that an inexperienced peasant aged twenty-three gave the world the triology 1Henry IV, 2Henry IV and Henry V. Nevertheless, Dr. Eustace Mandeville Wetenhall Tillyard proved Prof. John Dover Wilson to be right, though in a different way to how he thought. The author of the precursory plays to the Queen's Men, dating to 1587-90, was called WILLIAM SHAKE-SPEARE, with a hyphen. He is identical to Thomas Nashe’s mysterious “Gentle M. William, that learned writer Rhenish wine & Sugar” – and “the first book of his Comment upon Red-noses” is nothing other than The First Part of King Henry the Fourth.

At the same time, as we know, the dedication to “Gentle Master William” addresses Will.Monox, an alias of the Earl of Oxford.

The solution to the mystery (“There, however, I must leave the matter, an unsolved, perhaps insoluble, puzzle”, says John Dover Wilson) unfolds in the form of a story, which casts light on the surroundings of the 'wanton' Earl.

The legend of the highwayman Prince was not concocted by Shakespeare, but rather dates back to The first English Life of Henry V (1513), a translation of the Vita Henrici Quinti (c.1438) by Tito Livio Frulovisi. - But how did the name ‘Gadshill’ find its way into the play? He is a thief and dealer in stolen goods, who indicates to the Prince the location of the loot. Shakespeare editor Nicholas Rowe (1709) correctly deduced that the name was a toponymic reference to Gadshill, a country road between Gravesend and Rochester.

In a strange turn of events, it was on this very country road on the 20th May 1573 that three of Oxford's men – Davie Wilkins, John Hannam and Maurice Dennis – ambushed two of their colleagues and fired at them with shotguns. A day later, William Faunt, one of the men who was attacked, writes to Oxford's father-in-law Lord Burghley:

So it is, right Honourable, Wotton and myself, riding peaceably by the from Gravesend to Rochester, had three calivers charged with bullets discharged at us by three of my Lord of Oxenford’s men, Davie Wilkins, John Hannam, and Deny the Frenchman, who lay privily in a ditch awaiting our coming with full intent to murder us, yet notwithstanding they all discharging upon us so near that my saddle, having the girths broke, fell with myself from the horse, and a bullet within half a foot of me, it pleased God to deliver us from that determined mischief, whereupon they mounted on horseback and fled towards London with all possible speed. The consideration hereof doth warn us to provide for our safety, insomuch we plainly see our lives are sought for. Otherwise the forenamed parties would not have pursued us from London who in like manner yesterday beset our lodging, for which cause, and to procure my Lord’s favour in time, we left the city and chose the country for our safeguard, where we find ourselves in no less peril of spoil than before.

In 1Henry IV, II/2 the culprits are not named as Hannam, Wilkins and Dennis, but as Falstaff, Bardolph and Peto. - It is possible that Captain John Hannam, who died during one of Drake's expeditions to the West Indies in 1585, provided the model for Sir John Falstaff. Twenty-eight years later, writing in Satiromastix, Thomas Dekker asserts that Ben Jonson's burly ‘Captain Tucca’ – a parody of Falstaff – first learnt to talk from ‘Captain Hannam’ (“I wonder what language Tucca would have spoke, if honest Capten Hannam had bin borne without a tongue.”)