Of Shakespeare’s ten plays about English history, the two parts of Henry IV are certainly the finest, and have held the stage ever since they first appeared. Their immense popularity is due mainly to the immortal figure of Falstaff, drinker, sponger, wit, beloved of audiences from the very first performances, the source of delight, disapproval and argument – after Hamlet, perhaps the most discussed of all Shakespeare’s creations. But the two plays are also serious political dramas, concerned with political conflict, power, the nature of kingship and the difficulty of reconciling order and justice. They can be related both to the society that produced them, and as contributions to more permanent political issues.
Laurence Lerner was Professor of English at the University of Sussex and then at Vanderbilt University, Tennessee. His many publications include nine volumes of poetry, three novels and numerous critical works including Love and Marriage (1979), The Frontiers of Literature (1988) and a new edition of Philip Larkin (2005) also in the Writers and their Work series.
216 × 138 mm
September 1, 2008
Writers and their Work