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  • King Henry IV, Part 2 ed. by James C. Bulman
  • Peter Picetti (bio)
King Henry IV, Part 2. Edited by James C. Bulman. Arden Shakespeare Third Series. London: Bloomsbury, 2016. Illus. Pp. xxii + 552. $13.95 paper.

As the Third Series of the Arden Shakespeare nears completion, James C. Bulman’s King Henry IV, Part 2 rounds out the second tetralogy after over twenty years—T. W. Craik’s Henry V, the first edition of the new series to appear, was published in 1995. For a play that offers no clear, or easily argued, authoritative version (with all the problematic connotations attached to such an adjective), Bulman has produced a smartly conflated edition. Moreover, comparing Bulman’s text with Qa, the 3.1 additions from Qb, and his sensible substitutions from F, I have not found a single textual error.

Bulman departs from the trend of single-text editing, and has cautiously reimagined each textual variant and commentary note, often avoiding editorial acrobatics in favor of simplicity. An involved discussion of textual issues in an appendix evaluates Qa, Qb, and F as potential copy texts; here Bulman conclusively supports recent scholarship that attacks a foul paper/promptbook dichotomy, and distances himself from his editorial predecessors’ reliance on such classifications. Paul Werstine has eloquently argued for the need to reevaluate a misguided use of “foul papers” and “promptbooks,” staple terms of the New Bibliographers (430). Bulman is firm in his stance supporting Werstine, perhaps more so than Werstine himself, arguing that “the only way by which scholars could be absolutely certain that a text was set from some kind of authorial draft or fair copy would be if the printer’s copy and the resulting print were both to survive” (440).

Bulman’s commentary notes are exhaustive, and he highlights many previously unnoted moments of chronicle history influence. His introduction refuses to apologize for 2 Henry IV’s supposed shortcomings and argues for it as “an independent play” (3), both in how scholars should examine it and in how Shakespeare conceived of the tetralogy. The previous Arden editor, A. R. Humphreys, posited in his edition that we should assume that “Shakespeare envisaged two plays, both of which would deal with the traditional story of the Wild Prince,” as evidenced by the play’s sources (xxvii). Bulman counters with his own narrative of Shakespeare’s compositional timeline. He suggests that the original Henry IV play was planned to end with the Battle of Shrewsbury, but 2 Henry IV took shape only when [End Page 128] Shakespeare “realized that he had too much comic material to include in the first play . . . [and,] when Henry IV proved hugely successful in performance, decided to write a sequel which would foreground the exploits of Falstaff and his followers” (15–16). Dovetailing nicely with his argument that 2 Henry IV parallels 1 Henry IV only partially, this theory helps explain the plays’ differences in tone—an oddity only if Henry IV was initially conceived as two parts. Bulman thus attempts to restore 2 Henry IV to its former comic glory by upsetting its status as an inferior derivative. He concedes that this play lacks 1 Henry IV’s “exuberantly festive spirit and political urgency,” but contends that the sequel doesn’t attempt to rest on the former’s laurels (1). Limiting the dramatic portrayal of political events in 2 Henry IV “liberated [Shakespeare] to improvise, to explore and to envision history with a creative license that his previous plays” had not afforded (2–3).

Attempting to restore a Falstaffian “comic heart” (49), Bulman points to Thomas Betterton’s early eighteenth-century revival of 2 Henry IV as emblematic of productions that allow Falstaff to dominate the play. In this production, through “less-intrusive cuts,” 2 Henry IV became an autonomous Falstaffian play, demonstrating that “a Falstaff play was always already implicit in Shakespeare’s text” (21). Bulman suggests that the contemporary view of the Henry IV plays as a cycle has reduced 2 Henry IV’s cultural capital. Instead of putting Falstaff at the center, a serialized Henry IV becomes “primarily an investigation of domestic dysfunction” (43), where 2 Henry IV’s Falstaff...


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