Henry IV, Part 1

Shake-speare's history plays were commissioned as state propaganda,1 but beneath the veneer of commentary on ancient events, they were topical and deeply personal, providing insight into international politics, court intrigues, and the playwright himself; so, it is a delight that director Carolyn Howarth chooses to stage this clever Tudor apology and take on royal succession and provincial rebellion in such an intimate manner and setting.

(Left to right) Benjamin Bonenfant as Prince Hal and Sam Gregory as King Henry IV
(L to R) Benjamin Bonenfant as Prince Hal
and Sam Gregory as King Henry IV
Photo: Patrick Campbell
Colorado Shakespeare Festival
King Henry IV, (Sam Gregory), the former Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster, who deposed Richard II for, presumably, seizing his inheritance, must defend himself from those who question his right to the throne: the Percys (Henry Percy, the earl of Northumberland [Bob Buckley], Henry Percy fils, "Hotspur" [Geoffrey Kent], and Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester [Steven Cole Hughes]), Edmund Mortimer (Alex Esola), Owen Glendower (Peter Simon Hilton), and the Archbishop of York (offstage). In his camp, the king has his second son (historically, his third) Lord John of Lancaster (Joshua Archer), the Earl of Westmoreland (Vanessa Morosco), Sir Walter Blunt (Benaiah Anderson), and his first son, the errant Prince Hal (Benjamin Bonenfant), who spends his time with the soused clown, ne'er-do-well, and coward, Sir John Falstaff (Michael Winters).

(Left to right, foreground) Michael Winters as Sir John Falstaff and Tammy L. Meneghini as Mistress Quickly
(L to R) Michael Winters
as Sir John Falstaff,
Hana Christensen, ensemble,
Ian Andersen as Poins
and Tammy L. Meneghini as Mistress Quickly
Photo: Patrick Campbell
Colorado Shakespeare Festival
Gregory's eloquence and empowerment as Henry do honor to the monarch's standing, as he scrambles to maintain his grip on power. Kent's Hotspur is gallant and deliciously wreckless in his thirst to be revenged (for Henry's disregard for his father's role in putting him on the throne). Winters' comical Falstaff carries over nicely from The Merry Wives of Windsor, with added layers of nuance and wit to reveal the complexities of his relationship with Hal (the future king of England), and in his reticence to face the rigors of battle. Despite Hal's carousing with Falstaff, Bonenfant deftly delivers Hal's put-downs of his drinking buddy and his acknowledgment of coming royal responsibilities, which pave the way for his coming of age and establishing his worthiness to lead, as detailed in Henry IV, Part 2.

Kent's staging of the culminating battle is gloriously complex and graphic. Caitlin Ayer's flexible set enables quick segues, which keep the action moving swiftly. Jenna Bainbridge's madrigal rendition is a delight.

(Left to right) Alex Esola as Edmund Mortimer, Geoffrey Kent as Hotspur, Peter Simon Hilton as Owen Glendower, and Steven Cole Hughes as Thomas Percy
(L to R) Alex Esola as Edmund Mortimer,
Geoffrey Kent as Hotspur,
Peter Simon Hilton as Owen Glendower,
and Steven Cole Hughes as Thomas Percy
Photo: Patrick Campbell
Colorado Shakespeare Festival
In her notes in the program guide, Howarth draws a comparison between England's struggle to find heads of state worthy of leadership roles versus our current paucity of political operatives; however, there are some glaring differences in the conditions of the political economy of these two eras that make such comparisons incongruent: at the time of original story and at the time of the playwright's adaptation, England was a sovereign nation; that is, it controlled and issued its own currency; whereas, today, neither Great Britain nor the United States is a sovereign nation, having ceded control over the creation of their currencies to the private international banking cartel, which, in turn, controls the political and economic levers. Thus, our so-called contemporary leaders vie for office not just to satisfy their own egos and that of their lineages (as was also the case the 15th and 16th centuries), but to serve the interests of the banking cartel, which has ruled Great Britain and the United States since the 18th Century. Nevertheless, we agree with Howarth in this: Would that we had leaders cut from the same cloth as "Shake-speare's" Hotspur and Prince Hal!

The Colorado Shakespeare Festival's Henry IV, Part 1 runs in repertory with The Tempest, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Henry IV: Part 2, and I Hate Hamlet through August 10th. For tickets: 303-492-8008 or

Bob Bows

Footnotes and additional Oxfordian biographical notes:

1 In the spring of 1570, at the age of 20, the Earl of Oxford was sent north by the Queen to serve as an officer in a military campaign to suppress a rebellion of Catholic sympathizers loyal to Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, great-granddaughter to King Henry VII. The duke of Norfolk, de Vere's first cousin, had foolishly asked Elizabeth for permission to wed Mary, which posed a direct threat to Tudor power, given the Catholic overtones of such a match. The duke was sent away in disgrace and promptly aligned himself with two renegade northern nobles, the earls of Westmoreland and Northumberland.

De Vere's journey to meet up with his superior officer, the earl of Sussex, took him past Kimbolton Castle (a backdrop for part of Henry VIII) and the city of York and the forest of Galtres (both Henry IV plays and Henry VI, Part 3). In essence, this journey to Scots border counties brought him in touch with England of the Middle Ages, still Catholic, still feudal. The fourty-four year old Sussex, an experienced commander, suppressed the rebellion in short order, and in a retribution campaign, reportedly burned 300 Scottish villages to the ground and sacked 50 Scottish castles. By the end of April, the Pope excommunicated Elizabeth, giving loyal Catholics papal dispensation to depose her.

Elizabeth responded by cranking up the state propaganda machine, meaning the pulpit and the stage. Vicars across England were required to read state-composed sermons to their congregations, for whom church attendance was mandatory. Oxfordian scholars point to the anonymous Homily Against Disobedience and Willful Rebellion (1571) as an example of Shake-spearian rhetoric and prose. The playwright's point-of-view of the Scots uprising in Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, are direct reflections of this homily. In fact, de Vere's retelling of the earlier rebellion depicted in the plays was altered to draw parallels to the conditions of 1569, with the rebellious Bishop of Ross serving as an inspiration for the earlier charismatic religious leader, the Archbisholp of York, who supported the rebels of 1569-70, as Henry IV laments:

For that same word, rebellion, did divide
The action of their bodies from their souls;
... But now the bishop
Turns insurrection to religion.

The nineteenth-century historian Richard Simpson concluded that the Henry IV plays depict the context of the Northern Rebellion so accurately that the author must have consulted with a firsthand observer. In fact, Simpson was half right. The author was a firsthand observer." (Mark Anderson, 'Shakespeare' by Another Name, Gotham Books, New York, 2005, p. 44.)

De Vere's work on the history plays began in late June of 1586, when Elizabeth affixed the seal of the Privy Council to a royal warrant for a £1,000 annuity for de Vere, a salary equivalent to $270,000. Only one other person on the Queen's list received more—James of Scotland, who would succeed Elizabeth on the throne. It was no coincidence that as the Queen's Men were beginning to pump up their performance schedule, including prototypes (perhaps even first drafts) of Shake-speare's histories, the author began receiving a salary that would continue for the rest of his life, even under the reign of James I, amounting to a total of almost $5 million in today's currency.

"I buy a thousand pounds a year! I buy a rope!"
--Dromio of Ephesus, The Comedy of Errors

Sixty years hence, a vicar from Stratford-upon-Avon named John Ward recorded some legends about "Will Shakspere" that he had heard, including the supply of two plays a year for the allowance of £1,000 a year. Just for the record, the cash estate of the Stratford grain dealer and latter-day script thief and "actor" never exceeded £350.

Later, de Vere confidant Thomas Nashe named the earl ("Pierce Penniless") the author of Henry VI, Part 1, and Henry V.

While the underlying force behind de Vere's histories was Elizabeth and Burghley's propaganda campaign, de Vere used his poetic license to further his family's interests, as well as his personal vendettas, in the way he depicted events and persons. Falstaff's Gad's Hill robbery in Henry IV, Part 1 is an example of a personal event that occured years earlier at the same location—when three of de Vere's servants robbed Burghley's servants—that serves as persuasive apology from de Vere to Elizabeth and her chief of state for his (de Vere's) youthful indiscretions, as well as his adult indiscretions, such as the drunken escapades at his infamous London residence, Fisher's Folly, where de Vere partied with his literary collaborators, Anthony Mundy and John Lyly, as well as an entourage of writers, and his disingenuous servants, including Rowland Yorke, the Iago prototype. Thus, Euphues (de Vere) and his florid style were passé by the end of the 1580's, dating the euphuistic Love's Labor's Lost well before it appears on the Stratford man's timeline (then as out-of-date in style and content).


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