Henriad is a common title used by scholars for Shakespeare's second historical tetralogy, comprising Richard II; Henry IV, Part 1; Henry IV, Part 2; and Henry V. The plays depict the violation of the political continuity with the overthrow of Richard II of England and the growth of Henry V of England from a wild youth to a great war leader in Henry V. Although it was the second tetralogy to be written and performed, the subject matter comes chronologically before the first tetralogy comprising the three Henry VI plays and Richard III. The term "Henriad" derives from the Classical epics the Iliad and Aenead.
References to these four plays as the Henriad can be found widely in literature on them. The scope of the term Henriad, however, is up for debate; that is, some scholars include Shakespeare's first tetralogy, comprising plays Henry VI, Part 1; Henry VI, Part 2; Henry VI, Part 3; and Richard III in the Henriad. Though The Merry Wives of Windsor is set in the same period of history and includes many of the Henriad characters, it does not include Henry himself, and is typically seen as a separate work.
While it is not known whether Shakespeare conceived of the plays as a cycle, these plays are often interpreted and performed in relation to each other, since they represent a continuous period of English history using recurring characters and including direct references to previous plays. While Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra also contain recurring characters (the members of the Second triumvirate), the two plays are very different in style and are believed to have been written a decade apart. In contrast, the Henriad plays are believed to have been written in a continuous sequence. The Henriad is also unique as both historical and fictional characters are carried over from one play to the next. In Shakespeare's earlier Henry VI tetrology only historical characters were continued across plays, following the real events being dramatised. The Henriad combines historical "high" characters with "lower" figures from various social classes, from the wealthy squire Robert Shallow to prostitute Doll Tearsheet.
The principal fictional characters of the Henriad also appear in The Merry Wives of Windsor. This play is not typically included within the Henriad itself, as it is unrelated to the unfolding historical narrative of the main plays. However, it is believed to have been written at the same time.
Historical: The principal character is Henry V of England, portrayed as a prince in the two Henry IV plays. In scholarship the fictionalised version of the youthful prince is referred to as Prince Hal. Other recurring characters are Henry's father, Henry IV of England and his brothers John of Lancaster and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. Recurring rebel characters include Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland and Richard le Scrope.
Fictional: The principal fictional character is Sir John Falstaff, though he was originally given the name of the historical Sir John Oldcastle. His followers Bardolph, Nym and Pistol also recur, along with Mistress Quickly, the hostess of the Boar's Head Inn, where they meet. Hal's friend Ned Poins appears in both Henry IV plays. Minor characters such as petty-criminal Peto and bartender Francis also recur.
Film and television productions
- The BBC's Henriad; Literature/Film Quarterly 21; 1993
- Shakespeare on Screen: The Henriad, edited by Sara Hatchuel and Nathalie Vienne-Guerrin; Publications des Universites de Rouen et du Havre, 2008
- Metadrama in Shakespeare's Henriad, by James Calderwood, University of California Press, 1979
- Crisis of Degree in Shakespeare's Henriad, by Laurie E. Osbourne, Vol. 25, No. 2, Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama, 1985
- Stanton, K., "Shakespeare's quantum physics", The Merry Wives of Windsor: New Critical Essays, Routledge, 2014, p.83ff.
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