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Image of King Henry IV, Part 1, Act 2, Scene 1

John Boydell
English, 1719–1804
Josiah Boydell (aka Joshua Boydell)
English, 1752–1817
James Fittler
English, 1758–1835
after Robert Smirke
English, 1752–1845

King Henry IV, Part 1, Act 2, Scene 1

about 1804
From Boydell's Graphic Illustrations of the Dramatic Works of Shakespeare

Object Type: Print
10 5/16 x 6 7/16 in. (26 x 16 cm)
Medium and Support: Engraving on paper
Accession Number: 2016.0008.0011

Credit Line: Gift of Dora Kaufman Nelke, by exchange

In 1786, a successful London publisher, alderman John Boydell, conceived of a gallery of art devoted to scenes from Shakespeare’s plays. Named for its founder, the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery was one of the first large-scale commercial endeavors intended to promote British literature and artists both in Great Britain as well as throughout the European continent. He commissioned over 167 paintings of scenes from Shakespeare’s plays and produced engravings based on these paintings. In creating the engravings, John Boydell partnered with his son, Josiah, whose name appears after his father’s in the list above. The third name is that of the engraver, and the fourth is that of the painter who created the original composition in oils. The role of the engraver was to transfer the painter’s composition onto plates for printing.

About this scene:
Robbery becomes the major theme in Henry IV as Henry’s loyal supporters, now feeling excluded, argue he stole the crown from its legitimate heir and plan a rebellion to right the robbery. Meanwhile, Henry’s heir, Prince Hal, socializes with drunken thieves led by exuberant Falstaff, who wants Hal to join them. Hal, seeking his own route to his future, instead disguises himself and robs Falstaff, repaying the stolen money, just as in the later battle he will rob the rebels of their victory, though Falstaff steals his battlefield glory.

The early scene shown, situated between the rebellion’s inception and Hal’s surprise counter-robbery, is thematic for it too involves an attempted theft—the carriers illuminate their disdainful suspect, who is actually one of Falstaff’s gang planning the upcoming heist. Naturally, he too, like King Henry, feigns innocence.
-Susan Willis, dramaturg, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, September 28, 2020

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