Sir Edward Dering’s 1623 adaptation of Henry IV: an online resource

Professor John Jowett is preparing a digital resource for the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Miranda platform, based on Sir Edward Dering’s adaptation Henry IV. This 1623 adaptation of William Shakespeare’s two parts of Henry IV into a single play was designed for private performance in Dering’s home.

Edward DerringThe play

The History of King Henry the Fourth is Dering’s own redaction of the play from quarto editions of the Shakespeare source texts. It has major claims to significance as the only surviving pre-1642 manuscript based on Shakespeare's dramatic works, the first textual conjunction of the two parts of Henry IV, the first adaptation to conflate and redact any two Shakespeare plays, and the only extant text of Shakespeare as performed in the household of a member of the early modern provincial gentry. It is a crucial document in the history of provincial household performance and indeed in the broader cultural history of Jacobean England.

The manuscript

The manuscript is held by the Folger Shakespeare Library. It consists of fifty-five folio leaves and an accompanying slip. Most of the manuscript is in the hand of Dering’s scribe, identified as Master Carington. Dering’s own hand is present as copyist of the first page and annotator of Carington’s script. The manuscript bears witness to an ongoing process of adaptation, with extensive annotation and mark-up designed to make both literary and theatrical changes.

Sir Edward Dering

Henry IV offers an illuminating insight into the political and personal life of Dering, gentleman of Surrenden in Kent, former student of the Inns of Court, and avid theatre-goer and book-collector in London. Dering was later to introduce the 1641 'Root and Branch' bill to abolish the episcopacy in the Long Parliament.

The planned performance

On a slip attached to Henry IV is a list of eight parts from Dering’s lost adaptation of John Fletcher's The Spanish Curate along with the names of fourteen potential actors, all male but otherwise socially diverse. The same human resource was evidently envisaged for Henry IV. As many of the names are identifiable, the slip enables a fine-grained examination of the network of household, family, and neighbours that would have constituted the performance. This in turn illuminates a social network within Dering’s neighbourhood in Kent.

Collecting and conflating

The research project also places Henry IV in the life of Dering as student, theatre-goer, book-collector, and enthusiast for amateur performance. It discusses theoretical issues relating to the early modern library as a place of collection and collocation, explores Dering’s important role in the history of early modern English book collecting, especially of drama, and meditates on the relation between putting two books issued by different publishers at different dates in the same room and copying them into a single conflated document.

Shakespeare in 1623

Dering’s adaptation contributes to the reframing of Shakespeare within literary and theatrical culture immediately before the publication of the First Folio. Thomas Middleton’s adaptations of Shakespeare, which would have contributed strongly to Dering’s experience of Shakespeare on stage, relate to Dering’s Henry IV as examples of the reshaping of Shakespeare in the early 1620s.