Performing the Queen's Men

Famous Victories: To the Court

The Arrival of the King (Continued)


A very disordered company and such as make very ill rule in your Majesty's house.

KING HENRY IV: Well, let him come, but look that none come with him.

He goeth.

6OXFORD: And please your Grace, my Lord the King sends for you.

7 Come away, sirs; let's go all together.

And please your Grace, none must go with you.

Why, I must needs have them with me; otherwise I can do my father no countenance.
Therefore come away.

The King your father commands there should none come.

8 Well, sirs, then be gone and provide me three noise of musicians.

Exeunt knights.

9 Enters the Prince with a dagger in his hand.

5. He goeth.

This is a particularly tricky stage direction for two reasons. It is not certain to whom the pronoun refers, the king or Oxford, and it does not tell us where that person is going to. If this were a narrative text, the “he” would refer to the king as he has just spoken but since the king has given Oxford instructions to bring the prince to him, it seems more likely that it is Oxford that is going somewhere.

It might seem odd to consider this text as a narrative but it is possible that certain stage directions were added by the editors of the printed editions to explain the action to the readers of the text that could not see the play. Why does it not simply say: Exit Oxford? We will see another example of such a direction later in the scene when the king dies.

6. OXFORD: And please your Grace, my Lord the King sends for you.

So where is Oxford going? In his next line he addresses the prince. This would make most sense if the prince was still on stage. Oxford could go across the stage to where the prince is standing aside and speak to him. The king remains on the other side of the stage since no exit his marked for him. However, as we saw in the previous note, Oxford enters from off stage and has clearly seen the prince and his companions in the palace and the prince has told him that he wants to see his father. This might have been acted out while the King was talking but this would have been distracting, especially since according to Oxford’s report the Prince is behaving in an unruly manner. It seems very unlikely therefore that the Prince remained on stage.

One thing that should be clear by this point is that Elizabethan theatrical texts are not reliable. Not all character entrances and exits are marked. Characters suddenly start speaking in the middle of scenes without any indication that they have come on stage; and other characters have clearly left the stage even though no exit is marked. When performing these texts, one has to make decisions that will make sense of the action for the actors and the audience. For our project, we tried to make decisions that satisfied the majority of the stage directions that are in the text and fitted with our understanding of Elizabethan theatre practice. Before watching the decisions we made, we need to continue our textual analysis a little further.

7. HENRY V: Come away, sirs; let's go all together.

No exit has been marked for the king so let us presume he is still on stage. Oxford speaks to the prince who calls on his companions to come with him to see his father. The implication is that they are not yet in the same room as the king and yet the king and the prince and his companions must all be on stage at the same time. While this might seem odd to us, it would have been less strange to an Elizabethan audience. There are many examples of what is referred to as simultaneous staging in Elizabethan plays where the audience is expected to imagine two separate locations on stage at the same time. At this point, is the audience being asked to imagine that the king is on stage in one location and the prince in another?

8. HENRY V: Well, sirs, then be gone and provide me three noise of musicians.
Exeunt knights.

Finally, we have a clear signal for characters to leave the stage. The prince sends his knights off stage with the instruction to provide him with “three noise of musicians.” However, the next stage direction marks an entrance for the prince.

9. Enters the Prince with a dagger in his hand.

How can he enter when he is already on the stage speaking to Oxford and his knights?

Confusing stage directions such as this have led to the opinion that the text of this play is somehow incomplete or corrupt but for the purposes of our experiment we worked from the principal that the surviving text was representative of the Queen’s Men’s staging. We tried to find a creative solution that would satisfy the majority of the stage directions found in that text. Watch the video below to view the staging solutions we came up with for this section.