In our fifth season (2006-2007), the Prenzie Players presented the “Henriad”—the history plays from Richard II through Henry IV (parts 1 and 2) to Henry V, with continuous casting (the same actors playing the same characters all the way through). Although each play stands on its own, the combination of them represented an impressive panorama of Shakespeare’s work, and a breakthrough for theatre in the Quad-Cities. Similar undertakings have been staged and filmed elsewhere—for example, the RSC staged its “Wars of the Roses” (Henry VI parts 1, 2, and 3) in 1963; more recently, the BBC aired “The Hollow Crown” in two series (the first  including Richard II through Henry V, the second  including the Henry VI plays and Richard III). The Prenzie “Henriad” was was greeted with acclaim: Each production was first-rate, and the whole endeavor was a triumph. Reviewing Henry V, Mike Schulz of the River Cities’ Reader wrote:
So thank you, Prenzies, for King Henry the Fifth, and thank you for The Henriad. Including the works’ introductory half-hours, the whole of the series clocked in at roughly nine-and-a-half hours, and they were – easily – among the most enjoyable hours of theatre I’ve ever experienced.
The “Henriad” was a unique event in Quad-Cities theatre history… until now. During our 18th, 19th, and 20th seasons, as the climax of our “All the Works” campaign, we plan to go further than anyone ever has before, and stage successively, with continuous casting, not only the plays from Richard II through Henry V (one of Shakespeare’s historical “tetralogies”), not only the Henry VI plays and Richard III (the other “tetralogy”), but also include the absolute rarity Edward III by way of prologue, as well as the comic Merry Wives of Windsor, with its encore of the role of Falstaff, in an appropriate place between the Henry IV plays and Henry V. The undertaking, a veritable Plantagenet extravaganza, is possibly a little bit crazy, but we are eager to rise to the challenge.
The Plays and the Plans
Season 18: “Seasons of Discontent” Part 1
First published anonymously in 1596, and only recently, with newer scholarly investigations, added to many people’s lists of Shakespearean plays (most likely co-written with Thomas Kyd: see more in our discussion of the canon), the play tells the story of the King Edward III (1312-1377) and his conflict with the Scots in the North (including an attempted seduction of the Countess of Salisbury), and the inception of the Hundred Years’ War–with France, across the English Channel, where Edward claims a right to the crown. His son, Edward the Black Prince, is featured in this section, which ends with the king’s triumph over the French.
Written in about 1595, this play tells how Richard II (who reigned as king 1377-1399), the son of Edward the Black Prince, lost his crown. After attempting to resolve a dispute (over disloyalty) between Henry Bolingbroke (later Henry IV, the son of the Duke of Lancaster) and Thomas Mowbray by banishing them, King Richard ends up deposed by Henry, and ultimately killed. (Meanwhile, the son of the Duke of York, still loyal to Richard, foments rebellion in vain–but this foreshadows the conflicts between York and Lancaster that were known as the Wars of the Roses).
Henry IV (Parts I and II)
These two plays (originally written in 1596-1598), which will be combined into a single show as they were in the Prenzie “Henriad,” describe the reign of Henry (who reigned 1399-1413) and his relationship with his son, Prince Hal. In Part I, Henry IV tries to consolidate his power against unrest to the North and West, and conflict with former allies such as the Percy family, especially the young Henry Percy (“Hotspur”). Meanwhile, Prince Hal carouses with jolly and lusty companions such as Sir John Falstaff. When war comes, the prince kills Hotspur in battle, but things remain unsettled. In Part II, Prince Hal grows toward manhood and responsibility, while continuing to live a wild life, a disappointment to his father. Falstaff ages, and continues his scheming, riotous ways. Finally, the king falls gravely ill, and Hal (now King Henry V) repudiates his former companions.
Season 19: “Seasons of Discontent” Part 2
Merry Wives of Windsor
Rumor has it that Queen Elizabeth herself asked Shakespeare to write another play involving Falstaff, but this time “in love.” In The Merry Wives of Windsor (first published in 1602; performance dates are disputed), Falstaff tries to seduce two married women, Mistress Ford and Mistress Page. His friends get angry and tell the women’s husbands, while the women discover that Falstaff’s love letters to the two are identical. An elaborate plot is hatched to teach Falstaff a lesson, which culminates in a fantastical, chaotic scene in which the old knight thinks he is being attacked by supernatural fairy folk. Everyone lives happily ever after, however (and meanwhile the romantic subplot involving Mistress Page’s daughter Anne is also resolved happily).
This stirring play, written soon after the Henry IV plays (in 1598-99), presents the strong young King Henry (who reigned 1413-1422) asserting his claim to be the rightful heir of the throne of France as well as that of England. He invades France, and achieves a fraught but triumphal success at Agincourt on St. Crispin’s Day. Concurrently, the stories of Henry’s erstwhile comrades continue: Falstaff has died, and the other friends mostly come to grief as they go with the army to France. In the end, Henry marries the Katherine, the daughter of the French king. Everything seems to be going well for him–but the Chorus comes on stage at the end to remind the audience that everything fell apart soon afterward.
Henry VI (Parts I, II, and III)
These three plays, originally staged in the early 1590s (and thus actually, with Richard III, preceding the “earlier” plays in our sequence), dramatize different stages of the titular Henry’s kingship (1422-61 and 1470-71) and the conflict known as the “Wars of the Roses.” They will probably be combined into a single show, like the Henry IV plays. Part I: Henry V is dead, but his son Henry VI is only a child (though born the heir of the crowns of both England and France). While the English nobles jockey for position, the French are able to reverse all the gains made by Henry V. France rallies especially to Joan of Arc, who is ultimately caught and killed by the English. Part II: Henry marries Margaret of Anjou. Rivalry among English nobles becomes bloodier, as the Duke of York seeks support against Lancaster (Henry’s family) for supremacy and the crown itself. Part III: York, now ascendant, allows Henry to remain king as long as the crown passes to the house of York upon his death. No one is happy with the situation; machinations, rebellions, battles ensue. The story ends with York’s son Edward (IV) on the throne; Edward’s brother Richard, however, is waiting for his own chance.
Season 20: “Seasons of Discontent” Part 3
The final play in Prenzie’s “Seasons of Discontent” (written in the early 1590s) tells of the rise and fall of the infamous, deliciously evil Richard (who reigned 1483-1485). As Duke of Gloucester, Richard plots against his elder brother Clarence, and schemes to marry Anne Neville; his eldest brother (King Edward IV) dies, leaving a boy, Edward V, as his heir. Richard manages to get rid of the competition, secure the throne; but discontent and rebellion culminate in Richard’s death at the Battle of Bosworth Field. The Earl of Richmond, Henry Tudor, becomes King Henry VII, uniting “the white rose and the red.”