The Whole Contention betweene the two Famous Houses, Lancaster and Yorke

Chrzanowski 1619sHenry VI, Part 2, first published in 1594, and Henry VI, Part 3, first in print in 1595, were among the earliest works by William Shakespeare. Both plays are the subject of considerable modern scholarship to unravel the history of their writing and staging, what credit Shakespeare owes to others, and the relationship between the early text and that in the First Folio, which is considerably longer and has many differences.

The two plays, originally titled The First part of the Contention betwixt the two famous Houses of Yorke and Lancaster and The true Tragedie of Richard Duke of Yorke, and death of good King Henrie the Sixt, span critical events from the beginning to the height of the War of Roses. The Contention begins with Henry VI’s marriage to Margaret of Anjou, includes Jack Cade’s rebellion, and ends with “good” Duke Humphrey’s victory at the first Battle of St. Albans. The Tragedie spans the bloodiest battles of the war and ends with the future King Richard III’s murder of Henry VI in the Tower of London.

Both plays were printed twice during Shakespeare’s lifetime. These very rare editions are referred to as “bad quartos,” because the text is much shorter and corrupted as compared to the First Folio versions. “Revisionists” argue that Contention and Tragedie were two parts of one play that Shakespeare later revised to become the two First Folio plays. The authors of the earlier work would be some combination of Robert Greene, Thomas Nashe, Christopher Marlowe, and Shakespeare himself. “Mutilationists” argue that the first printings were transcriptions of (shortened) stage presentations of the plays prepared by an actor or audience member, who missed passages and corrupted speeches.

The two plays were again published in quarto form by Thomas Pavier in 1619—before the First Folio but after Shakespeare’s death. While some corrections have been made, the versions are still bad quartos. They were the first works in a collection of ten Shakespeare plays (some not genuine) that Pavier and William Jaggard printed under dubious circumstances. For some included plays they did not have publishing rights. A few copies exist of the ten plays bound together; more often they are found separately. About forty copies of the Pavier Contention and Tragedie exist (always bound together), including the present one.

Chrzanowski 1619s *

STC 26101

Title List

1479–1550 | 1551–1580 | 1583–1608 | 1609–1675