Timothy West as Falstaff

Timothy West as Falstaff

Shakespeare's plays Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 are the two central plays in a tetralogy (four part series). They follow Richard II and precede Henry V. Over the course of the tetralogy, Henry Bolingbroke seizes power from Richard II to become Henry IV. His uneasy reign is plagued by civil unrest, and concern over his apparently reckless heir Hal, who eventually succeeds him as Henry V and proves a far more effective king than his troubled father. Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 concentrate on Hal's relationship with his fat old drinking companion Falstaff, who seems to be leading the young prince astray. In fact, Hal is studying his lowlife companions so that he may be a better leader of men once he becomes king.

Falstaff (played here by Timothy West in the Old Vic's 1996 touring production, in which his son Sam West played Hal) is one of Shakespeare's fictional additions to his historical tapestry. He is a larger than life buffoon, who comes to dominate the plays. He was so popular that Shakespeare, having killed him off in 'Henry V', wrote another play based around him - The Merry Wives of Windsor - to satisfy public demand for the character.