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Two Minutes' Traffic: Henry IV Part One, Folger Theatre

The hardest part of staging Shakespeare's history plays (my absolute favorite part of the canon) is navigating the strange, revealing, contradictory manner of their relationship with history and each other. Most theatre goers have a good sense of Richard III (the evil one!) and probably Henry V (good battles, good speeches, some strange business near the end with a leek). Of the rest, Henry IV Part One is probably the most familiar, seeing as how large a shadow Falstaff has cast in the popular imagination over the centuries. But as the title suggests, it's only part of a larger story, and every production has to make choices for how to balance its place in a larger narrative with a satisfying, stand-alone night at the theatre. These concerns arise even when played in repertory with other history plays; there's no guarantee that anyone sitting in the theatre intends to come back for Part Two, and heaven help the folks who only sign up for Part One. Shakespeare's own aud…

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