Even the occasional Stratfordian is convinced this anonymous play, published as an anonymous 1598 quarto but mentioned in Henslowe's diary in 1594 (Farina 116), comes from Shakespeare, such as Seymour M. Pitcher, The Case for Shakespeare's Authorship of The Famous Victories (NY: State University of New York, 1961), meaning that it was greatly expanded and revised into the two Henry IV plays and Henry V by the same playwright, "Shake-speare," who incorporated the material of Famous Victories into those later plays "instinctively as if it were his own" (Pitcher 6). "The dialogue of Derick and John is that farago of quaint wit, lovable stupidity, innocent absurdity, whimsy, and pathos which Shakespeare often affords" (Pitcher 120).
Oxfordians consider the play to have been written in the 1570s (e.g., Anderson 312), or 1574 specifically as an act of contrition for running away to the Low Countries without royal permission (Clark 680, 682). And its status as juvenilia accounts for the occasional criticism of it being "crude" (Clark 696) or a "miserable play" (Asimov 388), though it may intentionally have defied Philip Sidney's prudish rules against mixing genres: serious historical drama with low comedy (Farina 127). As the story of a "truant prince who begs forgiveness of the King" (Ogburn and Ogburn 77), if this play was presented, as some suspect, before the Queen at Christmas 1574 (Clark 9), then it worked: Elizabeth granted Oxford the next week a license to travel (Clark 10; Ogburn and Ogburn 81). It may have been the "device" praised and credited specifically to de Vere by the English ambassador to France (Clark 45).
At this stage of Oxford's literary development, lyric poetry remains a separate category from dramatic text. Famous Victories is almost all prose. A somewhat awkward combination of verse with ancient English epic will come with Locrine.
Here is a detailed article concerning Oxford's authorship of Famous Victories: Jimenez Article.
A mile outside of London on the Eve of St. John the Baptist, 1410, the Prince, son of Henry IV, asks how much gold his friends Ned and Tom have on them. They each have hundreds of pounds. "But tell me, sirs, think you not that it was a villainous part of me to rob my father's receivers?" (i.8-10). Ned responds: "Why, no, my lord; it was but a trick of youth" (i.11).
Sir John Oldcastle -- a.k.a. Jockey, and the character who will eventually evolve into Falstaff -- reports that the town of Deptford is after one of the Prince's men for robbing a carrier. Shakespeare eventually encountered some trouble from the Cobham descendants of Oldcastle and renamed this character as Falstaff in the versions of Henry IV we now have (Asimov 327, 330; Farina 121). But both characters also seem to have been partly based on Sir Nicholas Dawtry, in the service of the Queen (Clark 12). As for the robbery of the receivers, the Prince confesses to having taken a rap about the shoulders, and Jockey says he got a hundred pounds. Resources are pooled and the Prince promises half of it will be spent carousing tonight. But two receivers come along, afraid to return to court now. They tell the Prince they were robbed by four men who had Oldcastle's and the Prince's own horses. The Prince tells them to keep quiet about the matter or they'll be hanged with all their kin.
"Now, sirs," vaunts the Prince, "how like you this? Was this not bravely done? [Note the Much Ado echo.] For now the villains dare not speak a word of it, I have so feared them with words" (i.76-78). So where should they go blow the money? The Prince vetoes a Faversham plan because of the wine and a wench in Eastcheap "that can talk well" (i.85). They shall all go together, for "we are all fellows. I tell you, sirs, if the King my father were dead, we would be all kings" (i.89-90). Everyone says "Gog's wounds" a lot.
After posting Robin Pewterer at Pudding Lane's End, Lawrence Costermonger and John Cobbler at Billingsgate Ward, serving as a night watch, discuss euphemistically the Prince's character: "I hear say he is as lively a young Prince as ever was" (ii.17-18). Derick, a clown figure, disturbs their intended sleep, claiming to be robbed. After some goofy stage business, the thief enters, asking the way to the tavern in Eastcheap. Derick accuses him of thievery on Gad's Hill in Kent. Although he claims to be "one of the King's liege people" (ii.79), the officers arrest him. A vintner's boy brings news of the Prince and his companions, drunk, rioting in the streets, and now arrested. There's been a messenger from the royal court to the Lord Mayor and Sheriff too. The officers lead off the thief, who asks mercy from Derick. Derick says afterwards, "I'll be very charitable to thee, for I will never leave thee -- till I see thee on the gallows" (ii.125-126).
The Earl of Oxford (!) presents the Lord Mayor and Sheriff to King Henry IV. The King acknowledges that his son is "a rude youth" (iii.9), but they've locked him up without royal permission. The Lord Mayor repeats, almost verbatim, what the boy said in the previous scene. Privately, Henry laments that his son will be the death of him. He admits to Exeter and Oxford that the Lord Mayor and Sheriff "have done like faithful subjects" (iii.55).
The fact that the 11th Earl of Oxford plays such a part in this play and yet disappears in the Henry IV plays and Henry V may have been due to Oxford's "maturing taste" (Clark 681), or because of later pressures for anonymity.
Court is in session, and the Gad's Hill thief Derick accused is named Cutbert Cutter. "What need you ask, and have it in writing?" (iv.16). The Clerk reports that the robbery took place on May 20 in the fourteenth year of Henry IV's reign. First, there was no May 20th in the fourteenth year of Henry IV's reign since he died too soon (Clark 9-10; Ogburn and Ogburn 77). The Gad's Hill robbery took place on May 20th, 1573, when the Earl of Oxford and some of his men waylaid some of Burghley's men (probably a couple of his spies).
The thief pleads not guilty, and says he'll be tried by the Prince. The Prince enters with authoritative swagger and suggests that the robbery was just a jest, but Derick isn't buying it; the man is likely to be hanged. The Prince thinks his name, position, and will alone should determine the matter, and persists against the Lord Chief Justice until he loses it and boxes the judge on the ear. The judge displays an unflappable dignity but commits the Prince to prison until he can consult with the King. This incident between the Lord Chief Justice and Prince Hal emerged as an apocryphal story in the 1530s. The account of the arrest disappears in the Henry IV plays, but not entirely without a trace (Asimov 361).
Derick and John are astounded. Afterwards, they re-enact the scene, with Derick playing the Prince and asking John, "Zounds, dost not know thyself?" (iv.138). "Derick, like Falstaff, loves a 'play extempore'" (Pitcher 106). What's odd here, though, is that we just saw the real scene, so why this redundancy? Derick wants to give up being a carrier and become a cobbler and stay with John. John warns him that they are poor and eat pretty meager fare.
The Prince brags about boxing the Lord Chief Justice's ear. Oldcastle has come to visit him and the Prince reiterates that when his father is dead they'll all be kings (v.15-16). He'll replace the current Lord Chief Justice with Ned and swashbuckling theives shall be rewarded. The Prince is headed to court, having heard that his father is ill: "for the breath shall be no sooner out of his mouth but I will clap the crown on my head" (v.41-43).
Delayed momentarily by the Porter -- "What a rapping keep you at the King's court-gate?" (v.60-61) -- they overhear the King praising the Lord Chief Justice for being able to discipline the Prince more than he ever could. The Lord of Oxford announces Henry's son, who wants to bring his pals with him, but the King will see the Prince alone.
Henry, weeping, asks his son why he has chosen his reprobate lifestyle and hints that the dagger the Prince is carrying is meant for him.
Henry at once confesses his guilt in general terms, and kneeling before his father, offers him the dagger. The gesture is artificial but nonetheless theatrically effective; it is, besides, a favorite device of Shakespeare [Cassius to Brutus in Julius Caesar IV.iii.100; Imogen to Pisanio in Cymbeline III.iv.69; cf. Richard III I.ii.175, True Tragedy of Richard III, King Leir]. (Pitcher 95)The Prince insists on his own unworthiness, "And those 'viled and reprobate' companions -- I abandon and utterly abolish their company for ever!" (vi.26-27). He throws off his ruffian's cloak and begs for pardon. He says he'll go off, lament his sinful life, and die. But Henry calls him back and the Prince feels "born new again" (vi.45).
Derick calls Mistress Cobbler "a stinking whore! and a whoreson stinking whore" (vii.1-2) -- also, in an instance of false division, "a narrant whore" (vii.6). John asks him what has him so riled, and he explains that she served him "a dish of roots and a piece of barrel-butter therein" (vii.14). "Derick, it seems, lives with John, the cobbler, drinks his ale, 'eats him out of doors' and quarrels with his wife, while Falstaff takes his ease in his inn, quarrels with the hostess, and 'eats [but especially drinks] her out of house and home'" (Monaghan, qtd. in Pitcher 107n).
The King, in the Jerusalem Chamber of Westminster Palace, prepares to die and believes his son "will prove as valiant and victorious a king as ever reigned in England" (viii.5-6). When Exeter and Oxford leave, and the Prince enters, he thinks the King is dead. He curses himself and leaves with the crown. Henry wakes up and finds the crown missing. Oxford retrieves the Prince with it. Henry accuses his son of backsliding, but the Prince protests his melancholy at thinking dad dead; he kneels and returns the crown, rejoicing that his father lives. The King is glad: "let me put thee in possession whilst I live, that none deprive thee of it after my death" (viii.58-59). He gives the Prince the crown: "For God knows, my son, how hardly I came by it, and how hardly I have maintained it" (viii.63-65). "Howsoever you came by it I know not; but now I have it from you, and from you I will keep it. And he that seeks to take the crown from my head, let him look that his armor be thicker than mine, or I will pierce him to the heart" (viii.66-69). Dad is impressed, assured that Henry V will be "warlike and victorious" (viii.72). Henry IV is overcome with weariness and retires, asking for music. All others leave, and the King dies.
Outside Westminster Abbey, after the April 9, 1413 coronation, waits Cutter the thief, released by the Lord Chief Justice when news arrives about the old King's death. Tom, Ned, and Oldcastle gather too. Jockey exalts at the godlike aspect of their pal, the former Prince. Ned noted his changed countenance. The new King has demanded the French crown too.
"Harry of England" enters with Oxford and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Jockey and Ned greet the King, the latter reminding him of the promise to make him Lord Chief Justice. Henry V instead instructs Ned to "mend thy manners, and be more modester in thy terms" (ix.44-45) -- he is not to be ruled by flatterers. Henry admits he has changed and insists Ned had better do so as well. Jockey says, "Gog's wounds, how like you this? Zounds! 'tis not so sweet as music" (ix.49-50). Tom hopes he has not offended, but the King says his former life has "and makes me to abandon and abolish your company for ever" (ix.52-53). He is not to come within ten miles of the royal presence.
Henry turns to the Archbishop, asking about the French crown. The Archbishop recites the supposed lineage justification, and thinks they'll have to go to war: "as it hath been always known that Scotland hath been in league with France by a sort of pensions which yearly come from thence" (ix.69-71), they should subdue Scotland first. Oxford thinks it should be the other way around. Exeter presents the Duke of York, ambassador to France, who announces the Archbishop of Bourges, who brings an unacceptable offer from Charles VII, which nevertheless includes his daughter the Lady Katherine in marriage. And his son, the "Dolphin" (Dauphin), has sent a tun of tennis balls. The Archbishop explains the intent: "meaning that you are more fitter for a tennis court than a field, and more fitter for a carpet than the camp" (ix.131-133). Henry swears they'll be sorry. He grants the Archbishop a safe conduct. It's off to war! Oh, first, fetch that Lord Chief Justice who sent Henry to the Fleet. Instead of the axe falling, Henry, with impressive maturity, makes him Protector of the realm.
A Captain tries to recruit John Cobbler, who is reluctant: "Oh, sir, I have a great many shoes at home to cobble" (x.12-13). Derick, with a pot-lid for a shield, is ready to go and remarks to John's wife, "I marvel whose head you will throw the stools at now we are gone" (x.22-23). She whacks him with the pot-lid and the two brawl. Derick says the Captain should recruit her as a soldier. Cutter the thief arrives too, and despite sniping from Derick, he's along. John and his wife part emotionally with Derick providing a running commentary.
The ambassadors are not back yet, but the French King has prepared for the worst. The Dolphin thinks England wouldn't dare attack, but the King says that even if Henry V is "young and wild-headed, yet never think but he is ruled by his wise councilors" (xi.14-15). The Archbishop of Bourges arrives with news of Henry's rejection -- he demands the crown and the kingdom, and has already besieged Harfleur. "He is as fierce as a lion" (xi.34). The Dolphin wants to fight but the King forbids it, saying his son is worth more than his kingdom to him (xi.52-54).
At the field of Agincourt, October 25th, 1415, York informs Henry that many of the men are sick and hungry. Henry says they'll either purchase or take what they need: "the Law of Arms allows no less" (xii.12). Oxford wants a vanguard in the battle but it's already been granted to Uncle York, "Yet I thank you for your good will" (xii.18-19). There is absolutely no purpose to this tangent other than to glorify the patriotism of an ancestral Earl of Oxford: Richard de Vere (1385-1425). A herald declares Henry an enemy to God and France and admits that the Dolphin is not allowed to fight. Henry, still pissed off about the tennis balls, issues an open challenge.
A French soldier has an accent: "Me will tro one shance on the dice who shall have the king of England and his lords" (xiii.2-3). He, another soldier, the drummer, and a Captain all laugh over their coming triumph. "Why, take an English-man out of his warm bed and his stale drink but one month, and, alas! what will become of him? But give the Frenchman a radish root, and he will live with it all the days of his life" (xiii.49-52).
The English are outnumbered ten to one. But Henry bolsters his men, "though we be few" (xiv.11), and wants every archer to have sharp stakes ready to plant in the ground and gore oncoming horses with. Oxford will head this up. A herald inquires how the English would like their surrender and of course is sent packing. Henry leads the rallying cry to God and Saint George (xiv.59-60).
Oxford tells Henry that they've slain 12,600 French, vs. the Duke of York and about 26 common English soldier dead. Henry is sorry about the uncle but pleased with God for granting this slaughter. A herald is obsequious now, and on behalf of the King of France. Henry learns that nearby is the Castle of Agincourt so he makes the deft assertion that this will be called the Battle of Agincourt (xv.40-41). The King of France would also like a parley. "Now, my lords, I will go into the field myself to view my countrymen, and to have them honorably buried; for the French king shall never surpass me in courtesy whiles I am Harry, King of England" (xv.51-54).
John Cobbler and Robin Pewterer praise the King's tactics but then hear that they ought to pretend to be French since the King's tents have been set on fire. Rumor has it that all English will be killed. John thinks he can fake junior high French: "Commodevales, Monsieur?" (xvi.15).
A French soldier captures Derick, who promises him as many crowns as will lay on his sword, but he'll have to lay the sword down. When he does, Derick snatches it up. He threatens to behead the soldier, but when he turns his back the man runs away. Derick brags about his own ferocity.
Some traits that will end up in Falstaff appear in this play belonging to the clown character: "A superficial examination of the two plays will show that in each we have a swaggering soldier, in service against his will, aggressive when his enemies are unarmed and running away when they are armed; in each he is a coward, braggart, glutton, thief, rogue, clown and parasite; in each he has the same monumental, unblushing effrontery and loves a jest even at his own expense" (Monaghan, qtd. in Pitcher 104n).
Henry promises Charles that he will leave, but the bargain is that he is declared King of France and his heirs after him (which dispossesses the Dolphin). Charles, who doesn't have much choice anyway, will look over a copy of the treaty, and they'll meet again tomorrow.
"Harry" has decided privately that he's in love with Lady Katherine and must have her. When she comes in to question the list of demands, he insists he lacks the skill, or maybe he means the patience, to woo well. "Tush, Kate! but tell me in plain terms, canst thou love the King of England? I cannot do as these countries do that spend half their time in wooing. Tush, wench, I am none such" (xviii.60-63). He sounds like Petruchio from Taming. How can she love someone who has been so harsh to her father, she asks. She seems interested, but says she has to know her father's will first. He says proudly, "it is a sweet wench!" (xviii.83) and continues to call her Kate.
Derick is gloating still over his military triumph. He encounters John Cobbler, who insists he was practically killed: "I scaped hardly; for I was within half a mile when one was killed!" (xix.5-6) -- similar to those millions of people who were almost on one of those planes or who were scheduled to be at the World Trade Center that day. Derick says he would typically shove straw up his nose until he bled, so that other soldiers would think him wounded and let him stay behind (xix.16ff) -- a trick revealed also in Henry IV, Part 1 -- but he has had exploits nevertheless and has robbed some of the dead French of their shoes. Derick still thinks there is a worry about being caught and hanged. He asserts, "If it be thy fortune to be hanged, be hanged in thy own language, whatsoever thou dost!" (xix.39-40). John informs him that "the wars is done; we may go home now" (xix.41-42). They'll accompany the funeral party for the Duke of York into England. Derick anticipates much celebratory "cakes and drink" (xix.54).
Henry is insistent on the crown -- "What! not King of France? Then nothing. I must be King" (xx.6-7) -- and threatening about the French setting fire to his tents, although Charles swears it wasn't the Dolphin. Because Charles was anointed king, Henry can be Heir and Regent of France until Charles' death, and then inherit all. Another thing: all French lords must swear an oath of loyalty to Henry, starting with Burgundy. The Dolphin next kisses the sword. Another thing: "I mean to make your daughter Queen of England, if she be willing, and you therewith content. How sayst thou, Kate? Canst thou love the King of England?" (xx.47-50). She questions again, "How should I love thee, which is my father's enemy?" (xx.51-52). It is she who must make them friends. With dad's persuasion, and an aside that shows her very willing to acquiesce, she does. The wedding will be "The first Sunday of the next month, God willing" (xx.65-66). Abrupt ending.