« PreviousContinue »
An if we live, we live to tread on kings;
-v. 2. 82-87.
In adapting Holinshed's story to the requirements of a drama, Shakespeare made alterations, omissions, and additions, yet did not depart very widely from the main drift of the narrative. Most of these changes will be easily noticed when the quotations from Holinshed, found in the Notes, are read; but it may prove serviceable to summarize them a little at this point. Putting aside the comic scenes and the character of Falstaff, of which there is no suggestion in Holinshed, we may notice the following points of difference:
(i) Shakespeare has introduced the following characters, of whom there is no mention in Holinshed's account of the first part of the Percy rebellion: Prince John of Lancaster, Lady Percy, and Lady Mortimer. Prince John is introduced probably in order to serve as a foil to the Prince of Wales; we hear his voice only when he is in his brother's company. Lady Percy and Lady Mortimer, on the other hand, are evidently introduced with the purpose of diversifying the characterization by the inclusion of women characters.
(ii) Shakespeare's Henry IV is less valiant, and his Prince of Wales more valiant, than Holinshed's on the occasion of the battle of Shrewsbury. Shakespeare departs from Holinshed in representing the Prince as the rescuer of his father and the victor over Hotspur. (See quotation from Holinshed prefixed to v. 3.)
(iii) Shakespeare has changed considerably the ages of King Henry and Hotspur. He represents the King as an old man (see v. i. 13, “To crush our old limbs in ungentle steel "), whereas he was only thirty at the time of the battle of Shrewsbury. Hotspur, who was in reality slightly older than the King, is made of exactly the same age as Prince Henry. The reason for these changes is to be sought for in Shakespeare's determination to repre
sent Hotspur and the Prince as rivals at every point, and contending with one another in the first flush of manhood.
The above points indicate changes in respect of characterization; the following bear mainly upon plot-structure.
(iv) Shakespeare makes no use of Holinshed's statement that the Percies, when raising the revolt, circulated the report that Richard II was still alive.
(v) There is no suggestion in Holinshed of the contents of Actii. scene 3, while in the case of other scenes, Shakespeare has introduced many new circumstances (compare iii. 1 with the quotation from Holinshed prefixed to the notes to that scene).
(vi) Shakespeare has removed the reconciliation scene between the King and Prince Henry (iii. 2) from its true position in Holinshed, and has introduced it at a much earlier period.
(vii) Shakespeare represents Glendower and his Welsh irregulars as being absent from the battle of Shrewsbury; Holinshed, though he does not mention Glendower as a sharer in the fight, says: “The Welshmen also which before had laine lurking in the woods, mounteines, and marishes, hearing of this battell toward, came to the aid of the Persies, and refreshed the wearied people with new succours”.
Before considering Shakespeare's second source—The Famous Victories of Henry V-the reader's attention is drawn to the fourth book of Daniel's History of the Civil Wars as a possible supplementary source to Holinshed for the historic scenes of Shakespeare's play. Daniel published the first four books of his historical poem in 1595, and it is difficult to believe that Shakespeare was unacquainted with so important a work: whether he derived any ideas from it remains to be seen. In the fourth book of his History of the Civil Wars Daniel covers practically the same ground as Shakespeare in his two parts of Henry IV. His authority is apparently Holinshed, but he differs from him in several particulars, and these points of difference lie very close to those in which Shakespeare is at
variance with the chronicler. In the first place, he represents Hotspur as a young man, and as engaging in combat with the Prince of Wales in the battle of Shrewsbury:
“There shall young Hotspur, with a fury led,
Meete with thy forward son, as fierce as he:
(Daniel's Civil Wars, ed. Grosart, iv. 34.) In the actual account of the battle Daniel tells of the bravery of the Prince, but does not say that Hotspur fell by his hand.
Secondly, Daniel departs from Holinshed, but is at one with Shakespeare, in making the Prince rescue his father from death at the hands of Douglas:
“Hadst thou not there lent present speedy ayd
To thy indangered father, nerely tyrde,
(Toid. iv. 49.) (Holinshed's account of the battle will be found in the quotation prefixed to Act v. sc. 3.)
Thirdly, whereas Holinshed represents the Percies as receiving assistance from the Welsh in the battle of Shrewsbury, Daniel agrees with Shakespeare-and with historic truth-in declaring that they were not present on 'that occasion:
“The joining with the Welsh (they had decreed) Stopt hereby part; which made their cause the worse".
(Ibid. iv. 36.) Lastly, it may be pointed out that Daniel represents the troubles that encompassed Henry IV throughout his reign as a righteous Nemesis falling upon him, because of the
“indirect crook'd ways” by which he procured the crown. Referring to Northumberland's absence from the battle of Shrewsbury, he says:
“Who yet reserv'd (though, after, quit for this)
Another tempest on thy head to rayse;
(Ibid. iv. 35.)
Every reader of the two parts of Henry IV will be aware that this is precisely the view taken by Shakespeare (see i Henry IV, iii. 2. 4-7, and 2 Henry IV, iv. 5. 178–200).
It is of course possible—but in the present editor's opinion unlikely—that these points of agreement between Shakespeare and Daniel as against Holinshed are purely accidental, and that the two poets, in shaping an historical poem and an historical play respectively, made these changes independently, and with the same purposes in view. But inasmuch as it is unlikely that Shakespeare was unacquainted with Daniel's poem, it is reasonable to suppose that he had that poem in mind when he departed from Holinshed in his account of the battle of Shrewsbury.
The Famous Victories of Henry V is a short play, chiefly in prose, to which Shakespeare owed certain incidents of i Henry IV, 2 Henry IV, and Henry V. We have evidence of the popularity of this play in Elizabethan times, yet its intrinsic worth is very slight. It has a certain rollicking movement which no doubt appealed to the Elizabethan play-goer, but of true wit or humour there is scarcely anything. Yet, inasmuch as it was from this play that Shakespeare drew his idea of Prince Henry's comradeship with Falstaff and his satellites, it claims some notice here. Amongst the characters of the play are Sir John Oldcastle, Ned, Tom, and Gadshill, while the incidents include the robbery by the prince and his confederates of the king's "receivers ", and their retirement after the robbery to a tavern in Eastcheap, where their riotous mirth leads to a
1 It should be borne in mind that Poins' name is Edward. (B 101 )
quarrel and the interposition of the sheriff and mayor of London, who afterwards make complaint to the king. Later in the play there is a scene of reconciliation between the prince and his father, which faintly suggests the circumstances of Act iii. scene 2 of 1 Henry Il'. Finally, the idea of the mock representation on the part of Falstaff and Prince Hal of an interview between the prince and his father (ii. 4) may have been suggested by the rehearsing on the part of Derick and John Cobler in The Famous l'ictories of the scene between the Prince of Wales and the Lord Chief Justice. (See quotation from The Famous l'ictories given in the Notes to ii. 4.)
But when the most is made of these points of resemblance, we cannot fail to recognize the illimitable gulf which separates the two plays. The comic scenes of the earlier work are mere horse-play, the wit consists in the bandying about of such oaths as "sowndes” and “Gogs wounds"; while in order to realize to the full the transcendent greatness of Shakespeare's characterization, we have only to compare Shakespeare's Falstaff with the Sir John Oldcastle (familiarly known as Jockey') of The Famous l'ictories.
3. PLOT AND GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS
An interval of three or four years—1593 to 1596-97– probably separates the First Part of Henry IV from its nearest predecessor in the field of the history-playRichard II. During those four years Shakespeare's dramatic powers had developed rapidly, he had freed himself from his dependence on Marlowe, and had established his position as an independent playwright. Comedy in its various forms had been his chief concern since he brought his first series of historical plays to an end with Richard III and Richard II, and to these years belong such comedies as The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer. Night's Dream, and The Taming of the Shrew. Returning to the history-play in 1596-97, he produced in rapid