« PreviousContinue »
*KING HENRY VI. PART I.] The historical transactions contained in this play, take in the compass of above thirty years. I must observe, however, that our author, in the three parts of Henry VI. has not been very precise to the date and disposition of his facts; but shuffled them, backwards and forwards, out of time. For instance; the lord Talbot is killed at the end of the fourth Act of this play, who in reality did not fall till the 13th of July, 1453: and The Second Part of Henry VI. opens with the marriage of the king, which was solemnized eight years before Talbot's death, in the year 1445. Again, in the Second Part, dame Eleanor Cobham is introduced to insult Queen Margaret; though her penance and banishment for sorcery happened three years before that princess came over to England. I could point out many other transgressions against history, as far as the order of time is concerned. Indeed, though there are several master-strokes in these three plays, which incontestibly betray the workmanship of Shakspeare; yet I am almost doubtful, whether they were entirely of his writing. And unless they were wrote by him very early, I should rather imagine them to have been brought to him as a director of the stage; and so have received some finishing beauties at his hand. An accurate observer will easily see, the diction of them is more obsolete, and the numbers more mean and prosaical, than in the generality of his genuine compositions. THEOBALD.
Having given my opinion very fully relative to these plays at the end of The Third Part of King Henry VI. it is here only necessary to apprize the reader what my hypothesis is, that he may be the better enabled, as he proceeds, to judge concerning its probability. Like many others, I was long struck with the many evident Shakspearianisms in these plays, which appeared to me to carry such decisive weight, that I could scarcely bring myself to examine with attention any of the arguments that have been urged against his being the author of them. I am now surprized, (and my readers perhaps may say the same thing of themselves,) that I should never have adverted to a very striking circumstance which distinguishes this first part from the other parts of King Henry VI. This circumstance is, that none of these Shaksperian passages are to be found here, though several are scattered through the two other parts. I am therefore decisively of opinion that this play was not written by Shakspeare. The reasons on which that opinion is founded, are stated at large in the Dissertation above referred to. But I would here request the reader to attend particularly to the versification of this piece, (of which almost every line has a pause at the end,) which is so different from that of Shakspeare's undoubted plays, and of the greater part of the two succeeding pieces as altered by him, and so exactly corresponds with that of the tragedies written by others before and about the time of his first commencing author, that
this alone might decide the question, without taking into the account the numerous classical allusions which are found in this first part. The reader will be enabled to judge how far this argument deserves attention, from the several extracts from those ancient pieces which he will find in the Essay on this subject.
With respect to the second and third parts of King Henry VI. or, as they were originally called, The Contention of the Two famous Houses of Yorke and Lancaster, they stand, in my apprehension, on a very different ground from that of this first part, or, as I believe it was anciently called, The Play of King Henry VI-The Contention, &c. printed in two parts, in quarto, 1600, was, I conceive, the production of some playwright who preceded, or was contemporary with Shakspeare; and out of that piece he formed the two plays which are now denominated the Second and Third Parts of King Henry VI.; as, out of the old plays of King John and The Taming of the Shrew, he formed two other plays with the same titles. For the reasons on which this opinion is formed, I must again refer to my Essay on this subject.
This old play of King Henry VI. now before us, or as our author's editors have called it, the first part of King Henry VI. I suppose, to have been written in 1589, or before. See An Attempt to ascertain the Order of Shakspeare's Plays, Vol. II. The disposition of facts in these three plays, not always corresponding with the dates, which Mr. Theobald mentions, and the want of uniformity and consistency in the series of events exhibited, may perhaps be in some measure accounted for by the hypothesis now stated. As to our author's having accepted these pieces as a Director of the stage, he had, I fear, no pretension to such a situation at so early a period. MALONE.
The chief argument on which the first paragraph of the foregoing note depends, is not, in my opinion, conclusive. This historical play might have been one of our author's earliest dramatick efforts: and almost every young poet begins his career by imitation. Shakspeare, therefore, till he felt his own strength, perhaps servilely conformed to the style and manner of his predecessors. Thus, the captive eaglet described by Rowe:
a while endures his cage and chains,
"And like a prisoner with the clown remains :
"But when his plumes shoot forth, his pinions swell, "He quits the rustick and his homely cell,
"Breaks from his bonds, and in the face of day
"Full in the sun's bright beams he soars away."
What further remarks I may offer on this subject, will appear in the form of notes to Mr. Malone's Essay, from which I do not wantonly differ, though hardily, I confess, as far as my sentiments may seem to militate against those of Dr. Farmer.
King Henry the Sixth.
Duke of Gloster, Uncle to the King, and Protector. Duke of Bedford, uncle to the King, and Regent of France.
Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter, great Uncle to
Henry Beaufort, great Uncle to the King, Bishop of
Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March.
Sir John Fastolfe. Sir William Lucy.
An old Shepherd, Father to Joan la Pucelle. Margaret, Daughter to Reignier; afterwards married to King Henry.
Countess of Auvergne.
Joan la Pucelle, commonly called Joan of Arc. Fiends appearing to La Pucelle, Lords, Warders of the Tower, Heralds, Officers, Soldiers, Messengers, and several Attendants both on the English and French. SCENE, partly in England, and partly in France.