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AN ESSAY, &c.
HE Dramas of Shakspere are in no particular more remarkable than in the almost complete absence of any allusion to their author-any reference to his merely personal thoughts and circumstances any intimation, that might naturally enough have been conveyed in Prologue or Epilogue, of the relations in which the Poet stood with regard to his audience. There are only ten of his plays in which any one of the characters, at the conclusion, comes forward as an actor to deprecate censure or solicit applause. There are only two out of these ten plays in which the Author, through the actor, directly addresses the spectators. In the Epilogue to the Second Part of Henry IV. the Dancer says, a light manner, "Our humble Author will continue the story." In the concluding Chorus to Henry V., the Poet, then in the very zenith of his popularity, addresses himself to the audience, of course through the actor, more seriously and emphatically:
"Thus far, with rough and all unable pen,
Our bending author hath pursued the story;
Mangling by starts the full course of their glory.
Small time, but in that small most greatly liv'd
This star of England: fortune made his sword;
Of France and England, did this king succeed;
That they lost France, and made his England bleed :
In your fair minds let this acceptance take."
"The story" which the author "hath pursued thus far" is the story which began with the deposition of Richard II. The story of the triumphant progress of the house of Lancaster, up to the period when the son of Bolingbroke had "achieved the world's best garden,” had been told by the poet in four dramas, of which Henry V. was the concluding one. These dramas had been linked together with the most scrupulous care, so that, although for the purposes of representation there were necessarily distinct pauses in the action, they were essentially one great drama. They were written, it is highly probable, almost consecutively; for not only does the external evidence show that they were given to the world during the three last years of the sixteenth century, but their whole dramatic construction, as well as their peculiarities of style, determine them to belong to one and the same period of the poet's life, when his genius grasped a subject with the full consciousness of power, and revelled in its own luxuriance, whether of wit or fancy, without timidity. But there was another great division of the story, which had been previously told. As the glories of the house of Lancaster, consummated in the victory of Agincourt, had been traced through these four great dramas, so the ruin of the house of Lancaster, and all the terrible consequences of the struggles between that house and the other branch of the Plantagenets, even up to the final termination of the struggle at the field of Bosworth, had been developed in four other dramas of an earlier date :
"Henry the Sixth, in infant bands crown'd king
Of France and England, did this king succeed;
Whose state so many had the managing,
That they lost France, and made his England bleed;
Of this other series of dramas thus described-the second in the order of events, the first in the order of their composition and performance-"the bending author" in his chorus to Henry V. makes no equivocal mention. The events which "lost France" and made “England bleed" had the "stage" of Shakspere often "shown," in dramas which had long been familiar to his audience, and were unquestionably in the highest degree popular. As early as 1592 Thomas Nashe thus writes: "How would it have joyed brave Talbot, the terror of the French, to think that after he had lien two hundred year in his tomb he should triumph again on the stage; and have his bones new embalmed with the tears of ten thousand spectators at least (at several times), who, in the tragedian that represents his person, behold him fresh bleeding!"* In 1596, when Ben Jonson produced his 'Every Man in his Humour,' he accompanied it with a Prologue, † levelled against what appeared to him the absurdities of the romantic drama, in which is this passage :
"With three rusty swords,
And help of some few foot and half-foot words,
Fight over York and Lancaster's long jars,
And in the tiring-house bring wounds to scars."
*Pierce Pennilesse his Supplication to the Devil.
+ Gifford has clearly demonstrated that the Prologue appeared originally with Jonson's first Comedy, and was not appended long afterwards, as the commentators have supposed, for the sake of sneering at Shakspere's
Jonson, in another place, has translated the "sesquipedalia rerba" by this phrase.
That the play in which the brave Talbot triumphed "again on the stage" was what we call the First Part of Henry VI., there can be no reasonable doubt; that what we call the Second and Third Parts of Henry VI, and perhaps Richard III., were those in which were fought over "York and Lancaster's long jars," is equally clear. Shakspere, as it appears to us, does not hesitate to adopt this series of plays as his own. The author of Henry V. asks that the success of these earlier dramas should commend his later play to a favourable reception:"For their sake,
In your fair minds let this acceptance take.”
Is this language which Shakspere would have publicly used if three of this series of dramas had in no proper sense of the word been his own? if he had written not a line of the First Part of Henry VI.; and of the Second and Third Parts had produced a sort of olla podrida from the works of some other dramatist, contributing, out of 6043 lines of which these plays consist, 1899 of his own, adopting 1771 without alteration, and mending 2373?* Yet such is the received opinion of these dramas in England. Malone, who is the founder of this opinion, does not doubt of Shakspere" supplicating the favour of the audience to his new play of King Henry V., for the sake of these old and popular dramas, which were so closely connected with it." ↑ It was to bind the Henry V. with the Henry VI. and the Richard III. that he writes this Epilogue: that was to be the link between the new play of 1599 and the much earlier plays. The Richard II. and the Henry IV. were not separated from the Henry V. by any long interval in their performance;-they required no Prologue, for this reason, to hold them all together. The Henry V. was the triumphal completion of the story which those plays had begun. But if the disastrous continuation of the story had been the work of another man, we doubt whether Shakspere would have desired thus emphatically to carry forward the connexion. Malone holds that, to a certain extent, they were connected in their authorship, and that this connexion is implied in the address to the favour of the audience," for the sake of these old and popular dramas which were so closely connected with it; and in the composition of which, as they had for many years been exhibited, he had so considerable a share." This is the point which we desire to examine. We hold that Shakspere associates these old dramas with his own undoubted work, because he was their sole author. The words of the Chorus, as we conceive, (agreeing thus far with Malone,) distinctly imply some authorship. If this be doubted altogether, we are content with the expression of a contrary opinion: for the question, not of the meaning of the Chorus (for that is a very unimportant matter), but of the ORIGINAL AUTHORSHIP of these plays, which point the Chorus raises, is the subject of this Essay.
It is not our intention to give this essay the form of an answer to Mr. Malone's Dissertation on the Three Parts of Henry VI., tending to show that these plays were not written originally by Shakspeare.' We shall endeavour, indeed, not to pass over any important argument in that celebrated treatise, the learned dust of which, even to this hour, hath somewhat obscured the vision of antiquarians as acute as Mr. Collier, and of critics as far-seeing as Mr. Hallam. In England, at least, in our own day, Malone's verbal subtleties and laborious computations are pretty extensively held for the only true doctrine in this matter, supported as they are by the ready assent of such authorities as we have named. Mr. Collier says, "They" (the 'History of Henry VI.,' the' First Part of the Whole Contention,' and the 'True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York')" were all three in being before Shakespeare began to write for the stage."§ Mr. Hallam, not quite so strongly, observes, "It seems probable that the old plays of the 'Contention of Lancaster and York,' and the 'True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York,' which Shakspeare remodelled in the Second and Third Parts of Henry VI., were in great part by Marlowe. In default of a more probable claimant, I Dissertation, p. 592. Annals of the Stage, vol. iii., p. 145.
*This is Malone's computation.
have sometimes been inclined to assign the First Part of Henry VI. to Greene."* Such opinions render it impossible that we should dissent from Malone's theory rashly and lightly. But still we must dissent wholly and uncompromisingly. The opinion which we have not incautiously adopted is, in brief, this-that the three disputed plays are, in the strictest sense of the word, Shakspere's own plays ;-that in connexion with Richard III. they form one complete whole,-the first great Shaksperian series of Chronicle Histories;-that although, in common with all the Histories, they might each have been in some degree formed upon such rude productions of the early stage as The Famous Victories,' and The True Tragedy of Richard III.,' the theory of the remodelling of the Second and Third Parts upon two other plays of a higher character, of which we possess copies, is altogether fallacious, the 'First Part of the Contention,' and the 'Richard Duke of York' (more commonly called the 'Second Part of the Contention'), being in fact Shakspere's own work, in an imperfect state;-and that their supposed inferiority to Shakspere's other works, and their dissimilarities of style as compared with those works, are referable to other circumstances than that of their being the productions of an author or authors who preceded him.
The question whether the three parts of Henry VI. were or were not originally written by Shakspere, or by some other poet, is, it might be thought, sufficiently complicated without the introduction of any new and entirely different question. It is held, however, that the play first printed in the folio edition of Shakspere's works under the title of the First Part of Henry VI.—(the same play that we find from Henslowe's papers was acted thirteen times in the spring of 1592, by "Lord Strange's men," under the title of Henery the VI.')was not only not written by Shakspere, but was written altogether by a different person from the unknown author-the Marlowe, or Peele, or Greene, or all of them together-to whom are ascribed the plays which are printed in the folio edition as the Second and Third Parts of Henry VI., and which had been previously printed as the First Part of the Contention,' and the 'True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York.' Malone has proved this, after his own minute fashion, to which we shall have occasion subsequently to advert; at present we shall only give his judgment in his own words: "It appears to me clear that neither Shakspeare, nor the author of the First Part of the Contention,' &c., or the True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York,' &c., could have been the author of the First Part of King Henry VI." It is to this second point that we first address ourselves. We proceed to inquire, not whether Shakspere was the author of the First Part of Henry VI., but whether that play was written by the author or authors of the Second and Third Parts, in the form in which they were originally produced, (the form in which we have reprinted them,) before, upon the prevailing theory, they were remodelled by Shakspere.
"It is plausibly conjectured," says Mr. Collier," that Shakspeare never touched the First Part of Henry VI. as it stands in his works, and it is merely the old play on the early events of that reign, which was most likely written about 1589."+ Dr. Drake, in the fulness of his confidence in this plausible conjecture, proposes entirely to exclude the play from any future edition of Shakspere's works, as a production which "offers no trace of any finishing strokes from the master-bard." We take, then, the First Part of Henry VI., in the only original form in which we find it, bearing improperly, it is said, the name of Shakspere, without a trace of Shakspere's hand; and we proceed to compare it with the two other Parts of Henry VI., in the form also in which they are held not to contain a single line or word by Shak"What Shakspeare contributed to the Second and Third Parts of Henry VI. may be seen by a comparison of them with the two old quartos, reprinted by Steevens in 1766."§ We have again reprinted these early copies, in a manner which may enable the reader fairly * Literature of Europe, vol. ii., pp. 376, 380.
† Annals of the Stage, vol. iii., p. 145.