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GLOUCESTER. Ay, grief, I fear me, both at first and
[Exeunt GLOUCESTER and EXETER. Thus Suffolk hath prevail'd; and thus he
As did the youthful Paris once to Greece;
THE SECOND PART OF
KING HENRY THE SIXTH
THE Second and Third Parts of King Henry VI involve what have been justly described as the most difficult, if not the most important, problems in Shakespearean criticism. To indicate in a few pages the nature of a discussion which has extended to what would form a considerable volume is all that can here be attempted.
On March 12, 1593, was entered in the Stationers' Register, with the name of the publisher, Thomas Millington, a book entitled The First part of the Contention betwixt the two famous Houses of Yorke and Lancaster (the title is here abbreviated). In the course of the next year (1594) this appeared in quarto form. Again, a year later, in 1595, Millington published The True Tragedie of Richard Duke of Yorke and the death of good King Henrie the sixt. It is not necessary at this point to notice any later editions of these plays. The Second and Third Parts of King Henry VI were, as far as we know, first printed in the folio of 1623.
The two old plays and the two plays of the folio are closely connected. But how? Are the old plays surreptitious and imperfect presentations of the plays which we read as Shakespeare's in the folio text? Or are these plays of Shakespeare recasts of the old plays? Who wrote The First Part of the Contention? Who wrote The True Tragedie? Had Shakespeare any hand in them? Was he their sole author? If the folio plays be recasts or revisions, who revised the original material? Was Shakespeare alone the reviser ? Or had he the aid of some early contemporary, such as
Marlowe? These are the questions which have perplexed scholars, and about which no agreement has been arrived at.
I may at once express my own unhesitating conviction that the old quartos are not imperfect renderings of the folio plays. The latter are undoubtedly, in my opinion, recasts of the earlier dramas; and this view is taken not by all but by the great majority of competent students. The matter seems to me to have been settled long since by the arguments of Malone, which will be found in volume xviii of the Variorum edition of 1821. To his remarkable Dissertation, which later studies have somewhat unduly obscured, the reader may be referred.
Nor do I believe it is open to reasonable question that the hand of Shakespeare appears in the plays which are given in the folio and are here reprinted. So far, I think, we are on firm ground. Beyond this, it seems to me, we enter into a region of doubt. I incline to think that Shakespeare was to some extent concerned with The First Part of the Contention and The True Tragedie, but I am not sure. I am more strongly disposed to believe that he was the sole reviser; but such Marlowesque lines as those which open Act IV of the Second Part of King Henry VI:
The gaudy, blabbing, and remorseful day
with others that follow, suggest a doubt.
It has been estimated that in the Second Part 1,715 lines of the folio text are wholly new; 840 lines are more or less altered from those of the old play; some 520 lines are taken over without alteration. The revision of the Third Part involved less change; 1,010 lines of the old play remain unchanged; about 871 are altered; some 1,021 are new. Such an estimate may not be quite exact, but it is approximately right. In any case the debt to the old plays is large. Are we to suppose that Shakespeare was only reclaiming work of his own? Or was he an 'upstart crow', exhibiting
himself in borrowed plumage? Plagiarism is hardly a word to apply to his work even if the writing of others reappeared in his revision. It was customary to make additions to plays with a view to attracting a fresh audience to the theatre; the play belonged to the company; the reviser in general received a slender reward. And yet, as we shall see, Shakespeare did not escape the charge of being a plagiarist.
Robert Greene the dramatist died in poverty in 1592; his last pamphlet, Greene's Groatsworth of Wit bought with a Million of Repentance, was written on his deathbed, and was published after Greene's death by Henry Chettle. He warns three of his fellows, who can be identified as Marlowe, Peele, and Nash (or possibly Lodge) against the players: 'Yes, trust them not: for there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that, with his tiger's heart wrapt in a player's hide, supposes he is as well able to bumbast out a blank verse as the best of you; and, being an absolute Johannes factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country.' This is the earliest allusion to Shakespeare in print that has been discovered. The words refer to
the player as an author; 'bumbast out a blank verse means, not to mouth upon the stage-such a use of 'bombast' seems to be modern,-but to swell or stuff out a blank verse with high-sounding epithets. A sting is put into the attack on Shakespeare as poet and plagiarist by the parody of a line-perhaps Shakepeare's which appears in both The True Tragedie and Henry VI, Part ÎÎI (1. iv. 137). It looks as if Greene resented Shakespeare's appropriation of work of his own as well as certain original work of the actor-poet, who was robbing the university men of their legitimate profits. We are gratified to know that Chettle before long made his apology for letting these words appear in print, and confessed Shakespeare's 'uprightness of dealing, which argues his honesty as well as his excellence in his profession. Possibly the shaft was pointed by Greene so that Marlowe, whom he addresses, might be touched. The supreme master of dramatic