Imagens das páginas



IN the Epilogue to the Second Part of King Henry IV Shakespeare promised the spectators of his play a continuation which should deal with the ensuing reign, and should, like Henry IV, make history mirthful with comedy: 'If you be not too much clcyed with fat meat, our humble author will continue the story, with Sir John in it, and make you merry with fair Katharine of France: where, for anything I know, Falstaff shall die of a sweat, unless already a' be killed with your hard opinions.' According to tradition, Queen Elizabeth required that Falstaff should be presented as a lover, and The Merry Wives of Windsor was hastily written. Some critics, and not without reasons of weight, believe that the Merry Wives followed Henry V in the chronological order of Shakespeare's plays. Such may be the fact. But the absence of Falstaff from the present play-except as he appears indirectly in the narration of his death-seems to be most easily explained if we suppose that The Merry Wives was slipped in by royal command between Henry IV and Henry V, and that Shakespeare now really believing that he might cloy' his spectators with fat meat', resolved to dismiss his great jester from earth to Arthur's bosom '.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

The date of Henry V can be determined with unusual accuracy. It is not mentioned by Meres in his Palladis Tamia of 1598. The Earl of Essex, accompanied by Shakespeare's early patron the Earl of Southampton, set forth on his expedition to Ireland on March 27, 1599; towards the close of September of that year

he returned. The chorus to the fifth Act of the present play was obviously pronounced after the former and before the latter of these dates :

Were now the general of our gracious empress,-
As in good time he may,-from Ireland coming,
Bringing rebellion broached on his sword,

How many would the peaceful city quit
To welcome him!

[ocr errors]

As is well known, Essex returned, not bringing rebellion broached on his sword', but himself to perish before long on the charge of rebellion. The poet's unfulfilled prophecy remains, and is decisive as to the date of the production of the play. We need not raise a question as to whether this wooden O' of the opening chorus can refer to the Globe Theatre or not, with evidence so precise as this.

[ocr errors]

An entry in the Stationers' Register of August 4,1600, names Henry the ffift, a booke', as to be staied'. Shakespeare and the other members of his dramatic company may have been unwilling that a play which drew audiences to their theatre should be accessible in a printed form. Perhaps the 'stay' came too late. It is certain that in 1600-but in what month of that year we cannot say the first quarto was published: The Cronicle History of Henry the fift, with his battell fought at Agin Court in France. Togither with Auntient Pistoll. A second quarto appeared two years later; a third is dated 1608, but the date is suspected, and may possibly have been in fact 1619. The text as we read it in the present edition is substantially that of the folio of 1623.

What is the relation of the quarto text to the folio? It was argued long since that the quarto represents Shakespeare's first sketch or earlier draft of the play. The argument and its conclusion may with confidence be dismissed to the wide Shakespearean limbo of vanities. Mr. Daniel and other scholars have shown conclusively that portions of the folio text omitted from the quarto are yet there referred to in passages

retained. or are required to make fully intelligible certain lines and phrasings of the quarto. The number of lines in the quarto is less than half of those which make up the folio text; the prologues, the epilogue, and three entire scenes are absent; several of the dramatis personae are wanting. There can be no reasonable doubt that the quarto text was obtained surreptitiously from a version of the play which had been shortened for some special occasion or occasions, possibly at the court.

The sources from which Shakespeare drew materials or suggestions for his play were two-Holinshed's Chronicle, and the old play, which had been of some service to him in writing Henry IV-The Famous Victories of Henry the fifth: containing the Honourable Battell of Agin-court (see Introduction to I Henry IV). The Chronicle supplied a large body of substantial matter, which was animated and developed by Shakespeare's imagination. From The Famous Victories only hints were derived to be freely worked out or varied at will. Thus the suggestion for Henry's wooing of Katharine comes not from Holinshed but from The Famous Victories. The reader who has not the old play at hand may be glad to compare Shakespeare's treatment of the courtship, where his chief obligation lies, with that of his predecessor :

Hen. 5. How now faire Ladie, Katheren of France,
What newes ?


And it please your Majestie, My father sent me to know if you will debate any of


Unreasonable demands which you require :

Hen. 5. Now trust me Kate,

I commend thy fathers wit greatly in this,

For none in the world could sooner have made me debate it

If it were possible:

But tell me sweete Kate, canst thou tell how to love? Kate. I cannot hate my good Lord,

Therefore far unfit were it for me to love.

Hen. 5. Tush Kate, but tell me in plaine termes,
Canst thou love the King of England?

I cannot do as these Countries [Counties ?] do,
That spend half their time in woing:
Tush wench, I am none such,

But wilt thou go over to England?
Kate. I would to God, I had your Majestie,

As fast in love, as you have my father in warres,
I would not vouchsafe so much as one looke,

Until you had related [rebated ?] all these unreasonable demands.

Hen. 5. Tush Kate, I know thou wouldst not use me so Hardly: But tell me, canst thou love the king of Eng


Kate. How should I love him, that hath dealt so hardly With my father.

Hen. 5. But ile deale as easily with thee,

As thy heart can imagine, or tongue can require,
How saist thou, what will it be?

Kate. If I were of my owne direction,

I could give you answere:

But seeing I stand at my fathers direction,

I must first know his will.

Hen. 5. But shal I have thy good wil in the mean season?
Kate. Whereas I can put your grace in no assurance,
I would be loth to put you in any dispaire.
Hen. 5. Now before God, it is a sweete wench.

She goes aside, and speakes as followeth.
Kat. I may thinke myself the happiest in the world,
That is beloved of the mightie King of England.
Hen. 5. Well Kate, are you at hoast with me?
Sweet Kate, tel thy father from me,

That none in the world could sooner have persuaded me to
It then thou, and so tel thy father from me.
Kat. God keepe your Majestie in good health. Exit Kat.

It has been often said that the play is epical rather than dramatic, and that the epic passion finds an overflow in the choruses. We cannot,' wrote Furnivall, 'help noting the weakness of this play as a drama: a siege and a battle, with one bit of light love-making, cannot form a drama, whatever amount of rhetorical patriotic speeches and comic relief is introduced.'

The drama, it is true, is rather one presenting great actions than one occupied with the development or study of character. Shakespeare himself evidently felt that the resources of the Elizabethan theatre were inadequate for the exhibition of the great historical events, and he calls upon the spectators to supply with a generous imagination the defects of what was inadequately shown to their eyes. We seem to feel throughout many parts of the play a certain sense of strain and effort which attempts to overcome the limitations of the stage by outbreaks of a passionate rhetoric. Henry is essentially a man of action; but the grandeur of the action is dwarfed by the conditions of the theatre, and the imagination must be stimulated and inflamed by the ardour of gallant words. Among his kings of England Henry V is undoubtedly Shakespeare's ideal king; he is neither a traitor like John, a hectic sentimentalist like Richard II, a pseudo-saint like Henry VI, nor a strong, crafty, anxious usurper like his own father. He is more kingly than any of these, but his natural temper and his early life of youthful freedom and quick enjoyment have filled him with popular sympathies, which make him a comrade of his humblest fellow soldiers on the night before his triumph at Agincourt. He would have every part of his life soundly based; his claims on France must first be justified before he takes a step; traitors must be swiftly and terribly cast forth from his band of brave adventurers—and so Cambridge, Scroop, and Grey go to their doom; his popularity must be won not by such formal courtesies as gained his father a temporary success, but by true fellowship with his subjects; his wedded happiness must rest upon a plain, soldier's wooing; and under all else he must feel that God supports his cause. The criticism is too superfine or too shallow which styles Richard II a "vessel of porcelain and Henry V a vessel of clay'. The stuff which makes a Henry is rarer than that which makes a self-indulgent 'mockery king'. But it is true that Henry interests Shakespeare only or chiefly as a great

« AnteriorContinuar »