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A LIFE OF THE POET, EXPLANATORY FOOT-NOTES, CRITICAL
NOTES, AND A GLOSSARIAL INDEX.
REV. HENRY N. HUDSON,
IN TWENTY VOLUMES.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1880, by
HENRY N. HUDSON, in the office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
GINN & HEATH:
KING HENRY VI. PART FIRST.
TEVER printed that we know of till in the folio of 1623; but IV evidently referred to by Thomas Nash in his Pierce Penniless, 1592: “How would it have joyed brave Talbot, the terror of the French, to think that, after he had lain two hundred years 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.” The special matter of this allusion is in the fifth, sixth, and seventh scenes of the fourth Act, where the veteran Earl of Shrewsbury and his son John fight it out together to the death.
During those years, one of the London theatres, called “ The Rose,” was under the management of Philip Henslowe, who had numerous and varied dealings with playwrights and actors, and from whose records much of our information about the dramatic doings of the time is derived. From this source we learn that a play called Henry the Sixth was acted at his theatre by “ Lord Strange's men” on the 3d of March, 1592, and was repeated twelve times in the course of that season. Whether this play were the same as that referred to by Nash, we have no means of ascertaining. Shakespeare is not known to have had any connection with the theatrical company designated as “ Lord Strange's men”; and most of his plays, if not all, were undoubtedly written for another company. But it is well known that at that time the same play was often performed by several different companies in succession; for in such matters what we call copyright was then unsecured by law, and little regarded by custom : so it is nowise unlikely that Shakespeare's King Henry the Sixth, after running a course with the company to which he belonged, may have been permitted to the use of another company, or may have been used by another without permission.
At all events, the forecited passage from Nash would fairly infer the play in question to have been on the stage as early as 1589 or 1590. As, in 1589, Shakespeare was but twenty-five years old, this would needs conclude the play in hand to have been among the first, if not the very first, of his essays in dramatic composition. And it stands clear in evidence that the public taste or preference was at that time running strongly in favour of plays founded on English history: in these the intense national feeling of the people and the old English passion for dramatic entertainments could meet and feast together: hence, no doubt, the early and rapid growth in England of the Historical Drama, as a species quite distinct from the old forms of Comedy and Tragedy. To be sure, the play in hand is vastly inferior in every respect to what the Poet afterwards achieved in the same kind; yet hardly, if at all, more inferior to these than it is superior to the best plays on English history that had been seen on the London stage at the supposed date of its production. Shakespeare's own workmanship apart, the earliest historical play that can bear any comparison with it is Marlowe's Edward the Second, which is first heard of by an entry in the Stationers' Books dated July 6, 1593; and it is beyond question, as we shall see hereafter, that both the Second and the Third Parts of Shakespeare's King Henry the Sixth, probably in their present form, but certainly in some form, were on the stage some two years before that date.
Nevertheless the authorship of the play in hand has been a theme of argument and controversy from the days of Theobald to the present time: some boldly maintaining that Shakespeare could have had no hand in it whatever; others supposing that he merely revised and improved it, and perhaps contributed a few scenes; while yet others hold the main body of it to be his, though an inferior hand may have had some share in the composition. The reasoning of the two former classes proceeds, I believe, entirely upon internal evidence, and seems to me radically at fault in allowing far too little for the probable difference