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Abstract of the Historic Matter.

In these plays, as in others of the same class, the Poet's authority was Holinshed, whose Chronicles, first published in 1577, was then the favourite book in English history. And the plays, notwithstanding their wealth of ideal matter, are rightly called historical, because the history everywhere guides, and in a good measure forms, the plot, whereas Macbeth, for instance, though having much of historical matter, is rightly called a tragedy, as the history merely subserves the plot.

King Henry the Fourth, surnamed Bolingbroke from the place of his birth, came to the throne in 1399, having first deposed his cousin, Richard the Second, whose death he was generally thought to have procured shortly after. The chief agents in - this usurpation were the Percys, known in history as Northumberland, Worcester, and Hotspur, three haughty and turbulent noblemen, who afterwards troubled Henry to keep the crown as much as they had helped him in getting it.

The lineal heir to the crown next after Richard was Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, a lad then about seven years old, whom the King held in a sort of honourable custody. Early in his reign, one of the King's leading partisans in Wales went to insulting and oppressing Owen Glendower, a chief of that country, who had been trained up in the English Court. Glendower petitioned for redress, and was insultingly denied ; whereupon he took the work of redress into his own hands. Sir Edmund Mortimer, uncle to the young Earl of March, and brother to Hotspur's wife, was sent against him ; but his forces were utterly broken, and himself captured and held in close confinement by Glendower, where the King suffered him to lie unransomed, alleging that he had treacherously allowed himself to be taken. Shakespeare, however, following Holinshed, makes the young Earl, who was then detained at Windsor to have been Glendower's prisoner.

After the captivity of Mortimer the King led three armies in succession against Glendower, and was as often baffled by the valour or the policy of the Welshman. At length the elements made war on the King; his forces were stormstricken, blown to pieces by tempests; which bred a general belief that Glendower could “command the Devil," and “call spirits from the vasty deep.” The King finally gave up and withdrew; but still consoled himself that he yielded not to the arms, but to the magic arts of his antagonist.

In the beginning of his reign the King led an army into Scotland, and summoned the Scottish King to appear before him and do homage for his crown; but, finding that the Scots would neither submit nor fight, and being pressed by famine, he gave over the undertaking and retired. Some while after, Earl Douglas, at the head of ten thousand men, burst into England, and advanced as far as Newcastle, spreading terror and havoc around him. On their return they were met by the Percys at Homildon where, after a fierce and bloody battle, the Scots were totally routed; Douglas himself being captured, as were also many other Scottish noblemen, and among them the Earl of Fife, a prince of the blood royal. The most distinguished of the English leaders in this affair was Henry Percy, surnamed Hotspur; a man of the most restless, daring, fiery, and impetuous spirit, who first armed at the age of twelve years, after which time, it is said, his spur was never cold.

Of the other events suffice it to say that they are much the same in history as in the drama; while the Poet's selection and ordering of them yield no special cause for remark. One or two points, however, it may be well to notice as throwing some light on certain allusions in the play.

In the Spring of 1405, Prince Henry, then in his nineteenth year, was at the head of an army in Wales, where Glendower had hitherto carried all before him. By his activity, prudence, and perseverance, the young hero gradually broke the Welshman down, and at length reduced the whole country into subjection. He continued in this service most of the time for four years; his valour and conduct awakening the most favourable expectations, which however were not a little dashed by his rampant hilarity during the intervals of labour in the field. His father was much grieved at these irregularities; and his grief was heightened by some loose and unfilial words that were reported to him as having fallen from the Prince in hours of merriment. Hearing of this, the Prince went to expostulate with his father; yet even then he enacted a strange freak of oddity, arraying himself in a gown of blue satin wrought full of eyelet-holes, and at each eyelet the needle still hanging by the silk; probably meaning to intimate thereby, that if his behaviour, his moral garb, were full of rents, it was not too late to sew them up, and the means were at hand for doing so. Being admitted to an interview, he fell on his knees and, presenting a dagger, begged the King to take his life, since he had withdrawn his favour. His father, much moved, threw away the dagger, and, kissing him, owned with tears that he had indeed held him in suspicion, though, as he now saw, without just cause; and promised that no misreports should thenceforth shake his confidence in him.

At another time, one of his unruly companions being convicted of felony, and sentenced to prison by the Chief Justice, the Prince undertook to rescue him, and even went so far as to assault the Judge; who forthwith ordered him to prison also, and he had the good sense to submit. Upon being told this incident, the King exclaimed, “Happy the King that has a judge so firm in his duty, and a son so obedient to the law !

Perhaps I should add, that the battle of Homildon was fought September 14, 1402 ; which marks the beginning of the play. The battle of Shrewsbury, which closes the First Part, took place July 21, 1403 ; Prince Henry being then only sixteen years old. The King died March 19, 1413 ; so that the two plays cover a period of about ten years and a half.

Character of the King.

If these two plays are substantially one, it is the character of Prince Henry that makes them so; that is, they have their unity in him; and the common argument of them lies in the change alleged to have taken place in him on coming to the throne. Why was Henry of Monmouth so loose and wild a reveller in his youth, and yet such a proficient in noble and virtuous discipline in his manhood? what causes, internal and external, determined him to the one; what impulses from within, what influences from without, transformed him into the other? Viewed in the light of this principle, the entire work, with its broad, rich variety of incident and character, and its alternations of wit and poetry, will be seen, I think, to proceed in a spirit of wise insight and design.

Accordingly, in the first scene of the play, this matter is put forth as uppermost in the King's thoughts. I refer to what passes between him and Westmoreland touching the victory at Homildon ; where the Earl declares “it is a conquest for a prince to boast of," and the King replies,

Yea, there thou makest me sad, and makest me sin,

Lord Northumberland
Should be the father to so blest a son;
Whilst I, by looking on the praise of him,
See riot and dishonour stain the brow
Of my young Harry. O, that it could be proved
That some night-tripping fairy had exchanged
In cradle-clothes our children where they lay,
And call'd mine Percy, his Plantagenet !
Then would I have his Harry, and he mine.

One reason of Prince Henry's early irregularities seems to have grown from the character of his father. All accounts agree in representing Bolingbroke as a man of great reach and sagacity; a politician of inscrutable craft, full of insinuation, brave in the field, skilful alike at penetrating others' designs and at concealing his own; unscrupulous alike in smiling men into his service and in crunching them up after he had used them. All which is fully borne out in that, though his reign was little else than a series of rebellions and commotions proceeding in part from the injustice whereby he reached the crown and the bad title whereby he held it, yet he always got the better of them, and even turned them to his advantage. Where he could not win the heart, cutting off the head, and ever plucking fresh security out of the dangers that beset him ; his last years, however, were much embittered, and his death probably hastened, by the anxieties growing out of his position, and the remorses consequent upon his crimes.

But, while such is the character generally ascribed to him, no historian has come near Shakespeare in the painting of it. Much of his best transpiration is given in the preceding

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