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FIRST PART OF KING HENRY
pHE historical transactions in this play, which was first printed in the folio of 1623, take in the compass of above thirty years. In the three parts of King Henry VI. there is no very precise attention to the date and disposition of facts; they are shuffled backwards and forwards out of time. For instance, the Lord Talbot is killed at the end of the fourth act of this play, who in reality did not fall till the 13th of July, 1453: and the Second Part of King Henry VI. opens with the marriage of the king, which was solemnized eight years before Talbot's death, in the year 1445. Again, in the second part, dame Eleanor Cobham is introduced to insult Queen Margaret; though her penance and banishment for sorcery happened three years before that princess came over to England. There are other transgressions against history, as far as the order of time is concerned.
Malone wrote a long dissertation to prove that the First Part of King Henry VI. was not written by Shakespeare; and that the Second and Third Parts were only altered by him from the old play, entitled "The Contention of the Two Famous Houses of Yorke and Lancaster," printed in two parts, in quarto, in 1594 and 1595. The substance of his argument is as follows:—
1. The diction, versification, and allusions in it are all different from the diction, versification, and allusions of Shakespeare, and corresponding with those of Greene, Peele, Lodge, Marlowe, and others who preceded him: there are more allusions to mythology, to classical authors, and to ancient and modern history, than are found in any one piece of Shakespeare's written on an English sfory. they are such as do not naturally rise out of the subject, but seem to be inserted merely to show the writer's learning. These allusions, and many particular expressions, seem more likely to have been used by the authors already named than by Shakespeare.—He points out many of the allusions, and instances the words proditor and immanity, which are not to be found in any of the poet's undisputed works.—The versification he thinks clearly of a different colour from that of Shakespeare's genuine dramas; while at the same time it resembles that of many of the plays produced before his time. The sense concluding or pausing almost uniformly at the end of every line; and the verse having scarcely ever a redundant syllable.
A passage in a "pamphlet written by Thomas Nashe, an intimate friend of Greene, Peele, Marlowe, &c. shows that the First Part of King Henry VI. had been on the stage before 1592; and his favourable mention of the piece may induce a belief that it was written by a friend of his:—" How would it have joyed brave Talbot, the terror of the French, to thinke that, after he had lyen two hundred yeare in his tombe, he should triumph again on the stage; and have his bones new embalmed with the teares of ten thousand spectators at least (at several times), who in the tragedian that represents his person behold him fresh bleeding."— Pierce Penniless his Supplication to the Devil, 1592.
That this passage related to the old play of King Henry VI. or, as it is now called, the First Part of King Henry VI. can hardly be doubted. Talbot appears in the First Part, and not in the Second or Third Part, and is expressly spoken of in the play, as well as in Hall's Chronicle, as "the terror of the French." Holinshed, who was Shakespeare's guide, omits the passage in Hall, in which Talbot is thus described; and this Malone considers an additional proof that this play was not the production of our great poet.
The internal proofs of this he thinks to be:— 1. The author does not seem to have known precisely how old Henry VI. was at the time of his father's death. He supposed him to have passed the state of infancy before he lost his father, and even to have remembered some of his sayings. In the Fourth Act, Sc. 4, speaking of the famous Talbot, he says:— "When I was young (as yet I am not old), I do remember how my father said, A stouter champion never handled sword." But Shakespeare knew that Henry VI . could not possibly remember any thing of his father:—
"No sooner was I crept out of my cradle,
King Henry VI. Part II. Act iv. Sc. 9. "When I was crown'd I was but nine months old."
King Henry VI. Part In. Act i. Sc. 1. The first of these passages is among the additions made by Shakespeare to the old play, according to Malone's hypothesIs. The other passage does occur in the True Tragedie of Richard Duke of York; and therefore it is natural to conclude that neither Shakespeare nor the author of that piece could have written the First Part of King Henry VI.
2. In Act ii. Sc. 5. of this play, it is said that the Earl of Cambridge raised an army against his sovereign. But Shakespeare, in his play of King Henry V. has represented the matter truly as it was: the Earl being in that piece, Act ii. condemned at Southampton for conspiring to assassinate Henry.
3. The author of this play knew the true pronunciation of the word Hecate, as it is used by the Roman writers:—
"I speak not to that railing Hecate"." But Shakespeare, in Macbeth, always uses Hecate as a dissyllable.
The second speech in this play indicates the author that was very familiar with Hall's Chronicle:—
"What should I say? his deeds exceed all speech." This phrase is introduced upon almost every occasion by Hall when he means to be eloquent. Holinshed, not Hall, was Shakespeare's historian. Here, then, is an additional minute proof that this play was not Shakespeare's.
This is the sum of Malone's argument. He conjectured that this piece which we now call the First Part of King Henry VI. was, when first performed, called The Play of King Henry VI.; and he thought his conjecture confirmed by an entry in the accounts of Henslowe, the proprietor of the Rose Theatre on the Bank Side. It must have been very popular, having been played no less than twelve times in one season: the first entry of its performance by the Lord Strange's company, at the Rose, is dated March 3, 1591. It is worthy of remark that Shakespeare does not appear at any time to have had the smallest connexion with that theatre, or the companies playing there; which, he thinks, affords additional argument that the play could not be his. He adds—" By whom it was written it is now, I fear, difficult to ascertain. It was not entered on the Stationers' books, nor printed till the year 1623; when it was registered with Shakespeare's undisputed plays by the editors of the first folio, and there improperly entitled the Third Part of King Henry VI. In one sense it might be called so; for two plays on the subject of that reign had been printed before. But considering the history of that king, and the period of time which the piece comprehends, it ought to have been called, what in fact it is called in the first folio, The First Part of King Henry VI. At this distance of time it is impossible to ascertain on what principle it was that Heminge and Condell admitted it into their volume; but I suspect that they gave it a place as a necessary introduction to the two other parts; and because Shakespeare had made alterations, and written some lines in it." *
Malone's essay made many converts to his opinion; and perhaps Mr. Morgann, in his elegant Essay on the Dramatic Character of Falstaff, first published in 1777, led the way, when he pronounced it " That drum-and-trumpet thing,—written doubtless, or rather exhibited long before Shakespeare was born, though afterwards repaired and furbished up by him with here and there a little sentiment and diction." Theobald first suggested the doubt. Malone's arguments have been replied to at great length by Mr. Knight, who has endeavoured to establish the converse proposition, that not only the improved plays, but the old and more imperfect pieces, The Contention betwixt the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster, and The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York, are entirely from the hand of Shakespeare. By others it has been thought that the two early pieces were written by Marlowe, but, it must be confessed, on very slender grounds. It seems to me at least certain that they contain much that must have come from the hand of Shakespeare, engrafted upon the work of another writer; and that the plays as they stand in the folio, are the result of a second revisal by him. The present play, which forms the first part of the trilogy, appears also to be a revisal by Shakespeare of another old play of the same set that furnished the others, but the original form of which has not come down to us.