« PreviousContinue »
THE FIRST PART;
A HISTORICAL PLAY,
IN FIVE ACTS;
BY WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE.
AS PERFORMED AT THE
THEATRE ROYAL, COVENT GARDEN.
PRINTED UNDER THE AUTHORITY OF THE MANAGERS
FROM THE PROMPT BOOK.
BY MRS. INCHBALD.
PAINTED FOR LONGMAN, HURST, REES, AND ORME,
This is a play which all men admire; and which most women dislike. Many revolting expressions in the comic parts, much boisterous courage in some of the graver scenes, together with Falstaff's unwieldy person, offend every female auditor; and whilst a facetious Prince of Wales is employed in taking purses on the highway, a lady would rather see him stealing hearts at a ball, though the event might produce more fatal consequences.
The great Percy, they confess, pays some attention to his wife, but still more to his horse : and, as the king was a rebel before he mounted the throne, and all women are naturally loyal, they shudder at a crowned head leagued with a traitor's heart.
With all these plausible objections, infinite entertainment and instruction, may be received from this drama, even by the most delicate readers. They will observe the pen of a faithful historian, as well as of a great poet; and they ought, surely, to be charmed with every character, as a complete copy of nature; admiring even the delinquency of them all, far beyond that false display of unsullied virtue, so easy for a bard to bestow upon the creatures of his fancy, when
truth of description is sacrificed to brilliant impossibilities.
The reader, who is too refined to laugh at the wit of Sir John, must yet enjoy Hotspur's picture of a coxcomb; and receive high delight from those sentences of self-reproach, and purpose of amendment, which occasionally drop from the lips of the youthful and royal profligate.
If the licentious faults of old fashioned dialogue should here too frequently offend the strictly nice, they must, at least, confer the tribute of their praises upon every soliloquy. It is impossible for puritanism not to be merry, when Falstaff is ever found talking to himself; or holding discourse over the honoured dead. It is nearly as im possible for stupidity to be insensible of the merit of those sentiments, delivered by the prince, over the same extended corse; or, to be unmoved by various other beauties, with which this work abounds.
In order to form a proper judgment of the manners and conversations of the characters in this play, and, to partake of their genuine spirit, the reader must keep in mind that the era, in which all those remarkable personages lived, thought, spoke, and acted, has now been passed more than four hundred years. The play begins with the news of Hotspur having defeated the Scots, under the Earl of Douglas, which battle was fought on the fourteenth of September, 1402; and it closes with the defeat and death of Hotspur, which happened on the twenty-first of July, 1403—thus com. prising every event here introduced, within the time of ten months.