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for in the quarto edition of this Part, Act i. scene 2, one of Falstaff's speeches has the prefix Old; the change in that instance being probably left unmarked in the printer's copy. All which shows that both Parts were written long enough before February, 1598, for the Poet to see cause for changing the name.
“ Sir John Oldcastle, the good Lord Cobham,” was much distinguished as a Wickliffite martyr, and his name was held in high reverence by the Protestants in Shakespeare's time. And the purpose of the change in question probably was to rescue his memory from the profanations of the stage. Thus much seems hinted in the forecited passage from the Epilogue, and is further approved by what Fuller says in his Church History : “ Stage-poets have themselves been very bold with, and others very merry at, the memory of Sir John Oldcastle, whom they have fancied a boon companion, a jovial royster, and a coward to boot. The best is, Sir John Falstaff hath relieved the memory of Sir John Oldcastle, and is substituted buffoon in his place."
Another motive for the change may have been the better to distinguish Shakespeare's play from The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth ; a play which had been on the stage some years, and wherein Sir John Oldcastle was among the names of the Dramatis Persona, as were also Ned and Gadshill. There is no telling with any certainty when or by whom The Famous Victories was written. It is known to have been on the boards as early as 1588, because one of the parts was acted by Tarleton, the celebrated comedian, who died that year. And Nash, in his Pierce Penniless, 1592, thus alludes to it: “What a glorious thing it is to have Henry the Fifth represented on the stage, leading the French King prisoner, and forcing him and the Dauphin to swear fealty.” It was also entered at the Stationers' in 1594; and a play called Harry the Fifth, probably the same, was performed in 1595; and not less than three editions of it were printed. All which tells strongly for its success and popularity. The action of the play extends over the whole time occupied by Shakespeare's King Henry the Fourth and King Henry the Fifth. The Poet can hardly be said to have built upon it or borrowed from it at all, any further than taking the above-men
The play is indeed a most wretched and worthless performance; being altogether a mass of stupid vulgarity; at once vapid and vile; without the least touch of wit in the comic parts, or of poetry in the tragic; the verse being such only to the eye; Sir John Oldcastle being a dull, low-minded profligate, uninformed with the slightest felicity of thought or humour; the Prince, an irredeemable compound of ruffian, blackguard, and hypocrite.
In the folio, the text of the First Part does not differ greatly from that of the quartos; and the quarto text is regarded by many as the better of the two. In the Second Part the folio text is much the better, some of the finest passages having first appeared in that edition. And there are many smaller differences; these, too, of such a nature as to infer that the folio must have been printed from an independent manuscript, and that the play had been revised by the author.
In these two plays, as in others of the same class, the Poet's authority was Holinshed, whose Chronicles, first published in 1577, were 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 forins, 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 IV., surnamed Bolingbroke from the place of his birth, came to the throne in 1399, having first deposed his cousin, Richard II., whose death he was thought to have procured shortly after. The chief agents in this usurpation were the Percys, known as Northumberland, Worcester, and Hotspur. The lineal heir, 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 partisans in Wales went to wronging 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 held in 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 Welshman. At length the elements made war on the King; his forces were storm-stricken, 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 utterly 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 daring 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, susfice it to say, that they are much the same in history as in the drama. 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.
KING HENRY IV.
HENRY PERCY, his Son.
LADY MORTIMER, Daughter to Glen-
King. So shaken as we are, so wan with care,
To be commenced in strands afar remote.1
1 It scarce need be said that here the image is of Peace so scared and out of breath with domestic strife, that she can but make a brief pause, and pant forth short and broken speech of new wars to be undertaken in foreign lands. This play is distinctly continuous with King Richard II., at the close of which we have Bolingbroke avowing it as his purpose to atone for the death of Richard by leading out another Crusade:
I'll make a voyage to the Holy Land,
And in fact he was hardly more than seated on the throne before he began to be so harassed with acts of rebellion and threats of invasion, that he conceived the plan of drowning the public sense of his usurpation in an enthusiasm of foreign war and conquest.
2 Of course entrance here means mouth; for what but a mouth should have lips? So in Genesis, iv. II: “And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand."
3 Meteor was used in a much more general sense than we attach to the word. See vol. x. page 64, note 19. It might include the Aurora Borealis, which sometimes has the appearance of hostile armies engaged in battle. So in Paradise Lost, ii. 533–8:
As when, to warn proud cities, war appears