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illegitimate lines issuing from John of Gaunt on the events of the time; still when all is done Beaufort will remain Beaufort and Margaret Margaret, little, if anything, removed from the characters as they are presented in the scenes of Shakespeare.
Shakespeare had to discharge the duty of the dramatist as well as of the historian: and hence it is that he is more to be praised for the skill and force with which he has delineated character, than for the exact accordance of his facts and the arrangement of them with the veritable testimony of history. Not but that in the main the occurrences are truly exhibited; but this qualification in the main, becomes of importance when we hear him held up as a great teacher of historic truth, and as if his testimony was of importance when a critic in English history sits down to the investigation of the occurrences of that dark period of which Shakespeare wrote. He is not, nor did he pretend to be, a critic in history, or over-exact in the arrangement of the occurrences. He even sometimes compounds an historical personage out of two. He had no clear idea, for instance, of the Montacutes. Such kind of knowledge was of more difficult attainment in his time than now; for he wrote before the works were printed of Mill, Brooke, or Vincent, in which the attempt was first made at defining the æras of the most eminent persons in early English history, and assigning to each the events which belong to them.
A person may justly be suspected of knowing but little of history, who professes to have got all his knowledge of it from Shakespeare; but, at the same time, the most critical student in the history of the period may contemplate, even for the purpose of understanding the history, the scenes of Shakespeare with advantage. Original conceptions of such a mind as his no one would think of despising. Flashes of light would sometimes present themselves piercing through the gloom, which the duller spirit of the mere historical critic would not have struck for itself. At least, the suggestion of such a mind as Shakespeare's would deserve a respectful consideration.
For his facts, he followed the old English Chroniclers in the main, and especially Hollinshead. Much pains have been taken in the illustration of the history as he has exhibited it. Malone and Ritson, of the earlier critics, and Mr. T. P. Courtenay of the later, have done the most in this department. They have indeed done more than enough: for it is quite beside the purpose of legitimate annotation to enter into the discussion of disputed points of history, because the dramatic poet has touched upon those points. Such kind of annotation belongs to the chronicler, whom the poet followed, not to the poet himself: and to introduce such discussions, what is it but to make the annotating Shakespeare an excuse for writing (at last superficially) de omni scibile et de quibusdam aliis. There is, indeed, hardly anything in the whole range of history, politics, morals, superstitions, manners, usages, popular opinions, for which an excuse might not be found for intruding it on the margin of the works of this great author, so multifarious are the subjects on which he has touched, so vast the extent of his knowledge; sed de his non est locus.
In another department of criticism, this is the great fault of Mr. Douce's Illustrations. But then he placed honestly in the title-page that his book had a twofold object : it was intended to illustrate Shakespeare's writings, but it was intended to illustrate ancient manners also.
In the remarks on the Histories I mean here to regard them as so many poems, and to treat them accordingly; and by no means as if they were in the proper sense of the word historical writings, the statements requiring to be tested, and either approved or rejected. Some slight deviation may perhaps be discerned in one or two of the remarks, and I propose to enter at some length into the question of the truth of the dramatic representation of the character of Prince Henry.
All Shakespeare's English Histories were written in the reign of Elizabeth, except the King Henry the Eighth, and this play was written in the first three months of the reign of her successor; so that they were all produced, together with nearly all of his comedies, before he had reached his fortieth year. When to this is added that many of his other plays were written within the same period, we have a most remarkable proof at once of the vigour of his genius and the perseverance of his industry.
If anything were wanting to shew how much a new edition of the dramatic writings of Shakespeare is wanted, in which we should have a text the result of deep consideration of the various texts presented by the old editions, with occasional emendations, carefully and judiciously made, or borrowed from preceding editors, and in which the passages where the meaning is obscure to nine-tenths of the readers or spectators were elucidated, so that their full force and meaning were accurately exhibited, one of the most striking passages in the play now before us would be sufficient. No one who ever witnessed the performance of this play, or who ever entered on the serious study of it at home, can have forgotten the scene in which King John seeks to induce Hubert to put Prince Arthur to death, without actually committing himself to give the hateful command: and no one will ever forget that particular portion of the dialogue in which King John addresses Hubert thus:
I had a thing to say ;-but let it go :
Such is the passage nearly as it stands in the original copies. Turn now to the Variorum, and one of the lines will be found printed thus :
Sound one into the drowsy race of night;
and this is generally understood to be the true reading, both at the theatres and elsewhere, and the Poet is supposed to speak of a clock-bell on which the hour of one is struck.
For this substitution of one for on, and for the idea that the Poet meant to speak of the bell of a clock or a bell sounding the hour, we are indebted, it seems to Theobald. “Mr. Theobald made the correction,” says Mr. Malone, and he overwhelms some unfortunate person who had expressed a doubt of the correctness of the new reading with numerous instances in our old writers in which the numeral one is printed on. There can be no doubt that one is sometimes found printed without the final e, but there also can be no doubt that on much more frequently is neither more nor less than the particle which we so write at present. The utmost, therefore, that is proved by Mr. Malone's heap of authorities is, that one was sometimes printed on, so that if the exigencies of a passage really required that on should be understood to be equivalent to one, it might be so taken.
The slight incongruity of the bell on which the hour of one is struck being spoken of as the midnight bell has not been held sufficient to disprove the correctness of the new reading. But it was soon discovered that this change required another, and that for into we must read unto
Sound one unto the drowsy race of night
that is, strike one so as to be heard of the sleepers at that dead time of night. This second change is made in some of the editions, and would have been found in the last Variorum, had not Mr. Malone discovered that into and unto are some