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Of this play there is no copy earlier than that of the folio in 1623, though the two succeeding parts are extant in two editions in quarto. That the second and third parts were published without the first, may be admitted as no weak proof that the copies were surreptitiously obtained, and that the printers of that time gave the public those plays, not such as the author designed, but such as they could get them. That this play was written before the two others is indubitably collected from the series of events; that it was written and played before Henry the Fifth is apparent, because in the epilogue there is mention made of this play, and not of the other parts :
“ Henry the Sixth in swaddling bands crowned king;
Which oft our stage hath shown." France is lost in this play. The two following contain, as the old title imports, the contention of the houses of York and Lancaster.
The Second and Third Parts of Henry VI. were printed in 1600. When Henry V. was written, we know not; but it was printed likewise in 1600, and therefore before the publication of the first and second parts. The First Part of Henry VI. had been often shown on the stage, and would certainly have appeared in its place, had the author been the publisher.
That the second and third parts, as they are now called, were printed without the first, is a proof, in my apprehension, that they were not written by the same author; and the title of The Contention of the Houses of York and Lancaster, being affixed to the two pieces which were printed in quarto, is a proof that they were a distinct work, commencing where the other ended, but not written at the same time; and that this play was never known by the title of The First Part of King Henry VI. till Heminge and Condell gave it that name in their volume, to distinguish it from the two subsequent plays; which, being altered by Shakspeare, assumed the new titles of the Second and Third Parts of King Henry VI. that they might not be confounded with the original pieces on which they were formed. The first part was originally called The Historical Play of King Henry VI.
SECOND PART OF
KING HENRY THE SIXTH.
This and the Third Part of King Henry VI. contain that troublesome period of this prince's reign, which took in the whole contention between the houses of York and Lancaster; and under that title were these two plays first acted and published. The present play opens with king Henry's marriage, which was in the twenty-third year of his reign [A. D. 1445), and closes with the first battle fought at St. Albans, and won by the York faction, in the thirty-third year of his reign [A. D. 1455); so that it comprises the history and transactions of ten years.
The Contention of the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster was published in quarto; the first part in 1594; the second, or True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York, in 1595; and both were reprinted in 1600. In a dissertation annexed to these plays, Mr. Malone has endeavored to establish the fact, that these two dramas were not originally written by Shakspeare, but by some preceding author or authors before the year 1590; and that upon them Shakspeare formed this and the following drama, altering, retrenching, or amplifying, as he thought proper. We will endeavor to give a brief abstract of the principal arguments :—The entry on the Stationers' books, in 1594, does not mention the name of Shakspeare ; nor are the plays printed with his name in the early editions ; but, after the Poet's death, an edition was printed by one Pavier without date, but really in 1619, with the name of Shakspeare on the title-page. This is shown to be a common fraudulent practice of the booksellers of that period. When Pavier republished The Contention of the Two Houses, &c. in 1619, he omitted the words as it was acted by the earl of Pembrooke his servantes,” which appeared on the original title-page,just as, on the republication of the old play of King John, in two parts, in 1611, the words “ as it was acted in the honorable city of London” were omitted; because the omitted words in both cases marked the respective pieces not to be the production of Shakspeare. And as, in King John, the letters W. Sh. were added, in 1611, to deceive the purchaser; so, in the republication of The whole Contention, &c., Pavier, having dismissed the words above-mentioned, inserted these—“ Newly corrected and enlarged by William Shakspere ;” knowing that these pieces had been made the groundwork of two other plays; that they had in fact been corrected and enlarged (though not in his copy, which was a mere reprint from the edition of 1600), and exhibited under the titles of the Second and Third Parts of King Henry VI.; and hoping that this new edition of the original plays would pass for those altered and augmented by Shakspeare, which were then unpublished.
VOL. IV. 41
A passage from Greene's Groatsworth of Wit, adduced by Mr. Tyr. whitt, first suggested, and strongly supports, Malone's hypothesis. The writer, Robert Greene, is supposed to address himself to his poetical friend, George Peele, in these words :—“ Yes, trust them not [alluding to the players), for there is an upstart crowe beautified with our feathers, that, with his tygre's heart wrapt in a player's hide, supposes hee is well able to bombaste out a blank verse as the best of you; and, being an absolute Joannes factotum, is, in his own conceit, the only Shakescene in a country.”—“O tyger's heart wrapped in a woman's hide!” is a line in the old quarto play entitled The First Part of the Contention, &c. There seems to be no doubt that the allusion is to Shakspeare; that the old plays may have been the production of Greene, Peele, and Marlowe, or some of them; and that Greene could not conceal his mortification, at the fame of himself and his associates, old and established playwrights, being eclipsed by a new, upstart writer (for so he calls the Poet), who had then perhaps first attracted the notice of the public by exhibiting two plays formed upon old dramas written by them, considerably enlarged and improved. The very term that Greene uses, “to bombaste out a blank verse," exactly corresponds with what has been now suggested. This new poet, says he, knows as well as any man how to amplify and swell out a blank verse.
Shakspeare did for the old plays, what Berni had before done to the Orlando Innamorato of Boiardo. He wrote new beginnings to the acts; he new versified, he new modeled, he transposed many of the parts; and greatly amplified and improved the whole. Many lines, however, and whole speeches, which he thought sufficiently polished, he accepted, and introduced, without any, or very slight, alterations.
Malone adopted the following expedient to mark these alterations and adoptions, which has been followed in the present edition :- All those lines which the Poet adopted without any alteration, are printed in the usual manner; those speeches which he altered or expanded, are distinguished by inverted commas; and to all lines entirely composed by himself asterisks are prefixed.
The internal evidences upon which Malone relies, to establish his position are,—The variations between the old plays in quarto, and the corresponding pieces in the folio edition of Shakspeare's dramatic works, which are of so peculiar a nature as to mark two distinct hands. Some circumstances are mentioned in the old quarto plays, of which there is not the least trace in the folio; and many minute variations occur, that prove the pieces in the quarto to have been original and distinct compositions. No copyist or short-hand writer would invent circumstances totally different from those which appear in Shakspeare's new-modeled draughts, as exhibited in the first folio; or insert whole speeches, of which scarcely a trace is found in that edition. In some places, a speech in one, of these quartos consists of ten or twelve lines; in Shakspeare's folio, the same speech consists perhaps of only half the number. A copyist by the ear, or an unskilful short-hand writer, might mutilate and exhibit a poet's thoughts or expressions imperfectly; but he would not dilate and amplify them, or introduce totally new matter.
Malone then exhibits a sufficient number of instances to prove, beyond the possibility of doubt, his position : so that (as he observes) we are compelled to admit, either that Shakspeare wrote two sets of plays on the story which forms his Second and Third Parts of King Henry VI., hasty sketches, and entirely distinct and more finished performances; or else we must acknowledge that he formed his pieces on a foundation laid by another writer or writers, that is, upon the two parts of The Contention of the Two Houses of York, &c. It is a striking circumstance, that almost all the passages in the Second and Third Parts of King Henry VI. which
resemble others in Shakspeare's undisputed plays, are not found in the original pieces in quarto, but in his rifaccimento in folio. As these resemblances to his other plays, and a peculiar Shakspearian phraseology, ascertain a considerable portion of these disputed dramas to be the production of that Poet; so, on the other hand, other passages, discordant, in matters of fact, from his other plays, are proved by this discordancy not to have been composed by him; and these discordant passages, being found in the original quarto plays, prove that those pieces were composed by another writer.
It is observable, that several portions of English history had been dramatized before the time of Shakspeare. Thus we have King John, in two parts, by an anonymous writer; Edward I., by George Peele; Edward II., by Christopher Marlowe; Edward III., anonymous; Henry IV., containing the deposition of Richard II., and the accession of Henry to the crown, anonymous ; Henry V. and Richard III., both by anonymous authors. It is therefore highly probable, that the whole of the story of Henry VI. had been brought on the scene ; and that the first of the plays here printed, formerly called The Historical Play of King Henry VI., and now named The First Part of King Henry VI., as well as the Two Parts of the Contention of the Houses of York and Lancaster, were the compositions of some of the authors who had produced the historical dramas above enumerated.
Mr. Boswell, speaking of the originals of the second and third of these plays, says, “That Marlowe may have had some share in these compositions, I am not disposed to deny; but I cannot persuade myself that they entirely proceeded from his pen. Some passages are possessed of so much merit, that they can scarcely be ascribed to any one except the most distinguished of Shakspeare's predecessors; but the tameness of the general style is very different from the peculiar characteristics of that Poet's mighty line, which are great energy both of thought and language, degenerating too frequently into tumor and extravagance. The versification appears to me to be of a different color.—That Marlowe, Peele, and Greene, may all of them have had a share in these dramas, is consonant to the frequent practice of the age; of which ample proofs may be found in the extracts from Henslowe's MS. printed by Mr. Malone.”
From the passage alluding to these plays in Greene's Groatsworth of Wit, it seems probable that they were produced previous to 1592, but were not printed until they appeared in the folio of 1623.
To Johnson's high panegyric of that impressive scene in this play, the death of Cardinal Beaufort, we may add that Schlegel says, “ It is sublime beyond all praise. Can any other poet be named who has drawn aside the curtain of eternity at the close of this life in such an overpowering and awful manner? And yet it is not mere horror with which we are filled, but solemn emotion; we have an exemplification of a blessing and a curse in close proximity; the pious king is an image of the heavenly mercy, which, even in his last moments, labors to enter into the soul of the sinner.”
King HENRY THE SIXTH :
Uncle to the King.
WHITMORE. Two Gentlemen, Prisoners with Suffolk. A Herald. Vaux. HUME and SOUTHWELL, two Priests. BOLINGBROKE, a Conjuror. A Spirit raised by him. THOMAS HORNER, an Armorer: Peter, his Man. Clerk of Chatham. Mayor of St. Albans. SIMPcox, an Impostor. Two Murderers. Jack Cade, a Rebel : George, John, Dick, Smith the Weaver, MICHAEL,
foc., his Followers. ALEXANDER IDEN, a Kentish Gentleman.
MARGARET, Queen to King Henry.
Lords, Ladies, and Attendants; Petitioners, Aldermen, a
Beadle, Sheriff, and Officers ; Citizens, Prentices,
SCENE, dispersedly in various parts of England.