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THE FABLE AND COMPOSITION
THE FIRST PART OF
KING HENRY VI.
The historical transactions contained in this play, take in the compass of above thirty years. I must observe, however, that our author, in the three parts of Henry VI. has not been very precise to the date and disposition of his facts; but shuffled them, 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 Henry VI. opens with the marriage of the king, which was solemnised 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. I could point out many other transgressions against history, as far as the order of time is concerned. Indeed, though, there are several master-strokes in these three plays, which incontestibly betray the workmanship of Shakspeare; yet I am almost doubtful, whether they were entirely of his writing. And unless they were wrote by him very early, I should rather imagine them to have VOL. V.
been brought to him as a director of the stage; and so have received some finishing beauties at his hand. An accurate observer will easily see, the diction of them is more obsolete, and the numbers more mean and prosaical, than in the generality of his genuine compositions.
THEOBALD. 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 author of the first: and the title of The Contention of the houses of York and Lancaster, being affixed to the two pieces which were printed in quarto in 1600, 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 name of The First Part of King Henry VI. till Heminge and Condell gave it this title 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. This first part was, I conceive, originally called The historical play of King Henry VI.
MALONE, 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 crown'd 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 Laneaster.