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mas Millington, and are to be sold at his shoppe under St. Peter's Church in Cornewall, 1000.” On this piece Shakspeare, as I conceive, in 1591 formed the drama before us. MALONE.
The three parts of King Henry VI, are suspected, by Mr. Theobald, of being supposititious, and are declared, by Dr. Warburton, to be certainly not Shakspeare's. Mr. Theobald's suspicion arises from some obsolete words; but the phraseology is
; like the rest of our author's style, and single words, of which however I do not observe more than two, can conclude little.
Dr. Warburton gives no reason, but I suppose him to judge upon deeper principles and more comprehensive views, and to draw his opinion from the general effect and spirit of the composition, which he thinks inferior to the other historical plays.
From mere inferiority nothing can be ipferred; in the productions of wit there will be inequality. Sometimes judgment will err, and sometimes the matter itself will defeat the artist. Of every author's works one will be the best, and one will be the worst. The colours are not equally pleasing, nor the attitudes equally graceful, in all the pictures of Titian or Reynolds.
Dissimilitude of style and heterogeneousness of sentiment, may sufficiently show that a work does not really belong to the reputed author. But in these plays no such marks of spuriousness are found. The diction, the versification, and the figures, are Shakspeare's, These plays, considered, without regard to characters and incidents, merely as narratives in verse, are more happily .conceived and more accurately finished than those of King John, Richard II. or the tragic scenes of King Henry IV. and V. If we take these plays from Shakspeare, to whom shall they be given ? What author of that age had the same easiness of expression and fluency of numbers ?
Having considered the evidence given by the plays themselves, and found it in their favour, let us now enquire what corroboration can be gained from other testimony. They are ascribed to Shakspeare by the first editors, whose attestation may be received in questions of fact, however unskilfully they superintended their edition. They seem to be declared genuine by the voice of Shakspeare himself, who refers to the second play in his epilogue to King Henry V. and apparently connects the first act of King
Richard III. with the last of the third part of King Henry VI. If it be objected that the plays were popular, and that therefore he alluded to them as well known ; it may be answered, with equal probability, that the natural passions of a poet would have disposed him to separate his own works from those of an inferior hand. And, indeed, if an author's own testimony is to be overthrown by speculative criticism, no man can be any longer secure of literary reputation.
Of these three plays I think the second the best. The truth is, that they have not sufficient variety of action, for the incidents are too often of the same kind ; yet many of the characters are well discriminated. King Henry, and his queen, king Edward, the duke of Gloucester, and the earl of Warwick, are very strongly and distinctly painted.
The old copies of the two latter parts of King Henry VI. and of King Henry V. are so apparently imperfect and mutilated, that there is no reason for supposing them the first draughts of Shakspeare. I am inclined to believe them copies taken by some auditor who wrote down, during the representation, what the time would permit, then perhaps filled up some of his omissions at a second or third hearing, and, when he had by this method formed something like a play, sent it to the printer. Johnson.
I have elsewhere given some reasons, why I cannot believe, that these plays were originally written by Shakspeare. The question, who did write them ? is, at best, but an argument ad ignorantiam. We must remember, that very many old plays are anonymous ; and that play-writing was scarcely yet thought reputable : nay, some authors express for it great horrors of repentance.--I will attempt, however, at some future time, to answer this question: the disquisition of it would be too long for this place.
One may at least argue, that the plays were not written by Shakspeare, from Shakspeare himself. The Chorus at the end of K. Henry V. addresses the audience
- For their sake, “ In your fair minds let this acceptance take." But it could be neither agreeable to the poet's judgment or his modesty, to recommend his new play from the merit and success of King Henry VI. His claim to indulgence is, that, though
dending and unequal to the task, he has ventured to pursue the story: and this sufficiently accounts for the connection of the whole, and the allusions of particular passages.
FARMER. Though the objections which have been raised to the genuineness of the three plays of Henry the sixth have been fully considered and answered by Dr. Johnson, it may not be amiss to add here, from a contemporary writer, a passage, which not only points at Shakspeare as the author of them, but also shows, that, however meanly we may now think of them in comparison with his latter productions, they had, at the time of their appearance, a sufficient degree of excellence to alarm the jealousy of the older play-wrights. The passage, to which I refer, is in a pamphlet, entitled, Greene's Groatsworth of Witte, supposed to have been written by that voluminous author, Robert Greene, M.A. and said, in the title-page, to be published at his dying request; probably, about 1592. The conclusion of this piece is an address to his brother poets, to dissuade them from writing any more for the stage, on account of the ill treatment which they were used to receive from the players. It begins thus : To those gentlemen, his quondam acquaintance, that spend their wits in making playes, R. G. wisheth a better exercise, &c. After having addressed him. self particularly to Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Lodge, (as I guess from circumstances, for their names are not mentioned ;) he goes on to a third (perhaps George Peele); and having warned him against depending on so mean a stay as the players, he adds : Yes, trust them not: for there is an upstart crow beautified with our feathers, that with his tygres head wrapt in a players hyde, supposes hee is as well able to bombaste out a blanke verse as the best of you ; and being an absolute Johannes fac totum is, in his own conceit, the oncly Shake-scene in a countrey. There can be no doubt, I think, that Shake-scene alludes to Shakspeare; or that his tygres head wrapt in a players hyde is a parodie upon the following line of York's speech to Margaret, Third Part of King Henry the Sirth, Act I. sc. iv: “Oh tygres heart wrapt in a woman's hide."
THE FABLE AND COMPOSITION
THE LIFE AND DEATH OF
KING RICHARD III.
This tragedy, though it is called the Life and Death of this prince, comprizes, at most, but the last eight years of his time; for it opens with George duke of Clarence being clapped up in the Tower, which happened in the beginning of the year 1477 ; and closes with the death of Richard at Bosworth field, which battle was fought on the 22d of August, in the year 1485.
THEOBALI). This play was written, I imagine, in the same year in which it was first printed,—-1597. The Legend of King Richard III. by Francis Seagars, was printed in the first edition of The Mirrour for Magistrates, 1559, and in that of 1575, and 1587, but Shakspeare does not appear to be indebted to it. In a subsequent edition of that book printed in 1610, the old legend was omitted, and a new one inserted, by Richard Nichols, who has very freely copied the play before us. In 1597, when this tragedy was published, Nichols, as Mr. Warton has observed, was but thirteen years old. Hist. of Poetry, vol. iii. p. 267.
The real length of time in this piece is fourteen years; (not eight years, as Mr. Theobald supposed ;) for the second scene commences with the funeral of King Henry VI. who, according to the received account, was murdered on the 21st of May, 1471. VOL, V.
The imprisonment of Clarence, which is represented previously in the first scene, did not in fact take place till 1477-8.
It has been since observed to me by Mr. Elderton, (who is of opinion that Richard was charged with this murder by the Lancastrian historians without any foundation,) that “ it appears on the face of the publick accounts allowed in the exchequer for the maintenance of King Henry and his numerous attendants in the Tower, that he lived to the 12th of June, which was twenty-two days after the time assigned for his pretended assassination ; was exposed to the publick view in St. Paul's for some days, and interred at Chertsey with much solemnity, and at no inconsiderable expence."
MALONE. This is one of the most celebrated of our author's performances; yet I know not whether it has not happened to him as to others, to be praised most, when praise is not most deserved. That this play has scenes noble in themselves, and very well contrived to strike in the exhibition, cannot be denied. But some parts are trifling, others shocking, and some improbable. JOHNSON.
I agree entirely with Dr. Johnson in thinking that this play from its first exhibition to the present hour has been estimated greatly beyond its merit. From the many allusions to it in books of that age, and the great number of editions it passed through, I suspect it was more often represented and more admired than any of our author's tragedies. Its popularity perhaps in some measure arose from the detestation in which Richard's character was justly held, which must have operated more strongly on those whose grand-fathers might have lived near his time : and from its being patronized by the queen on the throne, who probably was not a little pleased at seeing King Henry VII. placed in the only favourable light in which he could have been exhibited on the scene.
MALONE. I most cordially join with Dr. Johnson and Mr. Malone in their opinions; and yet perhaps they have overlooked one cause of the success of this tragedy. The part of Richard is perhaps beyond all others variegated, and consequently favourable to a judicious performer. It comprehends, indeed, a trait of almost every species of character on the stage. The hero, the lover, the statesman, the buffoon, the hypocrite, the hardened and repenting sinner, &c.