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WIEN this play was written, Shakspere had been for some few months
acquainted with Ben Jonson, then newly entered into the dramatic world, having given rare promise of his coming greatness in the admirable comedy of “EVERY MAN IN his Humour." We can imagine nothing more likely than that Shakspere, who had bought from Alleyn, of the “Fortune" playhouse, the right of performing that comedy, was greatly struck with the ingenious scholar who, at so early an age, had constructed a play with such masterly skill. It is as probable that our great poet, sensible of his deficiency in scholastic learning, was solicitous to hear from his friend the principles of art on which the ancient dramatists proceeded; and that Jonson (almost an idolater of those great men), while he explained to him the severe rules of the classical stage, as laid down by Aristotle, found frequent occasions of exhorting Shakspere to write after such glorious models.
Impressed, but not convinced, by the reasonings of the scholar
aware that no historical play, comprehending a series of events frequently occupying a space of years, and sometimes transacted in different countries, could possibly approximate to the rigid exactions of the ancient drama-yet, at the same time, persuaded that, in his former historical plays he had been rather too latitudinarian in his dramatic principles, he sat down and composed the following play by way of compromise. Hence the Chorus we find pervading "Henry V.,” which is nominally, and only so, an imitation of the Greek drama.
Everybody knows that a drama is a representation of circumstances that have really happened, or of events that might by possibility occur. We are invited to it on the tacit understanding that what we are about to see and hear shall, for the time being, be supposed to be real. It is the object of the dramatist to make it appear so. But the frequent appeal on the part of the Chorus to the imagination, in aid of the senses, positively defeats its own end. The importunate request that we should believe things to have happened which we do not see, joined with the intimation that what we do see is merely a mockery, confounds our apprehension of both.
The objection thus taken to a portion of the framework of this admirable play by no means attaches to its general effect. The language of the Chorus is in the highest degree noble and elevated; nor is that of the two Bishops, of the King in his heroic character, and of Exeter, less grandly sustained. The reader will not fail to admire the exquisite speech of Burgundy, towards the close of the play; and he who has yet to make an intimate acquaintance with our divine poet, will, in the perusal of this drama, come upon many lines and passages which, doubtless, are already familiar to him as extracted beauties. That kings, nobles, prelates, never did speak such language as is here set down for them, who is there but will readily believe? but that they would so have spoken is certain, had they transcended ordinary men as greatly in the dignity of their faculties as of their station.
This greatness of language and magnificence of sentiment it was that (without other attributes, of which he had more than any other poet) so admirably qualified Shakspere for the composition of heroic plays. Henry V., whose chivalrous bearing is confirmed and strengthened by his reliance upon Heaven, is, perhaps, as striking a personage as history could furnish as to the qualities of a hero, or as genius could adopt for the poetical exhibition of them.
There are few dramatic characters in “HENRY V.” The heroic portion admits not of them; and for the remainder, we believe the reader will agree with us that Fluellen, Gower, Macmorris, and Jamy, are poor substitutes for Falstaff. Nym, Bardolph, the Hostess, and Pistol, however, appear upon the scene; but they lose their colour, now that they have lost their sun. The character of Pistol has been somewhat mistaken. He is not a common boaster like the Bessus of Beaumont and Fletcher, or the Bobadil of Jonson. He does not brag of what he has done:- he would terrify by portentous implication of his valour, conveyed in tearing and termagant words. After the memorable siege of Cadiz, London was full of these furious wights, who swore Spanish oaths, and were paramount over “ale-washed wits.”
This play was several times published separately, previous to its appearance in the first folio collection.
KING EENRY TEE FIFTH.
Brothers to the KINO
Conspirators against the KING SIR THOMAS GREY, SIR THOMAS ERPING HAM, GOWER, FLUELLEN,
officers in KINO HI ENRY'S Army
Soldiers in the same.
formerly Servants to PALSTAIP, DOW Soldiers BARDOLPE,
in the same
ISABEL, QOEEN OF FRANCE,
Lords, Ladies, Oficers, French and English Soldiers, Messen
gers, and Attendants.
The Soexe, at the beginning of the Play, lieg in ENOLAND
but afterwards wholly ip FRANCE.
Chor. O for a muse of fire, that would ascend The brightest heaven of invention : A kingdom for a stage, princes to act, And monarchs to behold the swelling scene! Then should the warlike Harry, like himself, Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels, Leashed in like hounds, should famine, sword,
and fire, Crouch for employment. But pardon, gentles all, The flat unraiséd spirit that hath dared, On this unworthy scaffold, to bring forth So great an object. Can this cockpit hold The vasty fields of France: or may we cram Within this wooden O the very casques That did affright the air at Agincourt ? O pardon ! since a crooked figure may Attest, in little place, a million : And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces work.
Enter the Archbishop of CANTERBURY and
Bishop of Ely.
Which, in the eleventh year oʻthe last King's