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ON

THE PLOT, THE FABLE, AND CONSTRUCTION

OF

FIRST PART OF

KING HENRY VI.

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 Shaks. peare'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 con• clude 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 inferred; 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

a 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 superin. tended 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.

Of this first part there is no copy earlier than that of the folio in 1023, 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

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time gave the publick 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,
" Whose state so many had the managing,
“ That they lost France, and made his England

bleed :
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.

JOHNSON. 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 kill'd at the end of the fourth act of this

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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 solemnized 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 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,

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