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This historical drama is first found in the folio of 1623 : no earlier edition of it in any shape, or in any degree of imperfectness, has been discovered. Of the second and third parts of “ Henry VI.,” copies in quarto, under different titles, lengthened in some speeches, and abbreviated in others, are extant; but the first part of “ Henry VI.” appeared originally in the collected edition of “Mr. William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies," put forth under the care of his fellow-actors, Heminge and Condell.
This single fact is sufficient, in our mind, to establish Shakespeare's claim to the authorship of it, even were we to take Malone's assertion for granted (which we are by no means inclined to do) that the internal evidence is all opposed to that claim. When Heminge and Condell published the folio of 1623, many of Shakespeare's contemporaries, authors, actors, and auditors, were alive; and the player-editors, if they would have been guilty of the dishonesty, would hardly have committed the folly of inserting a play in their volume which was not his production, and perhaps well known to have been the work of some rival dramatist. If we imagine the frequenters of theatres to have been comparatively ignorant upon such a point, living authors and living actors must have been aware of the truth, and in the face of these Heminge and Condell would not have ventured to appropriate to Shakespeare what had really come from the pen of another. That tricks of the kind were sometimes played by fraudulent booksellers, in publishing single plays, is certainly true; but Heminge and Condell were actors of repute, and men of character: they were presenting to the world, in an important volume, scattered performances, in order to "keep the memory of so worthy a friend and fellow alive, as was our Shakespeare," and we cannot believe that they would have included any drama to which he had no title. In all probability they had acted with Shakespeare in the first part of “ Henry VI. :" they had received his instructions and directions from time to time with reference to the performance of it, and they must almost necessarily have been acquainted with the real state of the property in it. Our opinion is therefore directly adverse to that of Malone, who,
having been “long struck with the many evident Shakespeareanisms in these plays,” afterwards came to the conclusion that he had been entirely mistaken, and that none of these peculiarities were to be traced in the first part of “Henry VI. :” “I am, therefore (he added), decisively of opinion, that this play was not written by Shakespeare."
To support this notion, he published a “ Dissertation on the Three Parts of King Henry VI.,” in which he argued that the first part was not only not the authorship of Shakespeare, but that it was not written by the same persons who had composed the second and third parts of “ Henry VI."
With reference to the question, how far and at what time Shakespeare became connected with the plays, known as the three parts of
Henry VI.,” it is necessary to observe, that it was very usual in the time of our great dramatist, for one poet to take up the production of another, and, by making additions to and improvements in it, to appropriate it to his own use, or to the use of the theatre to which he belonged. This practice applied to the works of living as well as of dead poets, and it has been conjectured that when Robert Greene, in his “ Groatsworth of Wit,” 1592, spoke of Shakespeare, as “ the only Shake-scene in a country," and as upstart crow beautified with our feathers," he alluded chiefly to the manner in which Shakespeare had employed certain dramas, by Greene and others, as the foundation of his three parts of “ Henry VI." These certain dramas were some undiscovered original of the first part of “ Henry VI.;" the first part of “ The Contention betwixt the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster,” 1600 ; and “ The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York,” 1595. It was by making additions, alterations, and improvements in these three pieces, that Shakespeare's name became associated with them as their author, and hence the player-editors felt themselves justified in inserting them among his other works in the folio of 1623.
There are two other theories respecting the elder plays we have mentioned, neither of them, as it seems to us, supported by sufficient testimony. One of them is, that the first part of " Henry VI.," as it is contained in the folio of 1623, the first part of the " Contention,” 1600, and the “ True Tragedy," 1595, were in fact productions by Shakespeare himself, which he subsequently enlarged and corrected : the other theory is, that the two latter were early editions of the same dramas that we find in the folio, and that the imperfections or variations in the quarto impressions are to be accounted for by the surreptitious manner in which the manuscript, from which they were printed, was obtained by the booksellers. In support of the first of these opinions, little better than conjecture can be produced, contradicted by the expressions of Greene in 1592, as far as those expressions apply to these plays; and with regard to the second opinion, in some places the quarto editions of the first part of the “ Contention” and the “ True Tragedy” are fuller, by many lines, than the copy in the folio, 1623, which would hardly have been the case, had the dialogue been taken down in short-hand, and corrected by memory: in the next place, the speeches have such a degree of completeness and regularity as to render it very improbable that they were obtained by so uncertain and imperfect an expedient. We think it most likely that the first part of “ Henry VI.” was founded upon a previous play, although none such has been brought to light; and that the materials for the second and third parts of “ Henry VI.” were mainly derived from the older dramas of the first part of “ The Contention betwixt the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster,” and “ The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York."
Although no such drama has come down to us, we know, on the authority of Henslowe's Diary, that there was a play called “ Harey the VI." acted on 3d March, 1591-2, and so popular as to have been repeated twelve times. This was, perhaps, the piece which Shakespeare subsequently altered and improved, and to which Nash alludes in his “ Pierce Penniless,” 1592 (sign. H. 2.), where he speaks of "brave Talbot” having been made "to triumph again on the stage," after having been two hundred years in his tomb. Malone (Shakespeare, by Boswell, vol. iii. p. 298.) concludes decisively in the affirmative on both these points, forgetting, however, that the “Harey the VI.," acted by Henslowe's company, might possibly be a play got up and represented in consequence of the success of the drama in the authorship of which Shakespeare was concerned.
If our great dramatist founded his first part of “Henry VI.” upon the play produced by Henslowe's company, of course, it could not have been written until after March, 1592 ; but with regard to the precise date of its composition we must remain in uncertainty. Malone's later notion was, as we have already observed, that Shakespeare's hand was not to be traced in any part of it; but Steevens called attention to several remarkable coincidences of expression, and passages might be pointed out so much in the spirit and character of Shakespeare, that we cannot conceive them to have come from any other pen. Coleridge has instanced the opening of the play as unlike Shakespeare's metre (Lit. Remains, vol. ii. p. 184.): he was unquestionably right; but he did not advert to the fact, of which there is the strongest presumptive evidence, that more than one author was engaged on the work. The very discordance of style forms part of the proof; and in his Lectures in 1815, Coleridge adduced many lines which he believed must have been written by Shakespeare.
DRAMATIS PERSON Æ.
KING HENRY THE SIXTH.
WILLIAM GLANSDALE. SIR THOMAS GARGRAVE.
CHARLES, Dauphin, and afterwards King of France.
MARGARET, Daughter to Reignier.
Fiends appearing to La Pucelle, Lords, Warders of the Tower,
Heralds, Officers, Soldiers, Messengers, and several Attendants both on the English and French.
SCENE, partly in England, and partly in France.
KING HENRY VI.
ACT I. SCENE I.
Dead March. The Corpse of King Henry the Fifth is
discovered," lying in state ; attended on by the Dukes
Glo. England ne’er had a king, until his time.
1 Dead March. The Corpse of King Henry the Fifth is disCOVERED, &c.] In our old stage there seems to have been no discovery, as it is now termed, of persons or objects on the stage. The curtain at that time did not rise, but was drawn apart, and the characters and accompaniments entered ; and such was the case in this instance, as appears by the old stage-direction in these words :“ Dead march. Enter the funeral of King Henry the Fifth, attended on by the Duke of Bedford, Regent of France ; the Duke of Gloster, Protector ; the Duke of Exeter; Warwick; the Bishop of Winchester, and the Duke of Somerset.”