Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

KING HENRY VIII.

[ocr errors]

: The Famous History of the Life of King Henry the Eight," was first printed in the folio of 1623, where it occupies twenty-eight pages; viz. from p. 205 to .p. 232, inclusive. It is the last play in the division of “Histories." It fills the same place in the later impressions in the same form.

INTRODUCTION.

The principal question, in relation to Shakespeare's " Henry the Eighth,” is, when it was written. We are satisfied, both by the internal and external evidence, that it came from the poet's pen after James I. had ascended the throne.

Independently of the whole character of the drama, which was little calculated to please Elizabeth, it seems to us that Cranmer's prophecy, in Act v. sc. 4, is quite decisive. There the poet first speaks of Elizabeth, and of the advantages de rived from her rule, and then proceeds in the clearest manner to notice her successor :

"Nor shall this peace sleep with her : but as when

The bird of wonder dies, the maiden phanix,
Her ashes new create another heir,
As great in estimation as herself;
So shall she leave her blessedness to one
(When heaven shall call her from this cloud of darkness
Who from the sacred ashes of her honour
Shall star-like rise, as great in fame as she was,
And so stand fix's."

Ingenuity cannot pervert these lines to any other meaning ; but it has been said that they, and some others which follow them, were a subsequent introduction; and, moreover, that they were the work of Ben Jonson, on some revival of the play in the reign of James I. There does not exist the slightest evidence to establish either proposition. Any person, reading the whole of Cranmer's speech at the christening, can hardly fail to perceive such an entireness and sequence of thoughts and words in it, as to make it very unlikely that it was not dictated by the same intellect, and written by the same pen. Malone and others made up their minds that “Henry the Eighth " was produced before the death of Elizabeth; and finding the passage we have quoted directly in the teeth of this supposition, they charged it as a subsequent addition, fixed the authorship of it upon a different poet, and printed it within brackets.

As to external evidence, there is one fact which has never had sufficient importance given to it. We allude to the fol

lowing memorandum in the Registers of the Stationers' Company :

"12 Feb. 1604 " Nath. Butter) Yf he get good allowance for the En

terlude of K. Henry 8th before he begyn to print it; and then procure the wardens hands to yt for the

entrance of yt: he is to have the same for his copy.' Chalmers asserted, without qualification, that this entry referred to a contemporaneous play by Samuel Rowley, under the title of “When you see me you know me," 1605; but the centerlude" is expressly called in the entry “K. Henry 8th," and we feel no hesitation in concluding that it referred to Shakespeare's drama, which had probably been brought out at the Globe Theatre in the summer of 1604. The memorandum, judging from its terms, seems to have been made, not at the instance of Nathaniel Butter, the bookseller, but of the company to which Shakespeare belonged, and in order to prevent a surreptitious publication of the play. The “12 Feb. 1604," was, of course, according to our present reckoning the 12 Feb. 1605, and at that date Butter had not begun to print “Henry the Eighth." No edition of it is known before it appeared in the folio of 1623, and we may infer that Butter failed in getting “good allowance” with "the wardens' hands to it."

The Globe Theatre was destroyed on 29th June, 1613, the thatch with which it was covered having been fired by the discharge of some small pieces of ordnance. (Hist. of Engl. Dram. Poetry and the Stage, vol. iii. p. 298.) It has been stated by Howes, in his continuation of Stowe's Chronicle, that the play then in a course of representation was Henry the Eighth ;'' but Sir Henry Wotton, who is very particular in his description of the calamity, asserts that the play was called “All is True.” There is little doubt that he is right, because a ballad, printed on the occasion, has the burden of “All is True" at the end of every stanza. The question then is, whether this was Shakespeare's "Henry the Eighth" ander a different title, or a different play! Sir Henry Wotton informs us in terms that it was “a new play," and as he was right in the title, we may have the more faith in his statement respecting the novelty of the performance.

In the instance of “Henry the Eighth,” as of many other works by our great dramatist, there is ground for believing that there existed a preceding play on the same story. Henslowe's Diary affords us some curious and important evidence on this point, unknown to Malone. According to this authority two plays were written in the year 1601 for the Earl of Nottingham's players, on the events of the life of Cardinal Wolsey, including necessarily some of the chief incidents of the reign of Henry VIII. These plays consisted of a first and second part, the one called "The Rising of Cardinal Wolsey," and the other, “ Cardinal Wolsey." We collect that the last was produced first, and the success it met with on the stage was perhaps the occasion of the second

« ÎnapoiContinuați »