Imagini ale paginilor
[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

" The first Part of Henry the Sixt” was printed originally in the folio of 1623, where it occupies twenty-four pages; viz. from p. 96 to p. 119 inclusive, in the division of " Histories.” It was reprinted in the folios 1632, 1664, and 1685.


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 aná 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 wonld 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 worthý 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 "an 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," 1594, 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

« ÎnapoiContinuă »