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came from Shakspeare's hand, as many had previously conjectured, nor yet was employed by him for the construction of his own play. It treated principally of the earlier years of this reign, and especially of the rebellion of the Duke of Gloster and the Earl of Arundel, and seems to have been written in any but a very loyal spirit. On the latter account alone the conjecture of Amyot (Collier, p. 16) that this older piece formed a first part to our “Richard the Second," appears absolutely inadmissible.
I do not pretend to question the remark of Collier, that the scenes in the fifth act between York and his son Aumerle exhibit a marked difference of style. But I cannot believe that Shakspeare borrowed them from any older piece: he may, however, have retained them from an earlier sketch of his own, which was never acted.
The first part of “ Henry the Fourth” is entered at Stationers' Hall, under the date of the 25th of February, 1597; and since in subject it is closely connected with “Richard the Second," and directly refers to it, and since also the versification, language, and composition of both are so nearly allied that any difference is at once accounted for by the rapid advance of an originally great and mighty genius, it is highly probably that the former was written at no great interval after the latter. Both plays are mentioned by Meres. How far Shakspeare was indebted to an older drama, in which, though bearing the title of “ The famous Victories of Henry the Fifth,” the principal events of the reign of Henry the Fourth are worked up, the reader can judge for himself by consulting the piece among the “Six old plays on which Shakspeare founded,” &c. published by Steevens. Without such a reference a mere analysis would bc of little use, and a very slight acquaintance with both will suffice to discover the obvious difference between them. That the second part quickly followed the first is manifest. It too was probably written in 1596, or in the beginning of 1597, (See Drake, ii. 379. Reed's Shakspeare, ii. 288; Chalmers' Supplem. Apol. p. 330,) although there is no earlier entry of it at Stationers' Hall than the 23rd of August, 1600. It is, however, demonstratively certain, from the epilogue, that it was produced on the stage before “Henry the Fifth.” But “ Henry the Fifth” was first acted in the summer of 1599, as clearly follows from the words of the chorus in the fifth act—"As by a lower but by loving likelihood, &c.” For they contain an evident allusion to the Earl of Essex, who commanded the Queen's troops in Ireland, from April to September, 1599. Meres moreover does not mention Henry the Fifth : there is, therefore, no reason for supposing that this play was originally written at an earlier date, and that these verses in the chorus were subsequently introduced for a particular occasion. The comparison of Shakspeare's “Henry the Fifth” with the old drama already mentioned, which must have been on the stage before 1589 (for the famous actor, Tarleton, who had a part in it, died this year) will here again turn out to the advantage of our author. He is, in fact, little if at all indebted to it. However, the existence of such earlier pieces, and of a “Richard the Third” which, to judge from the manuscript, must have been in being as early as 1586, demonstrates that Shakspeare was not the first, as Tieck wishes to prove, to treat dramatically the national history. The mission of the greatest geniuses, from Homer and Phidias down to Shakspeare, Raffaelle, Mozart, and Goethe, has ever been the consummation and perfection, and not the first creation of their art. The design and the material must be first prej ared by others, and must be already lying in the popular mind. To give both the first shaping and the finishing perfection is beyond the powers of any single mind.
If we now turn to the conclusion—the epilogue—of the great dramatic cycle of English histories, we find ourselves still within the same historical domain, but having been carried over an interval of thirty years, we come to a new and altered prospect. The prayer for peace with the seventh Henry, offered up at the end of “Richard the Third” has been heard. His long reign sufficed to heal the deep wounds which the civil wars and the tyranny of Richard had inflicted on his country. Its importance in the general history of the world is derived from this fact, and from its forming for England the passage and introduction of it into the new and essentially altered political relations of Europe, which commenced with the sixteenth century. However, it was ill suited for scenic representation, since by its very character it was deficient in dramatic action. It was only episodically, as it had been done in “Richard the Third,” that its spirit and influence could be
indicated, and poetical considerations therefore appear fully to justify our poet in choosing the reign of Henry the Eighth for the close of his dramatic cycle. It is well suited to form the conclusion of it, because it is at the same time the commencement of a new era in history.
The monarchial principle had gradually gained strength during the long troubles of the civil wars, and the peaceful reign of the seventh Henry now appears to be approaching its culmination. The great estates of the kingdom-nobility, clergy, and commons, are now accustomed to obedience; and the arbitrary power of the sovereign is apparently unlimited. The poet has indicated this state of things in several significant scenes (Act V. Sc. 2 and 3, for instance), which simply on this account could ill be spared. The power of the monarch manifests itself outwardly in the splendour and luxury of his court, which the higher nobles are stimulated to emulate; the attempt of the latter to maintain a strong political position, independently of, and in opposition to the throne, has sunk into a mere competition for the honours of the court, or to rivalry with it in riches and magnificence. This change in the character of the age is ably pointed out in the first introductory scenes. The Church, after obtaining under John the claims which she had so zcalously asserted and so vigorously prosecuted, was now reaping the fruits of her unprincipled efforts. Her just influence, which is internal and spiritual, is broken-the power of the crown has outgrown the ecclesiastical. She no longer dares to put forward her former arrogant pretensions ; it is only by intrigue, by double dealing, and double speaking, that she can hope to establish them. This truth is most strikingly illustrated by the relation in which Wolsey stands to the King and the State. The middle ages, with their knightly combats, their impetuous deeds, and the strongly marked objective shape which they gave to all classes, are fast sinking in importance. The general life of man has become more inward and more spiritual, while the theological disputations on Henry's divorce seem to intimate the approaching great reformation of religion, which, by gradually dissolving the objective development which the middle ages had given to mind and intellect, was destined to establish more securely the rights of subjectivity. Accordingly, in his representation of the
general state of things, in his characterization of the age, and his delineation of its peculiar interests and tendencies, the poet has preserved the truth of history, and has exhibited the same skill here as elsewhere in unveiling its inmost eore.
But is this the case with details also? In spite of the long defence of the poet, by F. Horn and others, I feel compelled to answer this question in the negative. Henry's character, it is true, is by no means spared : he appears throughout the same capricious, ill-humoured, selfish, and heartless tyrant, the same creature of his passions and favourites, that he really was. That Shakspeare does not expressly describe him in this light, but rather allows him to characterize himself by his own acts and deeds, while he purposely and wittingly puts his best traits into the foreground of the picture, is only what we should look for from a national poet who lived in the reign of Henry's daughter—the "all-beloved Elizabeth. That, further, he has not painted Anne Boleyn in her true colours, who, after rejecting Henry's addresses, nevertheless lived with him for three years in open adultery, and was pregnant by him as she stood at the altar, may perhaps be pardoned, since Anne was the mother of Elizabeth, and her true conduct was not generally known, or at least was not so described in the popular histories and chronicles of Shakspeare's day. And further, if the opinions of the eminent theologians consulted by Henry were not so unanimously in his favour as Shakspeare supposes—if Cranmer was not quite the noble and amiable christian character he here appears—these are inaccuracies which
well be left out of consideration. It is not in them that the fault lies of which we complain : they are mere trifles and secondary matters, of which the poet was free to dispose as he might. The objection to which he justly lies open is, that he has not given us the fate and fortunes of Henry and Anne fully and entirely. By this defect he has rendered the representation ideally untrue. Not only does it offend against poetical justice-though that, indeed, is nothing more than the creature of human thought—but he has also unpardonably done indignity to the natural and manifest justice of God, as it is revealed in the history of the world. When we see Henry—that slave of passion, caprice, and pleasure, the puppet of a favourite like the ambitious, intriguing, revengeful
Wolsey—condemn to death, without cause or justice, the Duke of Buckingham, (a rash zealot no doubt) and to gratify a sinful lust repudiate his pious, noble, and amiable consortwhen we see such a man rewarded with the possession of his beloved, and rendered happy by the birth of his child, the natural sense of right is offended. And as little agreeable to justice does it seem, to behold Anne Boleyn, who, even in the drama itself, appears any thing but free from deep criminality, intruded into the place of the injured Katharine, and apparently the happy, envied mother and wife, and in undisturbed enjoyment of her unrighteous usurpation. Such is not the justice of History. It is well known, and must have then been known, that Henry died in the prime of life, to speak mildly, in a most disturbed state of mind, and of diseases which were the effects of his mental and bodily excesses; we know it, and it cannot even then have been a secret, that Anne Boleyn, after a short space of happiness, was accused of levity, and put to death in prison, by the command of her own husband.
Such poetical violations of the ideal truth of history, work however their own punishment. The whole drama is poetically untrue and without life-a poetic abortion, since it wants, what alone could give it an intrinsic organization and shape, moral vitality. It cannot pretend even to be a perfect whole. At best it is a shewy piece of patchwork, and consequently without true mind—a mere semblance, since it is without any fundamental idea which alone could give it life and organization. Wherever the conclusion stands out in such stiff and irreconcileable opposition to the beginning and middle, as it does in the play of “Henry the Eighth,” there it is vain to look for totality, or a pervading idea, since the latter is nothing less than the intrinsic unity of all the parts, and consequently the very essence of the whole. The character of Wolsey, of Katharine, of Henry, and severally of all the other personages of the drama, may, no doubt, be sketched and filled up with wonderful verisimilitude and pathos; but still, this only tends to confirm the opinion we have already advanced, that characterization and well-drawn characters do not alone make a dramatic work. Turn the piece as we may-whether we take the life of Katharine or of Wolsey for the centre of interest--we shall