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N dramatizing this portion of English history Shake
speare had, as in other cases, been preceded by an earlier writer, whose production exists under the title of
“ The famous Victories of Henry the Fifth,” of which three are old editions, two without date, and one printed in 1598. From a notice in “Nash's Pierce Penniless his Supplication to the Devil,” printed in 1592, we learn that it was then upon the stage. He says:-“What a glorious thing it is to have Henry the Fifth represented on the stage, leading the French king prisoner, and forcing him and the Dolphin to sweare fealtie.” It appears from Henslowe's Diary that a play, called “ Harry the V.” was represented by his company on the 28th of November, 1595, and the popularity of which is indicated by unusually large receipts. This may have been a revival only of the old piece; but the circumstance, probably, might induce Shakespeare to produce a play on the same subject, in favour of the company at the Globe, with which he was connected.
The incidents of the old play, rude as it is, furnished him with materials for three dramas, although two of them may, in fact, be considered as one drama divided, the two Parts of K. Henry the IVth, and K. Henry the Vth.
It is remarkable that in the old drama Sir John Oldcastle is one of the dramatis personæ, and it appears certain from many circumstances adduced, which may be found in Mr. Halliwell's tract “On the Character of Sir John Falstaff,” that the name given to the character in the first instance was Sir John Oldcastle. Indeed, Mr. Halliwell has shown that the character retained the name of Oldcastle after Shakespeare had altered it to Falstaff. Thus Nathaniel Field refers to Falstaff when, in his Amends for Ladies, 1618, he says.