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“ Did you never see
Did tell you truly, what this honour was.” There are other indications which place the matter out of doubt. It appears that the name of Falstaff had been substituted for Oldcastle before the play was printed, but in one instance, which will be pointed out in a note, it seems to have escaped erasure in the MS. It has been asserted that the change was made at the instance of the descendants of Sir John Oldcastle, the Protestant martyr, and this seems probable from the apology made in the epilogue to the Second part, " for Oldcastle died a martyr, and this is not the man."
The historical dramas of Shakespeare have become the popular history. Vain attempts have been made by Walpole to vindicate the character of King Richard III. and in later times by Mr. Luders, to prove that the youthful dissipation ascribed to King Henry V. is without foundation. The arguments are probable, and ingeniously urged, but we still cling to our early notions of
that mad cap—that same sword and buckler Prince of Wales." No plays were ever more read, nor does the inimitable, all-powerful genius of the poet ever shine out more than in the two parts of King Henry IV, which may be considered as one long drama divided.
It has been said that “Falstaff is the summit of Shakespeare's comic invention," and we may consequently add the most inimi-. table comic character ever delineated; for who could invent like Shakespeare? Falstaff is now to us hardly a creature of the imagination, he is so definitely and distinctly drawn, that the mere reader of these dramas has the complete impression of a personal acquaintance. He is surrounded by a group of comic personages, from time to time, each of which would have been sufficient to throw any ordinary creation into the shade, but they only serve to make the super-eminent humour of the knight doubly conspi
What can come nigher to truth and real individual nature than those admirable delineations Shallow and Silence? How irresistibly comic are all the scenes in which Falstaff is made to humour the fatuity and vanity of this precious pair!
The historic characters are delineated with a felicity and individuality not inferior in any respect. Harry Percy is a creation of the first order; and our favourite hare-brained Prince of Wales, in whom mirthful pleasantry and midnight dissipation are mixed up with heroic dignity and generous feeling, is a rival worthy of him. Owen Glendower is another personification, managed with the most consummate skill; and the graver characters are sustained and opposed to each other in a manner peculiar to our great poet alone.
The transactions contained in the First Part of King Henry IV. are comprised within the period of about ten months; for the ac
tion commences with the news brought of Hotspur having defeated the Scots under Archibald Earl of Douglas, at Holmedon (or Halidown Hill), which battle was fought on Holy-rood day (the 14th of September) 1402; and it closes with the battle of Shrewsbury, on Saturday the 21st of July, 1403.
Malone places the date of the composition of this play in 1597; Dr. Drake and Mr. Collier in 1596. It was first entered at Stationers' Hall, February 25, 1597. There are no less than five quarto editions published during the author's life, viz. in 1598, 1599, 1604, 1608,* 1613. There is another edition in quarto, printed by Norton in 1632, which varies in some places from the text of the folios, from which it does not appear to have been copied. The folios follow the text of the quarto 1613. But the best text is afforded by the earliest quarto of 1598. For the piece which is supposed to have been its original, the reader is referred to the Six Old Plays on which Shakespeare founded, &c. published by Steevens and Nichols in 1779.
King HENRY THE FOURTH.
, of ,
Prince John of Lancaster
, Sons to the King.
Earl of Westmoreland,
Friends to the King.
LADY PERCY, Wife to Hotspur, and Sister to Mortimer. LADY MORTIMER, Daughter to Glendower, and Wife to
Mortimer. Mrs. QUICKLY, Hostess of a Tavern in Eastcheap. Lords, Officers, Sheriff, Vintner, Chamberlain, Drawers, two Carriers, Travellers, and Attendants.
SCENE I. London. A Room in the Palace.
Enter KING HENRY, WESTMORELAND, Sir
Find we a time for frighted peace to pant,
Upon this passage the reader is favoured with three pages of notes in the Variorum Shakespeare. Steevens once thought we should read entrants, but afterwards adopted Monk Mason's bold conjectural emendation, and reads
“No more the thirsty Erinnys of this soil." I am satisfied with the following explanation of the text, modified from that of Malone:-“No more shall this soil have the lips of her thirsty entrance (i. e. surface) daubed with the blood of her own children.” The soil is personified, and called the mother of those who live upon her surface; as in the following passage of King Richard II. — “Sweet soil, adieu,
My mother and my nurse, that bears me yet.” The thirsty earth was a common epithet in the poet's age. Thus,
Shall daub her lips with her own children's blood ;
those opposed eyes,
“Thy brother's blood the thirsty earth hath drunk.” And in the old play of King John:
“ Is all the blood y-spilt on either part,
Grown to a love-game, and a bridal feast?"