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PLAN OF STUDY FOR 'PERFECT POSSESSION.
To attain to the standard of 'Perfect Possession,' the reader ought to have an intimate and ready knowledge of the following parts of the subject (let us suppose it is a play of Shakspeare's) : 1. THE PLOT AND STORY OF THE PLAY.
(a) The general plot;
(6) The special incidents. 2. THE CHARACTERS : Ability to give a connected account of
all that is done and most of what is said by each
character in the play. 3. THE INFLUENCE AND INTERPLAY OF THE CHARACTERS UPON
(a) Relation of A to B and of B to A;
(6) Relation of A to C and D.
(a) Meanings of words;
(a) What was said by A or B on a particular occasion ;
meaning. 6. POWER TO LOCATE. (a) To attribute a line or statement to a certain person
on a certain occasion; (6) To cap a line ;
(C) To fill in the right word or epithet. The student ought, first of all, to read the play as a pleasure; then to read it over again, with his mind upon the characters and the plot; and lastly, to read it for the meanings, grammar, &c.
With the help of the above scheme, he can easily draw up for himself short examination papers (1) on each scene, (2) on each act, (3) on the whole play. (See page 126.)
INTRODUCTION TO KING HENRY V. In the Epilogue to King Henry IV., Part II., it is said: 'If you be not too much cloyed with fat meat, our humble author will continue the story, with Sir John in it, and make you merry with fair Katharine of France;' and in the play of King Henry V. we have the fulfilment of the dramatist's promise. The stage was already in possession of a play entitled The famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, but Shakespeare made no use of this in the composition of his play. He drew largely for the historical facts upon the Chronicles of Holinshed, a second edition of which had been issued in 1587.
The date of the composition of King Henry V. would seem to be 1599. It is not mentioned by Meres in his Palladis Tamia, 1598; but that it was written shortly afterwards may be inferred from a passage of the Chorus before Act V., which evidently refers to Lord Essex, who was sent on an expedition to Ireland April 15, 1599, and returned to London on the 28th of September in the same year.
The reign of Henry V. extended over a period of somewhat more than nine years and five months. It began on the 21st of March 1413 (the day after the demise of his father), and terminated with his death at Bois de Vincennes in France, on the 31st of August 1422–
Small time, but in that small most greatly liv'd
This star of England ! Shakespeare felt how very inadequate a theatrical representation was to portray the great events and martial glories of Henry's reign; and both in the Prologue and in the concluding address of the Chorus he makes apologetic reference to the subject. Henry V. was one of the most popular as he was among the bravest of English monarchs. As a conqueror he was stern and ambitious, but not cruel, and won over his enemies by tact and clemency. The splendid victory at Agincourt embalmed his name and memory, and for generations after his death his magnificent tomb in Westminster Abbey, surmounted by his bruised helmet and shield, was regarded with the honour and reverence paid to sainted relics.
Shakespeare begins his drama with the conferences relative to Henry's pretensions to the crown of France, and the operation of the Salique law. The monarch's claim, as the representative of Isabella, wife of Edward II., was in reality inadmissible and absurd ; but France was then in a wretched condition, burdened with an imbecile monarch, and torn by factions—Henry was ambitious and warlike-and the English were ever ready for arms and conquest. Ambassadors from the Dauphin appeared, and fruitless negotiations were entered into, at the close of which Henry announced to his great council at Westminster (in April 1415) that it was his firm purpose to make a voyage in his own proper person, by the grace of God, to recover his inheritance.' The poet touches upon the treasonable conspiracy of the Earl of Cambridge to place his brother-in-law, Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, on the throne, in which Cambridge was joined by Lord Scroop and Sir Thomas Grey; but the plot failed, and the conspirators were condemned to the block. This abortive effort retarded but slightly the expedition against France, and Henry with his victorious soldiers was soon scaling the walls of Harfleur. The battle of Agincourt follows, preluded by a series of stirring incidents, and by speeches breathing martial ardour and undaunted courage ; and the great victory is described with the utmost dramatic effect and with strong national feeling. The calm heroism and devotion of the English are contrasted with the levity and overweening confidence of the French ; and as the latter were numerically as five to one, the English might be pardoned for some national vanity and exultation at the result. After this, we have a gap of between four and five years (bridged over by the narrative speech of the Chorus), and the play closes with the espousals of the triumphant English monarch and Katharine of Valois, which were solemnised at Troyes (in 1420) with unwonted splendour.
The comic business of the drama, besides representing Henry as a lover (where he is seen to least advantage), and giving us the badinage of French nobles and English soldiers, brings before us again the wild revellers of Eastcheap, Pistol and Bardolph, with Nym and Mrs Quickly, the hostess, now married to Pistol. A new character, Fluellen, a brave, garrulous, and pedantic Welshman, is introduced, and heightens greatly the humour of the scene. Falstaff, contrary to the poet's promise, has disappeared from the stage ; the king had killed his heart;' but Mrs Quickly's description of the dying scene is a marvellous sketch from nature—a photograph over which we may both laugh and cry, and which can never be forgotten. Strict moral, if not poetical justice is dealt out to those marauding auxiliaries of the camp. Nym and Bardolph are hanged, and Pistol, after swaggering through the play as the most amusing of braggarts, is beaten by Fluellen, and made to eat his leek'as a 'counterfeit, cowardly knave.' By this time, Mrs Quickly was goneshe had died in the 'spital'—and Pistol's rendezvous being quite cut off, he returns to England to-steal.
* And patches will I get unto these scars,
And swear I got them in the Gallia wars.' These scenes of low life and humour are, by the plastic powers of the poet, made to harmonise wonderfully with the martial and national character of the play, besides imparting to the shifting scenes an air of truth and nature. The grand object of the poet was to commemorate the battle of Agincourt: Schlegel has truly said, that 'the sympathetic affinity by which Shakespeare came into most direct contact with his fellow-creatures, was his patriotism.' But his comedy was no less thoroughly English, and was as highly appreciated.