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least, that we are speaking of, was so, and is intitld--The Historie of Hamblet; it is in quarto, and black letter: there can be no doubt made, by persons who are acquainted with these things, that the translation is not much younger than the French original; though the only edition of it that is yet come to my knowledge, is no earlier than 1608: that Shakspeare took his play from it, there can likewise be very little doubt.
i Henry IV.
In the eleven plays that follow,-- Macbeth, King John, Richard II. Henry IV. two parts, Henry V. Henry VI. three parts, Richard III. and Henry VIII.
the historians of that time, Hall, Holinshed, Stow, and others, (and, in particular, Holinshed,) are pretty closely follow'd; and that not only for their matter but even sometimes in their expresfions: the harangue of the Archbishop of Canterbury in Henry V. that of Queen Catharine in Henry VIII. at her trial, and the king's reply to it, are taken from those chroniclers, and put into verse: other lesser matters are borrow'd from them; and so largely scatter'd up and down in these plays, that whoever would rightly judge of the poet, must acquaint himself with those authors, and his characer will not suffer in the enquiry.
Richard III. was preceded by other plays written upon the same subje&t; concerning which, see the conclusion of a note in this Introduction, at p. 284. And as to Henry V.-it may not be improper to observe in this place, that there is extant another old play, callid – The famous Viętories of Henry the
Fisth, printed in 1617, quarto; perhaps by some tricking bookseller, who meant to impose it upon the world for Shakspeare's, who dy'd the year before. This play--- which' opens with that prince's wildness and robberies before he came to the crown, and so comprehends something of the story of both parts of Henry IV. as well as of Henry V. - is a very medley of nonfense and ribaldry; and, it is my firm belief, was prior to Shakspeare's Henries ; and the identical
displeasing play” mention'd in the epilogue to 2 Henry IV.; for that such a play should be written after his, or receiv'd upon any stage, has no face of probability. There is a charačer in it callid — Sir John Oldcastle; who holds there the place of Sir John Falstaff, but his very antipodes in every other particular, for it is all dullness: and it is to this character that Shakspeare alludes, in those much-disputed passages; one in his Henry IV. p. 184, and the other in the epilogue to his second part; where the words“ for Oldcastle dy'd a martyr” hint at this miserable performance, and it's fate, which was -- damnation.
Lear's distressful story has been often told in poems, ballads, and chronicles: but to none of these are we indebted for Shakspeare's Lear; but to a filly old play which made it's first appearance in 1605, the title of which is as follows:-"The True Chronicle Hi-| story of King LEIR, and his three daughters, Gonorill, Ragan, J and Cordella, As it hath been divers and fundry | times lately acted. | LONDON, | Printed by Simon Stafford for John Wright, and are to bee fold at his shop at| Chriftcs Church dore, next Newgate-market. 1605. (4° 1. 4.)--As it is a great curiosity, and very
scarce, the title is here inserted at large: and for the same reason, and also to shew the use that Shakspeare made of it, some extracts shall now be added.
The author of this Leir has kept him close to the chronicles; for he ends his play with the reinstating King Leir in his throne, by the aid of Cordella and her husband. But take the entire fable in his own words. Towards the end of the play, at signature H. 3. you find Leir in France: upon whose coast he and his friend Perillus are landed in so necessitous a condition, that, having nothing to pay their passage, the mariners take their cloaks, leaving them their jerkins in exchange: thus attir'd, they go up further into the country; and there, when they are at the point to perish by famine, insomuch that Perillus offers Leir his arm to feed upon, they light upon Gallia and his queen, whom the author has brought down thitherward, in progress, disguis'd. Their discourse is overheard by Cordella, who immediately knows them; but, at her husband's persuasion, forbears to discover herself a while, relieves them with food, and then asks their story; which Leir gives her in these words :
“ Leir. Then know ihis first, I am a Brittayne borne, " And had tlıree daughters by ove loving wife: " And though I say it, of beauty they were fped ; " Especially the youngest of the three, " For her perfections hardly matcht could be: " On these I doated with a jelous love,
" And thought to try which of them lov'd me best,
By asking of them, which would do most for me? • The first and second flattred me with words,
And vowd they lov'd me better then their lives :
Might do: her answere I esteem'd most vild,
gave in dowry with the other two: * And she that best deserv'd the greatest share, “ I gave her nothing but disgrace and care. “ Now mark the sequell: When I had done thus, " I foiournd in my eldest daughters houfe, " Where for a time I was intreated well, 6. And liv'd in state sufficing my content: " But every day her kindnesse did grow cold, on Which I with patience put up well ynough " And seemed not to see the things I saw : • But at the last she grew fo far incenst " With moody fury, and with causelesse hate,
That in most vild and contumelious termes, " She bade me pack, and harbour somewhere else, " Then was I fayne for refuge to repayre “ Unto my other daughter for reliefe, " Who gave me pleasing and most courteous words ; " But in her actions shewed herselfe so fore, “ As never any daughter did before : " She prayd me in a morning out betime, “ To go to a thicket two miles from the court, "! Poynting that there she would come talke with me:
There she had set a shaghayrd murdring wretch, 66 To massacre
honest friend and me.
* * * * *
* * * * * * * * * *
* * * *
66 And now I am constraind to feeke reliefe
Whose cenfure, if it do award me death,
" Cor. No doubt she will, I dare bę sworne she will.'
Thereupon ensues her discovery; and, with it, a circumstance of some beauty, which Shakspeare has borrow'd, -(v. Lear, p. 517,) their kneeling to each other, and mutually contending which should ask forgiveness. The next page presents us Gallia, and Mumford who commands under him, marching to embarque their forces, to re-instate Leir; and the next, a sea-port in Britain, and officers setting a watch, who are to fire-a beacon to give notice if any ships approach, in which there is some low humour that is pafsible enough. Gallia and his forces arrive, and take the town by surprize:- immediately upon which, they are encounter'd by the forces of the two elder sisters, and their húsbands: a battle ensues; Leir conquers ; be and his friends enter victorious, and the play closes thus:
“ Thanks ( worthy Mumford) to the last of all,
No, thou hast lion-like layd on to-day,
chasing the Cornwall King and Cambria;
To save their lives, the fugitives did play.
Come, fonne and daughter who did me advance, “Repofe with me awhile, and then for Fraunce." (Exeunt.
Such is the Leir, now' before us. Who the author of it should be, I cannot furmise; for neither in manner nor style has it the least resemblance to any of the other tragedies of that time: most of them rise now and then, and are poetical; but this creeps in one dull tenour, from beginning to end, after the specimen here inserted: it should seem he was a Latinist, by the translation following: