Page images
PDF
EPUB

genius which they display, and especially the force of passion and the truth of character, no mind but that of Shakspere could have produced them. We have at present chiefly aimed at fixing the attention of our readers upon the unity of these dramas. If we have established this unity, we have gone far to shake the ground of the existing belief, that the author of Richard III.' was not, in any just sense of the word, the author of the three Parts of Henry VI.'

It has been held good service to the reputation of Shakspere to assume that he did not write a line of the first part of this series. Malone says, with great triumph, that he has “vindicated Shakspeare" from the imputation. But he has at the same time conferred upon him an honour which appears to us, in truth, a disgrace, and from which we are equally anxious to vindicate him. Shakspere's share in the Second and Third Parts of Henry VI.' is thus stated by the critic who thought it a derogation from the poet's fame to have written the scene in the Temple garden and the death scene of Talbot:

“ Several years after the death of Boiardo, Francesco Berni undertook to new-versify Boiardo's poem entitled · Orlando Innamorato.' 'Berni,' as Baretti observes, was not satisfied with merely making the versification of that poem better, he interspersed it with many stanzas of his own, and changed almost all the beginnings of the cantos, introducing each of them with some moral reflection arising from the canto foregoing.' What Berni did to Boiardo's poem after the death of its author, and more, I suppose Shakspeare to have done to “The First Part of the Contention of the two Houses of York and Lancaster,' &c., and · The True Tragedie of Richarde Duke of Yorke,' &c., in the lifetime of Greene and Peele, their literary parents; and this rifacimento, as the Italians call it, of these two plays, I suppose to have been executed by Shakspeare, and exhibited at the Globe or Blackfriars theatre in the year 1591.

“ I have said Shakspeare did what Berni did, and more. He did not content himself with writing new beginnings to the acts; he new-versified, he new-modelled, he transposed many of the parts, and greatly amplified and improved the whole. Several lines, however, and even whole speeches which he thought sufficiently polished, he accepted, and introduced into his own work, without any, or with very slight, alterations."*

If Shakspere had done all which Malone here represents him to have done-new-versify, new-model, transpose, amplify, improve,

* Dissertation, p. 572.

e Globose to havescimento, of Greenagedi

and polish,-he would still have been essentially a dishonest plagiarist. We have no hesitation in stating our belief that the two Parts of the Contention' are immeasurably superior, in the dramatic conduct of the story, the force and consistency of character, the energy of language, yea, and even in the harmony of versification, to any dramatic production whatever which existed in the year 1591. This we shall have to show in detail. But in the mean time we hold that whoever obtained possession, legally or otherwise, of the property of these remarkable productions (meaning by property the purchased right of exhibiting them on the stage), and applied himself to their amplification and improvement to the extent, and with the success, which Malone has represented, was, to say the best of him, a presumptuous and self-sufficient meddler. We hold that it was utterly impossible that Shakspere should have set about such a work at all, having any consciousness of his own original power. We further hold, that the only consistent theory that can be maintained with regard to the amplifications and improvements upon the original work must be founded upon the belief that the work in its first form was Shaks pere's own. But in the mean time we desire to show what is the real character and extent of these changes, how far, in fact, Shakspere, in producing the Second and Third Parts of Henry VI.,' new-versified, new-modelled, amplified, and improved · The First Part of the Contention of the two Houses of York and Lancaster,' and 'The true Tragedy of Richard Duke of York.'

“ He did not content himself,” says Malone, “ with writing new beginnings to the acts.” In our republication of the two Parts of the Contention,' we divided these dramas into acts and scenes. There was not the slightest difficulty in making this division, for we had only to follow the corresponding division in the Second and Third Parts of Henry VI.' If our readers will take the trouble to compare the beginnings of the acts of the two Parts of · Henry VI.' and of the two Parts of the Contention,' they will find that in only one act out of ten · Henry VI., Part II.,' Act IV.) did Shakspere write any new beginning at all. “ He transposed many of the parts,” says Malone. In the whole of the two plays, with the exception of some slight changes in the last scene of `Henry VI., Part II.,' Act I., and in four short scenes of the fourth act of · Henry VI., Part III.,' (which changes we have pointed out in our foot-notes and in the corresponding scenes of the Contention,') there is not a single transposition in the order of the scenes. Very slight, indeed, are the changes in the order of the speeches, from

the first line of these plays to the last. “ He new-modelled,” says Malone. This is a phrase of large acceptation. We can understand how Shakspere new-modelled the old · King John,' and perhaps the old "Taming of a Shrew,' by completely re-writing all the parts, adding some characters, rejecting others, rendering the action at his pleasure more simple or more complex, expanding a short exclamation into a long and brilliant dialogue, or condensing a whole scene into some expressive speech or two. This, to our minds, is a sort of remodelling which Shakspere did not disdain to try his hand upon. But the remodelling which consists in the addition of lines here and there—in the expansion of a sentiment already expressed-in the substitution of a forcible line for a weak one, or a rhythmical line for one less harmonious—in the change of an epithet or the inversion of two epithets,—and this without the slightest change in the dramatic conception of the original, whether as to the action as a whole or the progress of the action,-or the characterization as a whole, or the small details of character ;-remodelling such as this, to be called the work of Shakspere, and the only work upon which he exercised his hand in these dramas, appears to us to assume that he stood in the same relation to the original author of these pieces as the mechanic who chisels a statue does to the artist who conceives and perfects its design.

That Malone greatly overstated the character and the extent of the alterations of the two Parts of the Contention' arose, most probably, from the circumstance that he was not in the habit of looking at Shakspere generally, except through the microscopic glasses of verbal criticism. It was completely in the spirit of his age that he applied himself to reduce to an arithmetical quantity what he held Shakspere had contributed to the Second and Third Parts of · Henry VI. A great deal of labour, no doubt, was bestowed in arriving at these arithmetical results; but the labour was not bestowed in vain for the purposes of advocacy. Malone was of the same opinion as the statesman who said he could prove anything by figures. He undertook to prove by figures that Shakspere did not write his own book; and the world for fifty years has implicitly confided in the figures :-“ The total number of lines in our author's Second and Third Part of King Henry VI.' is 6043 : of these, as I conceive, 1771 lines were written by some author who preceded Shakspeare; 2373 were formed by him on the foundation laid by his predecessors; and 1899 lines were entirely his own composition.”* How, then, stands the account according to this? Of the 6000

* Dissertation, p. 572.

lines, something less than a third was written, as they appear in the Second and Third Parts of Henry VI.,' by the author of the original play; something more than a third was formed by Shakspere on the foundation laid by his predecessors; and about a third was entirely his own composition. Malone distinguishes these several classes in his editions by particular marks :-“ All those lines which he adopted without any alteration are printed in the usual manner; those speeches which he altered or expanded are distinguished by inverted commas; and to all the lines entirely composed by himself asterisks are prefixed.” Nothing, as it would seem, can be fairer than this; and the reader, who sees the inverted commas and the asterisks spread over every page, must come to the conclusion that what Shakspere did to the original work constituted at least two-thirds of the labour; and that therefore, if the original author were Peele, or Greene, or Marlowe, or some one whose name has perished, the greater part of the work was still Shakspere's, and he might, without any injury to his character, have been held justified in doing what he pleased with the rude materials that fell into his hands. We are of opinion, however, that if Malone had printed the · Contention' in his edition, his arithmetic would have all been blown into thin air; but he chose to print, in support of his inverted commas and his asterisks, those passages, as notes, in which the greatest amount of alteration had taken place. We will endeavour to put the matter on a fairer foundation by analysing a larger portion of the original and the corrected work. It would be tedious for us to pursue this branch of the inquiry beyond a limited extent; and we therefore shall institute a comparison chiefly between a few of the scenes which, to a reader who is familiar with Shakspere without having learnt that he is held not to have written · Henry VI.,' are amongst the most treasured recollections. The plan which we shall pursue will be to print, in one column, the text of · Henry VI.,' with the marks affixed by Malone; and in a parallel column the lines of the “Contention' opposite the passages to which they bear a similarity; and upon each passage, thus exhibited, we shall offer some brief remarks. We begin with the scene of the Duchess of Gloster's penance:HENRY VI., Part II., Act II., Scene 4.

CONTENTION, PART I., Act II., Scene 4. Enter Gloster and Servants, in mourning Enter Duke HUMPHREY and his men, in mourn

cloaks. * Glo. Thus, sometimes, hath the brightest

day a cloud; *And after summer evermore succeeds *Barren winter, with his wrathful nipping

cold:

ing cloaks.

*So cares and joys abound as seasons fleet. Sirs, what 's o'clock ? Serv.

Ten, my lord. . Glo. Ten is the hour that was appointed

me, *To watch the coming of my punish'd

duchess; • Uneath may she endure the flinty streets, “To tread them with her tender-feeling feet. Sweet Nell, ill can thy noble mind abrook The abject people, gazing on thy face, With envious looks still laughing at thy

shame, That erst did follow thy proud chariot

wheels, When thou didst ride in triumph through

the streets. *But, soft! I think she comes; and I'll pre

pare *My tear-stain's eyes to see her miseries.

Hum. Sirrah, what 's o'clock? Serv. Almost ten, my lord. · Hum. Then is that woeful hour hard at

hand, That my poor lady should come by this way, In shameful penance wandering in the streets. Sweet Nell, ill can thy noble mind abrook The abject people gazing on thy face, With envious looks laughing at thy shame, That erst did follow thy proud chariot wheels When thou didst ride in triumph through the

streets.

Enter the DUCHESS OF GLOSTER, in a white sheet, with papers pinned upon her back, her feet bare, and a taper burning in her hand ; Sir John STANLEY, a Sheriff, and Officers. Serv. So please your grace, we 'll take her

from the sheriff. Glo. No, stir not, for your lives ; let her

pass by. Duch. Come you, my lord, to see my open

shame? Now thou dost penance too. Look how they

gaze! “See how the giddy multitude do point, * And nod their heads, and throw their eyes

on thee! *Ah, Gloster, hide thee from their hateful

looks; *And in thy closet pent up rue my shame, And ban thine enemies, both mine and

thine. Glo. Be patient, gentle Nell; forget this

grief. Duch. Ah, Gloster, teach me to forget

myself : For, whilst I think I am thy married wife, And thou a prince, protector of this land, • Methinks I should not thus be led along, Mail'd up in shame, with papers on my back; *And follow'd with a rabble, that rejoice *To see my tears, and hear my deep-fet

groans. The ruthless flint doth cut my tender feet;' And when I start the envious people laugh,' And bid me be advised how I tread Ah, Humphrey, can I bear this shameful

yoke ? *Trowest thou that e'er I'll look upon the

world; *Or count them happy that enjoy the sun ? *No; dark shall be my light, and night my

day; *To think upon my pomp shall be my hell.

VOL. VII.

Enter Dame ELEANOR COBHAM, barefoot, and

a white sheet about her, with a wax candle in her hand, and verses written on her back, and pinned on, and accompanied with the Sheriffs of London, and Sir John STANLEY, and Officers, with bills and halberds. Serv. My gracious lord, see where my lady

comes. Please it your grace, we'll take her from the

sheriffs. Hum. I charge you for your lives stir not a

foot, Nor offer once to draw a weapon here, But let them do their office as they should. Eleanor. Come you, my lord, to see my open

shame? Ah, Gloster, now thou dost penance too. See how the giddy people look at thee, Shaking their heads, and pointing at thee

here. Go, get thee gone, and hide thee from their

sights, And in thy pent-up study rue my shame, And ban thine enemies,--ah! mine and thine. Hum. Ah, Nell, sweet Nell, forget this ex.

treme grief, And bear it patiently to ease thy heart. Eleanor. Ah, Gloster, teach me to forget

myself; For whilst I think I am thy wedded wife, The thought of this doth kill my woeful heart. The ruthless flints do cut my tender feet, And when I start the cruel people laugh, And bid me be advised how I tread; And thus, with burning taper in my hand, Mail'd up in shame, with papers on my back, Ah, Gloster, can I endure this and live?

« PreviousContinue »