« PreviousContinue »
spoken of—Robert Greene's "Orlando,” his “Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay," and his "Looking Glass for London and England "-written with Thomas Lodge-Kyd's "Jeronimo," Marlowe's "Jew of Malta,” and Marlowe's "Tragedy of the Guise.” With these plays, therefore, Shakespeare was directly familiar, and he must have acted parts in some of them.
When marrying his master's widow, Philip Henslowe took charge of her daughter Joan, and on the fifteenth of October, 1592, Joan Woodward became the wife of Edward Alleyn, the actor, who thereafter worked with her stepfather as partner in theatrical adventure.
Edward Alleyn, about two years and a-half younger than Shakespeare, was born on the first of September, 1566.
His father had property in Bishopsgate, and
died when his son Edward was four years old. Alleyn.
His widow married again, John Browne, a haberdasher. As a youth, Edward Alleyn joined the players. When his age was twenty he was in the Earl of Worcester's company.
A little more than two years later he was joint owner of play-books and other theatrical properties with his elder brother John. Edward Alleyn acquired fame as an actor. Thomas Nash, in 1592, placed his name first in his list of the four best English actors at that date---Alleyn, Tarleton, Knell, and Bentley ; “not Roscius,” said Nash, “nor Æsop, those tragedians admired before Christ was born, could ever perform more in action than famous Ned Alleyn." But Richard Burbageson of the builder of the first play-house, who had also been trained from his youth as a player—was already outstripping Alleyn as an actor of serious parts, and he was soon to take the first place on the English stage. It was at the age of twenty-six that Alleyn-Ned Alleyn, as he was commonly called-married Henslowe's step-daughter, Joan Woodward.
The First Part
In that year, 1592, Alleyn was acting with the Lord Admiral's company in the Newington Butts Theatre, which then belonged to Henslowe, and may have been lately erected by him on the site of an old play-place. Henslowe and Alleyn had also at that time an interest in the old Paris Garden, where plays took their turn with bear-baitings.
We pass now. to the old play known as the “ First Part of King Henry VI.,” of unknown authorship, that has been ascribed at will to Marlowe, Greene, Peele, Lodge, one or all, but we do
Henry VI.” not know which or whether any. Shakespeare touched it ; we do not know how or where. The play was first produced at The Rose by Henslowe in its new form on the third of March, 1592. To the great popularity of this play Thomas Nash referred in the same year (1592) in “Pierce Pennilesse his Supplication to the Diuell.” Nash there said :-“ How would it haue ioyed braue Talbot (the terror of the French) to thinke that, after he had laine two hundred yeares in his tombe, he should triumph againe on the stage, and haue his bones new embalmed with the teares of ten thousand spectators at least (at seuerall times), who in the tragedian that represents his person imagine they behold him fresh bleeding.” It cannot be proved, but there is no reason for doubting, that the play of which the great success is here referred to was the play in which “braue Talbot,” the hero, is the very popular type of a redoubtable Englishman, “the terror of the French,” and in which there is a scene showing Talbot's death, with his dead son in his arms, that well acted would move many to tears.
“ The First Part of King Henry VI.”
is a play complete in itself that might, if it stood alone, be named after its hero, “Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury.” Its interest lies in the romance-figure of a steel-clad English warrior, who strikes terror in his enemies, whose name alone puts them to flight. This made
the play popular this and the sure appeal to English domestic feeling in Talbot's death together with a young son worthy of his blood, father and son ringed in by armed battalions, the victims of the feuds and factions in the English force that left them so to perish. But while Talbot is the hero of the play, his adventures are interwoven with signs of the rising force of civil discord, which is at last to leave him helpless in the grasp of death. Thus the play is a right prelude to the fuller story of the miseries of civil war. Though, it says, there is no man stronger than the Englishman, discord may ruin his strength.
The period of history covered by this play reaches through twentythree years, from the funeral of King Henry V. in September, 1422, when the young King Henry VI. was an infant, to the arrangement of the king's marriage with Margaret of Anjou in April, 1445, when he was a man of about five-and-twenty. Talbot's death, which is brought into the play and made its most essential incident, really was thirteen years later ; he fell at Castillon in 1458.
The first scene of the First Act at once connects the mourning over the body of King Henry V. with the first indication of the feuds between Humphrey, Duke of Gloster, and Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester. Messenger then follows messenger with warning of perils in France; the third messenger, rising to a climax, tells of Talbot prisoner.
The historical date of the first scene being September, 1422, the news brought of the crowning of the Dauphin in Rheims slips over the death of Charles VI. on the twenty-first of October, 1422, to the crowning of Charles VII. on the twenty-seventh of July, 1429 ; while the battle of Patay, of which the third messenger brings news, was fought on the eighteenth of June, 1429. This was a poet's use of history, whereby Shakespeare very boldly, in plays wholly his own, drew afterwards the soul out of the accidents of life. Of the action of the second scene, the raising of the siege of Orleans, the historical date is the eighth of May, 1429. Faction at home is set in the fourth scene -based on an incident of October, 1426—between the third and fifth, which show the revival of French power by Joan of Arc.
In the Second Act the establishment of the factions of the Red and White Roses of Lancaster and York is set, in a scene wholly imagined by the poet, between the prowess of Talbot and a scene of the death of old Mortimer, which shows us how the feud began. The Mortimer of history did not die in confinement, and he was not an old man when he died.
King Henry VI. does not appear upon the stage till the Third Act, when he is in the Parliament at Leicester, which was held, historically, in the third year of his reign. He was at that time a child not fully five years old. In the play, of course, he is advanced to a stage of boybood more capable of thought, but still a child, who asks, “What, shall a child instruct you what to do?” Discords at home are shown before we turn again to the adventures of Talbot and the growing dangers of the situation in France. The danger last in evidence is the defection of Burgundy, of which the historical date was 1435. Then King Henry, in France, meets Talbot, and creates him Earl of Shrewsbury. The Third Act closes immediately afterwards with words of feud between two Englishmen.
The coronation of Henry VI. in Paris opens the Fourth Act. Its historical date is the seventeenth of December, 1430, when the king's age was about ten. Talbot's plucking of the Garter from the knec of Sir John Fastolfe brings courage and cowardice into dramatic contrast. When Shakespeare took the name of Falstaff to replace that of Sir John Oldcastle in his King Henry IV.” he had probably this piece of early work in mind. Sir John Fastolse really was accused of cowardice shown at the battle of Patay, and really was deprived of his Garter ; but it was restored to him after fair hearing of his case. The factious strife between the English is then still further emphasized by claims of right of combat between servants of the rival lords, and the scene ends with the comment of Exeter,
“ No simple man that sees
The rest of the Fourth Act shows how the rivalries of those who should have sent troops to Talbot stay their hands. Armies encompass the brave Englishman, and we are shown his end. It may have been Shakespeare who rhymed, as into a distinct idyll, the scene of the last hour between father and son.
The Fifth Act closes the play with terms of peace, with the condemnation of Joan of Arc, promise of homage to England by the King of France, and Suffolk's capture of Margaret of Anjou—in 1444, when her age was sixteen-yielding himself to her charms while resolving that she shall be Henry VI.'s queen.
Thus there is unity of plan in the construction of the play, and in its close we may find evidence of a design to carry on the tale, of ills that follow upon civil feud.
“The Second Part of King Henry VI." continues the course of history from the marriage of Henry VI. with
Margaret of Anjou, in the year 1445, to the “ Second Pare victory of the Duke of York at the first battle of King of St. Albans, on the twenty-third of May, 1455. Henry VI.”
It covers, therefore, a period of ten years, and its purpose is to set forth the development of civil war to the first shock of arms, the beginning of bloodshed. In the long war that followed the first battle of St. Albans, at which this play ends, there were twelve pitched battles, with a slaughter of the greater part of the nobility of England, including eighty princes of the blood.
“The Second Part of King Henry VI.," ascribed to Shakespeare, is simply a poet's transcript of the play published in 1594 as “The First Part of the Contention betwixt the two famous Houses of Yorke and Lancaster, with the death of the good Duke Humphrey : And the banishment and death of the Duke of Suffolke, and the Tragicall end of the proud Cardinall of Winchester, with the notable Rebellion of lacke Cade: And the Duke of Yorke's first claime ynto the Crowne. London : Printed by Thomas Creed, for Thomas Millington, and are to be sold at his shop vnder Saint Peters Church in Cornhill.” Of this edition of 1594 there was a reprint in 1600, with some corrections and some errors of carelessness, including the omission of about two dozen words. Of each of these editions there is a copy in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. There is also in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, an incomplete copy of another edition of 1600, printed, like the two already named, for Thomas Millington, with a few trifling variations
Whether the play known as “ The First Part of the