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Contention ” appears in its earliest form in the earliest edition known to us—that of 1594-admits of question. It may be argued that it is a result of Shakespeare's first handling of an original now lost, and that he went over it a second time for fuller development into the play now known as “ The Second Part of King Henry VI.” We may have, also, in “The Second Part of King Henry VI.,” not only occasional correction of misprints in the quarto of 1594, but restorations in some cases of a text which in that quarto had been mutilated by abridgment.
Fair allowance may be made for all such side considerations, including the possibility—I do not say the probability —that there may be something of Shakespeare in the old play of “The First Part of the Contention.” But to anyone who closely compares that old play with the version of it ascribed to Shakespeare as his “Second Part of King Henry VI.," one fact must become apparent. With the old play before him, Shakespeare copied it, revising as he went. He varied words, restored lost music to many lines, transposed passages—in every case with a distinct gain of dramatic power—and added lines of his own, sometimes long passages, where there are situations worth fuller poetical treatment than they have received. Some shorter additions were, no doubt, mere restorations of the old text where there were errors of omission in the quarto of 1594 ; but the new elaborations speak for and explain themselves. *
Shakespeare was not the only dramatist in Elizabeth's reign who could write vigorous lines of dramatic poetry. It does not at all follow that in an old play to which Shakespeare may have contributed, all the best lines were of his writing. It was not by the mere writing of good verses that Shakespeare grew to be the master-poet of the world; and when he revised these plays on the most desolating of our English civil wars he had not reached the fulness of his power. He was simply helping to lay stress upon the miseries of civil war at a time when many Englishmen began to dread that there might be civil war again, arising out of rival claims to the throne after the death of Queen Elizabeth.
* In my edition of the Plays of Shakespeare which forms part of “Cassell's National Library," I have endeavoured to make this clear. The earlier plays on which they were founded are printed in full, together with the Second and Third Parts of “King Henry VI." I have underscored also in each of those Parts the lines added by Shakespeare, so that the plays are read throughout with silent indication of the touch of Shakespeare's hand.
It was in 1595 that Samuel Daniel published “The First Fowre Books of the Civille Warres betweene the Two Houses of Lancaster and Yorke ; " it was in 1596 that Drayton began to describe in heroic verse “ The Lamentable Civell Warres of Edward the Second and the Barrons," upon which Marlowe had written a play. Thomas Lodge made also in those days a play upon the Civil Wars of Marius and Sylla ; and Shakespeare afterwards maintained an undernote that expressed miseries of civil war throughout
begins with the king aged twenty-three ; Suffolk, who has made truce with France, raised to a dukedom ; Margaret of Anjou received as queen in England, and her marriage declared fatal to England by Humphrey Duke of Gloster, the king's uncle and Lord Protector. The Duke of York and his friends, the Earls of Salisbury and Warwick, join in strong condemnation of the marriage. The scene then goes on to show the bitter feuds among the English nobles. Cardinal Beaufort hates Humphrey Duke of Gloster. The Dukes of Buckingham and Somerset will join with Beaufort and with Suffolk against Gloster, but each is then shown to be moved by selfish ambition. The scene ends with the ambition of the Duke of York. He--when Henry is in the arms of his “dear-bought queen,” and “ Humphrey with the peers be fallen at jars"-will "raise alost the milk-white rose,"
“And in my standard bear the arms of York,
To grapple with the House of Lancaster;
Here is a clear and firm opening of the subject, and in the original construction of the play its aim, as warning of the ills of civil war, was never, in any scene, lost sight of.
The second scene shows the loyalty and kindliness of the Duke of Gloster and the weak ambition of his wife. For her attainture Suffolk is practising, in hope that “her attainture will be Humphrey's fall." The third scene shows the Duke of Gloster's popularity ; the relations between Suffolk and Queen Margaret ; their league against the Protector ; the pious weakness of the king ; Court feuds and factions, which attack both the Duke of Gloster and the Duke of York. In the fourth scene the act closes with the arrest of the Duchess of Gloster for the use of witchcraft, as a thrust at the Protector by the Duke of York.
The Second Act continues the conspiracy for the overthrow of Gloster's influence. The Duke of York, to his friends Salisbury and Warwick, details his claim to the crown, but counsels secrecy:
“Do you as I do in these dangerous days,
Wink at the Duke of Suffolk's insolence,
At Buckingham, and all the crew of them,
The rest of the act sets forth-with the duel between Horner and Peter upon questions of the Duke of York's loyalty to the Crown-the condemnation and penance of Gloster's wife, Eleanor Cobham, and the summons of the Lord Protector to a Parliament called without his consent or knowledge.
The Third Act shows Humphrey of Gloster attacked in the Parliament by the false accusation of his enemies. The weak king yields to his arrest, Gloster is given into the custody of Cardinal Beaufort ; and his enemies, the Cardinal, Suffolk, and Queen Margaret--the Duke of York abetting-then devise his murder. At the same time the troubles in Ireland cause York to be sent thither as Regent, with command of troops. The Protector murdered, and sedition stirred up in
England by the Duke of York (through the headstrong Kentish man, Jack Cade, whom he has seduced to his purpose, and taught to personate a Mortimer as claimant of the throne), York can bring his troops to England, as if needed for the quelling of disorder. So he will
"reap the harvest which that rascal sowed :
The act ends with the murder of Humphrey Duke of Gloster ; the suspicion of the King and People ; tumults of Nobles and Commons; the banishment of Suffolk ; and the death of the Cardinal in torments of remorse.
The Fourth Act then sets forth the killing of the Duke of Suffolk, captured at sea, and the Jack Cade rebellion to the death of Cade.
The Fifth Act begins with the return of York from Ireland at the head of his troops —
“ From Ireland thus comes York, to claim his right
And pluck the crown from feeble Henry's head
and ends with a scene of civil war at the first battle of St. Albans. Old Clifford is killed in battle by the Duke of York, and the son's heart turned to stone at sight of his dead father —
“ York not our old men spares ; No more will I their babes."
The course of events has let slip the dogs of war, the first blood is drawn, the cruelty of civil war has laid its curse upon the land, and the play ends when it has reached that point towards which its whole action has been steadily directed. The plot is not of Shakespeare's framing, but the playwright by whom it was arranged worked as an artist. He was always mindful of his point of sight, and in his arrangement of its parts he never lost sense of the relation of each scene in a play to the whole design.
Shakespeare himself, in his own later plays, while painting wrongs and miseries of civil war, is not content to make the production of such a picture the sole motive of his work. Ripe artist, he arranges all his lines from a point of sight in some one simple truth of life, alike true yesterday, to-day, and to-morrow—some elementary principle that is, as much as his life-blood, possession alike of the ploughman and the king. It is true that behind the picture of the cruelty of civil war there lies a showing of the source of discord in self-seeking that, like Beaufort's, has put self in the place of God, and like York's, when he assents to the murder of . Gloster, has sacrificed to earthly gain man's duty to his neighbour. In the relations between Suffolk and Queen Margaret we see also the selfish satisfaction of the lower passions as a source of discord. But when we come to the close of this series of plays in “King Richard III.," which is more absolutely work of Shakespeare's fashioning, we shall see how such incidental harmony becomes essential, the whole play being so shaped as to set one great and simple truth of life at the heart of the story.
“The Third Part of King Henry VI.” was, like the Second Part, an old play revised. As the Second Part had followed the play printed in 1594—"The First Part of the Contention betwixt the two famous Thirt Houses of York and Lancaster ”—so the Third of King y » Part followed as closely the play printed in 1595. This was in fact, the Second Part of the Contention, but was separately entitled, “The True Tragedie of Richard, Duke of Yorke, and the death of good King Henrie the Sixt with the whole contention betweene the two Houses of Lancaster and Yorke, as it was sundrie times acted by the Right Honourable Earl of Pembrooke his servants. Printed at London by P. S. for Thomas Millington, and are to be solde at his shoppe vnder Saint Peter's Church in Cornhill. 1595.” “ The True Tragedie" is the original of Shakespeare's “ Third Part of King Henry VI.," which begins where it begins, ends where it ends.
There seems to be good evidence of Marlowe's mind