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THE play of Henry VIII. is one of those which still keeps pos session of the stage by the splendour of its pageantry. The · coronation, about forty years ago, drew the people together in multitudes for a great part of the winter. Yet pomp is not the only merit of this play. The meek sorrows and virtuous distress of Katharine have furnished some scenes which may be justly numbered among the greatest efforts of tragedy. But the genius of Shakspeare comes in and goes out with Katharine. Every other part may be easily conceived and easily written.
The historical dramas are now concluded, of which the two parts of Henry IV. and Henry V. are among the happiest of our author's compositions; and King John, Richard III. and Henry VIII. deservedly stand in the second class. Those whose curiosity would refer the historical scenes to their original, may consult Holinshed, and sometimes Hall. From Holinshed, Shakspeare has often inserted whole speeches with no more alteration than was necessary to the numbers of his verse. To transcribe them into the margin was unnecessary, because the original is easily examined, and they are seldom less perspicuous in the poet than in the historian.
To play histories, or to exhibit a succession of events by action and dialogue, was a common entertainment among our rade ancestors upon great festivities *. The parish clerks once performed at Clerkenwell a play which lasted three days, containing the History of the Worlā.
* It appears that the tradesmen of Chester were three days employed in the representation of twenty-four Whitsun plays or mysteries. See Mr. Markland's Disquisition, prefixed to his very elegant and interesting selection from the Chester Mysteries, printed for private distribution; which may be consulted in the third volume of the late edition of Malone's Shakspeare, by Mr. Boswell. The Coventry Mysteries must have taken up a longer time, as they were no less than forty in number.
Mr. Steevens informs us that Shakspeare received the greater part of the materials that were used in the construction of this play from the Troy Book of Lydgate. It is presumed that the learned commentator would have been nearer the fact had be substituted the Troy Book, or Recueyl, translated by Caxton from Raoul Le Fevre; which, together with a translation of Honner, supplied the incidents of the Trojan war. Lydgate's work was becoming obsolete, whilst the other was at this time in the prime of its vigour. From its first publication, to the year 1619, it had passed through six editions, and continued to be popular even in the eighteenth century. Mr. Steevens is still les accurate in stating Le Fevre's work to be a translation from Guido of Colonna; for it is only in the latter part that he has made any use of him. Yet Guido actually had a French translation before the time of Raoul; which translation, though never printed, is remaining in MS. under the whimsical title of “La Vie de la pitieuse Destruction de la noble et superlative Cité de Troye le grant. Translatée en François l'an MCCCLXXX.” Such part of the present play as relates to the loves of Troilus and Cressida was most probably taken from Chaucer, as no other work, accessible to Shakspeare, could have supplied bim with what was necessary. This account is by MR. Douce, from whom also what follows on this subject is abstracted.
Chaucer, in his Troilus and Creseide, asserts that he followed Lollius, and that he translated from the Latin; but who Lollius was, and when he lived, we have no certain indication, though Dryden boldly asserts that he was an historiographer of Urbino,
in Italy, and wrote in Latin verse. Nothing can be more apparent than that the Filostrato of Boccaccio afforded Chaucer the fable and characters of his poem, and even numerous passages appear to be mere literal translations; but there are large additions in Chaucer's work, so that it is possible be may have followed a free Latin version, which may have had for its author Lollius.
Boccaccio does not give his poem as a translation, and we must therefore suppose him to have been the inventor of the fable, until we have more certain indications respecting Lollius. So much of it as relates to the departure of Cressida from Troy, and her subsequent amour with Diomed, is to be found in the Troy Book of Guido of Colonna, composed in 1287, and, as he states, from Dares Phrygius, and Dicty's Cretensis, neither of whom mention the name of Cressida. Mr. Tyrwhitt conjectured, and Mr. Douce confirmed the conjecture, that Guido's Dares was in reality an old Norman poet, named Benoit de Saint More, who wrote in the reign of our Henry the Second, and who himself made use of Dares. Guido is said to have come into England, where he found the Metrical Romance of Benoit, and translated it into Latin prose; and, following a practice too prevalent in the middle ages, he dishonestly suppressed the mention of his real original. Benoit's work exists also in a prose French version. And there is a compilation also in French prose, by Pierre de Beauvau, from the Filostrato.
Lydgate professedly followed Guido of Colonna, occasionally making use of and citing other authorities. In a short time after Raoul le Fevre compiled from various materials his Recueil des Histoires de Troye, which was translated into English and published by Caxton: but neither of these authors have given any more of the story of Troilus and Cressida than
of the other romances on the war of Troy; Lydgate contenting himself with referring to Chaucer.
Chaucer having made the loves of Troilus and Cressida famous, Shak speare was induced to try their fortunes on the stage. Lydgate's Troy Book was printed by Pynson in 1519. In the books of the Stationers' Company, anno 1581, is entered
A proper Ballad dialoguewise betwen Troilus and Cressida.' Again, by J. Roberts, Feb. 7, 1602: "The Booke of Troilus and Cressida, as it is acted by my Lord Chamberlain's men.' And