« PreviousContinue »
KING HENRY THE FIFTH.
INTRODUCTION, AND NOTES EXPLANATORY AND CRITICAL.
FOR USE IN SCHOOLS AND FAMILIES.
REV. HENRY N. HUDSON, LL.D.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1880, by
HENRY N. HUDSON, in the office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
PRESSWORK BY GINN & Co., Boston.
History of the Play.
THE LIFE OF HENRY THE FIFTH, as it is called in the
1 folio of 1623, was registered, along with As You Like It, at the Stationers', August 4, 1600, but was locked up from the press under an order “to be stayed.” In respect of As You Like It the stay seems to have been continued ; but not so in regard to the other, as this was entered again on the 14th of the same month, and was published in the course of that year. The same text was reissued in 1602, and again in 1608. In these editions, known as the quartos, the author's name was not given : the play, moreover, was but about half as long as we have it; the Choruses, the whole of the first scene, and also many other passages, those too among the best in the play, and even in the whole compass of the the Poet's works, being wanting altogether. All these, besides more or less of enlargement in a great many places, together with the marks of a careful finishing hand running through the whole, were supplied in the folio of 1623 ; which, accordingly, is our only authority for the text, though the quartos yield valuable aid towards correcting the errors and curing the defects of that copy.
That the issue of 1600 was surreptitious is on all hands allowed. But there has been much controversy whether it was printed from a full and perfect copy of the play as first written, or from a mangled and mutilated copy, such as could be made up by unauthorized and incompetent reporters. Many things might be urged on either side of this question ; but, as no certain conclusion seems likely to be reached, the discussion probably may as well be spared. Perhaps the most considerable argument for the former position is, that the quarto has in some cases several consecutive lines precisely as they stand in the folio ; while, on the other hand, of many of the longest and best passages in the folio the quarto has no traces whatever. But this is nowise decisive of the point either way, because, granting that some person or persons undertook to report the play as spoken, it is not impossible that he or they may have taken down some parts very carefully, and omitted others altogether. And the Editors of the folio tell us in their Preface that there were “ divers stolen and surreptitious copies, maimed and deformed by the frauds and stealths of injurious impostors that exposed them.”
And here it may not be unfitting to remark that in other cases, as especially in Hamlet, we have strong and even conclusive evidence of the Poet's plays having been carefully rewritten and vastly improved after the original draughts of them had been made. Nor is it unlikely that some of them underwent this process more than once. And the fact is of consequence as refuting what used to be, and perhaps still is, the common notion, that Shakespeare's best workmanship was struck out with little or no labour of reflection and study. Assuredly it was not without severe and patient exercise of thought that he achieved his miracles of poetry and art, and won his place as the greatest of human intellects. We have been taught to think of him as a prodigy of genius going rather by nature and instinct than by reason and purpose, and beating all other men because he could not help it : whereas in truth his judgment was fully equal to his genius; and his greatness stands in nothing else so much as in just that solidity and sobriety of understanding which comes by industry and application, and by making the best use of one's native gifts. And the instance of King Henry the Fifth yields pregnant matter in this behalf; the difference between the quarto and folio copies in that case not being greater than between the first and second quartos of Hamlet.
In the Epilogue to King Henry the Fourth the speaker says, “Our humble author will continue the story, with Sir John in it, and make you merry with fair Catharine of France." Whether this promise was directly authorized by Shakespeare, we cannot positively say, as that Epilogue was probably not of his writing ; but there is little doubt that the play to which it is affixed was written as early as 1597. That the play now in hand was written soon after the date of that promise, is highly probable. On the other hand, in the Chorus to Act v. we have the following:
Were now the general of our gracious Empress —
This undoubtedly refers to the Earl of Essex, who went on
returned in September following. That Chorus, therefore, and probably the others also, was written somewhere between those two dates. The most likely conclusion, then, seems to be, that the first draught of the play was made in 1597 or 1598; that the whole was rewritten, enlarged, and the Choruses added during the absence of Essex, in the Summer of 1599 ; and that a copy of the first draught was