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THE transactions contained in this historical drama are comprised within the period of about ten months; for the action commences with the news brought of Hotspur having defeated the Scots under Archibald earl of Douglas at Holmedon, (or Halidown-hill,) which battle was fought on Holy-rood day, (the 14th of September,) 1402; and it closes with the defeat and death of Hotspur at Shrewsbury; which engagement happened on Saturday the 21st of July, (the eve of Saint Mary Magdalen,) in the year 1403. THEOBALD.
This play was first entered at Stationers' Hall, Feb. 25, 1597, by Andrew Wise. Again, by M. Woolff, Jan. 9. 1598. For the piece supposed to have been its original, see Six old Plays on which Shakspeare founded, &c. pubished for S. Leacroft, Charing-Cross. STEEVENS.
Shakspeare has apparently designed a regular connection of these dramatic histories from Richard the Second to Henry the Fifth. King Henry, at the end of Richard the Second, declares his purpose to visit the Holy Land, which
he resumes in the first speech of this play. The complaint made by King Henry in the last Act of Richard the Second, of the wildness of his son, prepares the reader for the frolics which are there to be recounted, and the characters which are now to be exhibited. JOHNSON.
The persons of the drama were originally collected by Mr. Rowe, who has given the title of Duke of Lancaster to Prince John, a mistake which Shakspeare has been no where guilty of in the first part of this play, though in the second he has fallen into the same error. King Henry IV. was himself the last person that ever bore the title of Duke of Lancaster. But all his sons, (till they had peerages, as Clarence, Bedford, Gloucester) were distinguished by the name of the royal house, as John of Lancaster, Humphrey of Lancaster, &c. and in that proper style, the present John (who became afterwards so illustrious by the title of Duke of Bedford) is always mentioned in the play before us. STEEVENS. This comedy was written. I believe, in the year 1597. MALONE.
KING HENRY IV.
I fancy every reader, when he ends this play, cries out with Desdemona, "O most lame and impotent
In that Jerusalem shall Harry die.
These scenes, which now make the fifth act of Henry the Fourth, might then be the first of Henry the Fifth: but the truth is, they do not unite very commodiously to either play. When these plays were represented, I believe they ended as they are now ended in the books; but Shakspeare seems to have designed that the whole series of action, from the beginning of Richard the Second, to the end of Henry the Fifth, should be considered by the reader as one work, upon one plan, only broken into parts by the necessity of exhibition.
None of Shakspeare's plays are more read than the First and Second Parts of Henry the Fourth. Perhaps no author has ever, in two plays, afforded so inuch delight. The great events are interesting, for the fate of kingdoms depend upon them; the sighter occurrences are diverting, and, except one or two, sufficiently probable; the incidents are multiplied with wonderful fertility of invention; and the characters diversified with the utmost nicety of discernment, and the profoundest skill in the nature of man.
The prince, who is the hero both of the comic and tragic part, is a young man of great abilities, and violent passions, whose sentiments are right, though his actions are wrong; whose virtues are obscured by negligence, and whose understanding is dissipated by levity. In his idle hours he is rather loose than wicked; and when the occasion forces out his latent qualities, he is great without effort, and brave without tumult. The trifler is roused into a hero, and the hero again reposes in the trifler. The character is great, original, and just.
Percy is a rugged soldier, choleric and quarrelsome, and has only the soldier's virtues, generosity and courage. But Falstaff! unimitated, unimitable Falstaff! how shall I describe thee? thou compound of sense and vice; of sense which may be admired, but not esteemed; of vice which may be despised, but hardly detested. Falstaff' is a character loaded with faults, and with those faults which naturally produce contempt. He is a thief and a glutton, a coward and a boaster; always ready to chent the weak, and prey upon the poor; to terrify the timorous, and insult the defenceless. At once obsequious and malignant, be satírizes in their absence those whom he lives by Cattering. He is familiar with the prince only as an agent of vice; but of this familiarity he is so proud, as not only to be supercilious and haughty with common men, but to think his interest of importance to the duke of Lancaster. Yet the man thus corrupt, thus despicable, makes himself necessary to the prince that despises him, by the most pleasing of all qualities, perpetual gaiety: by an unfailing power of exciting laughter, which is the more freely indulged, as his wit is not of the splendid or ambitious kind, but consists in easy scapes and sallies of levity, which make sport, but raise no envy. It must be observed, that he is stained with no enormous or sanguinary crimes, so that his licentiousness is not so offensive but thaf it may be borne for his mirth.
The moral to be drawn from this representation is, that no man is more dangerous than he that, with a will to corrupt, hath the power to please; and that neither wit nor honesty ought to think themselves safe with such a companion, when they see Henry seduced by Falstaff. Johnson.
KING HENRY THE FOURTH
Sons to the King.
EARL OF WESTMORELAND, Friends to the King.
SIR WALTER BLUNT,
THOMAS PERCY, Earl of Worcester.
HENRY PERCY, surnamed HOTSPUR, his Son.
SCROOP, Archbishop of York.
ARCHIBALD, Earl of Douglas.
SIR RICHARD VERNON,
SCENE I.-London. A Room in the Palace.
K. Hen. So shaken as we are, so wan with care,
Shall daub her lips with her own children's blood;
To chase these pagans, in those holy fields,
West. My liege, this haste was hot in question,
Brake off our business for the Holy Land.