Clown sings.
When that I was and a litlle tiny boy,

With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,

For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came to man's estate,

With hey, ho, the wind and the rain, 'Gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gate,

For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came, alas ! to wive,

With hey, ho, the wind and the rain, By swaggering could I never thrive,

For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came unto my bed,

With hey, ho, the wind and the rain, With toss-pots still had drunken head,

For the rain it raineth every day.

A great while ago the world begun,

With a hey, ho, the wind and the rain: But that's all one, our play is done,

And we'll strive to please you every day.

[Exit R. JOHNSON rightly observes that the First and Second Parts of

being arranged as two only because too long to be one. For thiis cause it seems best to regard them as one in the introductory matter, and so dispose of them both together. The writing of them must be placed at least as early as 1597, when the author was thirty-three years old. The First Part was registered at the Stationers' for publication in February, 1598, and was published in the course of that year. It was reprinted in 1599, and again in 1604; also a fourth time in 1608, and a fifth in 1613. In the first issue the authorship was not stated; but each later issue has the name of “ W. Shake-speareprinted in the title-page as the author. The Second Part was first published in 1600, and there is not known to have been any other edition of it till it reappeared along with the First Part in the folio of 1623.

It is beyond question that the original name of Sir John Falstaff was Sir John Oldcastle ; and a curious relic of that name survives in Act i, scene 2, where the Prince calls Falstaff“my old lad of the castle." And we have several other strong proofs of the fact; as, for instance, in Amends for Ladies, a play by Nathaniel Field, printed in 1618: "Did you never see the play where the fat Knight, hight Oldcastle, did tell you truly what this honour was ?” which clearly alludes to Falstaff's soliloquy about honour in Part First, Act v. scene 1. Yet it is cer tain that the change from Oldcastle to Falstaff was made before the play was entered at the Stationers' in 1598, as that entry mentions "the conceited mirth of Sir John Falstaff.” Nor is there any doubt that the Second Part was written before that change was made ; for in the quarto edition of this Part, Act i. scene 2, one of Falstaff's speeches has the prefix Old; the change in that instance being probably left unmarked in the printer's copy. All which shows that both Parts were written long enough before February, 1598, for the Poet to see cause for changing the name. — “Sir John Oldcastle, the good Lord Cobham,” was much distinguished as a Wickliffite martyr, and was in bigh favour with the Reformers. Fuller, in his Church History, complains of the liberties taken by stage-poets with Oldcastle's name and memory ; but adds that Falstaff has been “substituted buffoon in his place.” Probably the respect in which the man's memory was held induced Shakespeare to change the name.

In the folio, the text of the First Part does not differ greatly from that of the quartos; and the quarto text is regarded by many as the better of the two. the Second Part the folio text is much the better, some of the finest passages having first appeared in that edition. And there are many smaller differences; these, too, of such a nature as to infer that the folio must have been printed from an independent manuscript, and that the play had been revised by the author.

In these two plays, as in others of the same class, the Poet's author. ity was Holinshed, whose Chronicles, first published in 1577, were then the favourite book in English history. And the plays, notwithstanding their wealth of ideal matter, are rightly called historical, because the history everywhere guides, and in a good measure forms, the plot; whereas Macbeth, for instance, though having much of historical matter, is rightly called a tragedy, as the history merely subserves the plot.

King Henry IV., surnamed Bolingbroke from the place of bis birth


came to the throne in 1399, having first deposed his cousin Richard II., whose death he was thought to have procured shortly atter. The chief agents in this usurpation were the Percys, known as Northumberland, Worcester, and Hotspur; three haughty and turbulent noblemen, who afterwards troubled Henry to keep the crown, as much as they had helped him in getting it. The lineal heir, next after Richard, was Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, a lad then about seven years old, whom the King held in a sort of honourable custody. Early in his reign, one of the King's partisans in Wales went to wronging Owen Glendower, a chief of that country, who had been trained up in the English Court. Glendower petitioned for redress, and was insultingly denied; whereupon he took the work of redress into his own hands. Sir Edmund Mortimer, uncle to the young Earl of March, and brother to Hotspur's wife, was sent against him; but his forces were utterly broken, and himself held in confinement by Glendower, where the King suffered him to lie unransomed ; alleging that he had treacherously allowed himself to be taken. Shakespeare, however, following Holinshed, makes the young Earl, who was then detained at Windsor, to have been Glendower's prisoner. After the captivity of Mortimer, the King led three armies in succession against Glendower, and was as often baffled by the Welshman. At length the elements made war on the King ; his forces were storm-stricken, blown to pieces by tempests; which bred a general belief that Glendower could mand the Devil," and “call spirits from the vasty deep." The King finally gave up and withdrew; but still consoled himself that he yielded, not to the arms, but to the magic arts of his antagonist. In the beginning of his reign the King led an army into Scotland, and summoned the Scottish King to appear before him, and do homage for his crown; but, finding that the Scots would neither submit nor fight, and being pressed by famine, he gave over the undertaking and retired. Some while after, Earl Douglas, at the head of ten thousand men, burst into England and advanced as far as Newcastle, spreading terror and havoc around him. On their return, they were met by the Percys at Homildon, where, after a fierce and bloody battle, the Scots were utterly routed; Douglas himself being captured, as were also many other Scottish noblemen, and among them the Earl of Fite, a prince of the blood royal. The most distinguished of the English leaders in this affair was Henry Percy, surnamed Hotspur ; a man of the most daring and impetuous spirit, who first armed at the age of twelve years, after which time, it is said, his spur was never cold. Of the other events, suffice it to say, that they are much the same in history as in the drama. The battle of Homildon was fouglit September 14th, 1402; which marks the beginning of the play. Thu battle of Shrewsbury, which closes the First Part, took place July 21st, 1403; Prince Henry being then only sixteen years old. The King died March 19th, 1413; so that the iwo plays cover a period of about ten years and a half. Various other points of the history are given from time to time in the foot-notes.

If these two plays are substantially one, it is the character of Prince Henry that makes them so; that is, they have their unity in him. It is well known that this man’s deportment as king was in narked contrast with his course while Prince of Wales. The change in him, on coming to the throne, was indeed so great and so sudden as to be popularly ascribed to a miracle of grace. Shakespeare knew that the day of miracles was passed. He also knew that without a miracle such a sudden revolution of character could not be. And so his idea clearly was, that the change was not really in his character, but only superinduced upon it by change of position ; that his excellent quali.

ties were but disguised from the world in clouds of loose behaviour, which, when the time came, he threw off, and appeared as he really was. To translate the reason and process of this change into dra. matic form and expression, was the problem which the Poet undertook in these two plays. In his delineation of the Prince, Shakespeare followed the historians as far as they gave him any solid ground to go upon : where they failed him, he supplied the matter from his own stores. Now, in all reason, Prince Hal must have had companions in the sprees that are related of him ; for no man of sense goes into such transports of frolic and fun alone. But of the particular persons, “unlettered, rude, and shallow," with whom he had “his hours fill'd up with riots, banquets, sports,” nothing was known, not even their names. So that the Poet had no way to set forth this part of the man's life but by creating one or more representative characters, concentrating in them such a fund of mental attraction as might overcome the natural repugnance of an upright and noble mind to their vices. Which is just what the Poet does in this work. And his method was, to embody in imaginary forms that truth of which the actual forms had not been preserved; for, as Hallam well observes, “ What he invented is as truly historical, in the large sense of moral history, as what he read.”

Accordingly Falstaff may, I think, be justly set down as having all the intellectual qualities that enter into the composition of practical wisdom, without one of the moral. If to his understanding were joined an imagination equal, it is hardly too much to say he would be as great a poet as Shakespeare. And in all this we have, it seems to me, just the right constituents of pertect fitness for the dramatic purpose and exigency which his character was meant to answer. In his solid, clear understanding, his discernment and large experience, his fulness and quickness of wit and resource, and his infinite humour, - an inexhaustible magazine of mental fascinations, - what were else dark in the life of Prince Henry is made plain ; and we can hardly fail to see how he is drawn to what is in itself bad indeed, yet drawn in virtue of something within him that still promotes him in our esteem. I must add, withal, that hugely as we delight to be with Falstaff, he is nevertheless just about the last man that any one would wish to resemble; which fact, as I take it, is enough of itself to keep the pleasure of his part free from any moral infection or taint.

Falstaff and his Eastcheap associates are altogether the greatest triumph of the comic Muse that the whole world has to show. In this judgment I believe that all who have fairly conversed' with the irresistible old sinner are agreed. There is much indeed to be said of him, and he is a most inviting theme for analytic description ; but I must leave him with the remarks of Schlegel:

“Falstaff is the crown of Shakespeare's comic invention. He has, without exhausting himself, continued this character throughout three plays, and exhibited him in every variety of situation; the figure is drawn so definitely and individually, that even to the mere reader it conveys a clear impression of personal acquaintance. Falstaff is the most agreeable and entertaining knave that ever was portrayed. We see that his tender care of himself is without any mixture of malice towards others : he will only not be disturbed in the pleasant repose of his sensuality ; and this he obtains through the activity of his understanding. Always on the alert, and good-humoured; ever ready to crack jokes on others, and to enter into those of which he is himself the subject; so that he justly boasts of being not only wilty himself, but the cause of wit in others; – he is an adınirable

[ocr errors]

coinpanion for youthful idleness and levity. Under a helpless exte rior he conceals an extremely acute mind; he has always at com. mand some dexterous turn whenever any of his free jokes begin to give displeasure ; he is shrewd in his distinctions between those wliose tavour he has to win and those over whom he may assume a familiar authority. He is so convinced that the part he plays can only pass under the cloak of wit, that even when alone he is never altogether serious, but gives the drollest colouring to his intrigues, his intercourse with others, and to his own sensual philosophy.”.

The characters of the King, of Hotspur, Glendower, the Chief Justice, and the Archbishop, not to mention others, are delivered in admirable keeping with historic truth, yet with as much freshness and originality of conception as if they had been purely the creatures of the Poet's own mind. Hotspur, especially, is a marvel of stalwart And emphatic individuality. He is as much a monarch in his sphere as the King and Falstaff are in theirs ; only they rule more by power, he by stress. Who that has been with him in the scenes at the Palace and at Bangor, can ever forget his bounding, sarcastic, overbearing spirit? How he hits all about him, and makes the feathers fly wherever he hits! And how steeped his speech everywhere is in the poetry of the sword! In what compact and sinewy platoons and squadrons the words march out of his mouth in bristling rank and file, as if from his birth he had been cradled on the iron breast of war! Whether from something in himself, or from the king's treatment of him, Hotspur has our good-will from the start; nor is it without some reluctance that we set the Prince above him in our regard. Glendower is represented, with great art and equal truth, according to the superstitious belief of his time,

-a belief wherein himself doubtless shared ; for if the winds and tempests came when he wished them, it was natural for him to think, as others thought, that they came because he wished them. The popular ideas respecting him all belonged to the region of poetry; and Shakespeare gives them with remarkable exactness, at the same time penetrating and filling them with his own spirit.

Prince Henry was evidently a great favourite with the Poet. And he makes him equally so with his readers ; pouring the full wealth of his genius upon him ; centering in him almost every manly grace and virtue ; and presenting him as the mirror of Christian princes and loadstar of honour; a model at once of a hero, a gentleman, and a sage. The Prince was in fact some twenty years younger than Hotspur. Such a difference of age would naturally foreclose any rivalry between them ; and one of the Poet's most judicious departures from literal truth is in approximating their ages, that such intluences might have a chance to work. It is under the inspirations of a great occasion that the Prince's many-sided, harmonious manhood begins fully to unfold itself. He has before discovered forces answering to all the attractions of Falstaff. But the issue proves that lie lias far better forces, which sleep, indeed, during the absence, but spring forth at the coming, of their proper stimulants and opportunities. In the closethronging dangers that beset his father's throne he has noble work 10 do; in the thick-clustering honours of Horspur, noble motives for doing it; and the two together furnish those more congenial attractions whereby he is gradually detached from a life of hunt-sport, and drawn up into the nobly-proportioned beauty with which both poetry and history have invested him. Of course I cannot dwell on the many gentle and heroic qualities which make up his well-rounded, beautiful combination. Great without etfort, and good without think ing of it, lie is indeed a noble ornament of the princely character.

« VorigeDoorgaan »