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KING HENRY THE FIFTH.

PRELIMINARY REMARKS.

The transactions comprised in this play commence about the latter end of the first, and terminate in the eighth year of this king's reign; when he married Katharine, princess of France, and closed up the differences betwixt England and that crown.

This play, in the quarto edition of 1608, is styled The Chronicle History of Henry, &c., which seems to have been the title appropriated to all Shakspeare's historical dramas. Thus in The Antipodes, a comedy by R. Brome :

“ These lads can act the emperor's lives all over,

And Shakspeare's Chronicled Histories to boot." The players, likewise, in the folio of 1623, rank these pieces under the title of Histories.

It is evident that a play on this subject had been performed before the year 1592. Nash, in his Pierce Penniless, dated in that year, says, “What a glorious thing it is to have Henry the Fift represented on the stage, leading the French king prisoner, and forcing both him and the Dolphin to sweare fealtie!” Perhaps this same play was thus entered on the books of the Stationers' Company :-“ Thomas Strode] May 2, 1594. A booke entituled The famous Victories of Henry the Fift, containing the honourable Battle of Agincourt." There are two more entries of a play of King Henry V., viz. between 1596 and 1615, and one August 14, 1600. Malone had an edition printed in 1598; and Steevens had two copies of this play, one without date, and the other dated 1617, both printed by Bernard Alsop: from one of these it was reprinted, in 1778, among “ Six Old Plays on which Shakspeare founded,” &c., published by Mr. Nichols. It is thought that this piece is prior to Shakspeare's King Henry V., and that it is the very “displeasing play” alluded to in the epilogue to the Second Part of King Henry IV., “ for Oldcastle died a martyr," &c. Oldcastle is the Falstaff of the piece, which is despicable, and full of ribaldry and impiety. Shakspeare seems to have taken not a few hints from it; for it comprehends, in some measure, the story of the two parts of King Henry IV. as well as of King Henry V.; and no ignorance could debase the gold of Shakspeare into such dross, though no chemistry, but that of Shakspeare, could exalt such base metal into gold. This piece must have been performed before the year 1588, Tarlton, the comedian, who played both the parts of the chief justice and the clown in it, having died in that year.

This anonymous play of King Henry V. is neither divided into acts or scenes, is uncommonly short, and has all the appearance of having been imperfectly taken down during the representation. VOL. IV.

15

There is a play called Sir John Oldcastle, published in 1600, with the name of William Shakspeare prefixed to it. The prologue serves to show that a former piece, in which the character of Oldcastle was introduced, had given great offence:

“ The doubtful title (gentlemen) prefixt
Upon the argument we have in hand,
May breed suspense, and wrongfully disturbe
The peaceful quiet of your settled thoughts.
To stop which scruple, let this breefe suffice:
It is no pampered glutton we present,
Nor aged councellour to youthful sinne ;
But one whose vertue shone above the rest,
A valiant martyr and a vertuous peere ;
In whose true faith and loyalty exprest
Unto his soveraigne, and his countries weale,
We strive to pay that tribute of our love
Your favours merit: let faire truth be graced,
Since forged invention former time defaced.”

scene.

66

Shakspeare's play, according to Malone, seems to have been written in the middle of the year 1599. There were three quarto editions in the Poet's lifetime-1600, 1602, and 1608. In all of them the choruses are omitted, and the play commences with the fourth speech of the second

King Henry the Fifth is visibly the favorite hero of Shakspeare in English history. He portrays him endowed with every chivalrous and kingly virtue ; open, sincere, affable, yet still disposed to innocent raillery, as a sort of reminiscence of his youth, in the intervals between his dangerous and renowned achievements. To bring his life, after his ascent to the crown, on the stage was, however, attended with great difficulty. The conquests in France were the only distinguished events of his reign; and war is much more an epic than a dramatic object. If we would have dramatic interest, war must only be the means by which something else is accomplished, and not the last aim and substance of the whole.” In King Henry the Fifth, no opportunity was afforded Shakspeare of rendering the issue of the war dramatic ; but he has availed himself of other circumstances attending it, with peculiar care. “ Before the battle of Agincourt, he paints in the most lively colors the light-minded impatience of the French leaders for the moment of battle, which to them seemed infallibly the moment of victory ; on the other hand, he paints the uneasiness of the English king and his army, from their desperate situation, coupled with the firm determination, if they are to fall, at least to fall with honor. He applies this as a general contrast between the French and English national characters; a contrast which betrays a partiality for his own nation, certainly excusable in a poet, especially when he is backed with such a glorious, document as that of the memorable battle in question. He has surrounded the general events of the war with a fulness of individual characteristic, and even sometimes comic features. A heavy Scotchman, a hot Irishman, a well-meaning, honorable, pedantic Welshman, all speaking in their peculiar dialects. But all this variety still seemed to the Poet insufficient to animate a play of which the object was a conquest, and nothing but a conquest. He has, therefore, tacked a prologue (in the technical language of that day, a chorus) to the beginning of each act. These prologues, which unite epic pomp and solemnity with lyrical sublimity, and among which the description of the two camps before the battle of Agincourt forms a most admirable night-piece, are intended to keep the spectators constantly in mind that the peculiar grandeur of the actions there described cannot be developed on a narrow stage; and that they must supply the deficiencies of the representation from their own imaginations. As the subject was not properly dramatic, in the form, also, Shakspeare chose rather to wander beyond the bounds of the species, and to sing as a poetic herald, what he could not represent to the eye, than to cripple the progress of the action by putting long speeches in the mouths of the persons of the drama.

“ However much Shakspeare celebrates the French conquest of king Henry, still he has not omitted to hint to us, after his way, the secret springs of this undertaking. Henry was in want of foreign wars to secure himself on the throne; the clergy also wished to keep him employed abroad, and made an offer of rich contributions to prevent the passing of a law which would have deprived them of the half of their revenues. His learned bishops are consequently as ready to prove to him his undisputed right to the crown of France, as he is to allow his conscience to be tranquillized by them. They prove that the Salic law is not, and never was, applicable to France; and the matter is treated in a more succinct and convincing manner than such subjects usually are in manifestoes. After his renowned battles, Henry wished to secure his conquests by marriage with a French princess; all that has reference to this is intended for irony in the play. The fruit of this union, from which two nations promised to themselves such happiness in future, was that very feeble Henry the Sixth, under whom every thing was so miserably lost. It must not, therefore, be imagined that it was without the knowledge and will of the Poet that an heroic drama turns out a comedy in his hands; and ends, in the manner of comedy, with a marriage of convenience.”

* Schlegel.

PERSONS REPRESENTED.

King HENRY THE FIFTH.
Duke of Gloster, Brothers to the King.
Duke of Exeter, Uncle to the King.
Duke of York, Cousin to the King.
Earls of Salisbury, Westmoreland, and Warwick.
Archbishop of Canterbury.
Bishop of Ely.
Earl of Cambridge,
LORD SCROOP,

Conspirators against the King.
Sır THOMAS GREY,
Sir Thomas ERPINGHAM,
GOWER,

Officers in King Henry's
FLUELLEN,

Army.
MACMORRIS,
JAMY,
BATES,
COURT,

Soldiers in the same.
WILLIAMS,
NYM,
BARDOLPH,
formerly Servants to Falstaff, now Soldiers

in the same.
PISTOL,
Boy, Servant to them.
A Herald. Chorus.

[blocks in formation]

Isabel, Queen of France.
KATHARINE, Daughter of Charles and Isabel.
Alice, a Lady attending on the Princess Katharine.
QUICKLY, Pistol's Wife, an Hostess.

Lords, Ladies, Officers, French and English Soldiers,

Messengers, and Attendants.

The SCENE, at the beginning of the Play, lies in Eng

land; but afterwards wholly in France.

KING HENRY THE FIFTH.

Enter CHORUS.

O, FOR a muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention !
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act,
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene !
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars; and, at his heels,
Leashed in like hounds, should famine, sword, and fire,
Crouch for employment. But pardon, gentles all,
The flat, unraised spirit, that hath dared,
On this unworthy scaffold, to bring forth
So great an object. Can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France ? or may we cram
Within this wooden 0,' the very casques,
That did affright the air at Agincourt ?
O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
Attest, in little place, a million ;
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces ? work.
Suppose, within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high, upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous, narrow ocean parts asunder.
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts ;
Into a thousand parts divide one man,
And make imaginary puissance ;
Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them

1 0, for circle, alluding to the circular form of the theatre.

2 Imaginary forces." Imaginary for imaginative, or your powers of fancy.

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