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" AN's Well that Ends Well is the old story of a young maiden whose love looked much higher than her station. She obtains her lover in marriage from the hand of the King, as a reward for curing him of a hopeless and lingering disease, by means of a hereditary arcanum of her father, who had been in his lifetime a celebrated physician. The young man despises her virtue and beauty; concludes the marriage only in appearance, and seeks in the dangers of war, deliverance from a domestic happiness which wounds his pride. By faithful endurance and an innocent fraud, she fulfils the apparently impossible conditions on which the Count had promised to acknowledge her as his wife. Love appears here in humble guise ; the wooing is on the woman's side; it is striving, unaided by a reciprocal inclination, to overcome the prejudices of birth. But as soon as Helena is united to the Count by a sacred bond, though by him considered an oppressive chain, her error becomes her virtue. She affects us by her patient suffering: the moment in which she appears to most advantage is when she accuses herself as the persecutor of her inflexible husband, and, under the pretext of a pilgrimage to atone for her error, privately leaves the house of her mother-in-law. Johnson expresses a cordial aversion for Count Bertram, and regrets that he should be allowed to come off at last with no other punishment than a temporary shame, nay, even be rewarded with the unmerited possession of a virtuous wife. But has Shakspeare ever attempted to soften the impression made by his unfeeling pride and lighthearted perversity? He has but given him the good qualities of a soldier. And does not the poet paint the true way of the world, which never makes much of man's injustice to woman, if so-called family honour is preserved? Bertram's sole justification is, that by the exercise of arbitrary power, the King thought proper to constrain him, in a matter of such delicacy and private right as the choice of a wife. Besides, this story, as well as that of Grissel and many similar ones, is intended to prove that woman's truth and patience will at last triumph over man's abuse of his superior power, while other novels and fabliaux are, on the other hand, true satires on woman's inconsistency and cunning. In this piece old age is painted with rare favour ; the plain honesty of the King, the good-natured impetuosity of old Lafeu, the maternal indulgence of the Countess to Helena's passion for her son, seem all, as it were, to vie with each other in endeavours to overcome the arrogance of the young Count. The style of the whole is more sententious than imaginative; the glowing colours of fancy could not with propriety have been employed on such a subject. In the passages where the humiliating rejection of the poor Helena is most painfully affecting, the cowardly Parolles steps in to the relief of the spectator. The mystification by which his pretended valour and his shameless slanders are unmasked, must be ranked among the most comic scenes that ever were invented : they contain matter enough for an excellent comedy, if Shakspeare were not always rich even to profusion. Falstaff has thrown Parolles into the shade, otherwise, among the poet's comic characters, he would have been still more famous.”-SCHLEGEL.
KING HENRY THE FIFTH.
THE earliest edition of this play was published in 1600, under the title of—"The Chronicle History of Henry the fift, With his battell fought at Agin Court in France. Togither with Auntient Pistoll. As it hath bene sundry times playd by the Right honorable the Lord Chamberlaine his seruants. London,-Printed by Thomas Creede, for Tho. Millington and Iohn Busby.” This was followed by another edition in 1602, and a third, in 1608.
The question whether the copy from which these quartos were printed was a maimed and surreptitious version of the perfect play, made up from what could be collected by short-hand, or remembered from the stage representation, as Mr. Collier believes, or whether it was an authentic transcript of the poet's first draft of the piece, but corrupted by the ordinary printing-house blunders, involves so much that is important in connexion with Shakespeare's method of production, that it has been fully considered in the Preface, Vol. I., pp. 7.—xvi.
Upon the evidence of a passage in the Chorus to the Fifth Act,
“ Were now the general of our gracious empress
(As, in good time, he may), from Ireland coming,
which bears an unmistakeable reference to the Irish expedition of the Earl of Essex, begun and terminated in 1599, this play is supposed to have been written in that year. Long before this date, however, Henry's exploits in France had been commemorated upon the stage. Nash, in his “ Pierce Pennilesse," 1592, says,—“What a glorious thing it is to have Henry the Fifth represented on the stage, leading the French King prisoner, and forcing both him and the Dolphin sweare fealtie ;', and “The famous Victories of Henry the Fift," already spoken of in “Henry IV.”, was no doubt both acted and printed prior to Shakespeare's “ Henry V.”
Malone assumes the old historical drama alluded to by Nash, and “The famous Victories, &c.” to be the same piece, which he says was exhibited before the year 1588, as Tarlton, who performed in it both the Chief Justice and the Clown, died in that year. Steevens speaks of them as distinct plays.
The events comprehended in “Henry V.” begin in the first year of the king's reign, and terminate with his marriage of Katharine, the French princess, about eight years afterwards.
The Action at the beginning takes place in ENGLAND, but afterwards, wholly in FRANCE.
Enter CHORUS.* 0, 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, Leash'd in like hounds, should famine, sword, and fire, Crouch for employment. But pardon, gentles all, The flat unraised spirits, that have f dar'd, On this unworthy scaffold, to bring forth So great an object. Can this cock-pit hold The vasty fields of France ? or may we cram, Within this wooden 0, the very casques, a That did affright the air at Agincourt ? 0, pardon! since a crooked figure may Attest, in little place, a million ; And let us, cyphers to this great accompt, On your imaginary forces work. Suppose, within the girdle of these walls Are now confin'd 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 Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth : For 't is your thoughts that now must deck our kings; Carry them here and there; jumping o'er times; Turning the accomplishment of many years Into an hour-glass; for the which supply, Admit me Chorus to this history; Who, prologue-like, your humble patience pray, Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.
(*) First folio, Enter Prologue.
(+) First folio, hath. The very casques,–] The mere helmets.
CANT. My lord, I'll tell you—that self bill is urg'd
ELY. But how, my lord, shall we resist it now?
CANT. It must be thought on. If it pass against us,
Ely. This would drink deep.
'T would drink the cup and all.
# Scambling-] See note (-), p. 445, Vol. I. b And all at once,–] This was a trite phrase in Shakespeare's day, though not one