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companion of Prince Henry. In that play Henry V. is represented as robbed by the parson of Wrotham, a very queer hedge-priest indeed, bearing the name of Sir John, as if in rivalry of another Sir John; and the following dialogue takes place :
“ Sir John. Sirrah, no more ado; come, come, give me the money you have. Despatch; I cannot stand all day.
K. Henry. Well, if thou wilt needs have it, here it is. Just the proverb, one thief robs another. Where the devil are all my old thieves? Falstaff, that villain, is so fat, he cannot get on his horse; but methinks Poins and Peto should be stirring hereabouts.
Sir John. How much is there on 't, o' thy word ?"
Falstaff is again mentioned in the same scene with the priest, who asserts that the king was once a thief; and in answer to the question “ How canst thou tell ?” replies, –
“ How? because he once robbed me before I fell to the trade myself, when that foul villainous guts, that led him to all that roguery, was in his company there, that Falstaff.”
We have here tolerable evidence that Falstaff was not the man” Oldcastle in 1600. And yet the following very remarkable letter, or dedication, is written some years after :
“ To my noble friend Sir Henry Bourchier : “ Sir Harry Bourchier, you are descended of noble ancestry, and in the duty of a good man love to hear and see fair reputation preserved from slander and oblivion. Wherefore to you I dedicate this edition of Ocleve,' where Sir John Oldcastle appears to have been a man of valour and virtue, and only lost in his own times because he would not bow under the foul superstition of Papistry, from whence, in so great a light of Gospel and learning, that there is not yet a more universal departure is to me the greatest scorn of men. But of this more in another place, and in preface will you please to hear me that which follows? A young gentle lady of your acquaintance, having read the works of Shakespeare, made me this question : How Sir John Falstaffe, or Fastolf as it is written in the statute-book of Maudlin College in Oxford, where every day that society were bound to make memory of his soul, could be dead in Harry the Fifth's time and again live in the time of Harry the Sixth to be banished for cowardice? Whereto I made answer that this was one of those humours and mistakes for which Plato banished all poets out of his commonwealth; that Sir John Falstaff was in those times a valiant sol. dier, as appears by a book in the Heralds' office dedicated unto him by a herald who had been with bim, if I well remember, for the space of 25 years in the French wars ; that he seems also to have been a man of learning, because in a library of Oxford I find a book of dedicating churches sent from him for a present unto Bishop Wainfleet, and inscribed with his own name. That in Shakespeare's first show of ' • Harry the Fifth,' the person with which he undertook to play a buffoon was not Falstaff, but Sir John Oldcastle; and that, offence being worthily taken by personages descended from his title, as peradventure by many others also who ought to have him in honourable memory, the poet was put to make an ignorant shift of abusing Sir John Falstophe, a man not inferior of virtue, though not so famous in piety as the other, who gave witness unto the trust of our reformation with a constant and resolute martyrdom, unto which he was pursued by the priests, bishops, monks, and friars of those days. Noble sir, this is all my preface. God keep you and me, and all Christian people, from the bloody designs of that cruel religion.
“ Yours in all observance,
« Rich. James."
This letter is contained in a manuscript preserved in the Bodleian Library, written by Dr. Richard James, who died in 1638. The manuscript to which it is prefixed is entitled • The Legend and Defence of the Noble Knight and Martyr, Sir John Oldcastel,' and has been published by Mr. Halliwell, having been pointed out to him by the Rev. Dr. Bliss. *
The "young gentle lady” who, according to this letter, was so well employed in studying Shakspere's historical plays, read them as many other persons read, without any very accurate perception of what essentially belongs to the province of imagination, and of what is literally true. Whatever similarity there may be in the names of Sir John Falstaff and Sir John Fastolf, the young lady might have perceived that the poet had not the slightest intention of proposing the Fastolf of • Henry VI.' as the Falstaff of Henry IV.' Assuredly the Falstaff that we last see in the closing scene of “The Second Part of Henry IV.'—a jester, surfeit-swelled, old, profane, as the king denounces him—is not the Fastolf that makes his appearance at the battle of.Patay, in . The First Part of Henry VI.,' and is subsequently degraded from being a knight of the Garter for his conduct on that occasion. In these scenes of Henry VI.' Shakspere drew an historical character and represented an historical fact. The degradation of Fastolf was in all probability an unjust sentence, -as unjust as that pronounced by the worthy writer of the letter in the Bodleian Library, that the wittiest of all Shakspere's creations was “a buffoon,” and that he might be confounded with the very commonplace knight whose only distinction was the garter on his leg. Fastolf was a respectable personage no doubt in his day, but not sweet Jack Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack Falstaff, valiant Jack Falstaff, and therefore more valiant, being, as he is, old Jack Falstaff.” It appears to us, therefore, that, in the same manner as the “ young gentle lady” and Dr. Richard James, somewhat ignorantly as we think, confounded Fastolf and Falstaff, so they erred in a similar way by believing that “in Shakspere's first show of Harry the Fifth the person with which he undertook to play a buffoon was not Falstaff, but Sir John Oldcastle.” Fuller, in his · Worthies,' speaking of Sir John Falstaff, has the same com
On the Character of Sir John Falstaff,' 1841.
plaint, as we have seen, against "stage-poets.” Now, admitting what appears possible, that Shakspere in his 'Henry IV.'originally had the name of Oldcastle where we now find that of Falstaff, is it likely that he could have meant the champion of the Reformation of Wickliff, who was cruelly put to death for heresy in the fourth year of Henry V., to have been the boon companion of the youthful prince; and who, before the king went to the French wars, died quietly in his bed, “e'en at the turning of the tide ?” And yet there is little doubt that, when Shakspere adopted a name familiar to the stage, he naturally raised up this species of absurd misconception, which had the remarkable fate of being succeeded by a mistake still more absurd, that Falstaff and Fastolf were one and the same. It is, however, extremely probable that there were other plays in which the character of Sir John Oldcastle was presented historically, and falsely presented; that from this circumstance Shakspere saw the necessity of substituting another name for Oldcastle, and of making the declaration “Oldcastle died a martyr, and this is not the man;" and that the authors of the play before us, • The First Part of Sir John Oldcastle,' adopted a subject with which the public mind was at that time familiar, and presented Sir John Oldcastle upon the stage, in a manner that would be agreeable to “personages descended from his title,” and to the great body of the people who ought to have him in honourable memory." Whether the reputation of Oldcastle derived much benefit from their labours remains to be seen.
The play opens with a quarrel in the street of Hereford between Lord Herbert, Lord Powis, and their followers; which is put down by the judges, who are holding the assize in the town. The commencement of the conflict, in which blood was shed, is thus described :
“ Lord Powis detracted from the power of Rome,
Affirming Wickliff's doctrine to be true,
they would defend it with their lives;
The second scene introduces us to the Bishop of Rochester, denouncing Lord Cobham (Oldcastle), as an heretic, to the Duke of
Suffolk. The bishop is supported by Sir John of Wrotham, whose zeal is so boisterous as to receive the following rebuke from the Duke:
“Oh, but you must not swear; it ill becomes
One of your coat to rap out bloody oaths." The king appears to hear the complaint of the churchman; and he promises to send for Oldcastle “and school him privately.” In the third scene we have Lord Cobham and an aged servant, and Lord Powis arrives in disguise, and is concealed by Cobham. In the second act we have a comic scene, amusing enough, but anything but original; a sumner arrives to cite Lord Cobham before the Ecclesiastical Court, and the old servant of the noble reformer makes the officer eat the citation. Nashe tells us in his · Pierce Pennylesse' that he once saw Robert Greene “make an apparitor eat his citation, wax and all, very handsomely served 'twixt two dishes." We have something like the same incident in the play of the · Pinner of Wakefield.' The scene changes to London, where we have an assembly of rebels, who give out that Oldcastle will be their general. In the next scene, which is probably the best sustained of the play, we have Henry and Lord Cobham in conference:
“ K. Henry. 'T is not enough, lord Cobham, to submit;
Cob. My gracious lord, unto your majesty,
K. Henry. We would be loth to press our subjects' bodies,
Cub. My liege, if any breathe, that dares come forth,
Deserves the attainder of ignoble thoughts,
The Bishop of Rochester appears and denounces Cobham for the contempt shown to his citation; the king reproves the bishop and dismisses Oldcastle in safety. It is evident that the dramatic capabilities of such a scene furnish an occasion for the display of high poetical power. The interview between Henry and his faithful friend and adherent; the anxiety of the reformer to vindicate himself from disloyalty, whilst he honestly supported his own opinions; the natural desire of the king to resist innovation, whilst he respected the virtues of the innovator,-points like these would have been handled by Shakspere, or one imbued with his spirit, in a manner that would have lived and abided in our memories. The lines that we have quoted, which are the best in the scene, furnish a sufficient proof that the subject was in feeble hands.
The third act opens to us the conspiracy of Cambridge, Scroop, and Grey. The conspirators meet Lord Cobham. The mode in which they introduce their purpose is spirited and dramatic. Cobham has invited them to his house, and promises them hunters' fare and a hunt. Cambridge thus replies, before he presents the paper which discloses the plot :
“ Cam. Nay, but the stag which we desire to strike,
Cob. 'T is pity such a goodly beast should die.
Cam. Not so, sir John; for he is tyrannous,