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* King Henry V.] This play was writ (as appears from a passage in the chorus to the fifth Act) at the time of the Earl of Essex's commanding the forces in Ireland in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and not till after Henry the Sirth had been played, as may be seen by the conclusion of this play. Pope.
The transactions comprised in this historical 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. THEOBALD.
This play, in the quarto edition, 1608, is styled The Chronicle History of Henry, &c. which seems to have been the title anciently appropriated to all Shakspeare's historical dramas. So, in The Antipodes, a comedy, by R. Brome, 1638 :
“ These lads can act the emperors' lives all over,
“ And Shakspeare's Chronicled Histories to boot." The players likewise, in the folio edition, 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 Pierce Penniless his Supplication to the Devil, dated 1592, 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 is the same play as was thus entered in the books of the Stationers' company: “ Tho. Strode] May 2, 1594. A booke intituled The famous Victories of Henry the Fift, containing the honorable Batile of Agincourt." There are two more entries of a play of Henry V. viz. between 1596 and 1615, and one August 14th, 1600. I have two copies of it in my possession ; one without date, (which seems much the elder of the two,) and another, (apparently printed from it,) dated 1617, though printed by Bernard Alsop, (who was printer of the other edition,) and sold by the same person, and at the same place. Alsop appears to have been a printer before the year 1600, and was afterwards one of the twenty appointed by decree of the Star-chamber to print for this kingdom. I believe, however, this piece to have been prior to that of Shakspeare for several reasons. First, because it is highly probable that it is the very “ displeasing play" alluded to in the epilogue to The Second Bart of King Henry IV.--for Oldcastle died a martyr. Oldcastle is the Falstaff of the piece, which is despicable, and full of ribaldry and impiety from the first scene to the last-Secondly, because Shakspeare seems to have taken not a few hints from it; for it comprehends, in some measure, the story of the two Parts of Henry IV. as well as of Henry V: and no ignorance, I think, could debase the gold of Shakspeare into such dross; though no chemistry but that of Shakspeare could exalt such base metal into gold.When the Prince of Wales, in Henry IV. calls Falstaff my old lad of the Castle, it is probably but a sneering allusion to the deserved fate which this performance met with; for there is no proof that our poet was ever obliged to change the name of Oldcastle into that of Falstaff, though there is an absolute certainty that this piece must have been condemned by any audience before whom it was ever represented. Lastly, because it appears (as Dr. Farmer has observed) from the Jests of the famous comedian, Tarlton, 4to. 1611, that he had been particularly celebrated in the part of the Clown,* in Henry V. and though this character does not exist in our play, we find it in the other, which, for the reasons already enumerated, I suppose to have been prior to this.
This anonymous play of 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. As much of it appears to have been omitted, we may suppose that the author did not think it convenient for his reputation to publish a more ample copy.
There is, indeed, a play, called Sir John Oldcastle, published in 1600, with the name of William Shakspeare prefixed to it. The prologue being very short, I shall quote it, as it serves to prove that a former piece, in which the character of Oldcastle was introduced, had given great offence:
“ The doubtful title (gentlemen) prefixt
* Mr. Oldys, in a manuscript note in his copy of Langbaine, says, that Tarleton appeared in the character of the Judge who receives the box on the car. This judge is likewise a character in the old play. I may add, on the authority of the books at Stationers' Hall, that Tarleton published what he called his Farewell, a ballad, in Sept. 1588. In Oct. 1589, was entered, “ Tarleton's Repentance, and bis Farewell to bis Friends in his Sickness a little before bis Deatb;' in 1990, “ Tarleton's Newes out of Purgatorie ;'' and in the same year, “A pleasaunt Ditty Dialogue-wise, between Tarlton's Ghost and Robyn Good-fellowe." STEEVENS.
The piece to which Nash alludes is the old anonymous play of King Henry V. which had been exhibited before the year 1589. Tarlton, the comedian, who performed in it both the parts of the Chief Justice and the Clown, having died in that year. It was entered on the Stationers' books in 1594, and, I believe, printed in that year, though I have not met with a copy of that date. An edition of it, printed in 1598, was in the valuable collection of Dr. Wright.
The play before us appears to have been written in the middle of the year 1599.
The old King Henry V. may be found among Six old Plays on which Shakspeare founded, &c. printed by S. Leacroft, 1778.
King Henry the Fifth.
Duke of Beceter, Uncle to the King:
Duke of Exeter, Uncle to the King.
morris, Jamy, Officers in King Henry's Army. Bates, Court, Williams, Soldiers in the same. Nym, Bardolph, Pistol, formerly Servants to Falstaff,
now Soldiers in the same. Boy, Servant to them. A Herald. Chorus.
Charles the Sixth, King of France.
Isabel, Queen of France.
Lords, Ladies, Officers, French and English Soldiers,
Messengers, and Attendants.
The SCENE, at the Beginning of the Play, lies in
England; but afterwards wholly in France.
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, Leash'd in like hounds, should famine, sword, and
fire, Crouch for employment. But pardon, gentles all, The flat unraised spirit, that hath dar'd, 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? 0, 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
10, for a muse of fire, &c.] This goes, says Warburton, upon the notion of the Peripatetic system, which imagines several heavens one above another; the last and highest of which was one of fire. It alludes likewise to the aspiring nature of fire, which, by its levity, at the separation of the chaos, took the highest seat of all the elements. Johnson. ? — princes to act,
And monarchs to behold -] Shakspeare does not seem to set distance enough between the performers and spectators.
3 Within this wooden 0,] An allusion to the theatre where this history was exhibited, being, from its circular form, called The Globe.
4— the very casques,] The helmets. sa imaginary forces —] Imaginary for imaginative, or your powers of fancy. Active and passive words are by this author frequently confounded. Johnson.