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“ nine lords of Scotland :” and Eleanor, on this occasion, thus addresses her husband, to his great contentment:
“ The welkin, spangled through with golden spots,
Reflects no finer in a frosty night
The historical action of this play—if there be any portion of it that can be properly called so-is, in the highest degree, confused and eccentric. It relates, as far as we can understand, to the invasions of Wales and of Scotland: but the whole conduct of the historical action is so perplexed with the queen's multifarious intrigues, with the masquerading of some of the principal characters, as Robin Hoods and Maid Marians, and with the ribaldry of a Welsh friar, who is the chief vehicle for the grossness of the comedy, that the only historical impression left upon the mind of the reader is, that it has something to do with the real story of Edward I., and that he was called Longshanks. To the truth of characterization this drama has not the slightest pretension; nor, as the characters are drawn, have they any consistency. The dying queen is made to confess her sins to her husband, disguised as a friar, with the most hideous minuteness; and when she dies, the king, as far as we may gather from the extravagant language in which he expresses his grief, has also a proper indignation upon the subject of his own wrongs :
“ Blushing I shut these thine enticing lamps,
The wanton baits that make me suck my bane.
What fault more vild unto thy dearest lord ?
Hence, feigned weeds, unfeigned is my grief.” But before the scene concludes he gives direction for his lady's funeral, without the slightest conflicting feeling; and takes leave of the audience in the character of a mournful widower whose loss could never be repaired :
“ Inter my lovely Elinor, late deceas d;
And, in remembrance of her royalty,
There dwells in darkness whilst I die in grief.” We thoroughly agree with Mr. Hallam that the · Edward I.' of Peele “is a gross tissue of absurdity, with some facility of language, but nothing truly good.” There is nothing either in the action or the characterization that can be called real. He has not the slightest conception of the possible union of simplicity with poetical power; in all, therefore, that constitutes dramatic truth he is utterly deficient. His characters pass over the scene like dim shadows, which are the vehicles of fantastic and extravagant language, corresponding with their absurd and incongruous actions; but they exhibit not a single spark of vitality; there is no flesh and blood in their composition; men and women never thought as they think, nor spoke as they speak. Peele's play was first printed in 1593 : it was acted fourteen times by Henslowe's company in 1595. Mr. Dyce considers that it was “ acted, perhaps, long before it passed the press ;” and he calls it s one of the earliest of our chronicle histories.” With reference to the question of the originality of the author of · The First Part of Henry VI.,' it is perfectly immaterial when Peele wrote the · Edward I.' It no more interferes with the claim of that author to originality in the conception and dramatic conduct of a chronicle history than does “'The Famous Victories.'
In addition to the historical plays which we have thus described as probably existing in 1589, there is an old rude play, · The Life and Death of Jack Straw,' printed in 1593; and there is little
doubt that there was a much older play than Shakspere's on the subject of Richard II. It is, indeed, highly probable that, when • The First Part of Henry VI.' was originally produced, the stage had possession of a complete series of chronicle histories, rudely put together, aspiring to little poetical elevation, and managed pretty generally after the fashion described by Gosson, in a pamphlet against the stage, printed about 1581 :-“ If a true history be taken in hand, it is made like our shadows, longest at the rising and falling of the sun, shortest of all at high noon; for the poets drive it most commonly into such points as may best show the majesty of. their pen in tragical speeches, or set the hearers agog with dis. courses of love, or paint a few antics to fit their own humours with scoffs and taunts, or bring in a show to furnish the stage when it is bare: when the matter of itself comes short of this, they follow the practice of a cobbler, and set their teeth to the leather to pull it out.” What “the poets” were who produced these performances, and what “ the majesty of their pen," have been shown in the specimens we have given from · The Famous Victories' and the old · Richard III.' The truth is, that up to the period when Shakspere reached the age of manhood there were no artists in existence competent to produce an historical play superior to these rude performances. The state of the drama generally is thus succinctly, but most correctly, noticed by a recent anonymous writer:-“ From the commencement of Shakspeare's boyhood, till about the earliest date at which his removal to London can be possibly fixed, the drama lingered in the last stage of a semi-barbarism. Perhaps we do not possess any monument of the time except Whetstone's · Promos and Cassandra ;' but neither that play, nor any details that can be gathered respecting others, indicate the slightest advance beyond a point of development which had been reached many years before by such writers as Edwards and Gascoyne. About 1585, or Shakspere's twenty-first year, there opened a new era, which, before the same decad was closed, had given birth to a large number of dramas, many of them wonderful for the circumstances in which they arose, and several possessing real and absolute excellence.” * Of the poets which belong to this remarkable decad, we possess undoubted specimens of the works of Lyly, Peele, Marlowe, Lodge, Greene, Kyd, and Nashe. There are one or two other inferior names, such as Chettle and Munday, connected with the latter part of this decad. We ourselves hold that Shakspere belongs to the first as well as to the second half of this short but most influential
* Edin, Review, July 1840, p. 469.
period of our literature. Of those artists to whom can be possibly imputed the composition of · The First Part of Henry VI.,' there are only five in whom can be traced any supposed resemblance of style. They are— Peele, Marlowe, Greene, Lodge, and Kyd. · The First Part of Henry VI.' was therefore either written by one of these five poets, or by some unknown author whose name has perished, or by Shakspere.
A very lively writer, who had the merit of heartily avowing his admiration for Shakspere, when the poet's expositors, while they bowed before the shrine, were not sparing of their abuse of the idol, has disposed of the authorship of · Henry VI.' after a very summary fashion : “ That drum-and-trumpet thing called "The First Part of Henry VI.,' written, doubtless, or rather exhibited, long before Shakespeare was born, though afterwards repaired, I think, and furbished up by him, with here and there a little sentiment and diction.” * The recovery of a copy of the original play, produced long before Shakspere was born, would be a treasure of much higher value than a legion of Gammer Gurtons' and
Ralph Roister Doisters. Mr. Morgann does not, in truth, pretend to speak out of any knowledge of the state of our early drama. Every one now sees the absurdity of imagining that a play which existed many years before Shakspere was born could have been “ repaired and furbished, with here and there a little sentiment and diction,” into · The First Part of Henry VI. But is it not almost as absurd, and quite as opposed to any real knowledge of the early history of our drama, to maintain that some unknown man—and that man not the author of the two subsequent plays—wrote · The First Part of Henry VI. in or before the year 1588 or 1589, and that Shakspere either did nothing at all in the way of repairing, or that at most he threw in a little sentiment and diction here and there? Mr. Morgann's random “ long before Shakespeare was born” is, as it appears to us, just as tenable as Malone's “ had, I suspect, been a very popular piece for some years before 1592.” The looseness of expression in each, with reference to the date of “The First Part of Henry VI.,' can only be appreciated by recollecting that two or three years in the history of the drama, at the period when Shakspere first became associated with it, constitute an era of far higher importance than any previous half-century. If Mr. Morgann had said that · The First Part of Henry VI.' was written or exhibited five years before Shakspere came to London, his assertion would have been equally incredible. But is the assertion more * Morgann's • Essay on the Dramatic Character of Sir John Falstaff.'
credible that some unknown man produced it, as it stands, in 1589? We believe that it was, in some shape, produced by Shakspere earlier than 1589; but we do not believe that Shakspere himself left it in its present state in 1589. The versification of some passages is, to our minds, quite conclusive on this point. We find, indeed, the stately march, the sense concluding or pausing at the end of every line, the verse without a redundant syllable, which Malone describes as the characteristics of all the dramas that preceded Shakspere's undoubted productions. We have already adverted to this; but we only met Malone's statement that such versification was the absolute and distinguishing character of “The First Part of Henry VI.,' by showing that, in Shakspere's unquestionable additions to the Second and Third Parts, he still occasionally clung to the early models. But we could put our finger upon fifty passages in the First Part where the stately march becomes rapid, the sense is not terminated at the end of each line, the verse has a redundant syllable,—where the rhythm, in fact, is essentially Shaksperean. What shall we say of Joan of Arc's speech, when she first appears ? —
“ Dauphin, I am by birth a shepherd's daughter,
My wit untrain’d in any kind of art.
To shine on my contemptible estate." Or of the graceful playfulness of Warwick in the Temple-garden scene ?
“ Between two hawks, which flies the higher pitch,
I have, perhaps, some shallow spirit of judgment.”
“ Com’st thou with deep premeditated lines,
Humphrey of Gloster ?"" We ask the critical reader to compare the entire scene in the Temple-garden, the address of La Pucelle to Burgundy in the third act, and the speech of Henry when he puts on the red rose in the fourth act, merely with reference to the rhythm, with any passages in Peele, or Greene, or indeed in any of the dramatists of this decad, and say whether in freedom and variety of versification the author of these passages does not leave all his contemporaries at an immeasurable distance ? They are so skilfully interwoven with the