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rhetoric, now its comedy inspires imitation; and not seldom is Falstaff justified in his vaunt that he was not only witty in himself, but the cause that wit was in other men. If Jack Falstaff likens himself to "a sow that hath overwhelmed all her litter but one," Jack Dapper will try to cap the simile by telling us that when his page waited upon him at the ordinaries, the gallants said he looked like a painted Alderman's tomb, and the boy at his elbow like a death's-head (Middleton and Dekker, The Roaring Girl). Falstaff's soliloquies, and in particular that in which he eulogises sack, are rich mines of wit which were shamelessly plundered by at least two generations of dramatists. The praise of wine became a frequent motive in comedy, and even tobacco was honoured by a tribute to its virtues in the true Falstaffian vein in Chapman's Monsieur D'Olive, II. ii. Mrs. Quickly's misuse of words, for which, by the way, there was a precedent in an early play of Italian origin, Two Italian Gentlemen (c. 1584), is often imitated; as, for instance, in Chapman's The Gentlemen Usher, in which Pogio is an offender in this way. But the channels are innumerable by which the genius of Shakespeare in 2 Henry IV. fertilised large tracts of early seventeenth century comedy.
It is one of the paradoxes of literary history that an intrinsically worthless play, The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth (c. 1588), should have been the source from which Shakespeare derived the framework successively of the First and Second Parts of Henry IV. and Henry V., each an intensely individual expression of the poet's genius, and with the framework of plot a dramatic form which, loose and incoherent in the model, was yet capable of being transformed in the hands of Shakespeare into a supreme manifestation of the art of the history chronicle. Shakespeare's model for history had hitherto been Marlowe's Edward II.-where, indeed, he had not merely "worked up" material ready to his hand, as in King John and Richard III. With Richard II. he had perhaps exhausted the possibilities of the subjective method that Marlowe's great example had imposed upon the historical drama, and, assuredly, the lyrical mood in which Shakespeare, in emulation of Edward II., had there depicted the anguish of a king in downfall, would not have been adequate to the presentation of a theme
of the vast epic sweep of that about to be unrolled in the two Parts of Henry IV. and Henry V. The Famous Victories, though uninspired, and uninspiring, as a work of art, yet provided the elements of substance and form, which were wanting in Edward II. and Richard II., but which were indispensable to the dramatist as a means of animating the material of the chronicle with vigorous and harmonious life.
With the main thread of the plot, and with the formal qualities of varied characterisation and of dramatic contrast,— the relief furnished, for instance, by the alternation of the pageantry of history with domestic or humorous scenes, of verse with prose,-Shakespeare adopted from The Famous Victories the mythical story of Prince Henry's riotous youth and conversion to grace, some suggestions for scenes of comedy, some local colour, notably in reference to the old tavern in Eastcheap, and the name, though not the character, of Oldcastle.
The plot of 2 Henry IV., in so far as it was drawn from The Famous Victories, concerns the relations of Prince Henry and his father, and it may be observed that the scenes in which that relationship is developed are not merely the most affecting, but, apart from the underplot of comedy, are also the most highly-wrought and effective in the play. The principal dramatic effects in these scenes have been, however, generally obtained by means inspired by Shakespeare's genius or suggested by his reading in the Chronicles; and the noble poetry in which the thought is dressed is, of course, all Shakespeare's own.
The "plot" provided by The Famous Victories being insufficient to fill out the five acts of a play, the dramatist had recourse to Holinshed's Chronicles-his main authority in history for additional materials. From this source he introduced the parts of the play relating to the conspiracies of Archbishop Scrope and the Earl of Northumberland. These scenes gave body to the play, and served, at the same time, the useful purpose of providing a sombre background to the picture of a disappointed and disillusioned King,—for whom, too, this concrete presentment of a "troublesome reign" wins a measure of the understanding and sympathy it was the purpose of the dramatist to evoke.
For the history of the reign of Henry the Fourth, Shakespeare appears to have consulted, in addition to Holinshed's
Chronicles, Stow's Chronicles1 and Annals. From the Annals he seems to have taken his account of the transgression of Prince Henry against the person of the Chief Justice, and from the same work or the Chronicles some suggestions for the passage in which the King expresses to Clarence his fears of future dissension between Prince Henry and his brothers (IV. iv. 20-48), and for King Henry's death-bed speech.
Finally, Shakespeare's sympathetic, but not uncritical, portrayal of the last phase of King Henry's life found its inspiration in Samuel Daniel, Civil Wars, III. (1595). The influence of Daniel may be subtly felt throughout the latter part of Act IV. The authentic voice of the "well-languaged" poet is audible in the lines :
The incessant care and labour of his mind
See Introduction to 1 Henry IV. pp. xix, xx.
The Second Part of Henry the Fourth is unquestionably inferior to the First Part as a work of dramatic art. In the latter play the poet develops with great skill a theme of high seriousness and compelling interest, tracing from its beginnings the progress of the inevitable conflict, foreseen by the late King, between the usurping Bolingbroke and the great feudal families to whose assistance he owed his throne. The interest ascends from scene to scene till it reaches a grand and worthy climax on "that royal field" at Shrewsbury. The protagonists rise to the height of the great argument; many of the minor characters are nobly conceived and finely drawn. In structure and composition the play is simple and harmonious; the interest of the by-plot concerned with the relations of the King and Prince, and of the comic scenes, is kept well in subordination to the general design; the dialogue is throughout on a high poetic level.
The Second Part, on the contrary, is faulty in construction,
1 Shakespeare would have found mention in the Chronicles (1580) of "loathly births of nature" (IV. iv. 122). At the end of the Chronicles (p. 1212) we read that in 1580, 66 a woman of foure score years old . . . was delivered of a straunge and hideous monster, whose heade was like unto a sallet or headepeece." See also ibid. p. 1213.
and occasionally feeble in execution. For the greater part of four acts the poet is occupied with a theme, of which the interest had been exhausted in the previous play, and which grows stale by repetition. The action is languidly conducted, by means of lesser agents, through scenes-some redundant-that faintly reflect the situations of 1 Henry IV., and finally arrive at an anti-climax in the act of mean deceit by which Scrope and his associates are so ignobly overreached. The age of chivalry is gone; that of sophistry and calculators has succeeded. The mere writing of these scenes falls below the general level of 1 Henry IV., though they contain some fine passages, and throughout the hand of Shakespeare is visible.
In default of a powerful main-plot, the principal centres of interest are to be found in the humorous scenes, which have, however, outgrown their proper part in the play, and in the concluding scenes of personal history. The scenes of comedy are indeed superb, and these, together with the noble passages, which reveal, with deep and subtle insight and consummate art, the soul of a great king, upon whom the shadow of death is falling, and the pathos of his relations with his wayward and high-spirited son, retrieve the faults of an otherwise indifferent play and vindicate its right to a high place among Shakespeare's masterpieces. They explain the immense popularity of the play in Shakespeare's life-time and justify Dr. Johnson's encomium: "None of Shakespeare's plays are more read than the first and second parts of Henry IV. Perhaps no author has ever, in two plays, afforded so much delight." The appreciation of Shakespeare's contemporaries and the praise of Dr. Johnson, so far, at least, as the Second Part is concerned, have not been endorsed by modern opinion. Nevertheless, the appreciation and the praise perhaps represent a judgment of more critical value than can be allowed to the neglect into which the play has fallen in recent times. It is true, no doubt, that the present unpopularity of 2 Henry IV. is due as much to a strain of coarseness in its humour as to any failure to appreciate the genius expended upon it. Faults of construction and the tediousness of some of the scenes would help to account for its unpopularity upon the stage; yet these scenes, if the play be regarded, as it should be, not as an isolated work, but as part of a greater drama, exhibiting in successive stagesRichard II., 1 Henry IV., 2 Henry IV. and Henry V.-the development of one theme of epic breadth and magnitude,
would be found to serve a necessary purpose. A work on such a scale postulates the existence of flats and depressions as well as of lofty heights.
TREATMENT OF HISTORY
In his treatment of the historical material dramatized in 2 Henry IV., Shakespeare appears to have aimed principally at unity of plot or interest, and to have been comparatively indifferent to chronological exactitude. He condensed the material found ready to his hand in the narrative of Holinshed, excising, in the process, all that was irrelevant to his purpose, and compressing the action of the play within narrower limits than a scrupulous regard for the facts of chronology would have warranted. He antedated historical events,-or postdated them, according to the point of view,-thus bringing into the relation of contemporaneity or of immediate succession incidents separated actually by intervals of years. For instance, the rising of Archbishop Scrope and his confederates follows in the play immediately upon the Battle of Shrewsbury (1403), though in fact it did not occur till two years later. A French expedition in aid of Glendower is mentioned by one of the confederates (I. iii. 78-80), though the expedition in question was only dispatched in the summer of 1405, by which time Scrope's insurrection had been suppressed.
In Act I. Scene i. we are correctly informed that the King, immediately after the Battle of Shrewsbury, sent out a "speedy power" against Northumberland. In II. iii., however, while Scrope's conspiracy was yet but in process of incubation, Northumberland announces his resolve to seek a refuge in Scotland, though, according to Shakespeare's authority, Holinshed, it was not till after the death of Scrope that Northumberland fled to Scotland, and not till 1408 that the King, upon Northumberland's return into England "with a great power of Scots," "caused a great army to be assembled, and came forward with the same towards his enemies." The death of Glendower is announced in Act III. Scene i. (1405), whereas in Holinshed we read that Glendower died in "the tenth yeare of king Henrie his reigne" (1408-9). In Act IV. Scene iv., the King is informed by Westmoreland of the suppression of the Archbishop's rebellion (11. 84-90)—the date of this scene is then 1405—and immediately afterwards (11. 94-101) Harcourt