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ON THE CONNECTION OF THE EIGHT ENGLISH HISTORIES, THEIR
DEVIATIONS FROM HISTORY, ETC.
The eight historical plays which embrace one of the most important centuries of English history, when taken collectively, form such a full, grand, and artistic picture, that I know of nothing in the whole domain of dramatic poetry that can be compared to it.
In the preceding discussion I have endeavoured to point out the internal connection, the living, organic process of development which was determined by the first stages, and which, without injuring their independent existence, unites these eight plays into one complete whole. But Shakspeare, with extraordinary skill, has also contrived externally to connect each independent whole with the other, and thus again succeeded in forming all the several parts into one greater whole. In · Richard II.,' for instance, we hear Henry inquiring about his eldest son, and speaking of his irregular life; this, it is true, is done at the expense of chronological truth, a proceeding with which the earlier English critics found great fault. Further, at the close of Richard II. we hear of a conspiracy against Henry; and the latter, after hearing of Richard's death, makes a vow to undertake a pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre in expiation of his crime, and to quieten his conscience. These three points again are directly connected with the First Part of Henry IV.;' for the representation of the disturbances and revolts against Henry, the description of his state of mind, compared with that of the life and character of his son, form the actual substance of both Parts. The close of the Second Part (Prince Henry's conversion and elevation to the throne) is, at the same time, the beginning of the following drama, the subject of which is centred in the bistory of the reign of Henry V. The intervening years between the first apparent termination of the great war and the death of Henry V. had to be omitted because, being without outward, historical action, they were not adapted for dramatic treatment. On this account the poet, in a chorus, refers to the dramas describing the reign of Henry IV.: he
Henry the sixth, in infant bands crown'd king
The coffin of Henry V., which adorns the background of the stage in the introductory scenes of the following trilogy, as well as the lamentations of the assembled dignitaries of the state over the deceased hero, the remembrance of his heroic deeds and the unhappy tidings from France, give us a vivid representation of the subject of the preceding drama as well as of the changed condition of affairs.
It is scarcely necessary to remind the intelligent reader that the three parts of • Henry VI. stand in the closest relation to one another: I shall therefore only draw attention to the fact that the First Part ends with the successful intrigues of Suffolk in persuading the King to consent to a marriage with Margaret of Anjou, that the Second Part opens with the arrival of the young queen in England, and closes with the battle of St. Alban's, to which the first scene of the Third Part—the deliberatioi:s of the victorious party after the battle-forms a direct continuation. I have already remarked that the poet brings the subsequent Richard III. prominently forward in the second half of the Third Part, and that this is obviously done with the intention of introducing the following drama. The last link of the great whole then takes up the thread of history exactly where it had been dropped in the preceding play, silently setting aside the reign of Edward IV., which was dramatically unrepresentable. In precisely the same manner as was done in the first parts of Henry VI.', we have, in the first two scenes of · Richard III.,' the past and future fused together by the representation of the imprisonment of Clarence, and by the funeral procession of Henry VI., with the Lady Anne as mourner; the preceding drama decidedly affects the following one, and conversely, the latter was prepared in the former. In short, we could scarcely have a more evident proof that the poet's intention was to represent history in one continuous flow, from Richard II. down to Henry VIII.
I even go so far as to think that Shakspeare's deviations from actual history, more especially those in regard to chronology, which he might otherwise have avoided, * were made with a view of giving a vivid representation of both the inner and the outer connection of the greater whole, and of the ideal character, the ethical significance of the events in the several parts. These deviations refer of course only to such points in which he has differed from the chronicles and popular histories of his day, to the exclusion of all such corrections as have been gained by modern investigations. It was only such sources that Shakspeare wished to and could follow, owing to the character of dramatic poetry, which is necessarily popular; he could not have adopted the results of learned historiography even though-what was not generally the casethese had existed at his time. That Shakspeare was perfectly conscious of this himself, is evident from the earlier titles of some of his historical plays; for instance, that of “Henry V.' in the quarto of 1608, The Chronicled History of Henry, etc., for which reason R. Brome, in one of his comedies, not unjustly speaks in a very general way of Shakspeare's chronicled histories. Accordingly, the poet cannot be reproached for having in · Henry VI.' (in the dispute about the ransom of the Earl of March, Glendower's prisoner) confounded the two earls Edmund of March with one another, and for making Mordake a son of Archibald, Earl of Douglas; for the confusion exists in Holinshed's Chronicle, and the poet was led into the error by a misprint in the same chronicle. For the same
* Gervinus has adopted this thought from the second editiou of my work, and worked it out in his own way, more especially in regard to Henry VI.
+ T'he Antipodes (1608).
reason, it cannot be considered a violation of historical truth when, in · Richard II.,' Shakspeare lays the death of the dethroned king to the account of Henry IV., for in the poet's day this was the general opinion supported by the statements in the chronicles, although recent investigations may have come to a different conclusion. Nevertheless it remains true that Richard's death was a consequence of Bolingbroke's rebellion and of his own dethronement. The same applies to some other facts which I shall pass over, as the dramatist must be left entirely free as regards all accidental and secondary circumstances in history. Hence he scarcely deserves to be found fault with even though he should occasionally contradict himself in some such points, as, for instance, when in `Henry VI. he allows Clifford to fall by the hand of the Duke of York and yet afterwards speaks of him as having fallen with others by the sword of common soldiers, or again when, in . Richard III.' the same Sir John Grey whom Henry VI. erroneously mentions
the adherents of the House of York, is accounted one of the Lancastrian party.
On the other hand, it is a violation of historicai truth, even though but a slight one, that Henry Percy, who was not much younger than Henıy IV., is, by Shakspeare, made of the same age as Prince Henry, and defeated and killed by him. The Chronicles know nothing about this heroic deed: according to them Percy fell by an unknown hand; and yet the unknown hand of historical tradition might have been that of the Prince, who was afterwards Henry V. The drama required that Percy should fall by the hand of Henry, because the poet had here to give an intimation of the heroic career which was subsequently to be depicted, and also to give the chief character of the play its proper relation to the whole, and thus to place its meaning and significance in a clear light. The inaccuracies in · Henry VI.' and in ‘Richard III.' are more important.*
* Courtenay, Gervinus, Kressig, and the early English critics, here again accuse the poet of several deviations from the Chronicles, of which he is not guilty, and which are founded only upon their own superficial study of his historical authorities. Of this I have already given an example in the love affair between Suffolk and Queen Margaret, which Dechelhäuser (l.c.) has illustrated mure fuily by some other instances.
It is true that they are partly intentional deviations from history,* and accordingly prove what indeed is scarcely in need of proof, that the young, untutored Shakspeare, who had no adequate models, did not yet possess the power of artistically solving the difficult task which he had undertaken of dramatising the excessive wealth and scattered state of the subject-matter presented by the reign of Henry VI. (embracing as it did intrigues the threads of which were hidden, and incidents that were ever thwarting one another) without injuring the historical truth. Most of the deviations attributed to the poet are, however, unjust, for they are deviations only from chronology, or were necessary for giving artistic finish to the subjectmatter, or, again, were made only because the poet, for the sake of the higher historical truth, wished and was obliged to connect the separate dramas into one great, cyclic whole. I pass over the circumstance that Edmund Mortimer, earl of March, the rightful heir to the English crown, was not, as Shakspeare represents, and as Hall and Holinshed report-kept for many years in prison, but that he stood in favour with Henry IV. and Henry V. For even though Shakspeare may have known Hardyng's history, we could not possibly expect that he should have made a careful investigation as to which account was
He justly followed that historian of whose report he could make poetical use; and in the present case he absolutely required a proof in confirmation of Richard Plantagenet's (afterwards Duke of York) claim to the English throne; lastly, the poet was also obliged to reawaken the remembrance of the unjust dethronement of Richard II. by Henry IV., which was the original disturbance of the course of history. This is why, as I have
* Among these—with Gervinus—I reckon the triple reproach of cowardice which is cast upon Falstolfe, the retaking of Orleans by Talbot, the attack upon Rouen, and Margaret's being made a prisoner by Suffolk. These incidents, which Shakspeare's authorities do not mention, are pure inventiouis of the poet, and, together with the description of the war which throughout represents the English in 80 favourable a light, may probably be accounted for by his youthful and extravagant patriotism, and also by the spirit of violent hatred against France which atfected all minds in England at the time (1590).