Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

It is possible, however, that Shakspeare had the intention of writing a second part to his Henry VIII. and that outward circumstances prevented his doing so. If we might be allowed to think of a second play as a continuation in Shakspeare's usual style, then the present drama -even though not one of the great master's best workswould be relieved of the most important of its defects. Or may not Shakspeare have written the play merely for the Court, perhaps by express command ? This thought struck me many years ago when reading the fifth act; and since my various attempts to ascertain

the dates of Shakspeare's plays, and since I have become better acquainted with the data by which these are supported, this thought has come to seem almost a matter of certainty. In the first place all internal evidence, especially diction, versification, and characterisation favour the supposition that the piece belongs to the last period of Shakspeare's dramatic career. Malone and Drake assign it to the year 1601–2, for the sole reason that, according to their opinion, the compliments to Elizabeth could not have been written for James but for the Queen herself, inasmuch as James' feelings for his great predecessor were well-known to be anything but friendly. However, the flattery to Elizabeth is also interwoven with compliments to James, and these again with allusions to events belonging to the year 1606 or even 1612 (such as the founding of the colony of Virginia). The closing lines also, in which Elizabeth's character is depicted, distinctly prove that they were not written till after her death. Charles Knight and Delius justly remark that the compliments lavished upon Elizabeth would scarcely have reconciled her to the candid representation of her father's character, to the introduction of the relation in which he stood to her mother, and to the comparatively much greater prominence given to Queen Katherine, and would as little have allowed herself, through Cranmer, to be styled 'an aged princess,' or to have had her approaching death prophesied by him.

flattery, or the commemoration, or the exaltation of the House of Tudor, blind admiration, or the misrepresentation of the historical past for the sake of a brilliant future, the case remains the same.

a

[ocr errors]

Lastly, however-and this is the main point-the play which was performed on the day upon which, in 1613, the Globe theatre was burned down, is, in a letter written by a contemporary, Sir Henry Wotton, expressly called new play,' and this play was Shakspeare's Henry VIII.,'as is evident from Howe's continuation of Stowe's Chronicle, and from Sir Henry's own words. These reasons also induced Chalmers to fix the date of `Henry VIII.' as late as 1613, and subsequent English critics do not deny the weight of these reasons, but, because of the fact that James must necessarily have been offended by the great compliments paid to Elizabeth, they maintain that the piece cannot have been written during his reign, and that, accordingly, the complimentary lines to James must have been a subsequent addition; hence, that Sir Henry Wotton was deceived by the new title and the new epilogue which had been added. Wotton certainly does not speak of the play which was acted on the day of the fire as `Henry VIII.' but under the name of · All is True.' However, if the first objection raised by English critics--which we grant has some weight-were removed, the second one would likewise prove untenable; for in that case it would be more reasonable to suppose that the change of title was made at a later day, or that the play had been announced under a double title which Wotton did not give in full.*

a

[ocr errors]

*

* An occasional alteration of the usual title is known to have often occurred. Thus, as Malone has proved from the parers of Lord Harrington, the Lord Treasurer of King James, the First Part of Henry 1 V. was performed at Court in the year 1613, under the title of Hotspur ; the Second Part, or perhaps The Merry Wives of Windsor, under the title of Sir John Falstaff ; Much Ado About Nothing, under the title of Benedick and Beatriz ; and Julius Cæsar, under the title of Cæsar's Tragedie. Double titles also, as is well known, were not uncommon; in a letter of another contemporary (Th. Lorkin to Sir Th. Puckering) the play which was the cause of the fire at the Globe, is called The Play of Henry VIII., hence it is very possible that the title Ad is true was but an addition, annexed perhaps in order definitely to distinguish Shakspeare's drama from other and older pieces on the same subject, for instance, from Rowley's When You See Me, You Know Me, or The Famous Chronikle Historie of King Henry VIII., which was printed in 1605. (Re-published in 1874, by K. Elze: London, Williams and Norgate.) VOL. II.

X

Now Malone's first objection loses the best part of its weight, as soon as it is assumed that the play was first performed, perhaps even first written, or at least adapted and arranged, for the celebration of the marriage of the Count Palatine Frederick with the Princess Elizabeth (1613); and this supposition is not improbable in so far as it is a well-known fact that several of Shakspeare's plays were performed at Court during the visit of the Count. If this be assumed, it is clear that the compliments to Elizabeth must have been much less offensive to the king's ears when the feted princess was likewise called Elizabeth, and the eulogies might, therefore, be considered as so many covert compliments to the latter. This would also explain the pomp and the many pageants, the banquets, masques, and the coronation and baptismal festivities, etc., with which the play is so amply furnished, and which, at the same time, are a proof of its late origin, that is, at a period when Shakspeare's theatre had at its disposal a greater number of stage appurtenances than it had possessed for the representation of those of his historical plays which directly preceded it, for instance, his Henry ÎV? (Part II.) and · Henry V.? (as Delius justly observes).

My hypothesis acquires its chief weight, however, from a closer examination of the language and versification of • Henry VIII.' It had even struck Roderick that the play contained almost twice as many lines with a redundant (final) syllable than any other of Shakspeare's dramas; that the cæsuras also were less uniform (freer, more irregular). And Delius observes- quite in accordance with my view—that · Henry VIII.,' in common with the plays belonging to the latest period of Shakspeare's life (especially with • Cymbeline' and The Winter's Tale') is found to possess the same obscurity and condensation of expression which is the result of the complicated structure of sentences and the ellipses, the same free, metrical principles which aim more at delineation of character than euphony, and that, more especially, the language of the chorus in The Winter's Tale' possesses a striking resemblance to the prologue and epilogue in · Henry VIII.'*

6

[ocr errors]

6

[ocr errors]

6

* Gervinus contradicts himself when he recognises and expressly

[ocr errors]

Steevens explains the striking carelessness in the treatment of the verse and rhythm, by Shakspeare's having often inserted whole speeches from Ilolinshed with no more alteration than was necessary to the numbers of his verse.' The other alternative of the same critic, whose opinion is shared by Malone, that the reason of this carelessness might be explained by Ben Jonson having revised the play for a performance at Court, is a mere vague hypothesis, as Ben Jonson was not more careless as regards diction and versification than Shakspeare, and he, the Court poet par excellence, would hardly have ventured to be so careless. But no doubt traces of hurry might be pointed out, not only in the versification and language, but also in the composition, especially in the somewhat obscure development of the third and fourth acts, as well as in the arrangement of the scene eulogising Elizabeth and James a fact to be accounted for only by external circumstances, inasmuch as it was Shakspeare's custom when writing his plays, not indeed to correct much, but subsequently to revise them. * We must therefore assume, either that Shakspeare was urged by a command from Court, or from his own company, to write a new play for the festivities in honour of the marriage of the princess Elizabeth, or at least urged in haste to finish a work which he had probably already commenced (the first three acts perhaps finished); he may possibly even have had to alter the original structure, more particularly the end, or it may be that he wrote the play in his latter years, and accordingly found no time to make a later revision, or to write the contemplated continuation in a second part. Any one of these suppositions would explain the above-mentioned defects, and to a great extent excuse most of them.*

mentions these peculiarities of the diction and versification, which he likewise considers as criteria of the last period of the poet's career, and yet assigns the play to the winter of 1603-4.

* These reasons make it impossible for me to agree with Collier (Shakespeare's Works, vol. v. 495 f.) in considering the Enterlude of King Henry 8th, which is entered in the Stationers' registers under Feb. 12th, 1605, as Shakspeare s Henry VIII. ; Collier himself shows us, from Henslowe's Diary, that about that time there existed, besides Rowley's play When You See Me, You Know Me, one or two other dramas which treated of the same subject, more especially of the relation in which Wolsey and King Renry stood to one another. Why therefore must the Enterlude be considered absolutely to have been Shakspeare's Henry VIII.?

Whatever may have been Shakspeare's reason for writing his · Henry VIII.,' the play at all events furnishes another proof of the great contrast between the works belonging to the last period of his dramatic career, and those of his earlier years, more especially his first productions. This contrast must be kept carefully in view, when any attempt is made to decide the question regarding the genuineness or spuriousness of the plays ascribed to him, which, if written by him, belong, at all events, to his youthful works. In so far · Henry VIII.'forms a kind of transition to our next Book, in which this question will be more fully discussed.

* It affords me great pleasure and satisfaction to find that W. A. B. Hertzberg, in his scholarly and able introduction to Henry VIII. (vol. iv. of the Schlegel-Tieck'sche Uebersetzung, published for the German Shakespeare Society) not only agrees with my criticism of the play, but also with my conjecture that it must be regarded as a play, written for some express occasion as a theatrical after-celebration of the marriage of the princess Elizabeth. Hertzberg, in opposition to Gervinus and Delius, very justly maintains that the eulogy to James (act v. 5) is evidently a later interpolation, but that English critics have, from this fact, drawn the erroneous conclusion that the play was written during Elizabeth's reign. But, in fact, this circumstance only supports my conjecture, inasmuch as, from it, we may further infer, that probably the Master of the Revels, or the King himself, desired the company in his service to give a dramatic performance in honour of the princess's marriage, and accordingly, that Shakspeare, being demanded quickly to provide a suitable piece, wrote his Henry VIII., but that after having presented it, and in consequence of the eulogies therein lavished upon Queen Elizabeth, he was induced to add a compliment to James.-Hertzberg, with his usual sagacity and his profound understanding of Shakspeare's historical dramas, also points out that the few and, generally speaking, unimportant chronological deviations which Shakspeare has made from Holinshed, were necessary, partly as regards the dramatic composition itself, partly for carrying out his intentions, and that uot only do they not injure the historical truth, which alone required to be considered, but that they rather throw a clearer light upna it.

« EelmineJätka »