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ON THE Fable And Composition of THE



THE action of this play (which was at first printed under this title, The true Tragedy of Richard Duke of York, and the good King Henry the Sixth; or, The Second Part of the Contention of York and Lancaster) opens just after the first battle at Saint Alban's, wherein the York faction carried the day; and closes with the murder of king Henry VI. and the birth of prince Edward, afterwards king Edward V. So that this history takes in the space of full sixteen years.


The present historical drama was altered by Crowne, and brought on the stage in the year 1680, under the title of The Miseries of Civil War. Surely the works of Shakspere could have been little read at that period; for Crowne in his pro logue, declares the play to be entirely his own composition :

"For by his feeble skill 'tis built alone,

"The divine Shakspere did not lay one stone:"

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whereas the very first scene is that of Jack Cade copied almost verbatim from the second part of King Henry VI. and several others from this third part, with as little variation. STEEVENS.

The three parts of Henry VI. are suspected, by Mr. Theobald, of being supposititious, and are declared, by Dr. Warburton, to be certainly not Shakspere's. Mr. Theobald's suspicion arises from some obsolete words; but the phraseology is like the rest of our author's style, and single words, of which however I do not observe more than two, can conclude little.

Dr. Warburton gives no reason, but I suppose him to judge upon deeper principles and more comprehensive views, and to draw his opinion from the general effect and spirit of the composition, which he thinks inferior to the other historical plays.

From mere inferiority nothing can be inferred; in the productions of wit there will be inequality. Sometimes judgment will err, and sometimes the matter itself will defeat the artist. Of every author's works one will be the best, and one will be the worst. The colours are not equally pleasing, nor the attitudes equally graceful, in all the pictures of Titian or Reynolds.

Dissimilitude of style and heterogeneousness of sentiment, may sufficiently show that a work does not really belong to the reputed author. But in these plays no such marks of spuriousness are found. The diction, the versification, and the figures, are Shakspere's. These plays, considered, without regard to characters and incidents, merely as narratives in verse, are more happily conceived and more accurately finished than those of king John, Richard II. or the tragic scenes of Henry IV, and V. If we take these plays from Shak


spere, to whom shall they be given? What author of that age had the same easiness of expression and fluency of num


Having considered the evidence given by the plays themselves, and found it in their favour, let us now inquire what corroboration can be gained from other testimony. They are ascribed to Shakspere by the first editors, whose atteftation may be received in questions of fact, however unskilfully they superintended their edition. They seem to be declared ge nuine by the voice of Shakspere himself, who refers to the second play in his epilogue to Henry V. and apparently connects the first act of Richard III. with the last of the third part of Henry VI. If it be objected that the plays were popular, and that therefore he alluded to them as well known; it may be answered, with equal probability, that the natural passions of a poet would have disposed him to separate his own works from those of an inferior hand. And, indeed, if an author's own testimony is to be overthrown by speculative criticism, no man can be any longer secure of literary reputation.

Of these three plays I think the second the best. The truth is, that they have not sufficient variety of action, for the incidents are too often of the same kind; yet many of the characters are well discriminated. King Henry, and his queen, king Edward, the duke of Gloucester, and the earl of Warwick, are very strongly and distinctly painted.

The old copies of the two latter parts of Henry VI. and of Henry V. are so apparently imperfect and mutilated, that there is no reason for supposing them the first draughts of Shakspere. I am inclined to believe them copies taken by some auditor who wrote down, during the representation, what the time would permit, then perhaps filled up some of his omis

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sions at a second or third hearing, and when he had by this method formed something like a play, sent it to the printer.

JOHNSON. So, Heywood, in the Preface to his Rape of Lucrece (fourth impression), 1630:

"6 -for though some have used a double sale of their labours, first to the stage and after to the press, for my own part I here proclaim myself ever faithful to the first, and never guilty of the last: yet since some of my plays have (unknown to me, and without any of my direction) accidentally come into the printer's hands, and therefore so corrupt and mangled (copied only by the ear), that I have been as unable to know them as ashamed to challenge them. This therefore I was the willinger, &c." COLLINS.

Dr. Johnson's conjecture is likewise confirmed by a Pro. logue of Thomas Heywood's to a play of his entitled, If you know not me you know Nobody, 1623:

'Twas ill nurst,

"And yet received as well perform'd at first,
"Grac'd and frequented, for the cradle age
"Did throng the seats, the boxes and the stage
"So much, that some by stenography drew
"The plot, put it in print; scarce one word true :
"And in that lameness it has limp'd so long,
"The author now, to vindicate that wrong,
"Hath took the pains upright upon its feet
"To teach it walk-so please you sit and see it."


There is another circumstance which may serve to strengthen this supposition, viz. that most of the fragments of Latin



omitted in the quartos, are to be found in the folio; and when any of them are inserted in the former, they are shamefully corrupted and mis-spelt. The auditor, who understood English, might be unskill'd in any other language. STEEVENS.

I have already given some reasons, why I cannot believe, that these plays were originally written by Shakspere. The question, who did write them? is at best, but an argument ad ignorantiam. We must remember, that very many old plays are anonymous; and that play-writing was scarcely yet thought reputable: nay, some authors express for it great horrors of repentance. I will attempt, however, at some future time, to answer this question: the disquisition of it would be too long for this place.

One may at least argue, that the plays were not written by Shakspere, from Shakspere himself. The Chorus at the end of Henry V. addresses the audience

-For their sake,

"In your fair minds let this acceptance take.”

But it could be neither agreeable to the poet's judgment or his modesty to recommend his new play from the merit and success of Henry VI.!-His claim to indulgence is, that, though bending and unequal to the task, he has ventured to pursue the story and this sufficiently accounts for the connec tion of the whole, and the allusions of particular passages.


It is seldom that Dr. Farmer's arguments fail to enforce conviction; but here, perhaps, they may want somewhat of their usual weight. I think that Shakspere's bare mention of these pieces, is a sufficient proof they were his. That they were so, could be his only motive for inferring benefit to him


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