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Henry the fifth, we have a whole Scene in it, and in other places it occurs familiarly in the Dialogue.
We may observe in general, that the early Editions have not half the quantity ; and every sentence, or rather every word, most ridiculously blundered. These, for several reasons, could not possibly be published by the Author; and it is extremely probable that the French ribaldry was at first inserted by a different hand, as the many additions most certainly were after he had left the Stage.—Indeed, every friend to his memory will not easily believe that he was acquainted with the Scene between Catharine and the old Gentlewoman; or surely he would not have admitted such obscenity and nonsense.
Mr. Hawkins, in the Appendix to Mr. Johnson's Edition, hath an ingenious observation to prove that Shakespeare, supposing the French to be his, had very little knowledge of the language.
“Est-il impossible d'eschapper la force de ton Bras?” says a Frenchman.—“ Brass, cur ?” replies Pistol.
“ Almost any one knows that the French word Bras is pronounced Brau; and what resemblance of sound does this bear to Brass ?”
Mr. Johnson makes a doubt whether the pronunciation of the French language may not be changed since Shakespeare's time; “if not,” says he, “it may be suspected that some other man wrote the French scenes": but this does not appear to be the case, at least in this termination, from the rules of the Grammarians, or the practice of the Poets. I am certain of the former from the French Alphabet of De la Mothe, and the Orthoepia Gallica of John Eliot ; and of the latter from the Rhymes of Marot, Ronsard, and Du Bartas.-Connections of this kind were very common. Shakespeare himself assisted Ben. Jonson in his Sejanus, as it was originally written; and Fletcher in his Two noble Kinsmen.
But what if the French scene were occasionally introduced into every Play on this Subject ? and perhaps there were more than one before our Poet's.-In Pierce Penilesse his Supplication to the Diuell, 4to. 1592 (which, it seems, from the Epistle to the Printer, was not the first Edition), the Author, Nash, exclaims, “What a glorious thing it is to have Henry the fifth represented on the Stage leading the French King prisoner, and forcing both him and the Dolphin to sweare fealty !”—And it appears from the Jests of the famous Comedian, Tarlton, 4to. 1611, that he had been particularly celebrated in the Part of the Clown in Henry the fifth; but no such Character exists in the Play of Shakespeare.—Henry the sixth hath ever been doubted; and a passage in the above-quoted piece of Nash may give us reason to believe it was previous to our Author. “How would it have joyed braue Talbot (the terror of the French) to thinke that after he had lyen two hundred yeare in his Toomb, he should triumph again on the Stage ; and haue his bones new embalmed with the teares of ten thousand spectators at least (at severall times) who, in the Tragedian that represents his person, imagine they behold him fresh bleeding.”—I have no doubt but Henry the sixth had the same Author with Edward the third, which hath been recovered to the world in Mr. Capell's Prolusions.
It hath been observed that the Giant of Rabelais is sometimes alluded to by Shakespeare : and in his time no translation was extant.-But the Story was in every one's hand.
In a Letter by one Laneham, or Langham, for the name is written differently, concerning the Entertainment at Killingwoorth Castle, printed 1575, we have a list of the vulgar Romances of the age, “King Arthurz book, Huon of Burdeaus, Friar Rous, Howleglass, and GARGANTUA.” Meres mentions him as equally hurtful to young minds with the Four Sons of Aymon, and the Seven Champions. And John Taylor hath him likewise in his catalogue of Authors, prefixed to Sir Gregory Nonsence.
But to come to a conclusion, I will give you an irrefragable argument that Shakespeare did not understand
two very common words in the French and Latin languages.
According to the Articles of agreement between the Conqueror Henry and the King of France, the latter was to stile the former (in the corrected French of the modern Editions) “ Nostre tres cher filz Henry Roy d'Angleterre; and in Latin, Præclarissimus Filius, &c.” “What,” says Dr. Warburton, “is tres cher in French præclarissimus in Latin! we should read præcarissimus.”— This appears to be exceedingly true ; but how came the blunder ? It is a typographical one in Holingshed, which Shakespeare copied ; but must indisputably have corrected, had he been acquainted with the languages.“Our said Father, during his life, shall name, call, and write us in French in this maner : Nostre tres chier filz, Henry Roy d'Engleterre—and in Latine in this maner : Præclarissimus filius noster.” Edit. 1587, p. 574.
To corroborate this instance, let me observe to you, though it be nothing further to the purpose, that another error of the same kind hath been the source of a mistake in an historical passage of our Author; which hath ridiculously troubled the Criticks.
Richard the third harangues his army before the Battle of Bosworth :
Remember whom ye are to cope withal,
A milksop, &c.“ Our Mother,” Mr. Theobald perceives to be wrong, and Henry was somewhere secreted on the Continent: he reads therefore, and all the Editors after him,
Long kept in Bretagne at his mother's cost. But give me leave to transcribe a few more lines from Holingshed, and you will find at once that Shakespeare had been there before me :-“ Ye see further, how a companie of traitors, theeves, outlaws, and runnagates be aiders and partakers of his feat and enterprise.—And to begin with the erle of Richmond, captaine of this rebellion, he is a Welsh milksop/brought up by my Moother's meanes and mine, like a captive in a close cage, in the court of Francis duke of Britaine." P. 756.
Holingshed copies this verbatim from his brother chronicler Hall, Edit. 1548, fol. 54 ; but his Printer hath given us by accident the word Moother instead of Brother ; as it is in the Original, and ought to be in Shakespeare.
I hope, my good Friend, you have by this time acquitted our great Poet of all piratical depredations on the Ancients, and are ready to receive my Conclusion.He remembered perhaps enough of his school-boy learning to put the Hig, hag, hog, into the mouth of Sir Hugh Evans; and might pick up in the Writers of the time, or the course of his conversation, a familiar phrase or two of French or Italian : but his Studies were most demonstratively confined to Nature and his own Language.
In the course of this disquisition, you have often smiled at “all such reading as was never read”: and possibly I may have indulged it too far: but it is the reading necessary for a Comment on Shakespeare. Those who apply solely to the Ancients for this purpose, may with equal wisdom study the Talmud for an Exposition of TRISTRAM SHANDY. Nothing but an intimate acquaintance with the Writers of the time, who are frequently of no other value, can point out his allusions, and ascertain his Phraseology. The Reformers of his Text are for ever equally positive, and equally wrong. The Cant of the Age, a provincial Expression, an obscure Proverb, an obsolete Custom, a Hint at a Person or a Fact no longer remembered, hath continually defeated the best of our Guessers : You must not suppose me to speak at random, when I assure you that, from some forgotten book or other, I can demonstrate this to you in many hundred Places ; and I almost wish that I had not been persuaded into a different Employment.
Tho' I have as much of the Natale Solum about me as any man whatsoever; yet, I own, the Primrose Path is still more pleasing than the Fosse or the Watling Street :