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KING HENRY IV.-PART II.
The composition of this play has been assigned by Malone to the year 1599, while Mr. Chalmers and Dr. Drake suppose it to have been written as early as 1596 or 1597. The play of Henry IV. is mentioned in the list of Shakspeare's works, in Meres' Wits' Treasury, 1598; and, by the Epilogue to this drama, it appears to have preceded King Henry V. which is fixed with some accuracy to 1599. It was entered at Stationers' Hall, August 23d, 1600, and the first two editions of it in quarto were published in the same year. Its action comprehends a period of nine years, commencing with Hotspur's death in 1403, and terminating with the coronation of King Henry V. in 1412-13. . These two plays,' says Dr. Johnson, 'will appear to every reader, who shall peruse them without ambition of critical discoveries, to be so connected, that the second is merely a sequel to the first; to be two only because they are too long to be one.'
In reading Holinshed for these plays, our poet's eye was evidently eager in quest of scattered hints of personal character, and on these, whenever he was fortunate enough to meet with them, his exuberant imagination worked with boldness. The dismissal of Falstaff, as one of Henry's dissolute companions, is conformable to the old bistorian, but his committal to the Fleet is an act of severity volunteered by Shakspeare. A reference to Stowe in this case would have been eminently useful to him: the prince's companions are there disposed of in a manner gratifying to the feelings of humanity, and consistent with the claims of justice. • After his coronation, King Henry called unto him all those young lords and gentlemen who were the followers of his young acts, to every one of whom he gave rich gifts; and then commanded, that as many as would change their manners, as he intended to do, should abide with him in his court; and to all that would persevere in their former like conversation, he gave express commandment, upon pain of their heads, never after that day to come in his presence.'
• None of Shakspeare's plays,' adds Dr. Johnson,
more read than the First and Second Parts of Henry the Fourth : perhaps no author has ever in two plays afforded so much delight. The great events are interesting, for the fate of kingdoms depends on them; the slighter occurrences are diverting, and, except one or two, sufficiently probable : the incidents are multiplied with wonderful fertility of invention; and the characters diversified with the utmost nicety of discernment, and the profouudest skill in the nature of man.
. The prince, who is the hero both of the comic and tragic part, is a young man of great abilities and violent passions; whose sentiments are right, though his actions are wrong; whose virtues are obscured by negligence, and whose understanding is dissipated by levity. In his idle hours · he is rather loose than