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Now let your thoughts, as swift as is the wind,
Skip some few years that Cromwell spent in travel;
And now imagine him to be in England,
Servant unto the master of the rolls;
Where in short time he there began to flourish:
An hour shall show you what few years did cherish.”
The scene shifts to London, where Sir Christopher Hales is giving an entertainment to Cardinal Wolsey and Sir Thomas More, with Cromwell waiting on the guests. The sudden preferment of Cromwell to the highest confidence of Wolsey is accomplished with a celerity which was perfectly necessary when the poet had so many events to tell us:
“Wol. Sir Christopher, is that your man? Hales. An't like Your grace, he is a scholar, and a linguist; One that hath travelled through many parts Of Christendom, my lord. Wol. My friend, come nearer: have you been a traveller? Crom. My lord, I have added to my knowledge the Low Countries, With France, Spain, Germany, and Italy; And though small gain of profit I did find, Yet it did please my eye, content my mind. Wol. What do you think then of the several states And princes' courts as you have travelled? Crom. My lord, no court with England may compare, Neither for state nor civil government. Lust dwells in France, in Italy, and Spain, From the poor peasant to the prince's train. In Germany and Holland, riot serves; And he that most can drink, most he deserves. England I praise not for I here was born, But that she laughs the others unto scorn. Wol. My lord, there dwells within that spirit more Than can be discern'd by the outward eye:Sir Christopher, will you part with your man? Hales. I have sought to proffer him unto your lordship; And now I see he hath preferr'd himself. Wol. What is thy name? Crom. Cromwell, my lord. Wol. Then, Cromwell, here we make thee solicitor
Of our causes, and nearest, next ourself; Gardiner, give you kind welcome to the man.” The fourth act opens again with a chorus:– “Now Cromwell's highest fortunes do begin. Wolsey, that loved him as he did his life, Committed all his treasure to his hands. Wolsey is dead; and Gardiner, his man, Is now created bishop of Winchester. Pardon, if we omit all Wolsey's life, Because our play depends on Cromwell's death. Now sit and see his highest state of all, His height of rising, and his sudden fall. Pardon the errors are already past, And live in hope the best doth come at last. My hope upon your favour doth depend, And looks to have your liking ere the end.”
It was certainly needless for the author to apologize for omitting “all Wolsey's life;” but the apology is curious as exhibiting his rude notions of what was properly within the province of the drama. We have now Cromwell, after the death of Wolsey, become Sir Thomas Cromwell; and Gardiner makes a sudden resolution that he will have his head. The Florence merchant comes to London in want; and we presently find him at the hospitable board of Cromwell, with money-bags showered upon him, and his debts paid. We have in this act a scene between Gardiner and Cromwell which, feeble as it is, is amongst the best passages of the play:“Crom. Good morrow to my lord of Winchester: I know You bear me hard about the abbey lands. “Gard. Have I not reason, when religion's wrong'd? You had no colour for what you have done. Crom. Yes, the abolishing of antichrist, And of his popish order from our realm. I am no enemy to religion; But what is done, it is for England's good. What did they serve for, but to feed a sort Of lazy abbots and of full-fed friars? They neither plough nor sow, and yet they reap The fat of all the land, and suck the poor. Look, what was theirs is in King Henry's hands; His wealth before lay in the abbey lands. Gard. Indeed these things you have alleged, my lord;
Crom. Even with my soul. thou art my doctor, And bring'st me precious physic for my soul. My lord of Bedford, I desire of you Before my death a corporal embrace. Farewell, great lord; my love I do commend, My heart to you; my soul to heaven I send. This is my joy, that, ere my body fleet, Your honour'd arms are my true windingsheet. Farewell, dear Bedford; my peace is made in heaven. Thus falls great Cromwell, a poor ell in length, To rise to unmeasured height, wing'd with new strength, The land of worms, which dying men discover: My soul is shrined with heaven's celestial cover.”
It would be a waste of time to attempt to show that “Thomas Lord Cromwell’ could not have been written by Shakspere. Its entire management is most unskilful; there is no art whatever in the dramatic conception of plot or character; from first to last there is scarcely a passage that can be called poetry; there is nothing in it that gives us a notion of a writer capable of better things; it has none of the faults of the founders of the stage, false taste, extravagance, riches needlessly paraded. We are acquainted with no dramatic writer of mark or likelihood who was a contemporary of Shakspere to whom it may be assigned. If W. S. were Wentworth Smith, it must have been unlucky for him in his own time that his initials might excite a comparison with the great master of the drama; however fortunate he may have been in having descended to after-times in the same volume (the third folio edition of Shakspere) with ten historical plays that probably first stimulated his weak ambition.
CHAPTER IV. KING EDWARD III.
“THE Raigne of King Edward the third : As it hath bin sundrie times plaied about the Citie of London,’ was first published in 1596. It was entered on the registers of the Stationers' Company, December 1, 1595. The play was reprinted in 1599, and, judging from other entries in the Stationers' registers, also in 1609, 1617, and 1625. From that time the work was known only to the collectors of single plays, till, in 1760, Capell reprinted it in a volume entitled ‘ Prolusions, or Select Pieces of Ancient Poetry,’ as “A play thought to be writ by Shakespeare.” The editor of that volume thus speaks of the play in his preface :-‘But what shall be said of the poem that constitutes the second part 2 or how shall the curiosity be satisfied which it is probable may have been raised by the great name inserted in the title-page 2 That it was indeed written by Shakespeare, it cannot be said with candour that there is any external evidence at all: something of proof arises from resemblance between the style of his earlier performances and the work in question ; and a more conclusive one yet from consideration of the time it appeared in, in which there was no known writer equal to such a play: the fable of it too is taken from the same books which that author is known to have followed in some other plays, to wit, Holinshed's “Chronicle,” and a book of novels called ‘The Palace of Pleasure.” But, after all, it must be confessed that its being his work is conjecture only, and matter of opinion; and the reader must form one of his own, guided by what is now before him, and by what he shall meet with in perusal of the piece itself.” Capell was not a person to offer any critical reasons for his own belief; but the opinions of several able critics in our own time would show that he was not to be laughed at, as Steevens was inclined to laugh at him, for rescuing this play from
the hands of the mere antiquarians*. An acute critic says, “Capell was the first who directed attention to this play, as perhaps Shakspeare's ; and it is in every respect one of the best dramas of its time. It is very unequal, and its plot is unskilfully divided into two parts; but through most scenes there reign a pointed strength of thought and expression, a clear richness of imagery, and an apt though rough delineation of character, which entitle it to rank higher than any historical play of the sixteenth century, excepting Shakspere's admitted works of this class, and Marlowe's ‘Edward II.’”f The opinion of Ulrici is very full and decided upon the authorship of “Edward III.,’ and we may as well present it at once to the reader in its general bearings. “The play of “Edward III. and the Black Prince,’ &c., is entered not less than four times in the registers of the Stationers’ Company; first, on December 1, 1595; and lastly, on February 23, 1625. It was first printed in 1596, and reprinted in 1599, both editions being without the name of the author. Of any later edition I have no knowledge. Both these early editions, being anonymous, can, however, prove nothing. But, even if the later editions were equally without the announcement of the author, this certainly rather striking fact may be satisfactorily explained by the nature of the piece itself. In the first two acts we find many bitter attacks upon the Scots, inspired by English patriotism: these were thoroughly in place during Elizabeth's lifetime, who, it is well known, loved her successor not much better than she did his mother, and ever stood in a guarded attitude against Scotland. To James I., on the contrary, these passages must have given offence. But Shakspere was indebted to James for many kindnesses; and he has praised and celebrated him in several of his plays. Thus, in order to avoid wounding his sense of gratitude, he may either have expressly denied the paternity of “Edward III, or have refused to recognize it, and abandoned to its fate a piece that perhaps did not satisfy him upon other grounds. And in this way it may be also explained how a poem, which bears Shakspere's stamp so evidently, should have been overlooked or intentionally omitted by his friends Heminge and Condell, the editors of the first folio. That the piece probably belongs to Shakspere's earlier labours (without doubt two years at least before the date of its first being printed) is evident from the language and versification, from the many rhymed passages, but more particularly from the composition, which, if we consider the piece as one whole, is incontestably faulty. For the first two acts clearly stand alone much too independently; internally only partially united, and not at all externally, with the following three acts. In the first part the point of the action turns upon the love of the king for the beautiful Countess of Salisbury, whom he has released from the besieging Scottish army. The whole of this connection is no farther mentioned in the following part ; it comes to a total conclusion at the end of the second act, where the king, conquered, and at the same time strengthened, by the virtuous greatness of the countess, renounces his passion, and becomes again the master of himself. The countess then disappears wholly from the scene, which is changed to the victorious campaign of Edward III. and his heroic son the Black Prince. The play thus falls into two different Parts. But the fault which this involves wholly vanishes immediately that we take the two halves for two different pieces, united into a whole, in the same manner as the two Parts of ‘Henry IV.” Everything then rounds itself into a complete and beautiful historical composition, which is throughout worthy of the great poet.”
* Steevens, in a note upon the entry in the Stationers' registers, says—“This is ascribed to Shakspeare by the compilers of ancient catalogues.” This was one of the modes in which Steevens thought it clever to insult Capell by a contemptuous neglect.
+ “Edinburgh Review,’ vol. lxxi. p. 471.
Of the value of this opinion of the very able German critic before us we shall endeavour to lead our readers to form their own judgment. If they come to the conclusion that the play is not Shakspere's, they will at least acquire a familiarity with some striking scenes and passages which are little known to English readers. The early editions are very rare; and Capell’s volume is by no means a common book.
The view which Ulrici has taken that “The Reign of Edward III.’ must be considered as a play in two Parts is perfectly just. But it must also be borne in mind that Shakspere has himself furnished us no example of such a complete division of the action in any one historical play which he has left us. The two Parts of ‘Henry IV.” comprised two distinct plays, each complete in itself, each performed on a separate day, but each connected with the other by a chorus which fills up the gap of time. So the three Parts of ‘Henry VI.’ and “Richard III.’ are perfectly separate, although essentially connected. The plan pursued in the ‘Edward III.' is, to say the least, exceedingly inartificial. If the writer of this play had possessed more dramatic skill, he might have made the severance of the action less abrupt. As it is, the link is snapped short. In the first two acts we have the Edward of romance,—a puling lover, a heartless seducer, a despot, and then a penitent. In the last three acts we have the Edward of history, the ambitious hero, the stern conqueror, the affectionate husband, the confiding father. The one portion of the drama pretty closely follows the apocryphal and inconsistent story in ‘The Palace of Pleasure, how “A King of England loved a daughter of one of his noblemen, which was Countess of Salisbury.” And here the author has certainly produced some powerful scenes, and considerably improved upon the fable which he in great part followed. In the latter portion of the play he has Froissart before him ; and, dealing with those incidents which were calculated to call forth the highest poetical efforts, such as the battle of Poitiers and the siege of Calais, the dramatist is strikingly inferior to the fine old; chronicler. When Shakspere dealt with heroic subjects, as in his “Henry W.,’ he kept pretty closely to the original narratives; but he breathed a life into the commonest occurrences, which leaves us to wonder how the exact could be so intimately blended with the poetical, and how that which is the most natural should, through the force of a few magical touches, become the most sublime. We do not trace this wonderful power in the play before us: talent there certainly is, but the great creative spirit is not visible. The play opens with Robert of Artois explaining to Edward III. the claims which he has to the crown of France through his mother Isabelle. This finished, the Duke of Lorraine arrives to summon Edward to do homage to the King of France for the dukedom of Guienne. The scene altogether reminds us of the second scene of the first act of ‘Henry W., where the Archbishop of Canterbury expounds the Salic law, and the ambassadors of France arrive with an insolent message to Henry from the Dauphin. The parallel scenes in both plays have some resemblance to the first scene of “King John,' where Chatillon arrives with a message from France. It is probable that the “Henry W.’ of Shakspere was not written till after this play of “Edward III. ;’ and the “King John,' as we now have it, might probably be even a later play: but the original “King John,’ in two Parts, belongs, without doubt, to an earlier period than the ‘Edward III.,’ and the same resemblance in this scene holds good with that play. Upon the departure of Lorraine, the rupture of the league with the Scots is announced to Edward, with the further news that the Countess of Salisbury is besieged in the castle of Roxburgh. The second scene shows us the countess upon the walls of the castle, and then King David of Scotland enters, and thus addresses himself to Lorraine:–
“Dav. My lord of Lorraine, to our brother of France Commend us, as the man in Christendom Whom we most reverence and entirely love. Touching your embassage, return, and say, That we with England will not enter parley, Nor never make fair weather, or take truce;
But burn their neighbour towns, and so persist With eager roads beyond their city York. And never shall our bonny riders rest; Nor rusting canker have the time to eat Their light-borne snaffles, nor their nimble spurs; Nor lay aside their jacks of gymold mail; Nor hang their staves of grained Scottish ash In peaceful wise upon their city walls; Nor from their button'd tawny leathern belts Dismiss their biting whinyards, – till your king Cry out “Enough; spare England now for pity.’ Farewell: and tell him, that you leave us here Before this castle; say, you came from us Even when we had that yielded to our hands.”
If this speech be not Shakspere's, it is certainly a closer imitation of the freedom of his versification, and the truth and force of his imagery, than can be found in any of the historical plays of that period. We do not except even the “Edward II.’ of Marlowe, in which it would be difficult to find a passage in which the poetry is so little conventional as the lines which we have just quoted. And this brings us to the important consideration of the date of “Edward III.' Ulrici holds that it was written at least two years before it was published. We cannot see the reason for this opinion. It was entered on the Stationers' registers on the 1st of December, 1595, and we have pretty good evidence in many cases that such entry was concurrent with the time of the original performance. If the “Edward III, then, was first produced in 1595, there can be no doubt that Shakspere's historical plays were already before the public—the “Henry VI,’ and ‘Richard III,’—in all probability the ‘Richard II.' Bearing this circumstance in mind, we can easily understand how a new school of writers should, in 1595, have been formed, possessing, perhaps, less original genius than some of the earlier founders of the drama, but having an immense advantage over them in the models which the greatest of those founders had produced. Still this consideration does not wholly war