图书图片
PDF
ePub

prove this play to have been written in lier lifetime; on the contrary, that the concluding lines of her character seem to imply that she was dead when it was composed. . The objeclion certainly has weight; but, I apprehend, the following obfervations afford a sufficient answer to it,

1. It is more likely that Shakspeare should have written a play, the chief subject of which is, the disgrace of Queen Catharine, the aggrandizement of Anne Boleyn, and the birih of her daughter, in the life-time of that daughter, than after her death : at a time when the subject must have been highly pleasing at court, rather than at a period when it must have been less interefling.

Queen Catharine, it is true, is represented as an amiable character, but still she is eclipsed; and the greater her merit, the higher was the compliment to the mother of Elizabeth, to whose superior beauty

she was obliged to give way.

2. If King Henry VIII, had been written in the time of King James I. the author, instead of expa. tiating so largely in the last scene, in praise of the queen, which he could not think would be acceptable to her successor, who hated her memory, would probably have made him the principal figure in the prophecy, and thrown her into the background as much as possible.

3. Were James I. Shakspeare's chief object in the original construction of the last act of this play,

6 King James on his accession to the throne studiously marked his disregard for Elizabeth by the favour which he Shewed to Lord Southampton, and to every other person who had been disgraced by her. Of this Shakspeare could not be ignorant. Vol. II.

L.

[ocr errors]

he would probably have given a very short character of Elizabeth, and have dwelt on that of James, with whose praise he would have concluded, in order to make the stronger impression on the audience, instead of returning again to Queen Elizabeth, in a very aukward and abrupt manner, after her character seemed to be quite finished : an aukwardness that can only be accounted for, by supposing the panegyrick on King James an after-production.

4. If the Queen had been dead when our author wrote this play, he would have been acquainted with the particular circumstances attending her death, the situation of the Kingdom at that time, and of foreign states, &c. and as archbishop Cranmer is supposed to have had the gift of prophecy, Shakspeare, probably, would have made him mention fome of those circumstances. Whereas the predi&ion, as it stands at present, is quite general , and such as might, without any hazard of error, have been pronounced in the life-time of her majesty; for the principal fa&s that it foretells, are, that she should die aged, and a virgin. Of the former, supposing this piece to have been written in 1601, the author was sufficiently secure; for she was thien near seventy years old. The latter may perhaps be thought to delicate a subject, to have been mentioned while she was yet living. But we may presume, it was far from being an ungrateful topick; for very early after her acceffion to the

? After having enumerated fome of the blessings which were to ensue from the birth of Elizabeth, and celebrated her majesty's various virtues, the poet thus proceeds:

" Cran. In her days every man shall eat in safety
“ Under his own vine, what he plants, and sing
5* The merry fongs of peace to all his neighbours.

throne, she appears to have been proud of her maiden character; declaring that she was wedded to her people, and that the desired no other inscription on her tomb, than-Here lyeth Elizabeth, who reigned and died a virgin. 8 Besides, if Shakspeare knew, as probably most people at that time did, that she became very solicitous about the reputation of virginity, when her title to it was at leaft equivocal, this would be an additional inducement to him to compliment her on that head.

5. Granting that the latter part of the panegyrick on Elizabeth implies that she was dead when it was composed, it would not prove that this play was written in the time of King Jaines; for these latter lines in praise of the queen, as well as the whole of the compliment to the king, might have

" God shall be truly known ; and those about her
" From her shall read the perfect ways of honour,
" And by those claim their greatness; not by blood.

[Nor shall this peace Neep with her ; but as when
- The bird of wonder dies, the maiden phonix,
* Her ashes new-Create another heir,
" As great in admiration as herself;
" So shall she leave her blessedness to one, &c.

He shall flourish,
And, like a mountain cedar, reach his branches
" To all the plains about him :mour children's children
" Shall see this, and bless heaven.

" King. Thou speakest wonders. ]

" Cran. She shall be, to the happiness of England, " An aged princess; many days shall see her, 66 And yet 110 day without a deed to crown it.

Would I had known no more! but, she must die. . She muft, the saints must have her; yet a virgin.” &c. The lines between crotchets are those suppofed to have been inserted by the author after the accession of King James. & Camden, 27. Melvil, 49.

been added after his accession to the throne, in order to bring the speaker back to the object immediately before him, the infant Elizabeth And this Mr. Theobald conjectured to have' been the case. I do not, however, see any necesity for this supposition; as there is nothing, in my apprehenfion, contained in any of the lines in praise of the queen,

inconsistent with the notion of the whole of the panegyrick on her having been composed in her life-time.

In further confirmation of what has been here advanced to fhew that this play was probably written while queen Elizabeth was yet alive, it may be observed, (to use the words of an anonymous writer, ') that “Shakspeare has cast the disagreeable parts of her father's character as much into shade as possible; that he has represented him as greatly displeased with the grievances of his subjects, and ordering them to be relieved; tender and obliging [in the early part of the play] to his queen, grateful to the cardinal, and in the case of Cranmer capable of distinguishing and rewarding true merit." “ He has exerted (adds the same author) an equal degree of complaisance, by the amiable lights in which he has shewn the mother of Elizabeth. Anne Bullen is represented as affected with the most tender concern for the sufferings of her mistress, queen Catharine; receiving the honour the king confers on her, by making her marchioness of Pembroke', with a graceful humility; and more anxious to conceal her advancement from the queen, left it should aggravate her forrows, than solicitous to penetrate

9 The author of Shakspeare. Iblastraiedo

into the meaning of so extraordinary a favour, or of indulging herself in the flattering prospect of future royalty."

It is unnecessary to quote particular passages in support of these assertions; but the following lines, which are spoken of Anne Boleyn by the Lord Chamberlain, appear to me fo evidently calculated for the ear of Elizabeth, (to whom such incense was by no means displeasing,) that I cannot forbear to transcribe' them :

" She is a gallant creature, and complete
" In mind and feature. I persuade me, from het
Will fall fome bleling to this land, which shall

" In it be memoriz'd." Again :

I have perus’d her well; Beauty and honour are in her so mingled, “ That they have caught the king: and who knows yet, " But from this lady may proceed a gem,

" To lighten all this isle." Our author had produced so many plays in the preceding years, that it is not likely that King Henry VIII. was written before 1601. It might perhaps with equal propriety be ascribed to 1602, and it is not easy to determine in which of those years it was composed; but it is extremely probable that it was written in one of them. It was not printed till 1623.

A poem, called the Life and Death of Thomas Wolsey, Cardinal, which was entered on the books of the Stationers' company, and published, in the year 1599, perhaps suggested this subject to Shaka speare. He had also certainly read Churchyard's Legend

« 上一页继续 »