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study the 'Henry VI.,' we find in the First Part that the action does not appear to progress to a catastrophe; that the author lingers about the details, as one who was called upon to exhibit an entire series of events rather than the most dramatic portions of them ;-there are the alternations of success and loss, and loss and success, till we somewhat doubt to which side to assign the victory. The characters are firmly drawn, but without any very subtle distinctions,—and their sentiments and actions appear occasionally inconsistent, or at any rate not guided by a determined purpose in the writer. It is easy to perceive that this mode of dealing with a complicated subject was the most natural and obvious to be adopted by an unpractised poet, who was working without models. But, although the effect may be, to a certain extent, undramatic, there is impressed upon the whole performance a wonderful air of truth. Much of this must have resulted from the extraordinary quality of the poet's mind, which could tear off all the flimsy conventional disguises of individual character, and penetrate the real moving principle of events with a rare acuteness, and a rarer impartiality. In our view, that whole portion of The First Part of Henry
VI.' which deals with the character and actions of Joan of Arc is a remarkable example of this power in Shakspere. We find her described in the Chronicles under every form of vituperation,-a monstrous woman, a monster, a ramp, a devilish witch and satanical enchantress, an organ of the devil. She was the main instrument through which England had lost France; and thus the people still hated her memory. She claimed to be invested with supernatural powers; and thus her name was not only execrated, but feared. Neither the patriotism nor the superstition of Shakspere's age would have endured that the Pucelle should have been
dismissed from the scene without vengeance taken upon her imagined crimes; or that confession should not be made by her which would exculpate the authors of her death. Shakspere has conducted her history up to the point when she is handed over to the stake. Other writers would have burnt her
upon the scene, and the audience would have shouted with the same delight that they felt when the Barabas of Marlowe was thrown into the caldron. Shakspere, following the historian, has made her utter a contradictory confession of one of the charges against her honour; but he has taken care to show that the brutality of her English persecutors forced from her an inconsistent avowal, if it did not suggest a false one, for the purpose of averting a cruel and instant death. In the treatment which she receives from York and Warwick, the poet has not exhibited one single circumstance that might excite sympathy for them. They are cold, and cruel, and insolent, because a defenceless creature whom they had dreaded is in their power. Her parting malediction has, as it appears to us, especial reference to the calamities which await the authors of her death:
'May never glorious sun reflex his beams
Upon the country where you make abode ! But darkness and the gloomy shade of death Environ you."
But in all the previous scenes Shakspere has drawn the character of the Maid with her patriotism, her high intellect, and her an undisguised sympathy for her courage,
enthusiasm. If she had been the defender of England, and not of France, the poet could not have invested her with higher attributes. It is in her mouth that he puts his choicest It is thoughts and his most musical verse. she who says,
"Glory is like a circle in the water, Which never ceaseth to enlarge itself, Till, by broad spreading, it disperse to nought." It is she who solicits the alliance of Burgundy in a strain of impassioned eloquence which belongs to one fighting in a high cause with unconquerable trust, and winning over enemies by the firm resolves of a vigorous understanding and an unshaken will. The lines beginning
"Look on thy country, look on fertile France," might have given the tone to everything that has been subsequently written in honour of the Maid. It was his accurate knowledge of
the springs of character, which in so young a man appears almost intuitive, that made Shakspere adopt this delineation of Joan of Arc. He knew that, with all the influence of her supernatural pretension, this extraordinary woman could not have swayed the destinies of kingdoms, and moulded princes and warriors to her will, unless she had been a person of very rare natural endowments. She was represented by the Chroniclers as a mere virago, a bold and shameless trull, a monster, a witch;-because they adopted the vulgar view of her character,—the view, in truth, of those to whom she was opposed. They were rough soldiers, with all the virtues and all the vices of their age; the creatures of brute force; the champions, indeed, of chivalry, but with the brand upon them of all the selfish passions with which the highest deeds of chivalry were too invariably associated. The wonderful thing about 'The First Part of Henry VI.' is, that these men, who stood in the same relation of time to Shakspere's age as the men of Anne do to ours, should have been painted with a pencil at once so vigorous and so true. The English Chroniclers, in all that regards the delineation of characters and manners, give us abundant materials upon which we may form an estimate of actions, and motives, and instruments; but they do not show us the instruments moving in their own forms of vitality; they do not lay bare their motives; and hence we have no real key to their actions. Froissart is, perhaps, the only contemporary writer who gives us real portraits of the men of mail. But Shakspere marshalled them upon his stage, in all their rude might, their coarse ambition, their low jealousies, their factious hatreds-mixed up with their thirst for glory, their indomitable courage, their warm friendships, their tender natural affections, their love of country. They move over his scene, displaying alike their grandeur and their littleness. He arrays them, equally indifferent whether their faults or their excellences be most prominent. The "terrible Talbot" denounces his rival Fastolfe with a bitterness unworthy a companion in arms, enters into a fierce war of words with the Pucelle, in which her power of understanding leaves
| him almost contemptible, and fights onward from scene to scene as if there were nothing high in man except the power of warring against his fellows: but he weeps like a lover over the fruitless gallantry of his devoted son; and he folds his dead boy in his rough arms, even as the mother, perishing with her child, takes the cold clay of the dear one to her bosom. This is the truth which Shakspere substituted for the vague delineations of the old stage. These are the pictures of manners which he gave to the people, when other poets adopted the easier expedient of separating the imaginative from the vulgar view of human actions and passions, only by rejecting whatever was real. He gave to his audiences new characters and new manners, simply because he presented to them the characters and manners of the ages which he undertook to delineate. Other men were satisfied to find the new in what never had an existence.
But, with all this truth of characterization and of costume, the scattered events, the multifarious details, the alternations from factions at home to wars abroad, would have never hung together as a dramatic whole, had the poet not supplied a principle of cohesion, by which what is distant either in time or space, or separated in the natural progression of events, is bound together. We feel in the First Part of the 'Henry VI.' that some unseen principle is in operation by which the action still moves onward to a fixed point. One by one the great soldiers of Henry V. fade from the scene-the Salisburys, and Bedfords, and Talbots, who held France as their hunting-ground. Other actors come upon the busy stage, more distinctly associated with the scenes of factious strife which are to follow. The beginnings of those strifes are heard even amidst the din of the battlefields of France; and, surrounded by terrible slaughter and fruitless victories, we have an unstable peace and a marriage without hope— an imbecile king and a discontented nobility. Amidst all this involvement the poet disdains, as it were, to illuminate the thick darkness beyond with a single ray. We see only the progression of events without their consequences; and the belief produced upon the mind is, that a fate presides over their direc
tion. The effect is achieved by the masterly | the high poetry of those plays-not the skill with which the future is linked to the present-felt, but not seen.
It appears to us that one of the most decisive proofs that Shakspere was the original author of the three Parts of Henry VI.' is to be derived from the evidence which these plays present of the gradual increase of power in the writer. We say this without reference to the passages which have been added to 'The Contention;'* for all the real dramatic power is most thoroughly developed in the original plays that have grown into the Second and Third Parts of the 'Henry VI.' The succeeding process to which they were subjected was simply one of technical elaboration and refinement. We have no doubt at all that 'The First Part of Henry VI.' originally existed in a rougher form. Whoever compares it critically with the two Parts of "The Contention' will perceive that much of the ruggedness which belongs to those dramas has no place in this first drama of the series. For instance, it has very few Alexandrines; the use of old words, such as belike," is very rare, that word being frequently found in 'The Contention;' and the versification altogether, though certainly more monotonous, is what we may call more correct than that of 'The Contention.' How it could ever have been held that this play has undergone no repair, is to us one of the many marvellous things that belong to the ordinary critical estimation of it. Be the changes it has passed through few or many, it is evident to us that all the material parts of the original structure are still to be found. But whatever rapidity of action, truth of characterization, and correctness of style it may possess, in a pre-eminent degree, as compared with other plays of the period, it is not, in all the higher essentials of dramatic excellence, to be placed in the same scale as the two Parts of "The Contention.' It wants, speaking generally,
*In 1594 was published The first Part of the Conten
tion between the two famous Houses of York and Lancaster.' This play, in the entire conduct of the scenes, and a great part of the dialogue, is the Second Part of Henry VI.' In 1595 appeared The true Tragedy of Richard Duke of York,' known also as the Second Part of the Contention.' This is the parallel play to the Third Part of Henry VI. The first Part of Henry VI.' originally appeared in the folio of 1623.
mere poetry of description, but the teeming thought, the figurative expression, the single word that conveys a complex idea with more distinctness and much more force than the periphrasis of ordinary writers. It results from this very defect that 'The First Part of Henry VI.' has far less obscurity than the succeeding parts. We may venture to say that there is no play of the whole number received as Shakspere's which exhibits so few passages of doubtful meaning; and this we hold to be a consequence of its being one of his very earliest performances. All the very early plays possess this attribute, more or less. We can understand how a poet of Shakspere's extraordinary judgment—the quality which we hold to be as remarkable in him as his invention - should, surrounded as he was with dramatic productions teeming with extravagance and unreality of every description, first endeavour to be correct and to be intelligible. But of what other author, who belonged to the transition-state of the drama, can it be said that intelligibility was a characteristic? Who else has attempted to give us the familiar without the vapid or the gross, and the dignified without the inflated? Who, in a word, of our dramatic writers between 1585 and 1590, trusted to the power of the real?
The value of any work of art is to be tested rather by its effect as a whole than by the effect of particular parts. And this especially applies to a work of dramatic art; for parts even fine in themselves may, with reference to the entire effect of a drama, be blemishes instead of beauties. No writer that ever lived has approached Shakspere in the skill by which the whole is made to produce its entire and undisturbed effect. He is thus, of all poets, the least to be appreciated from the study alone of "specimens." For, although these may be sufficient to place him in the highest rank, in comparison with the "specimens of other writers, yet, separated from the parts by which they are naturally surrounded, they furnish no idea of the extraordinary harmony with which they are blended with all that has preceded and all
that follows them. Shakspere, beyond every other dramatic writer, possesses the power of sustaining the continuous idea, which imparts its own organization and vitality to the most complex and apparently incongruous action, to the most diversified and seemingly isolated characters.
Without understanding the paramount idea, the manufacturers of acting plays have proceeded to the abridgment and transposition of Shakspere's scenes, and have produced such monsters as Davenant's "Tempest' and Tate's 'Lear.' It is in the same spirit that the critics upon the 'Henry VI.' hold that these dramas are greatly inferior to Shakspere's other performances; and hence the theory of their spuriousness. But, as we believe, the informing idea in all its dramatic power and unity runs through the entire series of these plays, and, as we think, is most especially manifest in the two Parts of The Contention.' For what is the effect which the poet intended in these two dramas to produce on the minds of his audience? There was to be shown a dark chaotic mass of civil tumult, of factious strifes, of fierce and bloody hatreds, of desperate ambition, of political profligacy, of popular ignorance, of weak government. The struggle was to be continued, while each faction had its alternations of success; each was to exhibit the same demoralising effects of the same frenzied ambition which drove them onward; the course of events was sometimes to be determined by energy and sometimes by accident; weakness was to throw away what power and good fortune had won; alliances were to be broken by causeless quarrels, and cemented by motiveless treachery; and, lastly, when the everpresent fate which seemed to dominate over this wild and fearful confusion gave the final battle to the feeble, and hurled down the mighty from the car of victory, there was to be superfluous guilt in the hour of success, and the conquerors were to march to thrones with their hands red with murder. But what principle was to hold together all these apparently incongruous elements? How were the separate scenes, each so carelessly, as it were, linked with the other,
to produce one overwhelming interest, stimulate one prevailing curiosity, satisfy one irresistible craving in the spectators? The stern majesty of justice was made to preside over the course of these wild and mysterious events-sometimes dimly seen, sometimes wholly hidden, but rising up ever and anon out of thick clouds and darkness, to assert the overruling power of some government of events, more equal, more enduring, more mighty, and more fearful, than the direction which they received from human energy, and passion, and intellect, and guilt. Shakspere has never chosen to exhibit this tremendous agency after that unnatural manner which we are accustomed to call poetical justice— he developes the progress of that real justice which sometimes, for inscrutable purposes, permits the good to be forsaken, to be humiliated, to be crushed, to perish, but which invariably follows the guilty with some dismal retribution, more striking if it be seen,— more terrible if it be hidden from all eyes, and revealed only in the innermost heart of the peace-abandoned. He never distorts and vulgarises the manifest workings of a providential arbitrement of human actions, by heaping every calamity upon the good man,
searing his heart with tortures which leave the wheel and the stake but little to inflict, -and then, hey presto, turning the dirge into a dance-the prison into a palace,— whilst the tyrant and the villain has his profitable account settled with a stab or an execution. jig-maker." But Shakspere never forgets that in the general course of actual events there is a slow but unerring retribution that follows the violation of justice, evolved, not by the shifting of a scene, but out of the natural consequences of the events themselves. Let us endeavour to trace how this paramount idea is brought out in the dramas before us.
Poetical justice is " your only
Sir Walter Scott somewhere speaks, through one of his characters, of the "Lancastrian prejudices" of Shakspere. The great novelist had probably in his mind the delineation of Richard. But it would be difficult, we think, to have conducted the entire chronicle history of 'The Contention between the two
famous houses of York and Lancaster' with | linked with the after-scenes of the great conmore rigid impartiality. This just and tole- test of the Roses. But it was the object of rant view of human events and characters the poet to show the beginnings of faction, constitutes one of the most remarkable pecu- | continued onward in the same form from the The Protectorship was liarities of the mind of Shakspere; and its previous drama. manifestation in the drama before us fur- essentially a government of weakness, through nishes one of the many proofs, and to us not the jealousies which it engendered and the the least convincing, that they could alone intrigues by which it was surrounded. But the removal of the Protector left the governhave emanated from that mind. For, let us turn to the very first scenes of these dramas, ment more weak, subjected as it then was and we shall find the character of the Lan- to the capricious guidance of the imbecility castrian Margaret gradually displaying itself of Henry and the violence of Margaret. Of in an aptitude for bold and dangerous in- such a rule popular commotions are the natrigue, founded upon her pride and impa- tural fruit. The author of 'The Contention,' tience of a rival in authority. The Duchess with a depth of political wisdom which of Gloster is tempted by her own weak ambi- Shakspere invariably displays, has exhibited tion to meddle with the "lime-twigs" that the insurrection of Cade, not as a revolt for have been set for her. But it is the passion-specific objects, such as the removal of public ate hatred of Margaret, lending itself to schemes of treachery and bloodshed, that drives on the murder of the "good Duke Humphrey." With the accomplices of Mar- | garet the retribution is instant and terrible. The banished Suffolk falls, not by the hand of the law, but by some mysterious agency which appears to have armed against him a power mightier than the law, which seizes upon its victim with an obdurate ferocity, and hurries him to death in the name of a wild and irregular justice. To the second great conspirator against the Protector the retribution is even more fearful—the death, not of violence but of mental torture, far more terrible than any bodily pain. The Look, look, comb down his hair!"* of Beaufort speaks of sufferings far higher than those of the proud Suffolk, when the pirate had denounced him as "Poole, puddle, kennel, sink, and dirt!” and he saw the prophecy of the "cunning wizard" about to be accomplished. The justice which followed the other conspirator against Humphrey had not yet unsheathed its sword. His punishment was postponed till the battle-day of Wakefield.
The scenes of the first four acts of 'The First Part of the Contention' may appear to a superficial observation to be very slightly |
*In the passages which we quote, the reader will find some slight differences in the text of the Second and Third Parts of Henry VI.' We quote from the older plays.
oppressors or the redress of popular wrongs,
The civil war is begun. The Yorkists are in the field. The poet has delineated the character of their leader with a nice discrimination, and certainly without any of the coarseness of partisanship. He conveys to us that York is ambitious and courageous, but somewhat weak, and, to a great extent, a puppet in the hands of others. In the early scene in the Temple Garden his ambition is rashly discovered, in a war of words, commenced in accident and terminated in fruitless passion. That ambition first contents itself "to be restored to my blood;"