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(2) SCENE II.
This is the English, not the Turkish court;
But Harry, Harry.] Amurath the Third, who was the seventh Emperor of the Turks, died in 1595, and the people, being disaffected to his eldest son, Mahomet, and inclined to a younger one, the death of the emperor was kept secret for some days by the Janissaries, until Mahomet came from Amasia to Constantinople. On his arrival, he was saluted Emperor by the Bassas and others with whom he was a favourite ; whereupon, without informing his brothers of their father's demise, he invited all of them to a solemn entertainment, and there had them strangled. Mr. Malone conceives it highly probable that Shakespeare alludes to this transaction in the present passage, and that the period when it happened may fix the date of the play to the beginning of the year 1596. There is no solid reason, however, for believing that the poet had this particular circurastance in his inind, or that it is in any way connected with the date of the piece. The barbarous and unnatural custom which prevailed among the Turkish kings and emperors, of slaughtering all their brethren and nearest kinsmen, on coming to the throne, that they might relieve themselves from the apprehension of competitors, originated many years before with Bajazet, son to Amurath the First (third emperor of the Turks), and it is much more likely that Shakespeare in this instance referred to a general practice, rather than to a special event.
“ Ah Tom, your former life grieves me,
And makes me to abandon and abolish your company for ever,
Both dramatists were indebted for the incident to Holinshed, who records it as follows :—“Immediately after that hee was invested Kyng, and had receyved the Crowne, he determined with himselfe to putte upon him the shape of a new man, turning insolencie and wildnesse into gravitie and sobernesse ; And whereas hee hadde passed his youth in wanton pastime and riotous misorder, with a sort of misgoverned mates, and unthriftie playfeers, he nowe banished them from his presence (not unrewarded nor yet unpreferred), inhibiting them uppon a greate payne, not once to approche, lodge, or sojoum within tenne miles of his Courte or mansion; and in their places he elected and chose men of gravitie, witte, and high policie, by whose wise counsell, and prudent advertisement, he might at all times rule to his honoure, and governe to his profyte; whereas if he should have reteined the other lustie companions aboute him, he doubted least they might have allured him to such lewde and lighte partes, as with them beforetyme he had youthfully used." (4) SCENE V.--Go, carry sir John Falstaff to the Fleet.]
Everybody will agree with Dr. Johnson in the impropriety of Falstaff's cruel and unnecessary commitment to prison. The king had already given him a fit admonition as to his future conduct, and banished him to a proper distance from the court. We must suppose therefore that the chief justice had far exceeded his royal master's commands on this occasion, or that the king had repented of his lenity. The latter circumstance would indeed augur but unfavourably of the sovereign's future regard to justice ; for had he not himself been a partaker, and consequently an encourager, of Falstaff's excesses ?”—DOUCE.
(3) SCENE V.
We will, -according to your strength, and qualities,
Give you advancement.] There is a speech somewhat similar to this in the corres. ponding scene of “The famous Victories of Henry the Fifth :'
(1) And so kneel down, dc.}-At the termination of the performance, from a very early period, it was customary for the players to kneel down and pray for their patrons, the king or queen, or House of Commons, &c." Hence probably, as Steevens suggests, the Vivant Rex et Regina, still appended at the bottom of the play-bills. Thus, at the end of “ Apius and Virginia," 1575:“ Beseeching God, as duty is, our gracious queene to save,
The nobles and the commons eke, with prosperous life I crave."
Again in Middleton's "A Mad World, my Masters:"—
" This shows like kneeling after the play; I praying for my lord Owemuch, and his good countess, our honourable lady and mistress."
And also in “New Custom :"
“ Preserve our noble Queen Elizabeth, and her counsell all."
FIRST AND SECOND PARTS OF KING HENRY IV.
“NONE of Shakespeare's plays are 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 upon 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 profoundest skill in the nature of man.
“ The prince, who is the hero both of the comick and tragick 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 wicked ; and when the occasion forces out his latent qualities, he is great without effort, and brave without tumult. The trifler is roused into a hero, and the hero again reposes in the trifler. This character is great, original, and just.
“ Percy is a rugged soldier, cholerick, and quarrelsome, and has only the soldier's virtues, generosity and courage.
“ But Falstaff, unimitated, unimitable Falstaff, how shall I describe thee? Thou compound of sense and vice; of sense which may be admired, but not esteemed; of vice which may be despised, but hardly detested. Falstaff is a character loaded with faults, and with those faults which naturally produce contempt. He is a thief and a glutton, a coward and a boaster, always ready to cheat the weak, and prey upon the poor; to terrify the timorous, and insult the defenceless. At once obsequious and malignant, he satirizes in their absence those whom he lives by flattering. He is familiar with the prince only as an agent of vice, but of this familiarity he is so proud, as not only to be supercilious and haughty with common men, but to think his interest of importance to the duke of Lancaster. Yet the man thus corrupt, thus despicable, makes himself necessary to the prince that despises him, by the most pleasing of all qualities, perpetual gaiety; by an unfailing power of exciting laughter, which is the more freely indulged, as his wit is not of the splendid or ambitious kind, but consists in easy scapes and sallies of levity, which make sport, but raise no envy. It must be observed, that he is stained with no enormous or sanguinary es, so that his licentiousness is not so offensive but that it may be borne for his mirth.
“The moral to be drawn from this representation is, that no man is more dangerous than he that, with a will to corrupt, hath the power to please ; and that neither wit nor honesty ought to think themselves safe with such a companion, when they see Henry seduced by Falstaff.”—JOHNSON.
“ The first part of Henry the Fourth is particularly brilliant in the serious scenes, from the contrast between two young heroes, Prince Henry and Percy (with the characteristical name of Hotspur). All the amiability and attractiveness is certainly on the side of the prince : however familiar he makes himself with bad company, we can never mistake him for one of them : the ignoble does indeed touch, but it does not contaminate him; and his wildest freaks appear merely as witty tricks, by which his restless mind sought to burst through the inactivity to which he was constrained, for on the first occasion which wakes him out of his unruly levity he distinguishes himself without effort in the most chivalrous guise. Percy's boisterous valour is not without a mixture of rude manners, arrogance, and boyish obstinacy ; but these errors, which prepare for him an early death, cannot disfigure the majestic image of his noble youth ; we are carried away by his fiery spirit at the very moment we would most censure it. Shakspeare has admirably shown why so formidable a revolt against an unpopular and really an illegitimate prince was not attended with success : Glendower's superstitious fancies respecting himself, the effeminacy of the young Mortimer, the ungovernable disposition of Percy, who will listen to no prudent counsel, the irresolution of his older friends, the want of unity of plan and motive, are all characterized by delicate but unmistakable traits. After Percy has departed from the scene, the splendour of the enterprise is, it is true, at an end ; there remain none but the subordinate participators in the revolts, who are reduced by Henry IV., more by policy than by warlike achievements. To overcome this dearth of matter, Shakspeare was in the Second Part obliged to employ great art, as he never allowed himself to adorn history with more arbitrary embellishments than the dramatic form rendered indispensable. The piece is opened by confused rumours from the field of battle: the powerful impression produced by Percy's fall, whose name and reputation were peculiarly adapted to be the watchword of a bold enterprise, make him in some degree an acting personage after his death. The last acts are occupied with the dying king's remorse of conscience, his uneasiness at the behaviour of the prince, and lastly, the clearing up of the misunderstanding between father and son, which make up several most affecting scenes. All this, however, would still be inadequate to fill the stage, if the serious events were not interrupted by a comedy which runs through both parts of the play, which is enriched from time to time with new figures, and which first comes to its catastrophe at the conclusion of the whole, namely, when Henry V., immediately after ascending the throne, banishes to a proper distance the companions of his youthful excesses, who had promised to themselves a rich harvest from his kingly favour.
“Falstaff is the crown of Shakspeare's comic invention. He has, without exhausting himself, continued this character throughout three plays, and exhibited him in every variety of situation; the figure is drawn so definitely and individually, that even to the mere reader it conveys the clear impression of personal acquaintance. Falstaff is the most agreeable and entertaining knave that ever was portrayed. His contemptible qualities are not disguised: old, lecherous, and dissolute ; corpulent beyond measure, and always intent upon cherishing his body with eating, drinking, and sleeping; constantly in debt, and anything but conscientious in his choice of means by which money is to be raised; a cowardly soldier, and a lying braggart ; a flatterer of his friends before their face, and a satirist behind their backs; and yet we are never disgusted with him. We see that his tender care of himself is without any mixture of malice towards others; he will only not be disturbed in the pleasant repose of his sensuality, and this he obtains through the activity of his understanding. Always on the alert, and good-humoured, ever ready to crack jokes on others, and to enter into those of which he is himself the subject, so that he justly boasts he is not only witty himself, but the cause of wit in others, he is an admirable companion for youthful idleness and levity. Under a helpless exterior, he conceals an extremely acute mind; he has always at command some dexterous turn whenever any of his free jokes begin to give displeasure ; he is shrewd in his distinctions, between those whose favour he has to win and those over whom he may assume a familiar authority. He is so convinced that the part which he plays can only pass under the cloak of wit, that even when alone he is never altogether serious, but gives the drollest colouring to his love-intrigues, his intercourse with others, and to his own sensual philosophy. Witness his inimitable soliloquies on honour, on the influence of wine on bravery, his descriptions of the beggarly vagabonds whom he enlisted, of Justice Shallow, &c. Falstaff has about him a whole court of amusing caricatures, who by turns make their appearance, without ever throwing him into the shade. The adventure, in which the Prince, under the disguise of a robber, compels him to give up the spoil which he had just
the scene where the two act the part of the King and the Prince ; Falstaff's behaviour in the field, his mode of raising recruits, his patronage of Justice Shallow, which afterwards takes such an unfortunate turn:all this forms a series of characteristic scenes of the most original description, full of pleasantry, and replete with nice and ingenious observation, such as could only find a place in a historical play like the present.”—SCHLEGEL.