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“SHAKSPEARE has, apparently, designed a regular connection of these dramatic histories, from Richard the Second to Henry the Fifth. King Henry, at the end of Richard the Second, declares his purpose to visit the Holy Land, which he resumes in the first speech of this play. The complaint made by king Henry, in the last act of King Richard the Second, of the wildness of his son, prepares the reader for the frolics which are here to be recounted, and the characters to be exhibited.”—Johnson.
The historical dramas of Shakspeare have, indeed, become the popular history. Vain attempts have been made by Walpole to vindicate the character of king Richard III., and in later times, by Mr. Luders, to prove that the youthful dissipation ascribed to king Henry V. is without foundation. The arguments are probable and ingeniously urged; but we still cling to our early notions of “that mad-cap—that same sword-and-buckler prince of Wales.” No plays were ever more read, nor does the inimitable, all-powerful genius of the Poet ever shine out more than in the two parts of King Henry IV. which may be considered as one long drama divided.
The transactions contained in the First Part of King Henry IV. are comprised within the period of about ten months; for the action commences with the news brought of Hotspur having defeated the Scots under Archibald, earl of Douglas, at Holmedon (or Halidown Hill), which battle was fought on Holyrood-day (the 14th of September), 1402 ; and it closes with the battle of Shrewsbury, on Saturday, the 21st of July, 1403.
Malone places the date of the composition of this play in 1597 ; Dr. Drake in 1596. It was first entered at Stationers' Hall, February 25, 1597. There are no less than five quarto editions published during the author's life, viz. in 1598, 1599, 1604, 1608, 1613. For the piece which is supposed to have been its original, the reader is referred to the “Six Old Plays on which Shakspeare founded,” &c., published by Steevens and Nichols.
LADY Percy, Wife to Hotspur, and Sister to Mortimer.
Lords, Officers, Sheriff, Vintner, Chamberlain, Drawers,
two Carriers Travellers, and Attendants.
SCENE I. London. A Room in the Palace.
Enter King HENRY, WESTMORELAND, SIR WALTER
BLUNT, and others.
1 Strands, banks of the sea.
2 Upon this passage the reader is favored with three pages of notes in the Variorum Shakspeare. Steevens adopted Monk Mason's bold conjectural emendation, and reads:
“No more the thirsty Erinnys of this soil;" Mr. Douce proposed to read entrails instead of entrance; and Steevens once thought that we should read entrants. The following explanation of the text is modified from that of Malone._No more shall this soil have the lips of her thirsty entrance (i. e. surface) daubed with the blood of her own children."
And furious close of civil butchery,
you, my gentle cousin Westmoreland,
West. My liege, this haste was hot in question,
from Wales, loaden with heavy news;
1 To levy a power to a place has been shown by Mr. Gifford to be neither unexampled nor corrupt, but good, authorized English.
2 For that cause.
K. Hen. It seems, then, that the tidings of this broil
K. Hen. Here is a dear and true-industrious friend,
1 i. e. September 14th. 2 “ This Harry Percy was surnamed, for his often pricking, Henry Hotspur, as one that seldom times rested, if there were anie service to be done abroad.”—Holinshed's Hist. of Scotland, p. 240.
3 Archibald Douglas, earl Douglas.
4 Balked in their own blood, is heaped, or laid on heaps, in their own blood. A balk was a ridge or bank of earth standing up between two furrows; and to balk was to throw up the earth so as to form those heaps or banks.
5 Mordake, earl of Fife, who was son to the duke of Albany, regent of Scotland, is here called the son of earl Douglas, through a mistake, into which the Poet was led by the omission of a comma in the passage whence he took this account of the Scottish prisoners.
6 This is a mistake of Holinshed in his English History, for in that of Scotland, pp. 259, 202, 419, he speaks of the earl of Fife and Menteith as one and the same person. VOL. III.