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Act I. SCENE iv. (1. ii. 34-5.)
Compelld by bunger
And lack of other means. Means does not signify methods of livelihood, for that was said immediately before unfit for other life; but it signifies, necessaries—compelled, says the speaker, for want of bread and other necessaries. But the poet using, for the thing, [want of bread] the effect of it, [hunger) the passage is become doubly obscure; first, by using a term in a licentious sense, and then by putting it to a vicious construction. The not apprehending that this is one of the distinguishing peculiarities in Shakespear's stile, has been the occasion of so much ridiculous correction of him.-WAR
I have inserted this note rather because it seems to have been the writer's favourite, than because it is of much value. It explains what no reader has found difficult, and, I think, explains it wrong. Act III. SCENE i. (111. i. 103.)
Cardinal sins, and hollow bearts, I fear you. The distress of Catharine might have kept her from the quibble to which she is irresistibly tempted by the word Cardinal. Act IV. SCENE i. (iv. i. 9-10.)
They're ever forward
In celebration of this day. Hanmer reads, these days, but Shakespeare meant such a day as this, a coronation day. And such is the English idiom, which our authour commonly prefers to grammatical nicety. Act IV. SCENE Ž. (iv. ii.)
Enter Catherine Dowager, sick, led between Griffith her gentleman usher, and Patience her woman.
This scene is, above any other part of Shakespeare's tragedies, and perhaps above any scene of any other poet, tender and pathetick, without gods, or furies, or
poisons, or precipices, without the help of romantick
We are all men
Of frailty. This sentence I think needed no commentary. The meaning, and the plain meaning, is, we are men frail by nature, and therefore liable to acts of frailty, to deviations from the right. I wish every commentator, before he suffers his confidence to kindle, would repeat,
-We are all men
Of frailty ; few are angels.
Of Guy of Warwick every one has heard. Colebrand was the Danish giant whom Guy subdued at Winchester. Their combat is very elaborately described by Drayton in his Polyolbion. Act V. SCENE viii. (v. v. 40-56.)
Nor shall this peace sleep witb ber, &c. These lines, to the interruption by the King, seem to have been inserted at some revisal of the play after the accession of King James. If the passage, included in crochets, be left out, the speech of Cranmer proceeds in a regular tenour of prediction and continuity of sentiments ; but by the interposition of the new lines, he first celebrates Elizabeth's successor, and then wishes he did not know that she was to die ; first rejoices at the consequence, and then laments the
Our authour was at once politick and idle ; he resolved to flatter James, but neglected to reduce the whole speech to propriety, or perhaps intended that the lines inserted should be spoken in the action, and omitted in the publication, if any publication ever was in his thoughts. Mr. Theobald has made the same observation.
The play of Henry the eighth is one of those which still keeps possession of the stage, by the splendour of its pageantry. The coronation about forty years ago drew the people together in multitudes for a great part of the winter. Yet pomp is not the only merit of this play. The meek sorrows and virtuous distress of Catherine have furnished some scenes which may be justly numbered among the greatest efforts of tragedy. But the genius of Shakespeare comes in and goes out with Catherine. Every other part may be easily conceived, and easily written.
Though it is very difficult to decide whether short pieces be genuine or spurious, yet I cannot restrain myself from expressing my suspicion that neither the prologue nor epilogue to this play is the work of Shakespeare ; non vultus, non color. It appears to me very likely that they were supplied by the friendship or officiousness of Johnson, whose manner they will be perhaps found exactly to resemble. another supposition possible: the prologue and epilogue may have been written after Shakespeare's departure from the stage, upon some accidental revisal of the play, and there will then be reason for imagining that the writer, whoever he was, intended no great kindness to him, this play being recommended by a subtle and covert censure of his other works. There is in Shakespeare so much of fool and fight,
There is yet
appears so often in his drama, that I think it not very likely that he would have animadverted so severely on himself. All this, however, must be received as very dubious, since we know not the exact date of this or the other plays, and cannot tell how our authour might have changed his practice or opinions.
The historical Dramas are now concluded, of which the two parts of Henry the Fourth, and Henry the Fifth, are among the happiest of our authour's compositions ; and King John, Richard the Third, and Henry the Eighth, deservedly stand in the second class. Those whose curiosity would refer the historical scenes to their original, may consult Hollingshead, and sometimes Hall : from Hollingshead Shakespeare has often inserted whole speeches with no more alteration than was necessary to the numbers of his verse. To transcribe them into the margin was unnecessary, because the original is easily examined, and they are seldom less perspicuous in the poet than in the historian.
To play histories, or to exhibit a succession of events by action and dialogue, was a common entertainment among our rude ancestors upon great festivities. The parish clerks once performed at Clerkenwell a play which lasted three days, containing, The History of the World.
Act I. SCENE i. (1. i. 3-4.) In the division of the kingdom.
There is something of obscurity or inaccuracy in this preparatory scene. The King has already divided his kingdom, and yet when he enters he examines his daughters, to discover in what proportions he should divide it. Perhaps Kent and Gloucester only were privy to his design, which he still kept in his own hands, to be changed or performed as subsequent reasons should determine him. Act I. SCENE ii. (1. i. 149 foll.)
Think'st tbou, that duty shall have dread 10 speak, &c. I have given this passage according to the old folio from which the modern editions have silently departed, for the sake of better numbers, with a degree of insincerity, which, if not sometimes detected and censured, must impair the credit of antient books. One of the editors, and perhaps only one, knew how much mischief may be done by such clandestine alterations.
The quarto agrees with the folio, except that for reserve thy state, it gives, reverse thy doom, and has stoops instead of falls to folly.
The meaning of answer my life my judgment is, Let my life be answerable for my judgment, or I will stake my life on my opinion.
The reading which, without any right, has possessed all the modern copies is this,
to plainness Honour