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HIS and the Third Part of King Henry VI. contain that troublesome period of this prince's reign which took in the whole contention between the houses of York and Lancaster: and under that title were these two plays first acted and published. The present play opens with King Henry's marriage, which was in the twenty-third year of his reign [A. D. 1445], and closes with the first battle fought at St. Albans, and won by the York faction, in the thirty-third year of his reign [A. D. 1455]: so that it comprises the history and transactions of ten years.
The Contention of the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster was published in quarto; the first part in 1594; the second, or True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York, in 1595; and both were reprinted in 1600. In a dissertation annexed to these plays Mr. Malone has endeavoured to establish the fact that these two dramas were not originally written by Shakespeare, but by some preceding author or authors before the year 1590; and that upon them Shakespeare formed this and the following drama, altering, retrenching, or amplifying as he thought proper. I have given a brief abstract of his principal arguments in the preliminary remarks to the first part.
A passage from Greene's Groatsworth of Wit, adduced by Mr. Tyrwhitt, first suggested Malone's hypothesis. The writer, Robert Greene, is supposed to address himself to his poetical friend, George Peele, in these words:-"Yes, trust them not [alluding to the players], for there is an upstart crowe BEAUTIFIED WITH OUR FEATHERS that, with his tygres heart wrapt in a players hide, supposes hee is well able to bombaste out a blank verse as the best of you; and, being an absolute Joannes factotum, is, in his own conceit, the only Shake-scene in a country."-" O tyger's heart wrapt in a woman's hide!" is a line in the old quarto play en
titled The First Part of the Contention, &c. There seems to be no doubt that the allusion is to Shakespeare; that the old plays may have been in part the production of Greene, Peele, and Marlowe, or some one of them, probably the latter; and that Greene could not conceal his mortification, at the fame of himself and his associates, old and established playwrights, being eclipsed by a new upstart writer (for so he calls the poet), who had then perhaps first attracted the notice of the public by exhibiting two plays formed upon the old dramas, but enlarged and improved. The very term that Greene uses, 66 to bombast out a blank verse," exactly corresponds with what has been now suggested. This new poet, says he, knows as well as any man how to amplify and swell out a blank verse. In the sequel Shakespeare did for the old plays what Berni had before done to the Orlando Innamorato of Boïardo. He wrote new beginnings to the acts; he new versified, he new modelled, he transposed many of the parts; and greatly amplified and improved the whole. Several lines, however, and whole speeches, which he thought sufficiently polished, he accepted, and introduced, without any, or very slight, alterations.
Malone adopted the following expedient to mark these alterations and adoptions. All those lines which the poet adopted without any alteration were printed in the usual manner; those speeches which he altered or expanded were distinguished by inverted commas; and to all lines entirely composed by himself asterisks are prefixed.
Malone exhibited a number of instances to prove his position. He observes, we are compelled to admit either that Shakespeare wrote two sets of plays on the story which forms his Second and Third Part of King Henry VI.-hasty sketches, and entirely distinct and more finished performances; or else we must acknowledge that he formed his pieces on a foundation laid by another writer or writers; that is, upon the two parts of The Contention of the Two Houses of York, &c. The former of these conclusions Mr. Knight contends to be the fact. But as the resemblances to Shakespeare's other plays, and a peculiar Shake spearian phraseology, would make it appear that a considerable portion of these disputed dramas is to be attributed to the poet; 80, on the other hand, other passages, discordant in matters of fact as well as in style, seem from this discordancy not to have been composed by him: and these passages, being found in the original quarto plays, leads to the conclusion that those pieces were originally composed by another writer, or writers, and only retouched by Shakespeare; but afterwards amplified by him as they now appear in the folio.
It is observable that several portions of English history had been dramatized before the time of Shakespeare. Thus we have King John, in two parts, by an anonymous writer; Edward I. by George Peele; Edward II. by Christopher Marlowe; Edward III.