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KING HENRY V. This play was writ (as appears from a passage in the chorus to the fifth Act) at the time of the Earl of Essex's commanding the forces in Ireland in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and not till after Henry the Sixth had been played, as may be seen by the conclusion of this play. POPE.
The transactions comprised in this historical play commence about the latter end of the first, and terminate in the eighth year of this king's reign: when he married Katharine princess of France, and closed up the differences betwixt England and that crown. THEOBALD.
This play, in the quarto edition, 1608, is styled The Chronicle History of Henry &c. which seems to have been the title anciently appropriated to all Shakespeare's historical dramas. So, in The Antipodes, a comedy, by R. Brome,1638: "These lads can act the emperors' lives all over, "And Shakespeare's Chronicled Histories to boot."
The players likewise, in the folio edition, 1623, rank these pieces under the title of Histories.
It is evident that a play on this subject had been performed before the year 1592. Nash, in Pierce Penniless his Supplication to the Devil, dated 1592, says: "what a glorious thing it is to have Henry the Fift represented on the stage, leading the French king prisoner, and forcing both him and the Dolphin to sweare fealtie."
Perhaps this is the same play as was thus entered in the books of the Stationers' company: "Tho. Strode] May 2, 1594. A booke entituled The famous Victories of Henry the Fift, containing the honorable Battle of Agincourt." There are two more entries of a play of Henry V. viz. between 1596 and 1615, and one August 14th, 1600. I have two copies of it in my possession; one without date, (which seems much the elder of the two,) and another, (apparently printed from it,) dated 1617, though printed by Bernard Alsop, (who was printer of the other edition,) and sold by the same person, and at the same place. Alsop appears to have been a printer before the year 1600, and was afterwards one of the twenty appointed by decree of the Star-chamber to print for this kingdom. I believe, however, this piece to
have been prior to that of Shakespeare, for several reasons. First, because it is highly probable that it is the very displeasing play" alluded to in the epilogue to The Second Part of King Henry IV for Oldcastle died a martyr. Oldcastle is the Falstaff of the piece, which is despicable, and full of ribaldry and impiety from the first scene to the last. Secondly, because Shakespeare seems to have taken not a few hints from it; for it comprehends, in some measure, the story of the two Parts of Henry IV. as well as of Henry V: and no ignorance, I think, could debase the gold of Shakespeare into such dross; though no chemistry but that of Shakespeare could exalt such base metal into gold. -When the Prince of Wales, in Henry IV. calls Falstaff my old lad of the Castle, it is probably but a sneering allusion to the deserved fate which this performance met with; for there is no proof that our poet was ever obliged to change the name of Oldcastle into that of Falstaff, though there is an absolute certainty that this piece must have been condemned by any audience before whom it was ever represented. Lastly, because it appears (as Dr. Farmer has observed) from the Jests of the famous comedian, Tarleton, 4to. 1611, that he had been particularly celebrated in the part of the Clown*, in Henry V. and though this character does not exist in our play, we find it in the other, which, for the reasons already enumerated, I suppose to have been prior to this.
This anonymous play of Henry V. is neither divided into Acts or scenes, is uncommonly short, and has all the appearance of having been imperfectly taken down during the representation. As much of it appears to have been omitted, we may suppose that the author did not think it convenient for his reputation to publish a more ample copy.
There is, indeed, a play, called Sir John Oldcastle, published in 1600, with the name of William Shakespeare prefixed to it. The prologue being very short, I shall quote
* Mr. Oldys, in a manuscript note in his copy of Langbaine, says, that Tarleton appeared in the character of the Judge who receives the box on the ear. This Judge is likewise a character in the old play. I may add, on the authority of the books at Stationers' Hall, that Tarleton published what he called his Farewell, a ballad, in Sept. 1588. In Oct. 1589, was entered, "Tarleton's Repentance, and his Farewell to his Friends in his Sickness a little before his Death;" in 1590, "Tarleton's Newes ont of Purgatorie;" and in the same year A pleasant Ditty Dialogue-wise, between Tarleton's Ghost and Robyn Good-fellowe."