Page images
PDF
EPUB
[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

play, called, The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, containing the honourable Battle of Agincourt. The action of this piece commences about the 14th year of King Henry the Fourth's reign, and ends with Henry the Fifth's marrying Princess Catharine of France. The scene opens with Prince Henry's robberies. Sir John Oldcastle is one of the gang, and called Jockie; and Ned and Gadshill are two other comrades.-From this old imperfect sketch, I have a suspicion, Shakspeare might form his two parts of King Henry IV. and his history of King Henry V. and consequently it is not improbable, that lie might continue the mention of Sir John Oldcastle, till some descendant of that family moved Queen Elizabeth to command him to change the name. THEOBALD.

“ - my old lad of the castle.” This alludes to the name Shakspeare first gave to this buffoon character, which was Sir John Oldcastle ; and when he changed the name he forgot to strike out this expression that alluded to it. The reason of the change was this: one Sir John Oldcastle having suffered in the time of Henry the Fifth for the opinions of Wickliffe, it gave offence, and therefore the poet altered it to Falstaff, and endeavours to remove the scandal in the Epilogue to The Second Part of King Henry IV. Fuller takes notice of this matter in his Church History :-“ Stage-poets have themselves been very bold with, and others very merry at, the memory of Sir John Oldcastle, whom they have fancied a boon companion, a jovial royster, and a coward to boot. The best is, Sir Jolin Falstaff hath relieved the memory of Sir John Oldcastle, and of late is substituted buffoon in his place." Book iv. p. 168. But, to be candid, I believe there was no malice in the matter. Shakspeare wanted a droll name to his character, and never considered whom it be. longed to. We have a like instance in The Merry Wives of Windsor, where lie calls his French quack Caius, a name at that time very respectable, as belonging to an eminent and learned physician, one of the founders of Caius College in Cambridge.

WARBURTON. Sir John Oldcastle was not a character ever introduced by Shakspeare, nor did he ever occupy the place of Falstaff, The play in which Oldcastle's name occurs was not the work of our poet. Steevens.

Fuller, besides the words cited in the note, has in his Worthies, p. 253, the following passage: “ Sir John Oldcastle was first made a thrasonical puff, an emblem of mock valour, a make-sport in all plays, for a coward.Speed, likewise, in his Chronicle, edit. 2, p. 178, says: “The author of The Three Conversions (i. e. Parsons the Jesuit,) hath rnade Oldcastle a ruffian, a robber, and a rebel, and his authority, taken from the stage players, is more befitting the pen of his slanderous report, than the credit of the judicious, being only grounded from the papist and the

quarta

ected by

- 193.

poet, of like conscience for lies, the one ever feigning, and the other ever falsifying the truth." Ritson.

From the following passage in The Meeting of Gallants at an Ordinaire, or the Walkes in Powles, quarto, 1604, it appears that Sir John Oldcastle was represented on the stage as a very fat man (certainly not in the play printed with that title in 1600 :)

-"Now, signiors, how like you mine host ? did I not tell you be was a madde round knave and a merrie one too? and if you chaunce to talke of fatte Sir John Oldcastle, he will tell you, he was his great grandfather, and not much unlike him in paunch." -The host, who is here described, returns to the gallants, and entertains them with telling them stories. After his first tale, he says : “ Nay gallants, I'll fit you, and now I will serve in another, as good as vinegar and pepper to your roast beefe."-Signor Kickshawe replies : "Let's have it, let's taste on it, mine host, my noble fat actor."

The cause of all the confusion relative to these two characters, and of the tradition mentioned by Mr. Rowe, that our author changed the name from Oldcastle to Falstaff, (to which I do not give the smallest credit,) seems to have been this. Shakspeare appears evidently to have caught the idea of the character of Falstaff from a wretched play entitled The Famous Victories of King Henry V. (which had been exhibited before 1589,) in which Henry Prince of Wales is a principal character. He is accompanied in his revels and his robberies by Sir John Oldcastle, (“a pamper'd glutton, and a debauchee," as he is called in a piece of that age,) who appears to be the character alluded to in the passage above quoted from The Meeting of Gallants, &c. To this character undoubtedly it is that Fuller alludes in his Church History, 1656, when he says, “Stage-poets have themselves been very bold with, and others very merry at, the memory of Sir John Oldcastle, whom they have fancied a boon companion, a jovial royster, and a coward to boot.”. Speed, in his History, which was first published in 1611, alludes both to this “boon companion" of the anonymous King Henry V. and to the Sir John Oldcastle exhibited in a play of the same name, which was printed in 1600 : The author of The Three Conversions hath made Oldcastle a ruffian, a robber, and a rebel, and his authority taken from the stage players." Oldcastle is represented as a rebel in the play last mentioned alone; in the former play as “a ruffian and a robber."

Shakspeare probably never intended to ridicule the real Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham, in any respect : but thought proper to make Falstaff, in imitation of his proto-type, the Oldcastle of the old King Henry V. a mad round knave also. From the first appearance of our author's King Henry IV. the old play in which Sir John Oldcastle had been exhibited, (which was printed in 1598,) was probably never performed. Hence, I conceive, it is,

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

that Fuller says, “Şir John Falstaff has relieved the memory of Sir John Oldcastle, and of late is substituted buffoon in his place;" which being misunderstood, probably gave rise to the story, that Shakspeare changed the name of his character.

A passage in his Worthies, folio, 1662, p. 253, shows his meaning still more clearly; and will serve at the same time to point out the source of the mistakes on this subject." Sir John Fastolfe, knight, was a native of this county [Norfolk]. To avouch him by many arguments valiant, is to maintain that the sun is bright; though, since, the stage has been over-bold with his memory, making him a Thrasonical puff, and emblem of mockvalour.- True it is, Sir John Oldcastle did first bear the brunt of the one, being made the makesport in all plays for a coward. It is easily known out of what purse this black penny came. The papists railing on him for a heretick; and therefore he must be also a coward : though indeed he was a man of arms, every inch of him, and as valiant as any of his age.

“Now as I am glad that Sir John Oldcastle is put out, so I am sorry that Sir John Fastolfe is put in, to relieve his memory in this base service : to be the anvil for every dull wit to strike upon. Nor is our comedian excusable by some alteration of his name, writing him Sir John Falstafe, (and making him the property and pleasure of King Henry V. to abuse,) seeing the vicinity of sounds intrench on the memory of that worthy knight.”

Here we see the assertion is, not that Sir John Oldcastle did first hear the brunt in Shakspeare's play, but in all plays, that is, on the stage in general, before Shakspeare's character had appeared ; owing to the malevolence of papists, of which religion it is plain Fuller supposed the writers of those plays in which Oldcastle was exhibited, to have been ; nor does he complain of Shakspeare's altering the name of his character from Oldcastle to Falstaff, but of the metathesis of Fastolfe to Falstaff. Yet I have no doubt that the words above cited, “put out” and “put in," and “ by some alteration of his name," that these words alone, misunderstood, gave rise to the misapprehension that has prevailed since the time of Mr. Rowe, relative to this matter. For what is the plain meaning of Fuller's words ? Sir John Fastolfe was in truth a very brave man, though he is now represented on the stage as a cowardly braggart. Before he was thus ridiculed, Sir John Oldcastle, being hated by the papists, was exhibited by popish writers, in all plays, as a coward. Since the new character of Falstaff has appeared, Oldcastle has no longer borne the brunt, has no longer been the object of ridicule : hut, as on the one hand I am glad that his memory has been relieved,' that the plays in which he was represented have been expelled from the scene, so on the other, I am sorry that so respectable a character as Sir John Fastolfe has been brought on it, and 'substituted buffoon in his place;' for however our comick poet

uded to lants, les in his are they 'memo?

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

[Shakspeare] may have hoped to escape censure by altering the name from Fastolfe to Falstaff, he is certainly culpable, since some imputation must necessarily fall on the brave knight of Norfolk from the similitude of the sounds.”

Falstaff having thus grown out of, and immediately succeeding, the other character, (the Oldcastle of the old King Henry V.) having one or two features in common with him, and being probably represented in the same dress, and with the same fictitious belly, as his predecessor, the two names might have been indiscriminately used by Field and others, without any mistake, or intention to deceive. Perhaps, behind the scenes, in consequence of the circumstances already mentioned, Oldcastle might have been a cant appellation for Falstaff for a long time. Hence the name might have been prefixed inadvertently, in some play-house copy, to one of the speeches in The Second Part of King Henry IV.

If the verses be examined, in which the name of Falstaff occurs, it will be found, that Oldcastle could not have stood in those places. The only answer that can be given to this, is, that Shakspeare new-wrote each verse in which Falstaff's name occurred ;-a labour which those only who are entirely unacquainted with our author's history and works, can suppose him to have undergone.A passage in the Epilogue to The Second Part of King Henry IV. rightly understood, appears to me strongly to confirm what has been now suggested. “ — Where, for any thing I know, Falstaff shall die of a sweat, unless he be killed with your HARD OPINIONS ; for OLDCASTLE died a MARTYR, and this is not the man." “ This (says Mr. Pope,) alludes to a play in which Sir John Oldcastle was put for Falstaff;" and "the word martyr," says another commentator,)“ hints at this miserable performance, and its fate, which was damnation." The play which these commentators suppose to be alluded to, is entitled The History of the famous Victories of King Henry V. printed in 1598. In this play there is a buffoon character called Oldcastle. I have already shewn, as I conceive, that there is no ground whatsoever for supposing that Falstaff was ever called Oldcastle. The assertion that the anonymous King Henry V. was damned, is equally unfounded. On the contrary, for ten or twelve years before our Henries were produced, I make no doubt that it was a very popular performance. Tarleton the celebrated comedian, who died in 1588, we know, was much admired in the parts both of the Clown and the Chief Justice in that play.

The allusion in the passage before us is undoubtedly not to any play, nor to any character in any play, but to the real Sir John Oldcastle. In 1559, Bale published an account of his trial and condemnation, under the title of “ A brief Chronycle concernynge the examinacion and death of the blessed Martyr of Christ, Syr Johan Oldcastell,” &c. a book that was probably much read in the

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

reign of Elizabeth. In 1601 was published The Mirror of Martyrs, or the Life and Death of that thrice valiant capitaine and most goodly martyr, Sir John Oldcastle, Lord Cobham.”

Shakspeare, I think, meant only to say, that “Falstaff may perhaps die of his debaucheries in France,”-(having mentioned Falstaff's death, he then with his usual licence uses the word in a metaphorical sense, adding,)“ unless he be already killed by the hard and unjust opinions” of those who imagined that the knight's character (like that of his predecessor) was intended as a ridicule on Sir John Oldcastle, the good Lord Cobham. This our author disclaims ; reminding the audience, that there can be no ground for such a supposition. I call them (says he) hard and unjust opinions, “ for Sir John Oldcastle was no debauchee, but a protestant martyr, and our Falstaff is not the man ; " i. e, is no representation of him, has no allusion whatsoever to him.

Shakspeare seems to have been pained by some report that his inimitable character, like the despicable buffoon of the old play already mentioned, whose dress and figure resembled that of Falstaff, was meant to throw an imputation on the memory of Lord Cobham; which, in the reign of so zealous a friend to the Protestant cause as Elizabeth, would not have been easily pardoned at court. Our author, had he been so inclined, (which we have no ground for supposing,) was much too wise to have ever directed any ridicule at the great martyr for that cause, which was so warmly espoused by his queen and patroness. The former ridiculous representations of Sir John Oldcastle on the stage were undoubtedly produced by papists, and probably often exhibited, in inferior theatres, to crowded audiences, between the years 1580 and 1590. MALONE.

Neither evidence nor argument has in my opinion been yet produced, sufficient to controvert the received opinion, that the character of Falstaff was originally represented under the name of Oldcastle. The contraction of the original name Old, left standing in the first edition, as the prolocutor of one of Falstaff's speeches, this address of Old lad of the castle,” the Epilogue to King Hevry IV. Part II. plainly understood, the tradition mentioned by Mr. Rowe, and the united testimony of contemporary or succeeding writers, not to insist on the opinions of the most eminent criticks and commentators, seem irrefragable. It has been observed, that “ if the verses be examined in which the name of Falstaff occurs, it will be found that Oldcastle could not have stood in those places ;” and that “those only who are entirely unacquainted with our author's history and works can suppose him to have undergone the labour of new-writing each verse.” These verses, I believe, are in number seven ; and why he, who wrote between thirty and forty plays with ease, cannot be reasonably supposed to have submitted to the drudgery of new-writing seven

[ocr errors]

comme

€, which

ories of

putions

ncense

1200

e pro

« PreviousContinue »