« PreviousContinue »
K. Henry. Lives he, good uncle? thrice within this hour, I saw him down; thrice up again, and fighting; From helmet to the spur all blood he was.
Exeter. In which array (brave soldier) doth he lie,
But we must have done with splendid quotations. The behaviour of the king, in the difficult and doubtful circumstances in which he is placed, is as patient and modest as it is spirited and lofty in his prosperous fortune. The character of the French nobles is also very admirably depicted; and the Dauphin's praise of his horse shews the vanity of that class of persons in a very striking point of view. Shakespeaf always accompanies a foolish prince with a satirical courtier, as we see in this instance. The comic parts of Henry V. are very inferior to those of Henry IV. Falstaff is dead, and without him, Pistol, Nym, and Bardolph, are satellites without a sun. Fluellen the Welchman is the most entertaining character in the piece. He is good-natured, brave, choleric, and pedantic. His parallel between Alexander and Harry of Monmouth, and his desire to have "some disputations" with Captain Macmorris on the discipline of the Roman wars, in the heat of the battle, are never to be forgotten. His treatment of Pistol is as good as Pistol's treatment of his French prisoner. There are two other remarkable prose passages in this play: the conversation of Henry in disguise with the three centinels on the duties of a soldier, and his courtship of Katherine in broken French. We like them both exceedingly, though the first savours perhaps too much of the king, and the last too little of the lover.
IN THREE PARTS.
D Uring the time of the civil wars of York and Lancaster, England was a perfect bear-garden, and Shakespear has given us a very lively picture of the scene. The three parts of Henry VI. convey a picture of very little else; and are inferior to the other historical plays. They have brilliant passages; but the general ground-work is comparatively poor and meagre, the style "flat and unraised." There are few lines like the following:—
"Glory is like a circle in the water;Which never ceaseth to enlarge itself,
The first part relates to the wars in France after the death of Henry V. and the story of the Maid of Orleans. She is here almost as scurvily treated as in Voltaire's Pucelle. Talbot is a very magnificent sketch: there is something as formidable in this portrait of him, as there would be in a monumental figure of him or in the sight of the armour which he wore. The scene in which he visits the Countess of Auvergne, who seeks to entrap him, is a very spirited one, and his description of his own treatment while a prisoner to the French not less remarkable.
"Salisbury. Yet tell'st thou not how thou wert entertain'd.
Talbot. With scoffs and scorns, and contumelious taunts, In open market-place produced they me, To be a public spectacle to all. Here, said they, is the terror of the French, The scarecrow that affrights our children so. . . •Then broke I from the officers that led me, And with my nails digg'd stones out of the ground, To hurl at the beholders of my shame. My grisly countenance made others fly, None durst come near for fear of sudden death. In iron walls they deem'd me not secure:So great a fear my name amongst them spread, That they suppos'd I could rend bars of steel, And spurn in pieces posts of adamant. Wherefore a guard of chosen shot I had:They walk'd about me every minute-while;And if I did but stir out of my bed, Ready they were to shoot me to the heart."
The second part relates chiefly to the contests between the nobles during the minority of Henry, and the death of Gloucester, the good Duke Humphrey. The character of Cardinal Beaufort is the most prominent in the group: the account of his death is one of our author's master-pieces. So is the speech of Gloucester to the nobles on the loss of the provinces of France by the king's marriage with Margaret of Anjou. The pretensions and growing ambition of the Duke of York, the father of Richard III. are also very ably developed. Among the episodes, the tragi-comedy of Jack Cade, and the detection of the impostor Simcox are truly edifying.
The third part describes Henry's loss of his crown: his death takes place in the last act, which is usually thrust into the common acting play of Richard III. The character of Gloucester, afterwards King Richard, is here very powerfully commenced, and his dangerous designs and long-reaching ambition are fully described in his soliloquy in the third act, beginning, "Aye, Edward will use women honourably." Henry VI. is drawn as distinctly as his high-spirited Queen, and notwithstanding the very mean figure which Henry makes as a king, we still feel more respect for him than for his wife.
We have already observed that Shakespear was scarcely more remarkable for the force and marked contrasts of his characters than for the truth and subtlety with which he has distin